Mail Packet Milepost at Cheekpoint

Anyone walking or driving in Cheekpoint village, or indeed anyone entering the village park via the main gates will pass a very plain and unassuming piece of limestone.  Plain as it is, it is a remarkable piece of Irish maritime history, for it is one of the last remaining milestones which marked the route to southern Irelands official Mail Packet Station that commenced in Cheekpoint in the spring of 1787.

Got the idea for this post as I was helping the local Development Group do a tidy up last night for Tidy Towns 2021 and as the sun set after 9.30pm the lettering really stood out.
The village of Cheekpoint was renamed Bolton after the local Landlord Cornelius Bolton. The main quay was/is 1/4 mile below in the village
A lump of Limestone to many who pass by. I took this at 6.30am this morning.
From Waterford 6 Miles…I think this used to read 6 1/2 Miles

The milestone at Cheekpoint is rather unique, as the lettering is still visible when the sun is low.  The side marking the village shows up better at sunset, the marking for Waterford city best at sunrise. 

At one time a series of milestones marked this route, a story I have told before and if you would like the story of the Mailpacket its in chapter 3 of my book.

The new book cover which includes the blending of two images, the building of Dunmore East pier and the city dredger, Portlairge from an original image by Jonathan Allen.

But if you want the sketchy outline – The Mail Packet opened at Cheekpoint on April 5th 1787 with one vessel making one trip a week.  However the success of the route was underscored by the fact that by August of the same year, five vessels were running and the service was provided six days a week.

The service carried mail, obvious from the name, but also freight and passengers.  As a consequence of the bustling trade the road was improved and realigned and road markings or milestones ran the length of it.  When the Packet station was moved to Passage East in 1813 I’m sure markers must have lined that route too…It moved to Dunmore in 1818 and there is at least one similar marker from that route extant – at the entrance to Fr Brian Powers residence in Killea. 

Anyway, it pays to be curious, as Moslih Eddin Saadi says “A traveller without observation, is a bird without wings”

Chasing the Smugglers – Waterford harbour Coastguards 1822

The HM Coastguard service was created in 1822 when the Revenue Cruisers, Riding officers, and the Preventative Waterguard were amalgamated into a single force to try tackle incidents of smuggling and to enforce the collection of taxes. Waterford was in the top three ports of the country and required a significant force to patrol the coast and the harbour entrance. The administrative base for the port of Waterford and New Ross was the city, but the operations were at their busiest at Passage East and Ballyhack.
Passage East and Ballyhack on the opposite bank
via Paul O’Farrell

We saw in my cousin James Doherty’s guest blog a few weeks back, that smuggling was a constant issue for the crown in the waters around Waterford, and indeed Ireland. It was seen as a legitimate way to do business and it could be argued by local merchants as a legitimate way of engaging in trade when seen against the harsh taxes and controls placed on irish merchants by the crown. The smugglers used a variety of methods; hiding contraband in legitimate cargo, running ship loads of illicit cargo, transferring cargo to others such as fishing boats or calling to out of the way drop off points along the coast and harbour to off load part of their cargo. The enforcement of tax collection and the prevention of smuggling then, required a vast force.

A government paper1 of the time gives a list of the roles, the numbers employed and the costs associated with maintaining the Coastguard service at Waterford and New Ross.  In total, 92 men were employed.
A well armed preventative man!  Accessed from
http://hastingschronicle.net/features/hastings-coastguards-and-smugglers/

The top was shared by two positions the Collector and the Comptroller, their chief duty seems to have more to do with keeping each other in check, than overseeing the collection of tax (a seemingly regular enough practice within the structure of the organisation). Under them were several clerks, storekeepers and surveyors to ensure the smooth administration of a vast network of river related roles.  The Office of Waterford was housed in the customs house, based on the quays but we can see from the document a sub office in New Ross, and a presence at Dunmore, Cheekpoint but principally at Passage East, and I presume Ballyhack.

Passage and Ballyhack are an obvious site, due to their strategic location. Ships could reach the villages under sail without too much difficulty and there anchor to await unloading by the lighter boats, sailing when tide and wind allowed and/or towing to ports by the hobblers.  First aboard was the Tide Surveyor (earlier called tyde) to check the manifest and cargo and ensure all was in order. The particulars of the ships cargo and journey was taken for record. A Tide Waiter (wayter) was left aboard the ship to ensure that nothing was removed from the vessel and he would stay with the ship day and night. The Waiters would leave if the cargo was moved to a lighter, or remain aboard and travel upriver if the ship headed to Waterford or Ross. Once arriving in port, the waiter presented himself to the custom house to account for the cargo, the unloading being carried out by porters, supervised by landing waiters, and these under the supervision of Land Surveyors.
A fleet of boatmen and craft serviced the coastguard, ensuring ease of transport to and from vessels and between the lower harbour and the ports.  Meanwhile along the coastline further watchers were stationed.  These included coast officers and walking officers and also men on horseback known as riding officers. Between them they would keep a watch on approaching ships and would effectively follow them along the coast to Passage or Ballyhack, handing over responsibility and providing any observations to the Surveyor on duty.

The total cost of the operation at the time was £8,005 which I presume was for the year. The most numerous employees were working as tide waiters and supernumerary tide waiters which numbered 42 men alone.

An advert to twart the smugglers
Accessed from: http://jennywattstreasure.com/
history-of-smuggling-in-ireland-bootlegging/

I was interested to note that there was a also a Tidy Surveyor in position at Dunmore East.  It must be presumed this role was the oversee the Mail packet station as it operated from here at the time. Contemporary and historical works suggest the Packet service in general was a regular method of smuggling, either in the ships manifest or by individual crew.

Try as the coastguard might, the numbers of vessels and the ingenuity of sailors and merchants, created a constant supply of smuggled goods. It would take a fundamental shift in government policy towards free trade and fairer taxes later in the century before the problem started to be effectively addressed.2

  

For more on this subject The Waterford Archaeological & Historical Society’s next lecture is on 28th April at 8 p.m. in St Patricks Gateway, Patrick St, Waterford,  The lecture is “The Forgotten Force.” by Mr James Doherty and will look at H.M. Coastguard in pre-independence Ireland. Regulations, Roles and Responsibilities.  €5 for non-members, free for members

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.

1. Detailed Account of Establishment for Collection of Customs and Ports of Ireland 1821-22.  Enhanced British Parliamentary Papers on Ireland

2. King’s Cutters and Smugglers 1700-1855, by E. Keble Chatterton

Here’s some very interesting information on smuggling and the Coast Guard service from West Waterford via the county museum:  
http://www.waterfordmuseum.ie/exhibit/web/Display/article/369/6/Ardmore_Memory_and_Story__The_Sea_The_Coastguard_Service.html

For more on the operations at Waterford and specifically Passage, see Decies #31 by Francis Murphy
http://snap.waterfordcoco.ie/collections/ejournals/100748/100748-1.pdf