Visiting Minaun Hill

One of the most beautiful views, and quieter walks that you will find in in East Waterford is the Minaun, overlooking the Meeting of the Three Sisters and with panoramas over the counties of the SE, down the harbour and out to the Saltee Islands.  My mother told me that as a child she remembered “townies” walking out to take the view on Sunday afternoons.  And indeed visitors have a long history. The earliest I know of is Arthur Young, who stayed with local landlord, Cornelius Bolton, in the 18th Century.
Young wrote; “…rode with Mr Bolton (jnr) to Faithlegg hill, which commands one of the best views I have seen in Ireland” he then goes on to give a detailed geographical description which you can read online if you wish (page 409 to be specific).  Returning after two years he again “…visited this enchanting hill, and walked to it, day after day, from Ballycanvan, and with increasing pleasure.”(1)
In a previous blog I carried an account of victorian era day trippers coming to the village and climbing to the Minaun to take the views. Interesting to note, because it was then used as a fox covert by the Power’s of Faithlegg House. A covert was an area of ground set aside that foxes could find shelter and thrive…all the more for the Faithlegg Harriers to chase on their hunts.
As children the Minaun was a regular play space, particularly on Sunday afternoon walks with our mother. There were several spots that we visited and my own favourite was the round piece of stone, where local tradition had it the Knights of the round table met.  We would play at King Arthur, with swords and shields and talk like the actors such as Robert Taylor, familiar to us from the black and white movies on RTE on Sunday afternoons .
Photo via Sean Doherty from the Cheekoint Cooolbunia Facebook page
Another rock feature was shaped like a loaf of bread or other times we called it a grave, holding one of the knights that had fallen in battle. The memory was brought back to me as an adult when I read T.F. O’Sullivans book Goodly Barrow.(2)  In it he relates how according to legend the Fianna used the Minaun in their defence of Leinster and so important was it to their leader Fionn Mac Cumhaill that he deputised a son, Cainche Corcardhearg, to wait in watch as protector of his realm.  Apparently he lives below the ground…lying in wait! He must be sleeping soundly…any number of invaders have swept past him in the intervening years! 
As we headed down from the Minaun we came to the old stump which was all that remained of a cross. My mother knew the story well. Her uncle Christy Moran and his wife (the driving force) Katie Doherty had asked Chris Sullivan to make the cross. I was always told it was done to mark the Marian Year, 1954.  However the cross was erected in 1950 which was a holy year announced by Pope Pius XII (which I know courtesy of Blob the Scientist).  Katie went door to door to pay for the timber and although people had little enough they paid what they could, perhaps because they were a little afraid of her.  Katie had a reputation for religious fervour.
My father told me about the day it was brought up.  The boys of the area had been rounded up by Katie and no excuses would be heard.  She had them hoist the cross onto their backs and then encouraged and cajoled them up the road from Coolbunnia to where the school now is, then up onto the Minaun to the summit.  As they went Katie played her malodian box and sang religious hymns. My father often joked that the only difference between themselves and Jesus was that Katie spared them the crown of thorns. 
Moran family early 1950’s with Tramore in the distance (honest!)
From Ann Moran via her son Brian (USA)
One of the big differences now, to when I was a child, is the lack of the clear views. Then you could have a full 360 view from the summit including Waterford, South Tipp, Kilkenny, Wexford and Carlow.  But alas the trees that were planted have now obscured much of the view. According to my godmother, Elsie Murphy, the Minaun was sold by the Land Commission to the Forestry Commission as 1958.  The trees were subsequently planted in 1968/9 we think.

The one mystery is where the name Minaun came from.  As you can see Young referred to it as Faithlegg Hill, and the article from 1850 calls it simply the Hill of Cheekpoint or again Faithlegg Hill. However when Canon Power visited we know the name was in use. And locally I’ve never heard it referred to anything but the Minaun. Sourcing the origins of placenames in the area has long been a source of difficulties however.   I’ve certainly struggled with the Minaun placename before.

