Lighters and Lightermen

On a recent boating trip in the Suir, I spotted the rotting timbers of what appeared to be an old boat jutting out from under the low hanging branches of a sycamore tree. Further investigation revealed, what for me at least was, an amazing discovery. A once common workboat on the river, which numbered in the hundreds, but now totally extinct.

Definition of a lighter

A lighter was a workboat employed in Waterford harbour and up the rivers Barrow and Suir. The function of this craft was as the name suggests, to lighten the load of incoming vessels, thereby allowing them to float over the sand and mud bars as they journeyed to New Ross or Waterford city. They functioned in much the same way the modern truck does.

A lighter underway at New Ross

According to the Dictionary of the World’s Watercraft the lighter can be described as “any small vessel employed in lightening goods. Describing it as a “…strongly built rectangular craft, open and flat-bottomed; used for short-haul work, especially for transferring cargo to and from a ship lying at anchor.” As to the origins it “…dates at least from the late 15th Century” In an Irish context it only names them in the SW of the country….”The River Shannon in the late 17th and early 18th Century was propelled by 4 men with 2 oars. Steered by a sweep. 12-16 ft long”

Design and build

The local design seems to have been very uniform in general, but size-wise there seems to have been local distinctions. 40-ton loads are regularly referred to in newspaper accounts and elsewhere, but 20, 25, and 30 were also mentioned. I imagine local conditions and purposes may have had an important role.

Patrick C Power in an article titled “The Lower Suir – boats and boatmen long ago” for the Tipperary Historical Journal (1991) gives this description from Carrick On Suir. “The lighters were built of pitch pine with a frame of oak. They were constructed on oaken frames each set about 3ft in the boat…The lighter was 70ft long and 16ft in the beam, but with a square stern and pointed prow. The sides could be as much as 4ft high…flat bottomed…without a keel. The rudder was 16ft long. Forward there was a well-room for bailing and on deck a caboose…where a fire was kept lighting in a cast iron box-stove supplied by Graham’s of Waterford…[there was] 36ft of useful cargo room…known to carry as much as 40 tons…distributed in two parts of the hold. There was no cargo in the centre of the lighter”

I would imagine that given the design was so basic these boats were built widely and locally in much the same way that punts and prongs were built at home in Cheekpoint. A local handyman or craftsman with a good eye would be supplied with the materials and the boat would emerge. Bill Irish lists five lighters coming out of Whites shipyard in Ferrybank but only one is given her size at 35-40 tons. No name was given for the boat. According to Pat Power, the Carrick lighters were made in Carrick Beg at the graving dock of the Kehoes. There was also a man named O’Brien who despite being illiterate could gauge the materials required for a build without ever having to measure, draw, or write.

Lighters above Redmond Bridge in Waterford

As regards the cost of building a lighter, there was a discussion at the Harbour Commissioners in March 1874 of the need for four new lighters to assist with port duties. These were estimated to cost £100. The article does not make clear, but I expect that is each. The cheapest of the five built at Whites shipyard cost £126-6-5

Propulsion

The lighters were sometimes referred to as dumb boats. They had no propulsion and depended on the tides and currents to get from A-B. I’m not sure dumb gives an accurate sense of their navigation, however. Anyone who has ever had to navigate the rivers knows that the vagaries of the tide, current, wind, rain, and moon play a huge role in the task. No day, indeed no hour is often the same and to simply push away from a riverbank and presume your destination would be both foolish and dumb.

The lighters had a rudder to help keep on course. According to Power it was operated by the skipper from his space in the well, it was used sparingly. The photograph above shows the rudder being operated from the stern. There was also an anchor that could be deployed in emergencies or when awaiting a favorable tide or weather. Two deckhands were also employed(I have read accounts with three men also in newspapers). Each operated a long oar (a sweep) which could be used to row the boat at specific times. They also used a pole to push along the river bed or bank. This was driven into the riverbed from the stern and then the crewman would have to clamber forward as he pushed the boat ahead. But mostly I would imaging the crew worked with the tides, with a lifetime of river knowledge, drawing the most from each knot of an ebbing or flooding current to make their way.

