How Two Brave Brownstown Fishermen Changed the Course of Lifesaving in Tramore Bay

To conclude our Mayday Mile coverage on the blog this year David Carroll shares a fascinating insight into the ultimate sacrifice of two fishermen and how it provoked the community to campaign for a lifeboat station. Remember the Mayday mile runs until the end of the month, and there are numerous events happening countrywide to sustain the voluntary efforts of the RNLI. Our own Dunmore East team can still be supported too. Over to David Carroll now.

Tramore Bay lies about eight miles west of the entrance to Waterford Harbour and the famous Hook Head Lighthouse and is embraced by two headlands, Brownstown, 110 feet high, to the east and Great Newtown, 150 feet high, to the west. The Bay is about eight square miles and is divided by a spit of sand three miles long running west to east, hence the name Trá Mhór, Great Strand. The south side of the strand is washed by the open sea whilst the side forms a lagoon connected at the east end to the sea by a narrow deep channel known as Rinneshark Harbour.

On one side of Tramore Bay is Brownstown Head, with two towers and on the other is Great Newtown Head, which has three towers, one of which has on top the famous Metal Man statue. Tramore Bay has, for centuries, held an infamous reputation as a graveyard of ships.1

Tramore Bay.    Courtesy of: The chart by Doyle dating from 1737 uses the spelling ‘Rineshark’ for Rinneshark, an area that has several variations in the spelling, including ‘Rhineshark’ (1858).

From the sea, it was difficult to distinguish Tramore Bay from the entrance to Waterford Harbour, which vessels in distress would normally try to reach for shelter. The towers on Brownstown and Great Newtown Head were placed there in 1822-’23 in order to prevent this confusion. The towers were easily obscured in darkness and bad weather. Once a square-rigged ship got into difficulty in Tramore Bay, it was difficult to get on a tack that would clear one of the headlands. Facing south-south-west, the bay gave insufficient shelter from the prevailing winds to make anchoring effective. Only the Rinneshark channel at the north-east corner of the bay provided potential shelter but this was influenced by severe tides and complicated by many sand bars.

Tramore Bay. To this day, it can still be seen that the bay was once a graveyard for many sailing ships.  Courtesy of Jamie Malone

Mr Edward Jacob (1843 – 1924) of Tramore was Lloyd’s Agent in Waterford and also the local representative for the Shipwrecked Mariners Society.  He was also the Honorary Secretary for many years of Tramore RNLI. These involvements led him to have a particular interest in the hazards of the bay and to take notes and gather newspaper cuttings as well as plotting the location of shipwrecks on charts.  Starting in 1816, Mr Jacob’s records span eighty-four years of which no less than eighty-three shipwrecks occurred with the loss of four hundred and forty lives were lost.  The worst casualty was that of the Sea Horse. 2

Edward Jacob (1843 – 1924).
Courtesy of Jonathan P Wigham

The Sea Horse was a troop ship that sailed from Ramsgate in Kent bound for Cork with soldiers of the 59th Regiment and their families, who were returning from the Napoleonic Wars. In an attempt to reach the safety of Waterford Harbour, the ship found it impossible to round Brownstown Head and regrettably broke apart in Tramore Bay. To this present day, the tragedy of the Sea Horse is synonymous with Tramore and still resonates with the people of Tramore.  Records show that of the 393 people on board, 363 perished and only 30 of the strongest survived. 3

The records of the shipwrecks, starting with the Sea Horse in 1816 up until 1858 were published in the Waterford Mail on February 4th, 1858. This list had been compiled by Mr JW Maher and had been first sent to the Mayor of Waterford in response to the latest wreck in Tramore Bay and also as part of a campaign to have a dedicated lifeboat station at Tramore.  Up until that point, rescue attempts to save the lives of shipwrecked sailors fell to local fishermen and boatmen from HM Coastguard to venture out, usually in very difficult conditions.

The wreck that Mr Maher referred to was the French brig, La Capricieuse, with a cargo of coal, on a voyage from Llanelly to St Malo, with a crew of seven, which got into difficulty in Tramore Bay on January 25th, 1858.

A local newspaper described it thus:


On Monday morning last a wreck, which was unfortunately attended with loss of life, occurred in Tramore Bay.- It appears from all that can be gathered on the subject, that a French vessel, La Capricieuse, laden with coals from Llanelly to St Malo, with a crew of seven men, had been some time previous to the catastrophe, beating outside the bay of Tramore, the sea running mountains high at the time. Shortly afterwards the vessel waterlogged, drove into the bay, and struck on Rhineshark point,remaining there in a most perilous condition. The coast guards put out in their boat to the relief of the vessel, but could not approach her; when a yawl, with four brave fishermen, put out and succeeded in reaching the vessel, the crew of which they took on board; but on her return, a heavy sea struck the yawl and upset it. At this time the coastguard boat, which had lain on its oars, came to the rescue, and taking six men on board brought them safely to the shore. She then returned and found three men holding on by the keel of the upturned boat, whom she took on board; but three who remained behind after the coastguard boat had first went to land, viz., John Fitzgerald and Thomas Crotty, fishermen and Pierre Dubois, one of the crew, had met a watery grave. Had there been a lifeboat here it is believed that all hands would have been saved. The vessel is now dry at low water. We are glad to learn a subscription list is now in course of signature for the relief of the families of the brave fishermen, who to save the lives of others, sacrificed their own.

