the Clyde boats – Clyde Shipping company at Waterford

I was raised on stories of the Clyde boats such as the Rockabill or the Tuskar.  It wasn’t just because they passed the house on a regular basis, but they were major employers in the area, and were vital when it came to the export of cattle and other goods. We can’t ignore that there was also the connection to emigration and the loss that was felt when people went away, or the joy they felt on return, whether holiday or for longer. My father tended to take either of these ships as they sailed to Liverpool, where he was based sailing on English ships. My mother of course was more familiar with the Great Western. a rival company, that sailed to Fishguard and hence, for her at least, London.
Rockabill at Waterford circa 1954
Via Andy Kelly (Shortall CQ  47)
The Clyde boats of my parents generation of course represented the last of the ships and a fine coasting tradition that spanned well over 100 years.  The Clyde Shipping company started out life, unsurprisingly I guess given the name, in Glasgow on the banks of the River Clyde in 1815. As the company prospered it entered the Irish market in 1856, initially to Cork but quickly to other ports such as Waterford.  It was the backbone of the Irish goods trade, particularly in the South East, and Waterford as a result of its location was a pivotal hub. In 1912, the company bought the rival Waterford Steamship Company. (1)
Clyde Shipping poster from early 1900’s
featuring the SS Tuskar. Via Paul O’Farrell

To get a sense of the scale of the business here’s an advert from the Cork Examiner in 1878. (2)

Regular Weekly Service between Cork, Skibereen, Schull, Bantry, Castletown-Berhaven, Valencia, Cahirciveen, Dingle &c., &c., by the Steamers “Rockabill” and “Fastnet”. For particulars of Sailings see separate Bills.
December, 1878
The Cheapest Route for Goods to and from the above Ports and Towns adjacent thereto.
The New and Powerful Screw Steamers 
or other First-class Vessels, are intended to sail without Pilots, and with liberty to tow vessels and to call at any Port or Ports in any order in or out of the customary course, to Receive and Discharge Cargo, or for any other purpose whatsoever.
TUESDAYS, 3rd, 10th, 17th and 31st December and on MONDAY 23rd December
TUESDAYS, 10th and 31st December
TUESDAYS, 3rd and 17th, and Monday 23rd December
MONDAYS 9th and 16th December, and SATURDAYS 21st and 28th December
Tuesday, 3rd Dec., via Waterford…12 Noon
Friday, 6th (direct) …2pm
Monday, 9th via Belfast…2pm
Tuesday, 10th, via Waterford & Dublin …3pm
Friday, 13th (direct) …5pm
Monday, 16th via Belfast …9pm
Tuesday, 17th, via Waterford …10am
Friday, 20th, (direct) …1pm
Saturday, 21st, via Belfast …2pm
Monday, 23rd, via Waterford …3pm
Saturday, 28th, via Belfast …5pm
Tuesday, 31st, via Waterford and Dublin …9am
Clyde Offices as they look today
Company motif over the upper windows


Wednesdays, 4th 11th, and 18th December …1pm
Thursday, 26th December …1pm
Fridays, 6th, 13th and 20th December …1pm
Saturday, 7th December …8pm
Saturday, 14th December …4pm
Saturday 21st December …7pm
Saturday, 28th December …4pm

MONDAYS, 2nd, 23rd, and 30th December.
WEDNESDAYS, 11th and 18th December.

Every Monday, via Waterford …1pm
Every Wednesday, via Waterford …1pm
Every Friday, via Dublin …1pm
Except during Christmas and New Year Holidays, when Sailings will be
Tuesday, 24th December, via Waterford …1pm
Friday, 27th December via Dublin …1pm
Tuesday, 31st December via Waterford …1pm
Caledonian Railway to Greenock, 6pm


                                                                                Cabin.          Return,   Deck
                                                Cork to Waterford …   9s          …    14s   …   5s?*
                                                Cork to Dublin      …   10s        …    15s   …   5s?     
                                                Cork to Belfast      …   17s 6d   …   —     …   ?
                                                Cork to Glasgow   …   17s 6d   …   25s   ….   ?
   Children above (?two) and under twelve years of age half fare
Return Tickets, available for One Month, not Transferable

Note.- The Clyde Shipping Co. insure all goods shipped by this Line of Steamers at 3s 4d per (cont.?) to Traders having yearly agreements, and 5s, per (cont?) to occasional shippers. Values to be declared at time of shipment. Forms and information to be had at the offices.