Cargo

The lighters carried anything and everything that came into port. Unshipping, transhipping, and loading ships at anchor in the harbour up as far as Cheekpoint I’m sure. They delivered as far as New Ross or Carrick and delivered into the villages, between the villages and from the villages to flour mills, coal stores, and lime kilns. The lighters seem to have been loaded and unloaded by their crew which must have been a back-breaking operation, but it also ensured that tight margins and any profit were kept onboard. An interesting example of the operation is a name associated with a quay on the Wexford side above Ballyhack. Tom Poor’s quay is the local name, but another associated with it according to Tomas Sullivan is Lighterman’s Quay. The quay has an old roadway leading away from it back towards Ballyhack. A similar track can be found almost directly opposite at Lambert’s cove on the Waterford side.

An interesting anecdote from the newspapers of 1908 tells of “…two little boys named Patrick Kirby and James Grant who was charged with the larceny of a quantity of coal, the property of Messrs Wallace and McCullagh…Constable Thomas Ryan deposed that on the evening of the 21st November he found the defendants taking a quantity of coal from the lighter…” Having admitted to the constable that they were going to sell it, they were discharged under the First Offender’s Act.

They were also employed in providing ballast to sailing vessels. In 1842 I came across a tender presented to the Harbour Commissioners from R and W. Hayes for shipping ballast for five years. They agreed to deliver the ballast via their lighters to vessels in port at 8s per ton, and discharge ballast from vessels at 6s per ton.

Advert from Waterford Chronicle – Saturday 27th December 1831; page3

Lighters were also employed in river works such as dredging and I will share most of this interesting report from 1869 as there are some very telling details in it.

“ A report was read from Mr. Stephens, stating that little progress had been made at the ford works during the past month and that only 11 tons of rock had been raised since the last report. He further reported that he had taken up the four lighters belonging to the board from the contractors; that they were damaged state, and he repaired them. The board now had five lighters and eight punts capable of taking daily 350 tons of mud from the dredge…He further reported, in reference to the application from the sanitary committee of the corporation to clear John’s Pill…The nuisance arose from loading lighters of manure from dung yards adjacent to the pill, and the obstruction was caused stones and shingle…being dropped by these lighters in the vicinity…” Waterford Chronicle – Friday 15 October 1869; page 3

The Lightermen

But who were these Lightermen and how did they operate. Well, it appears that many companies and businesses had their own lighters and crews employed to act on their behalf. We have also seen that they were employed by the Harbour Commissioners on various duties though dredging seems to have been a major task. An interesting court case suggests however that even these men employed by the harbour board had certain freedom.

The case arose at a special jury hearing in the County Court by James O’Neill, of Arthurstown, against the Waterford Harbour Commissioners to recover £99, the value of a quantity of 105 barrels of oats and I07 sacks of barley containing 20 stone each lost by the stranding of a lighter on the Kilmanock Embankment in October the previous year, 1898.
The lighter, skippered by a man named Connolly, had arrived at Arthurstown on Monday evening 17th October 1898. They were obviously on the lookout for work and Connolly approached O’Neill and e asked him for the cargo at a price for transport at 2d. per barrel. This was stated to be the ordinary freight for corn. The deal was struck and the lighter was loaded on Friday 21st departing that evening as darkness settled. Later she was caught in a gale and grounded, causing the cargo to be damaged by water.

In evidence, Mr. John Ailingham, Secretary of the Harbour Board, explained that the Commissioners crew could take on other work when available to do so. This dated to a resolution passed in March. 1894. Two-fifths of the profits were generally paid into the Harbour Commissioners office. Since the accident happened a new rule was passed restraining their movements to not go below Cromwell’s Rock, or further up the river than Kilmacow Pill.

As regards the wages, one mention from a newspaper report in 1891 gave this insight: “THE LIGHTER SKIPPERS. The Quay Committee a recommendation to allow the lighter skippers 2s 6d a week, provided there were no complaints.” Whether there were complaints or not, I don’t know, but it gave no information as to the crew.

Many merchants probably had their own vessels employing their own crew as suggested by this advert in the Waterford Chronicle – Saturday 01 May 1841; page 3

It’s also likely that individuals or indeed families or crew invested in the trade. For example, there was a report in the Munster Express from December 1863 about a Carrick lighter which was lost in a gale in Waterford carrying freight for a man named Walsh. The crew survived but the paper concluded: “…It is hoped a subscription will be opened for the relief of the unfortunate men whose all may be said to have been invested in the lighter.”