The Waterford News of January 29th, 1858

Note:  In the Board of Trade record of Gallantry Medal Awards, there are six fishermen named as being in the yawl and not four as per the newspaper report. The crew members, who survived the capsizing of the yawl were: Michael Downey,  Edward Kelly, John Kelly, and John Dunn. They received Bronze Gallantry Medals in addition to a gratuity of £2 each. Robert Aicheson, Chief Boatman of HM Coastguard was also awarded a Bronze Gallantry Medal.

The loss of the two fishermen, who had gallantly sacrificed their own lives to save others, sent shockwaves through the local community. There was an immediate response. On the following day, January 30th, 1858, the Waterford Mail published the details of a petition sent to John E Feehan, Mayor of Waterford requesting a Public Meeting to make provision for the families of the drowned fishermen and to take steps to procure a lifeboat that would be stationed in Tramore. The notice read as follows:

To the Right Worshipful the Mayor of Waterford

We, the undersigned Residents of Waterford, and its neighbourhood, request you will convene a Public Meeting to take steps towards making some provision for the families of John Fitzgerald and Thomas Crotty, who were drowned in their attempts to rescue the Crew of the French Brig, La  Capricieuse in Tramore Bay, on Monday, the 25th Inst., ; and also, to take such steps  as may be necessary for procuring a Life Boat, to be stationed at Tramore, to prevent, as far as possible, such casualties in future.

                                                                   Waterford, 27th January 1858.

Waterford Mail. January 30th, 1858

The letter was signed by a large number of prominent citizens and merchants and Lord Mayor Feehan arranged for a public meeting to be held on February 1st in the Town Hall at 12 o’clock. The same newspaper also contained details, posted by Thomas Walsh, Auctioneer,  of the sale of the wreck of the La Capricieuse and her cargo of coal, to be held on February 2nd.

Waterford Mail, February 4th,1858.

In the Waterford Mail, dated February 4th, 1858, a Mr Dillon had a letter published in which he notes that an efficient committee had been formed at the public meeting, which had elected him as treasurer, in his absence. Mr Dillon also noted that he and Mr JW Strangman had already been collecting subscriptions for the aid of the two bereaved families. This amounted to £95 -19- 0 and when added to monies received by the editor of the Waterford Mail and the Mayor, the total amount came to £117-9-6. It is also recorded that the RNLI donated £20 to the fund set up to bring relief to the families of the two bereaved fishermen. Philip Dunphy, a local history enthusiast states that the final amount far exceeded the above figure.

A month later, in the edition of March 4th, the Waterford Mail published copies of correspondence between the Mayor Feehan of Waterford and the French Ambassador and other diplomats in London, seeking compensation for the bereaved families.  The French responses seemed to be rather pedantic. 

The committee set up to collect money to assist the families of the two drowned fishermen were successful in their appeal to the Royal National Lifeboat Institution in London for a lifeboat to be stationed at Tramore.  There was an immediate response from the Institution and an inspector arrived shortly afterwards and selected a site for a lifeboat house, which was built and Tramore received its first RNLI lifeboat in January 1859, thirty feet in length,  which was unnamed.  Mr JW Maher, the compiler of the early list of wrecks in Tramore Bay, became the first honorary secretary of the lifeboat and Richard O. Johns became coxswain. Coxswain Johns would be the recipient of three RNLI Silver Medals during his time with the Tramore lifeboats. 4  

Coxswain Richard O. Johns.
Courtesy of Jonathan P Wigham

Over the next eight years, Mr Jacob records the lifeboat being launched on fourteen occasions to give aid to vessels and saving about one hundred and twenty lives. With the advent of steam, the number of shipwrecks began to decrease towards the end of the 19th century.  With the planned arrival of a new motor lifeboat ‘C & S’ (ON 690) to Dunmore East in 1925, the Tramore lifeboat was withdrawn in 1924. Tramore had to wait for forty years until 1964, when an inshore lifeboat station was established and has given outstanding service since that time.

One wonders, if any of the one hundred and twenty or so fortunate mariners that were rescued by the Tramore lifeboats, spare a thought as to how the lifeboat service that rescued them came to be established.   It was the gallantry of the two fishermen, John Fitzgerald and Thomas Crotty that caught the imagination of the people of Waterford and the surrounding area and galvanised them to successfully petition the RNLI to establish a lifeboat in Tramore Bay.