Whatever the name, or the purpose, i think its likely the Minaun will continue to see use by visitors for many years to come. And even if not, I will certainly get enjoy its history and its views. And if you want more encouragement, here’s a short video from Mark at Waterford Epic Locations to whet the appetite https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=frI0FR19qVU

(1) Arthur Young.  “A Tour in Ireland 1776-1779”  reprinted 1970.  Irish University Press Shannon

(2) TF O’Sullivan.  “Goodly Barrow, A Voyage on an Irish River” 2001 Lilliput Press Dublin

I publish a blog about Waterford Harbours maritime heritage each Friday.  
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Cheekpoint Fairy Tale?

I was often chided for my romantic notions of the Cheekpoint name deriving from the fairy folk, the Sidhe.  However in recent months strong, albeit circumstantial, evidence is coming to the surface that those of us with romantic notions may not be totally without support.
I wrote previously about the place name of Cheekpoint.  To reprise it now, there are those with a geographic bent, who consider it the point of the streaks, referring to the currents and eddies created as the three rivers flow over the rock that is to this day know as the Sheag rock.  Whilst others like myself are inclined towards the Point of the Sidhe or fairies.
Now the evidence for the fairies was always circumstantial.  Stories of fairy folk were legion in the community that I was reared in, fairy rings still exist, and few but the foolish or unwary would interfere with them. When fishing at night I was warned about particular gaps on the Russianside lane, that I was best to hurry past and certainly not stop if any voices tried to engage me. Of course the most magical event I have ever seen is the SĂ­ Gaoith, an occurrence I have witnessed several times, by the most exciting and spectacular with my son Joel while fishing in the late 1990’s.
I had also mentioned the fabled Cesair, and it is to her that I now return.  Now Cesair has as many versions of her life (and spelling of her name) as there are internet links. Many interconnecting points are present however which boil down to a lady of immense courage who before the flood set sail in three ships, with three men and 150 women.  They wandered the oceans until they arrived in Ireland and the three groups broke up and set to populating Ireland. Her band are referred to as the Sidhe, and over the millennia this has become tied into fairy folk and leprechauns.  I’d linked the landing point of the Sidhe to Cheekpoint, although I’m sure many thought me misguided.
Meeting of the Three Sisters, from the Minaun, Drumdowney Kilkenny on the left opposite bank,
Great Island Co Wexford on the left

However last summer an academic gathering at Kilmokea, Great Island  put weight behind this theory, albeit on the opposite bank. As foundation myths go, the location is very plausible, strategically placed with abundant access via the three sister rivers to the hinterland of the SE.


What for me is a related argument in any foundation myth is evidence of early settlement in an area.  Evidence already exists of the oldest known settlement in the South East being at Ballylough beside Belle Lake on the road to Dunmore East.  Destroyed promontory forts such as at Dunmore also confirm early settlement, although of a later era. Again more evidence is emerging, this time due to the efforts of the redoubtable Noel McDonagh at Creaden Head near the mouth of the harbour.  
The linking of an early foundation myth with physical evidence of, potentially, Ireland’s earliest known settlement is still of course speculation.  But as Noel’s evidence builds and academic interest in exploring the foundation story develop, its a case of watch this space.  
I’m conducting a free guided walk this coming Bank Holiday Monday from Cheekpoint quay, departing at 5pm.  Its 2km, over rough ground and will concentrate on the villages maritime heritage. We will arrive back at 6.30pm.  Details on my facebook event page

For a flavour of the walk, here’s a piece from Mark at Waterford Epic Locations depicting our Bank Holiday walk Easter 2017 along the Faithlegg Marsh. If you haven’t seen Marks page already treat yourself, what a stunning area Waterford is! And don’t forget to like and subscribe for more of Marks great video content https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ReHpt3u_ZM0&t=9s

I publish a blog about Waterford Harbours maritime heritage each Friday.  
To subscribe to get it to your inbox email russianside@gmail.com 
For daily events/updates https://www.facebook.com/whtidesntales  https://twitter.com/tidesntales

Rowing to the dance

If any one thread runs between my weekly blogs, it’s the rivers. Being at the meeting place of the three sisters, the Rivers Barrow, Nore and Suir, that’s probably not a surprise.  But in all those blogs, one I think has been missing, the social element of the rivers, the connections between its riverside communities and the activities it brought.