For Rates of Freight , &c., apply to
Clyde Shipping Co., Queen Street Limerick;
Clyde Shipping Co., Custom House Quay, Waterford;
Clyde Shipping Co., 21, Eden Quay, Dublin;
James Maddock, Newport [Mon.];
J.C. Pinkerton. 10 Victoria Street, Belfast;
Clyde Shipping Co., Custom House Place Greenock;
Clyde Shipping Co., 2, Oswald Street, Glasgow;
Patrick’s Quay, Cork

The above gives some sense of scale to the operation.  On the list of ships it was noteworthy that the two ships most closely recognised with Waterford, the Coningbeg and Formby did not feature.  Their dual loss in 1917 would  rock the city and harbour. I was interested to note that the company had the right to sail without pilotage into and out of ports, normally a good revenue for the port, and one that would not be lightly waived. Also intrigued to see how prevalent it was for steam ships to offer towing facilities. Obviously the golden age of sail was coming to an end, but the need for becalmed sailing ships to get to port or sea was a lucrative business.  Perhaps the most interesting point I found was the willingness to call to any port to discharge or take cargo. It might explain why a ship of coasting size was at Cheekpoint in the photo below.
Unidentified large ship at Cheekpoint circa 1900
NLI Poole Collection
It was also interesting to see so many familiar ships names in this very old notice. Needless to say, the Rockabill mentioned in the ad was a different vessel. From the 1860s, there was a tradition of naming ships in the company after lighthouses, or lightships. In all 32 names were used, some on up to five different vessels(3). As can be seen the Waterford company offices were located on Customs House Quay.  The offices finally closed in 1967 and I believe the last sailing of a Clyde boat from the city, at least under the company flag was Rockabill in 1968 (but I’m happy to be corrected on this point). Ending a very proud tradition indeed.

* Some parts of the paper were difficult to read, if not illegible. I’ve added a ? where I was unsure of the text, and left it blank where I was totally unsure.

(1) McElwee. R.  The Last Voyage of the Waterford Steamers.
(2) Cork Examiner, 13/12/1878, P.4
(3) Here’s a full list of the company ships 

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Jack Meades Commercial Ice House

A few years back a group of scientists were gathered and asked what was the 20th Century’s greatest invention.  Out of an eventual list of 100, refrigeration topped the bill. You might think the kitchen fridge is a relatively modern development, and I guess you’d be right, but the idea that cold could be used to keep food fresher for longer was identified by our distant forefathers. The Egyptians for example used earthen ware jars of water, left out on cold nights, to cool rooms in the daytime heat. Here’s another example of how incredibly intelligent our fore bearers were
In Europe in the 17th Century, a fashion for the building of residential ice houses developed and we have a great example on Faithlegg estate which we have seen before on the blog. (In fact to understand the rest of this piece I’d ask you to look at the previous blog for a context.)
But there is another Ice house in the area, much bigger, yet more accessible.  Lets call it Jack Meade’s Ice House, though we could as easily call it Ballymaclode Ice House as it resides in that townland.  Its circular in build, approximately 20 ft in diameter on the inside and over 30 feet high.  The wall to the South, which would have taken the most sun was six feet wide in the past, and was a cavity construction.  The roof was thatched and entrance was via the door near the roof, and accessed no doubt from the present garden of the Kenny family home.

I’ve long entertained a notion that the Ice house, as big as it was, must have been built with the coming of the Scotch Weirs in the early 19th Century, which gave rise to the Salmon Wars or the weir wars later in the century. The Barony of Gaultier featured an article about it by Ray McGrath in their latest newsletter. Originating in Scotland, the practice exploded with a new approach to the preservation of salmon, the use of flaked ice.


Inside the building
Previous attempts to use ice was found to be problematic, a fish when placed on a block of ice, fused with it and the flesh of the fish was damaged. The new approach which was brought from China in the late 18th Century, saw the ice being chopped or flaked and then the fish being surrounded by it.  The fish were thus preserved without damage…the Chinese had been doing it for centuries 1.