Some of the characters of these men will be evident from what we have already learned, hard-working, resilient, impervious to the weather, and determined. Some other pieces from the newspapers of the time might put more meat on the bones.

In 1838 Morgan Doyle and William Nash were in court after a bare-knuckle fight aboard a lighter on Waterford Quays. A large crowd had gathered to watch the match and when the constabulary arrived, the men forgot their quarrel and working together let go the lighter, and shoved away from the quay to avoid the lawmen. They were subsequently apprehended, however, and found guilty of a breach of the peace.

In another situation, they were law-abiding. In February 1829 the crew of a Clonmel lighter observed bags being removed from a newly arrived schooner from St John’s, Newfoundland in suspicious circumstances. They raised the alarm with a Quay watchman, who instantly aroused the Tidewaiter (a member of the customs) from his bed. The bags were discovered to contain tobacco. A follow-up search discovered that the contraband had been hidden among a cargo of oil, and was that morning taken and put into bags, for transport. The mate and three of the crew were committed to gaol, but the Master was not with the ship at the time of the arrest.

Others were unfortunate, and there are many accounts of the crew falling over the side of their vessels and being drowned. For example on a cold wet Saturday night in November of 1864 a lighterman named Michael Meyler, was lost at Strangman’s Wharf. He was about 70 years of age and was in the habit of sleeping onboard lighter belonging to his brother. He slipped when boarding via the gangplank and despite efforts to save him, he was lost.

And then again others were just tough out. In May 1875 a case that was taken against James Doherty, a lighterman who cut a tow rope of the barque Constant that was being winched off the graving bank in Ferrybank. In court, the Captain of the barque was claiming damages of £20 against Doherty. It transpired that Doherty was coming up the quays just as the tide was starting to turn. In a hurry to make his berth he found the way blocked by the tow rope. Words were exchanged and tempers flared. As the barque would not release the tow rope, Doherty grabbed an axe and cut the hawser that blocked his path, before proceeding upriver. In a lengthy proceeding, it was found that the lighter had reacted hastily and the court found against Doherty for a much-reduced sum of £1. Doherty let it be known that he disagreed and would appeal.

End of the era

When the lighter’s reign in the harbour ended is not very clear. But the improvements in navigation including the opening of the Ford and the deepening of the river after the Harbour Commissioners came into existence must have been a crucial factor. The arrival of steam-driven vessels must have also played a part. Further upriver, the coming of the railways and improvements in road transport would have contributed to the undermining of transport by water.

Triton, the marine correspondant with the Munster Express had a lovely article in 1973 which drew on the memories of a previous marine correspondant Jimmy Hartery. It highlights that lighters were still in use in the first world war.

Munster Express. Friday 28th December 1973; Page 12
a lone lighter above Redmond Bridge circa 1950s via Brendan Grogan. Might this be the last of a proud tradition? It would appear that it is being used by workmen, perhaps on some maintenance duties with the harbour commissioners.

The wreck that I found that afternoon on the river, is to the best of my knowledge the only remains of a lighter that worked the river for centuries. In a way, it’s a shame that such a vessel would be left to rot away into the mud. And yet ironically, if it had not been abandoned where it was, it must certainly have rotted completely away. If anyone knows anyone in maritime archaeological circles that might have an interest in taking measurements and recording the vessel, tell them to get in touch. As such it might be the only such measurements to exist? I would also appreciate any further written details on the Lighter, particularly on the build or the propulsion.

For more detail on the trade of the lighters between Waterford, Carrick On Suir and Clonmel, here’s a previous guest blog Leslie Dowley
For more on the New Ross and River Barrow trade, a story of mine from 2018

Barrow Navigation Company

In recent weeks we’ve looked closely at the Waterford Steam Navigation Company and their river based service.  The feedback has been very positive, many contacting me to remark on how vibrant and busy the rivers were, and how important they were for transportation and trade. Its a theme that I have tried hard to showcase down the years.  This week in a somewhat related post I wanted to complement a previous guest blog by Leslie Dowley featuring the work boats of the Suir but talking about those boats on the River Barrow, the Barrow Navigation Company and a specific incident at Cheekpoint in 1864 highlighting the trade.