Dunmore East’s Trent class RNLB Elizabeth and Ronald (ON 1215), rounding Brownstown Head, following an exercise in Tramore Bay during 2014. This is close to the spot where John Fitzgerald and Thomas Crotty lost their lives in 1858. Photo courtesy of Neville Murphy

I first became aware of the names of John Fitzgerald and Thomas Crotty in February 2020. Along with Brendan Dunne, a volunteer crewmember from  Dunmore East RNLI, we visited the RNLI Heritage Department at Poole in Dorset to carry out research for the book Dauntless Courage.

David Carroll at the RNLI Memorial in Poole, February 2020. Courtesy of Brendan Dunne

Outside the entrance to the RNLI College, there is a memorial that honours the courage of all those lost at sea while endeavouring to save the lives of others around the United Kingdom and Irish coasts.  The names of John Fitzgerald and Thomas Crotty are inscribed on this memorial. The memorial unveiled in 2009, serves as a source of inspiration for current and future generations of lifeboat volunteers and supporters. It is a reminder that people who carry out selfless acts of heroism to help others will always be remembered.

Since then, I have endeavoured to find out more about these two brave fishermen. I have been unable to find any information on where John Fitzgerald and Thomas Crotty were buried, that is if their bodies were recovered. It is more likely that they were never found. No reports of their bodies being washed ashore could be found in an exhaustive search through newspapers by Philip Dunphy.   I am open to correction, but no plaque or memorial appears to exist in Ireland to remember these brave men. With the two hundredth anniversary of the foundation of the RNLI taking place in 2024, maybe it would be a fitting time for favourable consideration to be given to adding their names to those on the memorial in Dunmore East Harbour that commemorates all those lost at sea?  It is appreciated that such a request would be subject to certain protocols and procedures before it could be considered.

Lost at Sea Memorial, Dunmore East Harbour. Courtesy of Neville Murphy

Certain comfort can be taken that these two men are remembered at  RNLI Headquarters in Poole. Above the list of names on the Poole memorial to those who sacrificed their own lives to save others, the simple motto of Sir William Hillary is inscribed.  Sir William founded the Royal National Institution for the Preservation of Life from Shipwreck in 1824. The name changed to the Royal National Lifeboat Institution in 1854.  The words say:


Update: 22/5/2024. The names of John Fitzgerald and Thomas Crotty were added to The Lost At Sea Memorial in Dunmore East this week. The story was featured in the News And Star.



Records of Vessels Wrecked in Tramore Bay, 1816- ‘99’ by Maurice J Wigham,        Decies No 12., September 1979.

Waterford News, January 29th, 1858

Waterford Mail, January 30th, February 4th, and March 4th, 1858.

‘Lifeboat Gallantry’ by Barry Cox (Spink  &Son Ltd and RNLI 1988).


  1.  Dauntless Courage , page 16.
  • Information extrapolated from ‘Records of Vessels Wrecked in Tramore Bay, 1816- ’99.’
  • For more information on the wreck of the Sea Horse, please see Decies No. 71, 2015 –‘The Sea Horse 1782-1816’  by Ivan Fitzgerald.  

               4.  ‘Lifeboat Gallantry’, pages 129,145, and 148.


Thank you to Jonathan Wigham, Jamie Malone, Neville Murphy, and Brendan Dunne for their courtesy in allowing their photographs to be used.

Thanks also to Philip Dunphy of Carballymore for his local insight and assistance and also to Ivan Fitzgerald, formerly of Tramore, for information and documentation to enable me to compile the article.  Ivan has carried out extensive research on the Sea Horse tragedy, and has determined the accurate numbers of soldiers, family members, officers, and crew on board the vessel.

Historical Footnotes:

Tragedy was to strike the Fitzgerald family again, almost ninety years later. On May 1st, 1947, John Fitzgerald, aged 29 years, who had served in the Coast Watching Service at LOP 17, Brownstown Head, during World War ΙΙ, was drowned along with his father, Michael, while lobster fishing.  These men were descendants of John Fitzgerald, lost in 1858.  Please see ‘Dauntless Courage’, page 143.

Readers may find the following ‘blog’ of interest?   Phillip Dunphy can confirm that the ‘John Dunne’ referred to in the article to be the same ‘’John Dunn’ who was part of the crew of the yawl that went to the rescue of the La Capricieuse in 1858.

Medal awarded to John Dunn – From Philip Dunphy’s Collection.

Carrick to Cheekpoint by traditional punt -Mayday Mile 2023

To support our local lifeboat station at Dunmore East my brother Robert and I rowed the river Suir this year – an estimated 25 miles. If you would like to support our efforts here’s the link to make a financial contribution. All donations go to the RNLI. When I wrote the first day’s account and published the blog update, we stood at €490. But before we set off on Sunday the donations were flowing in and as this update goes to print we have just over €800 online. We have postal and hand-delivered envelopes still arriving to add to our bucket collection, and Brian Power in the Cheekpoint Stores asked us to leave the sponsorship card in the shop until later this week, so we will update here once we have the full figure. – Update as of 17/5/2023 Just updated the online with bucket collection which incl postal donations and sales of strawberry plants by Robert. This came to €336. Update 18/5/2023. We just updated the site with the generous sponsorship from Powers Shop Cheekpoint – the figure raised there was €320. Thank you one and all. The figure now stands at €1,476. Update of June 2nd 2023. We reached the grand total of €1,571. While team Dunmore made the combined total €5,124. What a great achievement by the whole team. Many thanks to all who sponsored the events…Here’s to next year.