Remains of the cavity on the south face of the structure
This new technique, coupled with developing rail transport, meant that fresh salmon could now be delivered to the rapidly expanding industrial cities, especially London, where fresh salmon had long been prized, but was hard to get.  The new technologies and the new markets saw a rash of weir building, with little or no regard to the centuries old traditions of traditional nets men and “head weir” men such as had existed since at least the coming of the Cistercians to Waterford harbour.

Old entrance point

As a consequence of the demand for Ice a new trade was developed, apparently initially in America but it eventually spread to Europe, who could naturally depend on the Norwegians for a ready supply of cut blocked ice. This was transported on sail boats to harbours such as Waterford and then carried along on lighters to Ice House locations such as at Jack Meade’s.  Straw or sawdust was used as an insulator between the blocks.  I’ve found little enough evidence of Ice House use in Waterford, but it was stored in basements all across England, and I have no doubt it was likewise stored in the city and New Ross.

accessed from
I wonder however, did Jack Meade’s Ice House pre-dated this era?  Looking at the design and the fact that it had a thatched roof, it’s possible that it was an earlier build, and if it was, it most probably served the big houses that were in the area.  At a stones throw I can think of Ballycanvan House, Foxmount, Brook Lodge, Mount Druid and Blenihem.  I’m guessing that just like at Faithlegg, the landowners of the area, chose an ideal location to harvest ice from Ballycanvan Stream when the weather was right and to deposit it into the ice house.  It could then be brought to the homes of the rich to impress guests with chilled white wine or sorbets in the height of summer.  It could also be used to store a large quantity of perishable goods.  Meat and fish etc could be suspended from the roof beams above the ice and be preserved long after they would have turned in normal circumstances.

There is a story of Ice blocks coming up the pill in Lighters, so it was to see this trend emerge, and it’s probably that like an “Ice Box” I have located nearby with the assistance of Pat Murphy, that it did play a part in the Scotch Weir developments. 
That it stands today, and is accessible to view is a testament to the vision of Carmel and Willie Hartley.  They should be thanks by all and sundry for their interest and dedication to our local agrarian heritage.  I for one am eternally grateful.

1 Robertson. I.A. The Tay Salmon Fisheries since the eighteenth century.  Cruithne Press.  1998 Glasgow.

For more information on Icehouses: Buxbaum. T.  Icehouses.  Shire Publications.  2008.  Buckinghamshire.

the life of a Waterford boy sailor

I read recently that some children do not leave home until 27 years of age.  Although this has less to do with protection and more to do with finances, spare a thought for the child sailors of the 18th & 19th C. It will comes as no surprise of course to anyone who read the stories of Horatio Hornblower or watched that fine movie Master and Commander.  But the Royal Navy had very marked shortages in crew, particularly at time of war.

Boys as young as 12 were recruited, often as a means of escaping poverty, others as a means of punishment or reform, to fill various roles aboard ship. These roles included servant boys, cabin boys, carpenters mates, and, what I have read was the worst job in the navy, a Loblolly boy – surgeons mate. The navy was also a career of course and the families of the middle classes also sent their boys to become midshipmen who through study and experience might enhance their opportunities.  A phrase used to capture the lot was Younkers.

Philip Richard Morris – Two Young Midshipmen in Sight of Home

The life of the younkers was a mixed one no doubt, and probably very much depended on their posting and those given charge of them. But there were opportunities for advancement and the greatest Master and Commander of the era, Admiral Nelson started life as a twelve year old midshipman. We also had a midshipman from our locality, Henry Bolton. I’m not sure if we can say his career was typical, but it is certainly interesting.