One of my earliest memories of this interconnection was as a nipper going in the punt with my Father, Bob and Uncle Sonny to a wake in Great Island, directly across the river in Co Wexford.  On reaching the quayside, I recall the fear of walking on the timber slated jetty, expecting I’d trip or fall down between the gaps. Next along the old road and under the Barrow Bridge, towering above me and worrying a train might come along.  All new and wondrous.  Then a concreted driveway, and a sweep down to an old two storey house, the driveway of which was lined with groups, predominately of men, and we stopped and talked to all. Into the house then and I have a memory of being wrapped up in female hospitality, ushered into a kitchen and a huge fuss being made, while the men went elsewhere.  Although only snatches of memory, the overall feeling was of acceptance and welcome.

My grandmother often talked about boating trips on the river and visiting “neighbours”.  In her glass case she kept her mementos amongst which for years was a carefully folded piece of newspaper, upon which was a poem. Occasionally she’d take it out as she reminisced about these trips, and at some point would include her reciting these lines called Dunbrody by Kathy Leach, a contemporary of hers, who lived in the High Street, Cheekpoint.

In the springtime and in the summer, autumn
and winter too.
I can see Dunbrody Abbey, nestling close
beside the Suir;
I can see Dunbrody Abbey standing there so
quiet and still,
sorrounded by the green fields, and the
banks of Campile Pill.
How we loved the Sunday evenings in the
summer long ago;
We urged the boys to get a boat, we coaxed
them for to row.
They were great navigators, we never had a
spill.
But sure we were delighted when we got
through Campile Pill.
Then we went to see the Abbey, it looked so
peaceful there.
It is a sacred place, where holy monks did
pray.
We thought it part of heaven as we went on
our way.
Up to Horeswood Chapel, where the bell rings
every day.
When I hear the angelus bell ring, now
calling all to pray,
it brings back golden memories of bygone
happy days;
The old friends are all scattered now, some
are dead and gone.
But rememberance of Dunbrody will forever
linger on.
And of course there were events such as the regattas which I covered recently and the dances in the village.  Not just in the Reading Room, but also at the cross roads and on the village green and on the strand road.  I haven’t a notion how they were organised, but have no doubt but that was as easy to promote and we would find it now.  Passed by boat to boat, person to person, or maybe prearranged and agreed in a cyclical fashion. Apparently they would try to match the prevailing tides and would travel the rivers to Glass house, Ballinlaw, Great Island, Campile, Ballyhack and beyond. My father told me he could recall the stage being brought from the Reading Room to the Green. Apparently a great fuss was made to have the village looking at its best. And then via the river they came, in punt prong and sailing yawl and pleasure craft and an evening of song, music and dancing was enjoyed long into the summer nights. I’ve never seen a photo of it, but below is one I came across in a book called Lismore by Eugene F Dennis, which might give a sense.

As a consequence of the fishing, the travel and the social outings the communities of the river were much closer in the past.  Marriage between the villages was more common and those ties strengthened the bonds between us.  My Grandmother (her Grandfather was a Malone of Clearystown below New Ross) was often to be heard commenting on the happenings over in Nuke(directly across from the Russianside, in Co Wexford).  Maybe it was the Whitty’s and whether the boats were moored off, or fishing.  Or compliment Mrs Murphy having the smoke out early in the morning, or maybe that there was a light on overnight in Shalloes and wondering if anyone was sick. I can often recall Josie Whitty of Nuke, who died earlier this year herself, attending local funerals in Faithlegg.
But this last generation has seen a dramatic shift in this connection to the rivers.  The loss of the fishing has certainly played a decisive role, but already the old traditional ways were under threat. Perhaps even more so its being faced with so many options and activities, that the simpler pleasures have been lost.  Odd when you think that we have never had such great opportunities to communicate, that those that are a little more than a half mile away now feel so distant. 
I publish a blog each Friday.  If you like this piece or have an interest in the local history or maritime heritage of Waterford harbour and environs you can email me at russianside@gmail.com to receive the blog every week.
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Meeting of the “Three Sisters”