It’s terrible to be getting old. For the past two years, we completed the Mayday Mile by walking from Cheekpoint to Dunmore by cliff and shore. But as we both now have problems with arthritis, this year we thought a boat trip might be easier – on our joints I mean.

Now rowing a boat provides a two-fold challenge. As a person, It takes a certain amount of skill, knowledge, and resilience. But more importantly, you are also at the mercy of the river and the weather. The notion of this appeals to me. People talk about respecting the water – which to some simply means wearing a life jacket. But the river is a living entity, it breathes life, it changes in an instant and its tides and currents ebb and flow on their agenda – an agenda set down by natural rhythms, cosmic forces, and weather. There are also rocks, mud banks, sand bars, and man-made impediments. With motor power you can bend the river to your will…when you row, you must show it the utmost respect and attention in order to reach your destination. So we are channeling the spirits of all the past generations of river folk, fishermen, and lightermen who worked these waters and had a deep connection with it.

What follows is a photo diary of the journey. Day one was a glorious sunny day, very warm, but we battled a strong breeze that was against us until we got to Mount Congreve. Day two was cooler, with a northerly breeze, that helped us no end.

Carrick from the Old Bridge looking downriver, this was taken on Friday after we took the punt up by road. We launched from Carrick Beg and I enjoyed a row around especially admiring the “May Blobs” as one of my favourite authors and Carrick Beg native describes them in his book Full Tide – the great Michael Coady
L-R Conor, Brian, Robert and Maurice. Maurice has been a great help to me for several years now, always great advice, a source of photos and connections. he even contributed a guest blog on William O’Callaghan, the last barge operator at Carrick
Maurice insisted I get my head in…I try to avoid that as much as possible for obvious reasons 🙂
Setting out with a cheer from our brother Chris, his wife Sabrina and children Carragh and Cathal
Ormond Castle from the River…something I’d always wanted to see since reading a guest blog of the castle including a water gate by the wonderful Carrick legend Patsy Travers Mullins.
Another long time goal…to use the navigation cut that I have written about several times. One most recent blog which quoted the evidence of J Ernest Grubb to a Royal Commission stated that the Suir Steam Navigation Co (SSNCo) was established as an incorporated company in 1836 by an act of parliament. This company was charged with “improving and maintaining the navigation of the River Suir…” and for the construction of a “ship canal” at Carrick On Suir.  It was funded from a levy of 1d per ton on seagoing craft above Grannagh.  This canal was made by cutting a channel through limestone rock on the south side of the river just below Carrick On Suir allowing “ocean-going craft drawing 10 or 11 feet of water” to reach the town 
Conor Power photo
Two great guides are Conor and Brian…each was a fountain of knowledge on many aspects of the river. I think this was Riordan’s Gap (on the left) where a police officer waited to pounce on cot men who were pooching
Another goal – Roches Quay or Tinhalla. Apparently, the croppies and other prisoners were shipped out from here for transportation to Van Diemens land. Billy explained how before the canal cut, the lighters could only reach this quay, the cargo then being carried by road to Carrick. Conor is after pulling a few favours and we hope to visit by land soon. Although not in the photo, there was a very interesting house on the property which I later found to date from circa 1700
Had a big chat with the lads about the 15th century Tower House called Tybroughney Castle, a lot of history here to be explored by me at some future date. Apparently, it’s an air B&B…how bad. Coal Quay was another point of interest that I must return to, located in the foreground
According to the lads there’s a lime kiln here in the undergrowth – but no obvious landing area for a lighter to unload…these local guides are worth their weight in gold
The wind is freshening now as we head further down, ebb tide starting to run. Photo courtesy of Brian White
Slievenamon fades into the distance as we continue down the Suir. The Mountain of women…according to Wikipedia “The origin of the mountain’s name is explained in Irish mythology…, the hero Fionn mac Cumhaill was sought after by many young women. Fionn stood atop the mountain and declared that whichever woman won a footrace to the top would be his wife. Since Fionn and Gráinne were in love, he had shown her a short-cut and she duly won the race.[1][4] The mountain was also known by the longer name Sliabh na mBan bhFionn, “mountain of the fair women”.” Its getting time for our guides to leave. Their company will be missed, but its time to bend our backs to the task.
Morris Oil terminal and the third bridge we have passed today, Fiddown.
Rocketts Castle on the Waterford shore. Its been a tough row with the wind against us. Not much time for the camera since Fiddown. It took us almost an hour since passing Fiddown to reach this spot.
Passing down Polerone Quay where we had a great cheer from the shore from Catherine and another page follower Paul Cuddihy. Certainly helped our spirits and was much appreciated.
Finally a bit of shelter close to Kilmeaden Castle on the Greenway. We finally got a break here for a bit of grub and a cuppa tea. Mount Congreve is in sight now. And the dreaded Long Wretch – just have to keep focused on Grannagh. Didn’t get a photo at Congreve as the currents were erratic – I had been warned about this but it still came as a surprise. Got a lovely cheer from the shore from Carol O’Shaughnessy amongst others and even our brother-in-law Maurice dropped down for a chat…all helps with the motivation.
The old jetty at the now closed Paper Mills…our father worked there for several years, and I remember him bringing home comics that he had lifted from a shipload of magazines that were unloaded from a chip here for recycling.
Spotted this as we passed…as I explained to a very underwhelmed brother this looks like the remains of a small quay. Sure enough, I found it later on the OSI…although there was no road marked for it so more digging as to its purpose is required on my part
The Historic maps are a national treasure. The G here is for Gracedieu…Looking forward to trying to see if I can get anything further on this feature
Grannagh Castle…a welcome sight at this hour of the evening
T F Meagher bridge
Blackwater River or Pill…I’m working on a blog about this important location…well when I say working on thinking about it and plan a trip up it this summer
The Red Iron – or the Suir Railway Bridge…we are sore all over at this point, but I am enjoying the scenery now, even if there is a distinct whiff of urban industrial decay….and some clowns are burning a tyre ashore! Robert actually asked me about the bridge – and I tried not to go off on one, but I probably told him more than was necessary.
Industrial heritage building! Gouldings fertiliser plant
Finally..our last bridge of the day, Rice Bridge Waterford and almost home for the evening. 18.46pm a heck of a long day
Our last stop of the evening, a welcome beverage and an even more welcome last 15 minutes of the Leinster V Munster match…what a result Munster!!! Looking forward to a shower and bed now. Next phase tomorrow