Henry was the youngest son of Cornelius Bolton. The Boltons were the owners of Faithlegg House, now hotel of the same name, and Henry was born there in July 1796. Unfortunately not being first born put the young lad at a disadvantage and on the 19th March 1809 he joined the Royal Navy, signing on as a First Class Volunteer aboard the 74 gun ship of the line HMS Victorius.  He was a few months short of his 13th Birthday

He first saw action during the Napoleonic wars, when the Royal Navy in alliance with the Austrians tried to cut off the French fleet at Flushing and invade the low countries. The so called Walcheren Campaign was a disaster from start to finish and saw the deaths of 4000+ British troops, the vast majority from illness.  Henry survived however.

example of a fifth rate frigate such as HMS Thetis 
He next saw action in the Mediterranean, and finished off his stint with the ship when during the war of 1812 declared by America against the British. His ship limped back to home following a grounding incident while trying to blockade American ships in the Elisabeth River and he was transferred to the HMS Tiber.  He served on the Tiber from 1814-1815.
He joined the HMS Opossum in Arpil 1815, a Cherokee class Brig which saw service in the Channel and the North America Station.  He served under Commander John Hay, who would later to rise to a position of rear Admiral.
His next ship was the Sloop, HMS Blossom, on which he served between 1818 -1827. The Blossom was involved in extensive surveying of the pacific Islands and extending the British dominion wherever she sailed.  Bolton must have had many adventures and stories to tell.

“HMS Blossom (1806)” by William Smyth (1800-1877) – Transferred from en.wikipedia
to Commons. (15 August 2009 (original upload date)) Original uploader was Shem1805 
at en.wikipedia(Original text: National Maritime Museum online collections). Licensed under
 Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons –
His last ship was the HMS Thetis, a 46 gun 5th rate Frigate. He joined the ship in 1827 in a senior position and served aboard her until August 1930 at which point he got an appointment ashore at Waterford.  He was fortunate. 4 months later on the 4th of December the Thetis was wrecked at Cape Frio on the South American Coast. The wreck was a major embarrassment to the Navy and both the captain and master faced a naval tribunal due to miscalculating the ships position. The ship was only a day out of Rio when she drifted ashore. She was later lost with 25 souls, (although 275 men and boys survived) but it was the cargo that was the biggest talking point. She was carrying gold bullion and coinage estimated at the then value of $810,000, collected from taxes and trade.
Meanwhile Captain Bolton was most probably looking forward to a Christmas ashore, in his new position of Inspecting Commander of the Coast guard at Waterford. He served two terms and following his marriage in 1839 to Ann, only child of William Kearney of Waterford they settled into civilian life, spending some of it at least at Ballinlaw, above Cheekpoint on the River Barrow.
He died on May 30th 1852, having seen most of the world, despite the fact that he didn’t have a TV or the Internet. He was buried in old Faithlegg Church with his father.

I took all of the information about his Naval career from the following naval biography and a further piece here. For more on Henry Bolton see Julian Walton’s On This Day, Vol II.  published in 2014 pp152-53.

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The day I almost killed the Skipper

Paddy Moran was an old school fisherman. He was a brother to my Grandmother, Maura Moran, and I knew from her, just how hard she, Paddy and her other brothers worked the river from their earliest years. With the arrival of better nets, outboard motors and relatively comfortable oilskins, life improved. But the old guys still yearned for the old methods, particularly when drifting nets for salmon. Those methods worked for them and they were very slow to change.
I’d been raised with the newer methods of salmon fishing, where although the oars were used, it was usually at a minimum, where you probably went home if you were dog tired, where everyone was your friend. So I came as a culture shock to find myself aboard the Judy, his fine old punt of battleship grey and back tar, relearning my trade with “Uncle Paddy”.
My Father Bob RIP, Chris, Paul Duffin, myself and Robert
displaying the catch late 1980’s

I’d started earlier in the Spring with Paddy’s son, Pat, and Gerry Boland, fishing eels. But in the summer the eels disappeared and Paddy had a berth for me. Life aboard the Judy was different from the outset. Slow and patient, always watching, never saying much and perpetually on the oars either setting, hauling or keeping up with the nets. He set the nets in a totally different way, hauled him with his own preference and kept me in line with curt commands, or a withering look, that told me who was exactly in charge. 

