Duncannon Chronicles

Our guest blog today like last months looks back to a childhood holiday spent on a beach. However this month rather than Crooke in Waterford we get to accompany the Lloyd family holidaying at Duncannon Co Wexford and there is a Waterford connection too. I’d like to thank my good pal and fellow blogger Andrew Lloyd for this account.

It was interesting to read guest-blogger Breda Murphy’s nostalgic account of A Crooke Childhood last month, because with a sufficiently good telescope she would have seen me and my siblings larking about across the water in Duncannon. A couple of months after my father died in 2001, my sister and I went down to Dorset to sort out his shed. This was where he stored all his art works and the matériel for their construction. It was impossible to believe that this was the place where the collection was executed because it was only by gingerly stepping on the few visible bits of carpet that we could reach the desk at the far end and make a start on the drawers. There were paintings everywhere – later art-class oils of still lives and slabby nudes hugger-mugger with early water colours of well-executed cloudscapes and rolling hills; craggy castles and colourful streets: from Ireland, Britain, Brittany, the Med; a dramatic view from shore of the Straits of Magellan next to a more placid panorama of boats bobbing in Dun Laoghaire harbour.

Duncannon beach 1961. Llewellyn Lloyd 

We finished the drawers, gathered all the brushes into a vase, the paints into a shoebox and started on the paintings, classifying them by theme and geography into the bins of a rack along one wall. We had a cup of tea and a scone (thanks Mum), and waded back into task. After some time, I turned over yet another grey-backed Rowney art-board to reveal Duncannon Strand 1961. There we were, my sister and I with our older brother and the red-white-&-blue Lilo air-mattress that we had brought from England that year for the annual visit to Ireland. There also was the red-white-&-blue beach-ball which never existed but which he had inserted for balance or, as we asserted indignantly at the time, because he had the paint there and didn’t want to waste it.
Apart from us and our partly mythical beach-gear, the beach in the painting was empty as far as the Fort on the headland and the sky was full of scudding cloud. So it must have been the Easter holidays. We came almost every year, often at Easter, to visit an ever diminishing store of elderly female relatives in Wexford and on the shores of Lough Derg in County Tipp. In Wexford, we would invariably stay in The Hotel, Duncannon. My father had connexions on both sides of Waterford Harbour. He had grown up in Dunmore East, where my grandfather Wilfred Lloyd was Harbour-master from the foundation of the state until he retired in 1947. My father was thus the window vandalising Llewellyn who preceded January’s guest-blogger David Carroll. Before he was The Gaffer on Dunmore’s quayside, my grandfather had restlessly travelled the world, serving in the army in the 2nd Boer War and then seeking his fortune in America. He made, and lost, several fortunes out in the Wild West. At one point, he won a section of the Hollywood hills in a card-game, but could never hold on to assets; he was always buying drinks for pretty women or everyone in the bar and really wasn’t very good at poker.
The grandfather could never pass a beggar in the street without giving something, remarking “I’ve been like that myself, m’boy, and may be again”. Between bouts of top-hat-and-tails, Grampa had indeed been a hobo, riding the rails to the next adventure. He was in San Francisco in 1906 when the city was destroyed by the earthquake and subsequent fire. We don’t know if he was living it high at the time or currently without funds, but you may be sure he was kind and made himself useful in the aftermath of the disaster. My father was an only child and idolised this charismatic chancer. I’d love to know more about Grampa but you could see His Boy get sacked by the wrench of loss whenever he talked about his Dad, so we didn’t like to press. My father is dead 16 years now, so that gate is closed.

Whites Hotel Duncannon. With thanks to Kevin Downes 

Meanwhile back at Duncannon in the 1960s, we spent every unrainy moment on the beach or in the dunes: making bastions against the incoming tide, daring each other to touch the raw-liver-coloured sea-anemones or just turning blue and white and wrinkly in the sea. The strand there is split by a modest stream and occasionally, by Herculean efforts with a small tin bucket and two tiny shovels, we were able to dam this rill-beck-or-leat to create a wee bit of a pond between the dunes. It was, of course, unsustainable. The water kept coming through the drain on the other side of the road and we shovelled quantities of wet sand atop the berm as the water rose. But with no Little Hans Brinker (the Hero of Haarlem) to put his superhuman finger in the dyke, eventually a small failure would grow to a catastrophic collapse. We achieved dam-nirvana one fine Spring day when an elderly couple walked their dog to the far end of the strand while it was artificially dry from our exertions, and couldn’t get back after the inevitable hydro-engineering failure had re-established the river.
The dining room. A postcard view.
Via Conan Power 