Day two – a cooler day with northerly winds. We said we would wait until 3pm to depart as it gave the rain a chance to clear and the ebb tide to start flowing. We had a lovely send off from the city pontoons, with family and friends. Although our minds are willing our bodies are aching – so the encouragement is all the more welcome. A darker day, so although I had more time for photos, I didn’t get as many.

And away we go, with shouts of encouragement from Catherine, Geoff, Carmel and others from the Plaza. Photo courtesy of our cousin Jim Doherty
A good ebb tide flowing, but cold in the wind. Photo Jim Doherty
The entrance to Johns Pill or Johns River, I’ve been working on a blog for some time now – but it turned into a chapter of a book after I walked along it with Cian Manning, and now I probably have enough for a new book. I’m also thinking of doing a walking tour of it over the summer – although I don’t know that there would be that much interest in it. I’m well aware that my interests attract a niche audience.
Heading out of the city now, and on the Kilkenny side, this navigation light is an area known on an old chart as Smeltinghouse Point. I’ve promised myself to find out more about this placename
The Cove – a popular pooching spot for Cheekpoint drift netters back in the day
Now coming down the Ford channel between Little Island and Co Kilkenny- as I explained to Robert, dynamited and excavated on at least 3 occasions to ease access to the old Port of Waterford. I’ve a blog drafted, but never got round to completing it. You can see the ebb tide running a fair knots strong on the port navigation bouy. On the Kilkenny shore we would have Prospect House on the left and Springfield House on the right.
Fitzgeralds Castle on the Island.
The end of the Ford channel (it is marked as Queens Channel on some charts, but we never called it that, so I won’t be changing any time soon) O Brien Cement works mark the upper end of the new port, the area here was and is known as Belview after the house of the same name. It translates as the Beautiful View. It certainly was in the old days no doubt, but progress has turned it into an industrial site now, albeit with great views
The ruins of Bellevue House. It features in my walks around Faithlegg, because of the Power family connection
Looking across the Ford now to the Guide Bank Navigation light, the Ballycanvan estate in the background, the old house now in ruins. The area is close to Jack Meades, the occupied Woodlands House is in the trees.
Belview, Port of Waterford, and the Arklow Coast is coming alongside. We have to hold on here, as we don’t want to interfere with shipping. After about five minutes we realise it is not coming up any further and we can resume our row. Never, ever, get in the way of shipping. Drilled into us as children, but I saw a chap in a pleasure boat block the channel below Cheekpoint last year as he came upriver – seemingly totally unaware that a container ship was behind him – despite the loud blasts of the ship’s horn
You might just make us out on this photo just off O’Briens. Our journey has taken us from Waterford today down the Kilkenny side of the Island and we are only two miles from home at this point. Thanks to Alison Flannery for the photo.
Tied up now, and I think that is Seamus Healy supervising from the wharf. He’s retiring today (Sunday 14th May) from the Port. He has taken some great videos in recent years of the Port activities
Glasshouse, Co Kilkenny and the lower end of the port, for now. Plans are afoot to expand down. There was an old quay here, the remains of some fine steps are still on the shoreline, beyond is the ruins of Glasshouse Mill or Kennedy’s Mill and behind that is the belching chimney of Smartply
Close to home now, the Minaun and Deerpark sweeping down to the river, the Faithlegg Marsh at its feet.
Wilson Avonmouth inbound, again we had to stay close to shore to stay out of its way.
Another feature to be avoided in the lower Suir, an old ebb weir, now just a sad collection of rotting timber poles, but once a vibrant fishing “fixed engine”. I think we called this the Mill Weir, as it is located just off the old mill race. Just below it lies Snow Hill Weir, also derelict, but a few poles still stand
Home sweet home – the meeting of the three sister rivers, the Suir we have seen, the Barrow and Nore flow under the Barrow Railway Bridge. Maybe we might explore those next year if we are alive. Photo – Alison Flannery
Thank God for that…Arrived safely at the new Cheekpoint Pontoon.
Photos courtesy of Carol McGeary
The shore team 🙂 L-R Deena, me, Mam (who had just put away the rosary beads), him, Ciara his better half and Kate our sister who had a homecoming planned but we got there too early. The closest we came to a wetting over the weekend was when she doused us in holy water before we headed to Carrick.
Thanks to Carmel Jacob for the photo above and below
with Mam, cousin Michael Murphy, and my godmother Elsie Murphy. We asked the two ladies if they wanted a row out “we did enough of that in our youth” they replied