The Barrow Navigation Company was founded in 1792 (I did read a newspaper report dated 1790 stating its formation) and it purpose initially was to canalise the river to make it navigable for boats capable of carrying up to 40 tons.  They managed the river and canals which was funded through raising share capital at the outset and afterwards by tolls on lock gates etc.  Their primary focus at the outset appears to have been the river between Athy in Kildare and St Mullins, Carlow, the point at which the Barrow becomes tidal.

A typical craft involved in the early trade

These flat bottomed barge boats worked the tides where appropriate using oar power and poles, but a square sail was also carried and used when conditions were favourable.  I would imagine they could also be hauled by men or beasts or any other means once the freight got through.  The work of these boats and their handlers flourished until the coming of the railways.

The boats themselves would have travelled along the length of the Barrow calling to New Ross and of course carrying freight to Waterford.  As the farm produce of the area had a ready market in both towns, this level of trade was obvious.  Pigs traveled as far away as Tullow in Carlow for the pig buyers of Waterford and there was a ready market for the return journey of imported goods that came to Waterford or New Ross from abroad.  The Irish Waterways History gives a very interesting account of the numbers of boats and horses involved in the business in the late 19th C.

A good sense of the lighters operating above the Redmond Bridge in Waterford

The deeper waters of the lower Barrow and Suir were nothing new to these boatmen so perhaps an incident recorded in 1863 at Cheekpoint, is all the more surprising as a consequence.

The Barrow Navigation Company’s screw steamer tug Louisa of 30 tons with six men aboard departed Waterford on January 15th 1863 with two lighters (effectively barges), one either side.  The lighter on the port bow was laden with wheat, Indian corn and new rope.  The opposite lighter had 35 ton of coal.  The destination was the tidal reach of the barrow, St Mullins.

The Louisa got under way at 3am on a Friday morning in drizzling rain on an ebb tide, an hour from low water.  (An excellent time of tide, ebb to the meeting of the three sisters and a flood tide up the Barrow).  As the tug was expecting a regular steamer service sailing into port from Milford Haven a watch was posted and although she had no mast or rigging, lights were placed on a beam across her cook house for navigation purposes.  The steamer was seen just as they approached Cheekpoint under Snow Hill.

Coming upriver against the Louisa was the SS City of Paris.  Owned by Messrs. Ford and Jackson of Neyland, South Wales, the steamer had a regular sailing between Waterford and Milford Haven.  Rounding Cheekpoint that fateful morning the watch spotted a white light by Snowhill and as no other lights were spotted assumed that it was a ship at anchor and kept of their course which would take them well outside on the Waterford shore.  The Louisa of course was not at anchor but steaming steadily to beat the tide and gain the Barrow.

Both vessels kept their courses and too late the City of Paris realised that it was not a ship at anchor and that her course was bearing down.  It would later be revealed in court that neither vessel ported on time and that there was no effort on the steamer to reverse engines or indeed slow her speed.  In the resulting collision one of the lighters was totally lost, the other partially damaged.  The Louisa limped back to Waterford  with a damaged bow and rudder, her remaining lighter half sunk.  It would appear the City of Waterford was relatively undamaged.

In a time honoured fashion the matter would end up in court, the ruling of which were appealed and counter argued. So much so that I’m not 100% sure how it all transpired but the initial ruling did favour the City of Paris finding the lights of the Louisa to be insufficient for navigation.

Given the competition they were facing, I’m sure the company could ill afford the loss of her cargo.  But they endured.  In 1894 the Barrow Navigation Company merged with the Grand Canal Company, probably as a means of sharing costs and competing against the railways.  Ironically this new company was subsumed into Córas Iompair Éireann in 1950.  CIE at the time was the umbrella for all manner of transport.  However, you will see no mention of the canals or the river freight on their modern website.

