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”

The construction of Dunmore Pier

In 1824 Rev Richard Hopkins Ryland published The history, topography and antiquities of the County and City of Waterford.  The Dungarvan native and amateur historian had set out to challenge “the incorrect ideas and false representations of flying travellers and tourists”1.  As part of his research he visited the port of Dunmore as it was being transformed under the watchful eye of the great engineer Alexander Nimmo. What follows is his description of the construction.

Steam paddle packets Meteor and Royal Sovereign which operated
on the Dunmore service in the 1820s
Maritime Museum, Greenwich via Roger Antell 

“Nearly at the entrance of the harbour is the village of Dunmore, formerly a place of resort for fishermen, but now a delightful and fashionable watering place…Dunmore has latterly been much enlarged; it is now a post town and a station for the packets which carry the mails between England the south of Ireland. {I’ve written previously about the earlier Waterford service} By an act passed in the 58th year of Geo III cap.72 the limits of the harbour of Dunmore are defined to be ‘from Shannoon Point otherwise called Black Nobb, to Ardnamult Point’ This act also regulates the duties to be charged on vessels arriving at, or sailing from, the harbour: it also authorises the appointment of a harbour master…

The pier of Dunmore is situated on the southern shore of the bay of Waterford, where the haven joins the Atlantic Ocean.  The harbour for the packets is formed under Dunmore head by the projection of a mole, which is carried a considerable distance to the sea.  The object being to reduce the fury of the waves, which, when impelled by the south and west winds, dash against the coast with inconceivable violence, a mole, supported by an immense breakwater, was commenced from a little within the head of Dunmore.  By vast exertions, and by procuring rocks of great size, the mole was extended 800 feet into the sea, which, at the place where the breakwater is formed, is from four, five to six fathoms deep.  The mole is raised on an inclined surface between forty and fifty feet above low water mark, roofed or paved with great masses of stone, embedded in a species of mortar which becomes hard under water; the inclination is such to allow the fury of of the waves to expend itself before reaching the parapet, which surmounts the whole, at an elevation of seventy feet perpendicular above the foundation.  The pier and quay for the shipping are erected inside the mole, and present a most beautiful specimen of masonry.  This pier, or quay, is 600 feet in length: the depth of low water at the entrance is twenty five feet, and at the innermost part eighteen feet.  The greatest part of this noble quay under low water has been built by means of a diving bell, of which useful machines there are two here, on very improved principals.

Under the superintendence of skillful engineers, the workmen (untaught peasants) soon learned to move rocks with admirable dexterity: few of these were less than five or six tons weight, and some exceed ten tons.  Those immense mountain masses, torn from the solid rock, were transported with apparent ease, on inclined planes and iron railways, to the place where they were squared with the greatest exactness: they were then disposed in their places, accurately fitted and joined together without the clumsy iron bolts and bands, which are at the same time laborious and expensive…


Steam packets sail every day between Waterford and Milford and afford a cheap and expeditious conveyance: the passage is usually effected in about 9 hours.  The time occupied in conveying the mail between London and Waterford rarely exceeds eight and forty hours*.  On the arrival of the packet at Dunmore, in the evening, a well appointed mail coach is to convey the passengers to Waterford; and from thence coaches proceed to Dublin and Cork, where they arrive the following morning.

*The Cinderella, the first vessel of this description on this part of the coast, performed the passage in a little better than seven hours. She left Milford at half past nine in the morning of the 16th April, and arrived at Dunmore a quarter before five the same evening. The usual hour of arrival is between seven and eight; but it is expected that when the arrangements are completed, the packets will arrive three or four hours earlier. The packets do not leave Dunmore now until twelve o’clock at night.          [Rylands endnote]

The results of the building work described can still be appreciated today, and it’s certain that the Reverend had first hand accounts with both his eyes and ears and from the engineers employed in the construction.  It was a pity he gave no mention to the construction of the lighthouse, which leads me to think he visited Dunmore a few years before the book was published.  The mails continued to arrive and depart at Dunmore until 1835.  But with the coming of steam power and the ability to bend the winds and tides to the will of the ships, the packet moved to Waterford city.

1 short biographical account via Fewer.T.N. Waterford People. A biographical Dictionary.  2004.  Ballylough Books. Waterford

The extract above was sourced from Ryland.R.H. The history, topography and antiquities of the County and City of Waterford. 1982. Welbrook Press. Kilkenny pp239-243.  Thanks to Damien McLellan for the loan of his copy.