I’m indebted to my brother Robert for helping me with this…I can’t think of anyone else who would be up to the task or have the patience to listen to me. Thanks to Conor Power of Carrick for the assistance and support, and in particular his knowledge of the snap net fishery. Brian White for the wonderful discussion about placenames, history, and nature. To Maurice Power who helped me arrange the Carrick layover and was so generous with his advice on the trip and our itinerary. My thanks to Brian and Daniel Power who allowed us to put a sponsorship card in the local shop, and Bridgid who went out of her way too to promote it. To Carol McGeary who helped with the online donation page and so much more to help to promote the fundraiser. Thanks to Johhny Codd at Waterford for looking after us on the layover. To David Carroll who provided two guest blogs to promote the row, and the Mayday Mile. To Pat Moran, with who we would not have made it at all. He helped to get the punt out of the water and towed it to Carrick for the trip. Finally to everyone who sponsored the trip, which although a personal challenge, it was really about raising money for the RNLI. We owe the lifeboats a great deal, this is our small contribution to such a worthy cause. Much obliged to you all.

Pat bringing us up to Cheekpoint.

Maurice Davin – A man of the River Suir

This coming weekend my brother Robert and I will participate again in the RNLI fundraiser the Mayday Mile. This year, we are rowing the River Suir from Carrick to Cheekpoint. And to whet the appetite David Carroll has contributed a guest blog. David explores the life and work of another man of the river Maurice Davin, who like ourselves found such joy and excitement from being out on its waters. If you would like to support the RNLI, you can make a donation to our page as part of team Dunmore East, or indeed seek out you own local lifeboat which is participating also. Take us away David.

Carrick-on-Suir was the birthplace of Maurice Davin. He was born on June 29th, 1842, the eldest son of a prosperous farming family at Deerpark, who also owned a successful river trading business. With the security that a comfortable upbringing provided, Maurice could afford to indulge in a wide variety of sporting interests.

Regarded as one of the world’s finest all-around athletes – he was also a rower, rugby player, boxer, and cricketer – he was a respected household name across Ireland. Like his brothers Tom and Pat, he was a wonderfully talented competitor and achieved international fame in the 1870s when he broke several world records. However, he is best remembered for being one of the founders of the Gaelic Athletic Association (GAA) in Thurles on November 1st, 1884. He chaired the meeting and became the first president of the GAA.

Maurice Davin  1842 – 1927. Courtesy of Tipperary Museum of Hidden History

On the death of his father in 1859, he joined with his mother, a woman described as being of great acumen, to run the family’s river haulage business and the large farm at Deerpark, rented from the Marquess of Ormond.

In 1994, Séamus Ó Riain, a former President of the GAA wrote a biography, entitled:  ‘Maurice Davin (1842-1927): First president of the Gaelic Athletic Association’.   In the book, he gives us a wonderful description and account of the river trade, in which the Davin family were most prominent:

“The other arm of the Davin economy was the river trade, which was of long standing, having been initiated by Denis senior in the previous century. Succeeding generations maintained and developed the enterprise…

The first team pulled the noddy as far as Ballydine, the second took it forward to Kilsheelan and the third completed the journey to Clonmel. A towing path was constructed on the northern bank which made it possible for teams  of horses to do the hauling. Goods were conveyed from Waterford in ‘lighters,’ boats capable of carrying up to sixty tons. The usual cargo was coal, iron, timber and feeding stuffs. Sweeps of oars propelled the lighter with the tide to Carrick where the cargo was transferred to smaller craft called ‘yawls.’ These boats were constructed by Kehoes of Carrickbeg who had earned a high reputation as boat builders. They used Oregon pine which was robust and durable enough to withstand the pressures of the strong river currents and heavy merchandise they had to carry.

