call over to Waterford Airport to see the materials that were uncovered by Noel
McDonagh at Creaden Head, Co Waterford.
While there we got into a conversation with Michael Farrell of the
Barony of Gaultier Historical Society and Brendan Dunne and his son Ian about
the area around Creaden and one curious place name that jumped out at me was
the Hobblers Rock. The feature is on the
upper side of the headland, in a sheltered spot, and was a departure point for
the hobblers and their boats in a vital element of our maritime trade, ship
pilotage and docking.
as a boy, listening to the stories of my father and the older men of
Cheekpoint. Their definition has been challenged by others, enhanced or
diminished, depending on who you listen to. Indeed many look at you, if you mention the word, like you had another head. Thinking more likely about Hobbits!
|Hobbler attending the MV Julia at Waterford circa 1950
Shortall via the Andy Kelly collection
men who rowed down the harbour in long punts and vied with each other to have
the right to guide a ship into Waterford or New Ross. He admired them as hard working, tough and
resilient men who could row miles off the Hook to engage a craft, and if need be, tow a
ship past Cheekpoint up through the Kings Channel and into the city. (Or via the Barrow to New Ross) Crews were
made up from all the villages and the towns and the competition between crews was fierce.
variations in its telling too. Some said
that it was a straightforward race; first hobbler team to get a rope aboard the
incoming vessel secured the prize. However I have also heard that bidding wars took place with ships
masters, when conditions allowed. Competing hobbler teams would be forced into a bidding war, resulting in bad feeling, scuffles or much worse. My father had one story of a man named Whistler who lost almost all his teeth in a row with another hobbler. As my father had it, thereafter you would hear the Whistler coming because of the wind blowing through his damaged teeth!
couple of men in a boat, which met incoming boats and won the right to tie them
up. Others talk of winning the right to
discharge or load ships. Whilst others
again talk of them almost in terms of a modern era tug boat, used to move ships
from moorings to berths and vice versa. Another
curious aspect of the hobbler story is that in Cheekpoint one theory of the
site known locally as “the Lookout” was also linked to them. I’ve speculated before on a link to this site
and other lookout points as a signaling system employed within the port.
|Hobblers mooring a WWI era troop ship. Artist Charles Pears.
First published in the Illustrated London News Jan 1916
With the formation of the Waterford Harbour
1816 piloting became more organised and pilot boats were employed to put recognised
pilots aboard ships. This must certainly
have impacted the role of the hobbler, but not completely (I’ve seen accounts of hobblers piloting as late as 1894). I also read
that on the south coast of England “Hovellers” 
were a description of the craft or men that sailed as far as Lands End at times
in search of incoming ships in need of a pilot. Indeed the term also existed in Cork and Dublin (I haven’t seen it recorded elsewhere as yet). David Carroll has only recently sent me a book
highlighting their courage and skill, including one poignant story of a
hobblers crew demise.
|The Hobbler memorial at Dun Laoighre. Photo via Derek Carroll and passed along by page regular David Carroll|
I’m now convinced that the reason so many
definitions or accounts of hobblers exist, is because the stories I have heard
come from at least two hundred years of maritime trade. Their roles altered as times changed, perhaps initially with the
formation of the Harbour Board and the formalisation of pilotage. Increases in sailing ships with auxiliary engines, and steam boats must
have been the next phase.
very important maritime place name connection with the port of Waterford and New Ross’
past. A point from which I’m sure men
had a lookout post, and where a wary eye was kept on the horizon, and hardened
fishermen waited impatiently for a sail to be sighted and the cry to go up of “sail ahoy”. Mighty men, deserving
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