Much of the information contained on the Barrow Navigation company is taken from this article featured on the Barrow Cruisers Website: http://www.barrowline.ie/history/

The detail on the City of Paris / Louisa incident was accessed from various newspaper accounts of the time, but primarily: the Freemans Journal 24.3.1864

Another link which I did not use but reads very well:  http://www.barrowriver.ie/index.php/2013/02/building-the-barrow-navigation/

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The Lighters – work boats of the River Suir

Some boats are just not sexy.  Sailing ships, paddle steamers, even smokey steam boats returning from foreign shores all have their appeal. But work boats tend to get a poor press, except perhaps amongst the men that plied their trade among them.  One that surely fits this category is the Lighter, the river transporter par excellence and one that is now confined to memory. I know of nothing extant and no plans for a replica.  So today’s guest blog is very special to me.  I was put on to the source of the information by David Carroll, but the writer today is Leslie Dowley and his topic; The Lighters of the River Suir.
Waterford’s unique location in the south-east corner of Ireland allowed for easy access to ports in the UK and continental Europe. It was also serviced by two of Ireland’s largest rivers, the Barrow and the Suir. The former serviced counties Carlow, Kilkenny and Wexford and was tidal as far north as St. Mullins in Co. Carlow. The latter serviced counties Kilkenny, Tipperary and Waterford and was tidal as far west as Carrick-on-Suir in Co. Tipperary. These counties were among the top food producers in Ireland and the long tidal stretches made it easy to transport goods up and down the rivers in large boats. This resulted in Waterford becoming one of Ireland’s leading ports for the import and export of goods. By the early nineteenth century, Waterford was the second largest port in Ireland (after Dublin) in terms of commercial traffic. 
Prior to the “great famine” Waterford had some £2.5 m worth of exports and £1.7 m worth of imports and was therefore a net exporter. The exports where nearly all food stuffs, as prior to the famine, Ireland was exporting sufficient food to feed 2 million people in the UK and had gained the name of being the “breadbasket of England”. In 1832 the volume of goods going down stream from Carrick-on-Suir was estimated to have been 11,527 tons of flour, 28,678 barrels of wheat, 19,445 barrels of oats, 3,878 barrels of barley, 1,028 tons of butter, 139 tons of lard and 63,751 sides of bacon. 
In the tidal areas, the main boats used to transfer goods to and from the ships in Waterford were known as a “Lighters”. These were a type of flat-bottomed wooden barge which were about 71 feet long and 16 feet wide and could carry up to 40 tons. The lighter’s had a crew of two and they used 30 foot steel-shod poles for manoeuvring at close quarters and to keep the boat in the tidal stream. While the main power was generated by the rising or ebbing tide each crew member was equipped with a 35/36 foot oar or “sweep” which swiveled on a 2 inch oak dowel. These were used to increase propulsion and each stroke meant walking six steps forward and six back. The lighter men were very skilled operators, with intimate knowledge of the river, its currents and tides. The journey from Waterford to Carrick normally took two tides while the reverse journey took at least 8 hours. While Carrick was the main destination upstream, there were wharf’s at regular intervals for the unloading of coal from the lighters. This was due to the delivery radius of a coal-horse being some two miles.
Lighters being poled into position in Waterford
By 1835 there were some 88 boats operating between Carrick and Waterford. In 1836, the Suir Navigation Company was founded to control all commercial traffic on the Suir and to improve and maintain the navigation. One of its first projects was the construction of the “navigation cut” at Carrick, which allowed the lighters to avoid the weir at Carrick Castle and enter the harbour at periods other than high tide. To finance these ventures, the hauliers were empowered to charge one penny per ton on all goods transported more than one mile west of the bridge in Waterford. The main investors were Lord Bessborough, Lalor of Cregg, Richard Sausse, the Grubbs of Clonmel, William O’Donnell and the Dowleys of Carrick-on-Suir. 
In the same year there were 93 boats employing 200 men on the stretch of river between Carrick and Clonmel. The boats on this route were known as yawls and carried about 14 tons. They were initially towed upstream by a team of men, but were later replaced by horsepower. The route to Clonmel was dogged with industrial action. In 1918 there was a strike which went on until February 1919 and the route to Clonmel was finally abandoned by Dowleys, who were the sole operators at the time.