Four and sometimes six horses formed a team to pull the yawl. At least two teams were needed and took alternate trips, so each team got a rest period. Big bony horses were chosen and specially schooled for the work. The strongest and most reliable animal was given the lead position and the other horses were positioned in line behind him. They were hitched with strong ropes to a forked post of oak set in the deck on the yawl. While all the horses had halters, only the lead one had a bit in his mouth. A fold of hay was fixed to the halter on the river side to act as a blinker so that the horse would not shy from the water.

Two men took charge of the yawl and four others attended to the horses, guiding them along the tow path as they hauled the boat against the current. Haul marks were cut in places along the way and if the water rose above this height, as it would whenever the river was in flood after heavy rain, the horses had to be stopped because they could not contend with such a force of water. The skipper worked the tiller which had a yarn arm attached to it to provide greater leverage in guiding the yawl.

Carrick-on-Suir from an old postcard collection.   Courtesy of Tipperary Studies, Tipperary County Council Library Service.

Work started at six in the morning when the cargo was transferred  from the lighter to the yawl, which could hold from twenty to thirty tons. The hauling commenced at nine o’clock and it took five and a half hours to make the twelve miles to Clonmel. The horses were stabled and fed, and the cargo unloaded on to the dock.  The yawl was poled (propelled) back with current (without the use of horses), taking two and a half hours to reach Carrick in the evening  before seven, with a cargo of pigs, dairy produce, poultry, and grain.

When the horses were rested, they were trotted back by road to Carrick. It was a long day and strenuous work for men and beasts.  The horses were treated well, fed on gruel, oats, and yellow meal (i.e., maize) and stabled comfortably. The haulers were specialists who were devoted to their work and the Davin family, to whom they gave a lifetime of service.

They were emotionally attached to the river and the life thereon. The depth of this feeling is illustrated in the last wish of a hauler: ‘Bury me in Churchtown where I can hear the creak of the yawlman’s tiller and the crack of the hauler’s whip.’ Churchtown cemetery, situated beside the river on the Waterford side, is the family burial ground of the Davins.  The arrival of steam tugs on the river and the increase in the transport of goods by rail brought a decline in the hauling trade which the Davins abandoned in the early years of the 19th century.

Clonmel c.1900. Courtesy of Tipperary Museum of Hidden History.

Boxing was one of Maurice Davin’s early athletic pursuits, but he then changed direction, being drawn to what was his first love, the river, and its boats. In the early part of the nineteenth century, there was a great tradition of boat racing in Carrick. The annual regatta would have been a popular event, enjoying the sponsorship of the gentry. The regatta had become a casualty of the general depression that followed the great famine, with the last successful regatta being held in 1848.  However, in 1863, Waterford revived its regatta and in subsequent years it became successful with a greater number of entries, including some from Carrick. This prompted Carrick to revive their own traditional regatta in 1865. 

Maurice Davin developed a passion for rowing and was phenomenally successful and fully committed to the sport. He decided to build his own four-oared racing gig. It was named Cruiskeen Lawn, a name chosen by his mother.  At the Waterford regatta in August 1871, the silver cup event was won by Cruiskeen, with Maurice as stroke, his brother Tom also in the crew and the cox was his other brother Pat.  On the same day, the race for two-oared boats, known as wherries, was won by Maurice Davin’s Gypsy. Cruiskeen scored a lengthy list of successes at subsequent regattas at Clonmel, Carrick and Waterford.  Even when he retired, his boat continued to have success with a new crew.

Maurice Davin’s first appearance at an athletic meeting as a competitor was in 1869 at Gurteen, near Kilsheelan, which came by chance.  But within a brief period of time, Maurice and his two brothers, Tom, and Pat, were dominating Irish athletics and would do so for over a decade. In the 1870s, it was said that they had half the world’s records for running, jumping, hurdling, and weight-throwing. Maurice excelled in weight-throwing and through a series of major victories over leading British athletes, he achieved international fame.

But his love for rowing and his beloved Cruiskeen Lawn never diminished. In an interview with a New York newspaper, given in 1907, Maurice Davin said:

“I built the boat over 40 years ago. Somehow or other she was not a success… it was not my fault that she did not win at a regatta in Waterford in the sixties. I held onto her, I had faith in her, for she was a sweet boat. Last year I lengthened her bow a bit and the boys took her to this year’s regatta in Waterford and won. Now what do you think of that for a boat?”

When he gave this interview in 1907, Maurice Davin was sixty-five years old. The  Tipperary Museum of Hidden History, in Clonmel, has noted that the interviewer remarked that he could have passed for a man twenty years younger.

Part of the Maurice Davin Exhibition on display at the Tipperary Museum of Hidden History, Clonmel.   Courtesy of Tipperary Museum of Hidden History

Maurice Davin had great veneration for his boat, which is also referred to by its Irish name Crúiscín. It had given him immense pleasure over the years, and he could not see his way to having it broken up – hence his determination to keep it, in the hope that it would be appreciated at some time.  It was hidden away in a cowshed on the farm at Deerpark for over one hundred years.