Though our shoes were but little, we tracked unbelievable quantities of sand back into the bleak lino-floored bed-rooms of The Hotel. Wet days were spent in the front-room of The Hotel wrangling and playing cards; watching, through the rain-slattered windows, the showers coming in one after the other across the sea from beyond the Waterford shore. The clock ticked loudly in the hallway and the day inched forward. If we could blag three-pence each from our parents, we went up the village to buy, and be delighted by, Lucky Bags but otherwise we were sustained by the enormous meals cooked by Nan Doyle. She laboured away in a fug of bacon-and-cabbage in the kitchen far down the dark corridor beyond the yeasty clatter of the bar. 
The pinnacle of my day as a young gannet was the appropriately named high tea: the chairs in the dining room made no concession to little legs and my chin barely cleared my plate. But the appetite was undiminished: we ate like arctic explorers to replace the calories whipped away by wind-chill and “bracing” sea-water. After laying a foundation with slabs of white and brown soda-bread cemented with butter-&-jam, washed down by tea the colour of tomato soup, the fry arrived: rashers and sausage and fried egg sprinkled with the acrid black smuts which flaked off from Nan’s enormous black crusted skillet. After that, a selection of Nan-made sponge cakes was presented. We never ate like that at home and I’ve never eaten cakes with such loft, such subtle sweetness and such variety since that time.

Nan Doyle in later years, back row on far right
via Conan Power 

Nan Doyle has long since gone to her rest, The Hotel burned down decades ago and was replaced in the boom-time by some handsome apartments. The crumb of Madeline which sent Proust tumbling back in time to a childhood tea with his Tante Léonie was gone in a minute. My father’s painting, which wrought a similar miracle of time travel for me, has lasted better. I must remember to tell the grand-children the truth about the beach-ball lest they think we had an extravagantly flaithiúlach childhood. 

the fire gutted hotel
via Conan Power 

Pat Baldwin, my father-in-law lives in retirement in Tramore but was born (1925) in Cardiff. His father came from Knockroe just behind Passage East on the Waterford shore but left to become a driver for Pickford’s after WWI. By another weird coincidence, we washed up in another Knockroe, having spent the last 20 years in a townland of that name on the flank of Mt Leinster. A couple of years ago, it was Pat’s 90th birthday and Andrew and Deena of Tides’n’Tales gave the extended descendants of the Baldwin’s of Knockroe a guided walk around the family heritage, finishing up with lunch at Jack Meade’s pub on the Cheekpoint Road. I met a lovely woman, an in-law of the in-laws, who hailed from across the river in Wexford. I mentioned my childhood days on the beach at Duncannnon and the sand on the bedroom floors in The Hotel. She was well familiar with the lightness of Nan Doyle’s scones and sponge-cake or her deliciously fat-heavy fries. She had worked in The Hotel as a teenager during school holidays and remembered Nan far better than I did. Six degrees of separation?? Not at all: two degrees is plenty for anyone in Ireland. 
Andrew Lloyd 2012, 2013, 2017 
Like Russianside I blog regularly about science & evolution; islands & maps, food & water, language & codes. Here we go: http://blobthescientist.blogspot.com/

Thanks to Andrew for allowing us this glimpse into a different era. Thanks also for assistance in sourcing photos and further information to Maria Doyle and Conan Power, their time and effort was most appreciated. Conan administers a very interesting Facebook page called Hook Peninsula History Group at https://www.facebook.com/groups/518051638363237/

The last Friday of each month is offered as a space for a guest blog. If you would be interested in submitting a piece I’d be delighted to hear from you at russianside@gmail.com. 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’ve run out of friends to pressurise or cajole so please consider it 🙂

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 email me at russianside@gmail.com to receive the blog every week.

My Facebook and Twitter pages are more contemporary and reflect not just heritage 

and history but the daily happenings in our beautiful harbour:  

F https://www.facebook.com/whtidesntales  T https://twitter.com/tidesntales