Yawls in Carrick awaiting a cargo for Clonmel
Many of the lighters and yawls were built in the Carrick-on-Suir area. Three firms of boat-builders are listed in Slater’s Directory of Ireland of 1870 and one of them, Keogh Brothers, were still active in 1919 according to Kenny’s Irish Manufacturers’ Directory of that year. 
In 1877 J. Ernest Grubb founded the Suir Steam Navigation Company and was the owner and sole shareholder. In the same year he bought the steam tug the “Fr. Matthew”. It could tow four lighters to a maximum of 160 tons and could also carry passengers to fairs in Waterford. This improved the commercial use of the river and the stores on the quayside were a hive of activity and employment. By the end of the nineteenth century the route to Waterford was dominated by J. Ernest Grubb with the steam tug the “Fr. Matthew” while the others using the route included Thomas Butler, the Healy’s, T. G. Howell & Co., Richard Walsh of New St. and Edward Dowley of New St. 
In 1912 J. Ernest Grubb retired and his grain business was sold to Edward Dowley & Sons Ltd. while the Suir Steam Navigation Company was sold to Richard Walsh of New St. In the same year Dowleys bought a tug of their own, the Knocknagow I, for service between Carrick and Waterford. The Knocknagow II was added soon afterwards and both were used to tow lighters also.
The fully laden Knocknagow II making way from Carrick to Waterford
In 1923, Dowleys and Walshs attempted to reduce the rivermen’s wages. This resulted in a series of strikes and the river trade was further disrupted by a dockers strike in Waterford. All of this hastened the demise of the river trade in favour of the more dependable road transport. The civil war led to some revival in the river trade as road and rail traffic was disrupted by the blowing up of strategic railway bridges. However this revival was only temporary.

The Knocknagow I with a lighter being loaded in Carrick
In 1927 there were further strikes by the rivermen and the river trade never fully recovered from these disputes. In the same year Edward Dowley & Sons Ltd. purchased the Suir Steam Navigation Company from Walsh’s which effectively ended Walsh’s involvement with the river trade. 
During the Second World War the two Knocknagows continued to ply the route between Waterford and Carrick when fuel for road transport was in short supply. The lighters also served the town well during the war. 
After the war Edward Dowley & Sons Ltd purchased another two barges in the UK called the Rocksand and the New Forge. They also bought a cement barges that was towed by the Knocknagow. The imminent arrival of a cement boat in Carrick caused a lot of debate in the local pubs and bets were being laid as to whether a cement boat could float or not. It did float and was 100 ft long by 24 ft wide and 13 ft high. However, it was very cumbersome and an ill-advised purchase and its’ use was abandoned not long after. The Knocknagows kept operating up to 1973 when they were sold and this effectively marked the end of commercial trade on the river Suir.

My thanks to Leslie for this piece of vital maritime social history. You can read more of his amazing family history on his family website. Our next guest blog is due for May 26th and at this point I may have two to choose from.  We have several others in writing I’m told and would still be open to some female contributions.  The only criteria is that the piece needs to be about our maritime heritage, about 1200 words and I can help in editing if required, source photos and add in links etc.  I’d also welcome any contributions from younger readers including students

I publish a blog each Friday.  If you like this piece or have an interest in the local history or maritime heritage of Waterford harbour and environs you can connect with me to receive the blog every week.  Simply email me to request to be added to my email list at russianside@gmail.com.

Did Waterford port have a flag based communication system?

One of our most intriguing ruins in the area must be the Lookout in the Glazing Wood.   The Lookout stands above the River Suir and is now surrounded by Larch trees, part of the Coillte forestry scheme. But in the past it would have had fine views of the river, and many have speculated that this gives a clue to its purpose.

Perhaps the best view I have seen of the structure
via the ever generous Brendan Grogan

The Lookout is a stone and mortar made structure built out from the cliff face of the Glazing wood. The stone used in the base was hewn from the cliff behind the structure on the Glazing wood path.  The positioning is very strategic.  It’s built on a solid outcrop of stone which stands out from the surrounding hillside and has a fall of about 15 feet to the hillside.  The structure rises approximately 20 feet to its base.  This base measures fifteen feet by four feet.   There is an entry arch onto the platform, again made of stone and above this there appears to be the remains of second storey, or at least a higher platform.  I’ve seen a painting (by one of the Power’s of Faithlegg House) which suggests the building was once a small tower, with a door for, I presume, security. 