In 2005, Pat Walsh, a grandnephew of Maurice Davin was living at Deerpark and farming the land. He knew of the existence of the boat on the farm and made up his mind to donate it to the County Museum if they agreed to take it.  Pat brought the existence of the boat to the attention of Shay Hurley of the Workman’s Boat Club in Irishtown, Clonmel. Shay was astonished at the beauty of the boat. He and his committee members very quickly came on board (no pun intended)realising the potential that it had to be conserved as a national treasure. They became leading figures in a project that received grant aid and sponsorship. The project saw the boat’s removal from the cowshed and arrived on May 17th, 2006, at the Conservation Centre in Letterfrack, Co Galway, under the direction of Sven Habermann, a historical object conservator. The boat came back to Clonmel on November 24th, 2006, for permanent display in the museum.  Michael Kennedy, a shipwright from Dunmore East was also heavily involved in the conservation work.

Maurice Davin’s  Cruiskeen  on display at the Tipperary Museum of Hidden History, Clonmel.  Courtesy of Tipperary Museum of Hidden History

Around the same time in 2006 that the Cruiskeen was being conserved in Letterfrack, the Gaelic Athletic Association honoured Maurice Davin by renaming Croke Park’s Canal End, originally built in 1949, after the Association’s first-ever president. The stadium’s southern stand was re-constructed and re-opened in its current state in 2003.

Maurice Davin was unique amongst presidents of the GAA as he is the only man to have held two terms in office. He played a crucial role in steering the GAA through its turbulent initial period when its very survival was in doubt. For many years this was scarcely recognised. 

He was a man of considerable moderation, and he believed in sport without boundaries and was opposed to banning GAA members from playing foreign games. This led to his resignation in February 1887 but an intervention from Archbishop Croke and a sustained clergy-led campaign brought him back to the presidency in January 1888. Following a second resignation in January 1889, he never again played a significant role in the GAA. Instead, his love of sport remained undimmed, and he took an active part in community affairs while continuing to promote Gaelic games at a local level. Seeing the need for a sports field in Carrick-on-Suir he developed an enclosed GAA pitch on the family farm where the 1904 All-Ireland Hurling Final was played.

Maurice Davin never married, and he died on January 27th, 1927.  Poignantly, he is buried close to his beloved river Suir at Churchtown graveyard on the Waterford bank of the river Suir, midway between Carrick-on-Suir and Kilsheelan in the parish of Dysart.

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Séamus Ó Riain  ‘Maurice Davin (1842 -1927): First president of the Gaelic Athletic Association’ , Geography Publications, 1994.

‘A Man and His Boat – MAURICE DAVIN’  by Marie McMahon, Curator, South Tipperary County Museum. This is an online document that may be accessed from a link on :

‘Hear the Boat Sing’ website

Dictionary of Irish Biography: ( Contributor: Prof. Paul Rouse)

Video Links:

The remarkable life and times of Maurice Davin.’ This is a 24-minute interview by Joe Molloy of ‘Off the Ball’ with Professor Paul Rouse of UCD.

‘The Davin Boat.’  A 5-minute video with Damien Tiernan ( Now of WLRFM)  visiting the cowshed at Deerpark.

‘The Cruiskeen – a river racer.’  A 36-minute video that documents the entire conservation project of restoring the Cruiskeen from Deerpark to Letterfrack where the conservation processes are explained. In addition, technical information on the boat is given and finally the journey back to Clonmel for permanent display is recorded.


I would like to thank Dr Pat Bracken of Tipperary Libraries for his helpful advice when I began to research this story. Dr Bracken has written two books on the history of sport in Co Tipperary:‘The Growth and Development of Sport in County Tipperary, 1840-1880’ (2004) and ‘Foreign and Fantastic Field Sports: Cricket in County Tipperary’ (2018).

Many thanks to Dr Pat McCarthy for giving me access to his copy of ‘Maurice Davin (1842 -1927): First president of the Gaelic Athletic Association.,’  and to Mr Willie Nolan of Geography Publications for giving permission to transcribe the chapter entitled ‘River traders’, from the book.

Thank you also to Ms Jayne Sutcliffe, Documentation  and Collections Officer, Tipperary Museum of Hidden History, Cultural Services, for all her assistance and to Dr Naomi Feely of Clonmel.

Historical Footnote:

Sven Habberman, the historical object conservator based in Connemara, was recently involved with another project with a nautical theme. This was the conservation of  the ship’s cabin in which Sir Ernest Shackleton died. It was found as  being used as a makeshift garden shed in Norway. The cabin was originally part of the Quest, the ship that Shackleton used on his final voyage. The Co Kildare explorer died of a heart attack on the island of South Georgia in the Southern Atlantic Ocean on January 5th, 1922.  Following conservation work by Sven Habberman and his team at Letterfrack, the cabin is on display in the Shackelton Museum, Athy, Co. Kildare.