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Owen family Cheekpoint 1787-1836

We briefly met with the Owen’s last week, when I introduced the forthcoming walk for Heritage Week; Cheekpoint’s Industrial Age.  This week I wanted to take a closer look at the family.

The Owen’s came to Cheekpoint in 1787 to run the Mail Packet Station. Captain Thomas Owen and his wife Jane arrived from Milford in Wales where they, apparently, originated.  They raised their family at Fairymount.  The family were Quakers, and obviously they would have been welcomed by a strong community already in place in Waterford.  We don’t know very much about their lives but when Elizabeth published a book of poetry, Poetical Recollections, in 1826 it gave hints and insights into what it was to live in this era.

Entrance to Fairymount

Although Thomas and Jane had ten children in all, only four survived to adulthood.   Margaret Owen was born 8/7/1783, Elizabeth 26/6/1787, Samuel 17/3/1792 and finally William, the youngest was born 13/9/1781.  No mention is made of schooling, but as the Quakers set up Newtown School in 1798 it is possible, if not probably that Elizabeth and her younger brothers would have attended. Elizabeth had a strong affinity with nature and it appears that it was a central feature to her upbringing.   An example:

Review of Childhood
Ah! let me for a while recal those hours,
When I in childhood round the village stray’d,
To gather blackberries or cull sweet flow’rs,
Whose wild profusion deck’d the verdant glad.
Remembrance blest! for ever, ever dear,
Then, who like me so innocent and gay;
Fond mem’ry sheds one silent sorrowing tear,
O’er days so bright, for ever flown away…

Elizabeth seems to have had a relatively happy childhood, there is much mention of travel, although travel can also be negative with friends being away, either for holidays or to study and loneliness does appear frequently in her words.  This must have been exacerbated when Jane died at Cheekpoint in 1811.

Written a few days after the
Death of My Beloved Mother
1811
These mournful lines on thee, who used to hear
My gay and lively verses with delight;
These mournful lines on thee, my Mother dear,
Thy sorrowing daughter now attempts to write
When I beheld thee cold, who gave me birth;
The deep, the tortur’d anguish of my heart;
That heart which oft had cheer’d thee by its mirth,
A pen more eloquent could not impart…

Elizabeth’s father died two years later, seemingly after a period of illness while having treatment in London.  He had obviously shown a lot of affection and care to his daughter as this excerpt illustrates.

On the death of my Father
London, 9th month* 1813
A Father’s voice no more will reach, with soothing sound, mine ear,
A Father’s hand no more will dry, from BERTHA’s** cheek the tear,
A Father’s heart will morn no more, when sickness dims mine eye;
A Father’s heart no more rejoice, when health’s young blush is high…
All, all, were proud to call him FRIEND, the rich, the poor, the young,
When sickness bound him to his bed, pray’rs rose from ev’ry tongue;
And many a sigh from widow’s heart, the tear from orphan’s eye;
“Ah! who,” they cried, ” when he is gone, will all our wants supply?”…

* in earlier times Quakers avoided using the names of the days or months as they were based on pagan gods and so employed the 1st day of the 1st month, their calendar year started with March
** Bertha is often used by Elizabeth when referring to herself, perhaps a family pet name?

All of Elizabeth’s siblings were disowned from their religion. To be disowned meant that a person had acted contrary to the belief’s of the congregation.  In Margaret’s situation she married outside her religion to a man named Williams, and from Elizabeth’s Poetry seems to have resided in Wales.

Both her brothers were similarly disowned, William in 1823, again for marriage to someone of a different faith, but Samuel “absented” himself in 1825.  This does not appear to have been a cause for any loss of love or endearment from Elizabeth however.  Both her brothers were seamen, and much of her poetry concerns itself with ships, seamen and the perils of the ocean.  One such poem is a lament for a sailor who had died aboard ship at Cheekpoint,

Written while viewing the
Funeral of a young Sailor
Who was killed by falling from the mast

With drooping colours, see, the Sailors bear
Their late gay messmate, to an early tomb;
For his sad fate, they dropped the silent tear:
Poor hapless blossom nipp’d in life’s young bloom.
Ev’n I,  stranger to his name and birth,
Feel pity’s soft emotion o’er me creep;
Yes, I- who lately smil’d in buoyant mirth,
For thee, ill-fated youth – can also weep.

This sad poem is all the more poignant however, as Elizabeth would live to see her brother Samuel suffer the same fate.