The only written account I could find as an explanation came from one of Michael Fewer’s books by Cliff and by Shore.  In it, Fewer and his companions, speculate that it was perhaps used by revenue men to monitor river traffic. Perhaps related to this, Anthony Rogers had a story that it may have been part of a system of monitoring the river traffic up to New Ross at a time when relations between the two ports was particularly fractious and where laws required all Waterford ships to offload their cargo at their home port.  Ships heading up the Barrow could expect to be intercepted, boarded and examined.  Not alone can you see the entry to the two rivers, but you can also see the old alternative entrance around the Great Island and of course the medieval Port of St Mary (Dunbrody Abbey and Campile)

My father always said that it was used by the Hobblers and Lightermen as a lookout for ships.  Its known that Hobblers rowed as far as the Hook and beyond to take sailing ships in tow and provide pilotage.  Its also a fact that a series of mooring buoys were positioned at Cheekpoint for sailing vessels who would have required the services of lighters to be unloaded, or lightened.
Others have speculated that it may just be a folly.  The detail that went into the construction is, I think, a little basic for a folly.  I also think that if the Aylward, Bolton or Power family were minded to construct such, that they would surely have located it at a site that would have afforded them the spectacular view of the harbour from the Minaun, or the vista of the counties of the south east, not a strategically significant overlooking the river such as the Lookout affords.
The lookout from the Marsh road circa 1950
photo credit Anthony Rogers
An idea of the view from the Lookout 1970
Photo credit: Brendan Grogan

Tommy Deegan, amongst others on the Waterford History Group Facebook page, has considered there to be a link between the lookout and Popes Tower in Ferrybank.  The tower, which is situated close to where the Ard Rí hotel is now lying in ruins, was the property of the Pope family, a very prosperous merchant family from the city.  Some of the speculation suggests that semaphore may have been used to communicate the arrival of ships.

Any reader of the 17th & 18th C sea bourn trade will know that the quantity of trade was phenomenal.  In the same way that the M50 in Dublin is now jammed with traffic, so was the river system and wharfs of ports, of which Waterford was to Ireland’s fore.  The difficulties faced by shipping companies and the boats and sea captains were many.  Weather was an ever present factor obviously, but getting pilotage into ports, whether or not to pay for towing services, the speed of passing through customs and the ability to get a good position when berthing to allow for fast and efficient unloading.
Ports such as Liverpool operated a flag system from the mouth of the Mersey.  The Bidport flag system was a means to communicate to the port the arrival of a particular locally owned shipping company boat and cargo.  This gave the company time to organise for custom men to be ready, a berth to be secured, dock workers to be ready to offload, and provisioning and an outboard cargo to be organised.  Then as now, speed was considered to be of the essence.

I’ve also read that flags at points such as Bidport also were a factor in communicating the weather conditions at the mouth of the harbour.  Ships would delay sailing until sure that conditions were favourable to make a safe passage out of the harbour and onto the sea,

Is it possible Waterford had a system of flags or other warning system operating to communicate the arrival of craft?  When we look at the scale of shipping along her quays, would it not be in local merchants interests to secure a ripe unloading position along the quayside.  Isn’t it also probable that a port almost 18 miles from the mouth of the harbour would have some means of predicting the sea conditions off the harbour, where ships could be at their most vulnerable. Lets face it, Flags have a very long history in the conducting of maritime trade and defence. 
There are other interesting points in relation to lookouts or flags that I am aware of.  Brendan Grogan could tell me that his grandfather used a flag to communicate his whereabouts as Harbour Master in town.  He was also aware (via Julian Walton) of a flag system being used from Brook Lodge (near Jack Meades) to communicate the passing of ships in Kings channel.  James Doherty could tell me that there were a series of flag poles on the quays, upriver from the Clock tower.  He was also aware of a curious placename in Crook known as Spy Hill.  Hobblers Rock in Creaden, a point from which these men operated, must have had a lookout point.  I also can recall another story I heard on a Barony of Gaultier Historical Society walk in Dunmore some years back, where mention was made of a look out post above the village, where pilots kept an eye on incoming ships with a spyglass, or telescope.  
Spy Hill, Crook.  Accessed from maps.osi.ie
Obviously a lot more research needs to be done to confirm or dismiss this idea. Is it not possible however that in a harbour and port of over 1000 years, where war, plague and every nationality under the sun has visited, that many of these stories are just echoes of the reality of life at different points along this noble history.  I can’t but feel, there are many other echoes out there.  
Many thanks to James Doherty, Anthony Rogers and Brendan Grogan for allowing me their time and knowledge of the area, to discuss this with them.  If anyone else has other stories, placenames, theories or written accounts, I would be delighted to hear of them.

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