As the weeks passed I came to realise just how much I had to re-learn. I struggled to keep the boat on the nets, seemed to run the punt aground when it should have been afloat, set the nets to fast or too slow, couldn’t clear fouls fast enough and couldn’t be trusted with taking in a fish. In other boats I’d fished in the skipper would boast about his catch, Paddy kept it quiet. Most boats as they passed would hold up their fingers to show their catch, three fish meant three fingers. It gave a skipper with no fish aboard a bit of heart, but I learned fast to keep my hands down and simply nod. Information like that was kept for one or two crews; boats who didn’t realise there were fish swimming, were inclined to go home, hence more space for us. 
On the Flood (incoming) tide, punts would normally gather at the Coolya Weir and in turn drift them up the Shelbourne Bank on the flood tide eventually finishing at the Power station. It was a tortuous trip, with nets getting snagged, crabs fouling the nets and currents either pulling the nets off or dragging them ashore. Old schoolers didn’t like to go below the Campile Pill, or indeed the White Stone if they could find some space.

On one particular neap flood tide, we set the nets into the white stone just ahead of another boat that had fallen ashore, We were steaming down having hauled the nets at the Power Station when Paddy spotted a gap, and without warning he threw the buoy of the nets out and brought the punt about. I jumped to the cork rope and began to set, looking over my shoulder to see who had “lost the drift” to Paddy’s eagle eye. Once at the wall it was oars out and we drifted silently along with the incoming tide. At the “paling” the remaining nets were set out, parallel to the embankment and we grounded the punt on the shore and watched the nets. It was just covering which was a good time of tide to be in the “Bite”
As the tides were neap (which meant weak tides) the nets were very slow to move and Paddy was delighted because it meant we would probably see out the entire flood tide from that particular “set”. He would sit watching the nets, smoking away, and pass the odd comment as he watched the other punts coming or going. I often wondered did he know what the fish were thinking as he stared at his nets, scanning along the corks, watching for the slightest movement that might suggest a fish. 
People often assume in their ignorance, that Salmon swim blindly into nets. Whilst that may be true on the high seas, in the rivers they are much more cautious. When fish slam into a net, it’s normally because they have panicked. Generally they swim along the nets, poking them looking for gaps, seeking a way around. Paddy had long learned to create all manner of twist and turn in an attempt to trap a fish.
On this particular day, the time dragged.  Paddy sat in the stern of the punt, smoking his Players Navy cut and watching the nets like a hawk. Meanwhile I was out on the shore wandering along gathering driftwood.  The nets drifted sluggishly and long before high water the outside buoy started to hang back, and in time dozens of corks had floated together.  Paddy decided we should head out and drag the nets off a little, so that they could catch a bit more tide.
We rowed out an I bended down to catch the outside buoy. It was one of the old style metal buoys which if it struck your knee would shatter it.  Most boats at the time had shiny plastic buoys which were light and bright and could be seen from a distance. Old school frowned on such modernity.
Paddy started the outboard motor and instructed me to sit back and put a foot on the buoy, jamming it in the aft thwart, while the engine towed the nets off into the current. We had about half a net straightened off when it happened. I was facing astern keeping an eye on the nets, Paddy had just turned for’ad to check our position against a passing punt.  It was then that I saw it.  Out of the last of the fouled corks raised the tail of the biggest salmon I had ever seen, I screamed to Paddy who turned instinctively to see what I was shouting about. I knew we had to slacken off, so I jumped up releasing the pressure off the buoy, expecting Paddy to ease off on the throttle, but for once he was a bit slower than I. As I released the buoy it shot out from under my foot and catapulted off the aft thwart. It zoomed astern and as Paddy turned to face me to give instructions, the buoy brushed the ash on the fag hanging from his mouth.
He turned away again in the direction of the disappearing buoy and I just thought to myself should I just jump now or wait to be thrown. However, we he turned back he had a twinkle in his eye.  By slackening off when I did I’d kept the net around the salmon, and now we had a chance to land him. In old school terms, nothing was more important than landing the fish, and I’d instinctively acted to, at least try, to ensure it.

When a fish barrel, was much more

I’ve often mentioned that the Cheekpoint of my childhood was a very different place to what it is today.  One of those major differences was an active Herring fishery which was not just water based, but also provided land based employment.