MILFORD, AUGUST 28. – On Tuesday morning last, about four o’clock, Samuel Owen, aged 35, mate of the schooner Economy, of Newport, fell from the top-sail yard of that vessel on deck, and was killed on the spot.  The schooner was near the harbour’s mouth, on her voyage for Cork.  He was a native of Cheek Point, near Waterford, and son of the late Thomas Owen, Esq. many years agent for the Post Office Packets plying between this port and Milford.
Carmarthen Journal, 29 August 1828

I could not find, as yet, any record for Williams death, but Elizabeth died 13/12/1836.  Up to now I have only found a line in a newspaper recording her death as being in Waterford, most probably at the family home in Fairymount.  I have yet to confirm the last resting place of the family.  Its a quest I would like to fulfill.  I’d like to ensure her poem entitled My Grave, is bourn out.  Particularly as the wild violet is one of my favorite flowers.

My Grave
Let Daises grow upon my grave,
Fair emblems of my early bloom;
Let golden Kingcups gently wave,
Upon my unadorned tomb.
And let the Vi’let too be there,
For BERTHA lov’d this modest flow’r,
Whose purple blossoms deck’d her hair,
In reckless childhood’s blissful hour

Please join us on Saturday 22nd August at 5pm at Cheekpoint Quay to explore more of the poetry of Elizabeth Owen and Cheekpoint’s Industrial Age.

We will also provide our regular walks, as part of Heritage week, Cheekpoints Maritime Trail will run on Wednesday 26th and the Faithlegg Heritage Tour will run on Sunday 23rd & 30th.  Details on our website at www.russiansidetours.com or via the links above from the Heritage Council website for the week.

I’d like to thank Andy Kelly who originally passed me on the book of poetry
Also like to acknowledge Christopher Moriarty of the Irish Quaker Historical Library who provided many of the details of the family which I used.

Cheekpoint’s era as an industrial village

In 1785 Cornelius Bolton along with other investors bought out the Mail Packet Station, then based at Passage East and moved it upriver to Cheekpoint, Co Waterford.  Around this business, Bolton built a vibrant industrial village.  The man who came to run the Packet, a Welsh Quaker named Thomas Owen arrived in 1787 with two cutters and his family.  His youngest daughter Elizabeth recorded her observations of the village and her family in poetry and in 1826 published a book entitled “Poetical Recollections”.

A Cutter, picture accessed from
https://southayrshirehistory.wordpress.com/tag/smuggling/

For this years Heritage week, Cheekpoint Fishing Heritage Project, which has participated in Heritage Week since 2005,  will partner with Russianside Tours to provide a walk and talk entitled Cheekpoints Industrial Age as perceived through the poetry of Elizabeth.  It will be held on Saturday 22nd August 2015 at 5pm and commences at Cheekpoint Quay.

Waterford has a wealth of early Industrial Heritage which we can sometimes ignore, despite the evidence being right before our eyes.  A report from Dublin Civic Trust highlights this in the county of Waterford but alas doesn’t include much of what occurred at Cheekpoint.

We have met Cornelius Bolton and the list of his and his fathers achievements before.  Cheekpoint would see the development of a cotton mill and textile industry, a rope walk, brick kiln, cobalt and slate mining, a new road alignment, hotel and a regular coach service to connect the city with the packets.  There has also been rumor of ship building in the village.

All of these developments centered around the Packet, but from early on, there was criticism.  Given that the ships relied on wind power, and that Cheekpoint was so far up the harbour, there was much disquiet and criticism.  The authorities were looking at moving the station further down the harbour to Dunmore East.  We will look at this, and some of the enterprises mentioned above, in more detail on the blog in the coming weeks.

What of Elizabeth however.  Well her parents Thomas and Jane Owen had ten children, but many died in childbirth or very young.  Four survived to adulthood; Eleanor, Elizabeth, William and Samuel.

Her mother Jane died at Cheekpoint in 1811 and her father followed his wife in 1813.  These times are reflected on by Elizabeth and there is much sadness and loneliness evoked.  There is also, of course, many pieces that give a sense of the village, the maritime connection, her love of nature and and her privileged position within the community.

The death of Thomas Owen, was a prelude to what would befall the village, Cornelius Bolton and the packet. Following his death, but probably not because of it, the Mail Packet station moved back to Passage East.  Bolton was forced to sell off parts of the business and his land to repay his debts, culminating in the sale of his mansion at Faithlegg to Nicholas Mahon Power. The Packet would later be taken from private enterprise when in 1823 the Post Office took over the role and of course Steam was on the way too! Coincidentally, Thomas died on July 24 1813.  To borrow a phrase from a man very popular here in Waterford – On this day!

Please join us on Saturday 22nd August at 5pm at Cheekpoint Quay to explore the poetry of Elizabeth Owen and Cheekpoint’s Industrial Age.

We will also provide our regular walks, as part of the week, Cheekpoints Maritime Trail will run on Wednesday 26th and the Faithlegg Heritage Tour will run on Sunday 23rd & 30th.  Details on our website at www.russiansidetours.com or via the links above from the Heritage Council website for the week.

A brief history of Daisybank House, Bolton, Cheekpoint

Daisybank house, was a derelict three story Georgian mansion when I was growing up.  Its only saving grace to me with its shattered windows and crumbling brickwork was an old orchard at its rear, with some very flavorsome apples.  A visit to those apple trees was one of the mainstays of our summer schedule.

There is a wonderful architectural description on the listing of the buildings of Ireland.  There are additional images here.  Its interesting to note that it considers the property to date between 1750-1780 and speculate that it may have been built as a harbour masters home or a constabulary barracks.  Despite searching, I haven’t yet found any evidence of same.

Photo from Buildings of Ireland (above)

Daisybank opened as a Coaching Inn in 1793, serving the mail packet station at Cheekpoint which originated with the local landlord Cornelius Bolton.  We know the date as the hotelier, J. Sly advertised his new Inn in the Waterford Herald. The advertisement is dated as January 21st 1793  By calling it a new Inn, I think it safe to assume that the old inn is what we now know as McAlpins, Suir Inn.

The next mention that we find is an advertisement from May 12th 1801, The lease is open to be filled immediately, and states that it was lately occupied by one William Jackson.

Jackson we learn elsewhere had only days previously “rose early, went down to the pier, threw himself in the river and was drowned”1

In 1808 James Howley was running the hotel and the venture was expanding.  He was overseeing the erection of new stables for as many as ten horses. 2 

I have read three accounts or reviews of those who stayed at the Hotel, none of them were very positive and one is blunt and to the point “It was dark before we reached Cheek Point – where there is a large dirty inn – for the reception of Packet Passengers”3

The mail Packet moved to Passage East in 1813 and with it the hotelier Howley.4 His reputation must not have been all bad as a hotelier!

Frustratingly there is no record to be found from 1813 to 1848, But in 1848 Patrick Tracy was leasing this property from the Power estate when it was valued at over £18.  He was still there two years later, and interestingly, it was then being used as a hotel.  We can only speculate that it remained so during this period.

Although you might think that there was not a lot of call for a hotel in the village at that time, accounts of shipping and other happenings on the river highlight a vibrant level of trade in and out of the harbour.  A piece from the Waterford News 7th June 1850 gives an example of a Sunday afternoon in the village.  We learn that the quay was “crowded with boats of all kinds and sizes” The monied class of the city were escaping downriver to spend a day boating, walking “beauteous walks”to the Minaun and there views that “could hardly be excelled”  Tracey is running a table d’hote which on the day is “filled to overflowing”  The entire piece is given below.

The Waterford News 7/6/1850

I could only find one other mention of the house, dated 1886.  The Advertisement is below, but in brief a certain Captain Coffey is putting up the lease on his “charming residence”.  The lease is for 8 years and the present owner (Patrick Power of Faithlegg House) has expended £500 on improvements.  The rent is £29 per annum.

Aggie Power came to live in the house in 1888 according to her grandson Deaglán.  she was four months old at the time.  Wonder did the family move in as a result of the above add.  Aggie lived to be a great age and had a lifetime of stories connected to the house.  Alas I never knew the lady but Pat Murphy told me before of her remembering workers employed on the building of the Barrow Bridge staying as boarders in the house.  The Bridge opened in 1906.

In the 70’s it was bought by a Londoner named Bert Almond, a gentleman, who had a holiday home on the road below beside the pub.  Bert could see the potential that others could not, but in the early 1990’s he sold it to a developer named Pat Fitzgerald, who had the skills and the cash to turn it into what it is now, a fully restored and eye pleasing family home.  It’s now the family residence of the Nevin McGuires and long may they happily reside there.

1,2,3&4 All references are taken from I was a day in Waterford edited by TN Fewer from a piece by Julian Walton called Cornelius Bolton and the Packet Service.  pp49 – 53

My thanks to my cousin James Doherty for all the new paper clippings contained in this piece.

Thanks also to Deaglán De Paor and Susan Jacob for information on the Power family.