Back then the herring trawlers often docked at Cheekpoint quay.  The trawlers usually pair trawled for the shoals of herring at the mouth of the harbour or further along the Wexford Shore. The fish when caught was emptied into the hold of the trawlers and then they steamed to Cheekpoint, Passage or Dunmore East to unload. A video here gives some sense of the scene.

Denis Doherty RIP, Seamus Barry & Keith Elliott, Cheekpoint mid 1970’s
photo via Tomás Sullivan from Cheekpoint & Faithlegg through the ages

Once in harbour the herring was “dug out” of the holds and removed by the “Cran” a measure of fish by basket.  It was lifted off by trawler winch.  Some of the crew did the dirty job, digging out, a luckier man, but a colder job, worked the winch.  I guess the skipper had it handier than most, he could relax in the wheelhouse and tick off the cran as they emerged out of the hold.

Onshore at Cheekpoint the place as all action.  The Herring were spilled into a stainless steel chute where salt was added and then they were stirred about to ensure an even coating.  Once completed they were pushed towards a circular hole at the far end, at the bottom of which was a plastic fish barrel.  The barrel had to be completely filled before it was rolled away and then a lid put on top. Once secured it would be turned on its edge and then kicked up the quay in a rolling action and stood once more to await collection.

Between all those actions, we as children, flitted about, watching the action, trying to be helpful, and cautious not to get in the way. We picked up the herring that fell out of the basket adding them to the chute, tried to see into the trawler hold to measure the progress of the offloading, helped to bring down empty barrels to be filled and ran any errand that was required.  Hanging round the quay was a great way of getting a few bob for sweets!

The Green Cheekpoint, barrels awaiting a catch
photo via Tomás Sullivan from Cheekpoint & Faithlegg through the ages

Those barrels were also of great use around our homes.  Many was the one that blew off the quay and was retrieved from the river or Ryan’s shore.  Then they would make a perfect water butt, as many still believed that washing your face in rainwater was much more natural, than washing from a tap.  They would be used to store nets, firewood, animal feed, basically anything you could think of.

On one particular occasion I recall a frenzy of activity on Ryan’s shore.  The previous night a storm had washed several hundred barrels off Passage East quay and into the river.  They had drifted with a flood tide to Cheekpoint and were placed all along the shore at the high water mark, like a blackened necklace of seaweed and tacky plastic beads.  Ned Heffernan (RIP) was going round the Mount Avenue promising all the young lads 50p per barrel delivered to his front garden.  There were fellas bursting themselves in trying to carry as many as possible up to Ned’s and it went on for a good part of the day.  I don’t recall how many I actually brought back, but I’m still awaiting payment.

But I think my lasting memory of the barrels was the fun they gave us.  In those days there were hundreds of empty barrels in Cheekpoint.  They were stored at the back of Jim or Denis Doherty’s (RIP) houses, or along the green. And we got hours of fun from playing on them.  They were our horses for cowboys and indians, a shaky obstacle course, goal posts, castles and forts and a great place for hide and seek, once you didn’t get stuck inside.  On one occasion I was in a barrel at the top of the Green and got rolled to the bottom. I wondered was it ever going to stop or would I end up in the river,  It eventually stopped an I emerged out triumphant, only to stagger all over the green with my head swimming.

when is a fish barrel, more than a fish barrel?
Photo by William Doherty

The sad part about such a recollection is the lack of commercial fishing activity now in our village. The herring, salmon and eel fisheries brought a dynamism and an economic spinoff.  The shop was busy, post office, pub, even Pat O’Leary the local farmer was busy, he used to come down in his tractor to lift the filled herring barrels onto a truck.  If you wanted to work in those days you could, and it meant an extra few bob in everyone’s pocket.  But perhaps even sadder still, because it speaks to childhood, something we all deserve to get the most from, is the loss of innocence.   I don’t remember anyone ever telling us to be careful.  I don’t remember any adults ever being cross. I don’t recall ever really thinking we were in any danger, whether on the head of the quay watching the work, or on the green rolling in barrels.  I doubt we would get away as lightly today!

I have to thank William Doherty for inspiring the blog post this week.  He sent me on a photo of an old fish barrel (above) with a memory of how we played with them as children, which prompted this piece.