After 50 years of living with the geographical feature that is the meeting of the Three Sisters, you might think that I would take it for granted at this point. Truth is though, I can’t ever remember a time that the rivers fail to interest me.  Ever changing and always with some activity occurring around it, it’s either been a central feature to my days or a beautiful and appreciated backdrop.  Of course leading walking tours in the area, the uniqueness of it is reminded to me by those visitors who view it, especially for the first time. The reaction seems more pronounced from those who walk from Faithlegg House, along the Glen and through the Glazing Wood.  I guess its because they have been sheltered and teased by fleeting glimpses through the forest of the River Suir passing 200 feet below them, which will collide with the Rivers Barrow and Nore at Cheekpoint, and then flow as one out the estuary to form Waterford Harbour.
An old postcard view of the meeting of the Three Sisters
copy supplied by Anthony Rogers

These days when people talk about coming to Cheekpoint it’s to get a meal at McAlpins, to visit the wonderful playground, do shore angling or play a round Faithlegg Golf Club. But there was a time when it was the scenery, the views and the meeting point of the rivers that drew people here. Numerous reports from older newspapers and travel writers give a sense of why.

Cheekpoint: This is a favorite little retreat now on Sundays. On last Sunday it was crowded with boats of all kinds and sizes, amongst which we observed Alderman Davis’s, Mr P. Galwey’s, the Messrs Murphys’ Mr F Kavanagh’s (with music), Mr J Mullowney’s, Mr S Allan’s, and Mr E Campion’s neat crafts and many others now not remembered. The hospitable mansion of Mr Patrick Tracey, so comfortable situate, and in which is to had such right good cheer, was crowded to overflowing. The day was beautifully fine, the waters of the rivers calm and limpid, and the gorgeous scenery by which it is surrounded, could hardly be excelled – if at all equaled – on the banks of the Rhine. A view from Cheekpoint is well worth the labor of ascension – you behold from it at least five counties-namely Waterford, Wexford, Kilkenny, Tipperary, and Carlow; you witness from it the delightful mansion of Snow Hill, Belview etc, and beneath you, you witness the magnificent residence of Faithlegg, with its thickly studded woods, its beauteous walks, and its sloping dells, where by and by, the Incumbered Commissioners need never expect to place their fearful hoofs. From the hill can be seen Dunmore, Brownstown Head, the unrivaled bay of Tramore, and even the unmovable Metal man himself. From it may also be witnessed the fine stately old ruins of Dunbrody Abbey, with its stately tower and ivied turrets, a standing monument of Irish genius and architecture and an unfading emblem of Ireland’s imperishable faith…All of these things may be seen from the hill of Cheekpoint, and many of them from Mr Tracey’s table d’hote.
The Waterford News. Friday June 7th 1850

Mr Tracey’s table d’hote, Daisybank House

The same paper has, under a heading of pleasure trips, news that the Young Men’s Society band will travel to Cheekpoint on the following Sunday, in a piece dated July of 1861,  Unfortunately I could not find a follow up report.  In the 1770s it was the renowned travel writer Arthur Young, and I have mentioned his thoughts on the area previously. I’ve also mentioned when the Barrow railway viaduct was opened in July 1906 by the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, the the special event train, stopped for a time on the bridge to view the meeting point and absorb the feat that the construction project was. 

More recently the regional initiative for Ireland’s capital of culture bid for 2020 has seen the counties of Kilkenny, Waterford, Wexford come together under a banner that seeks to embrace. They have chosen the Three Sisters, as it was, correctly in my view, a symbol of connection and inter- dependability. Should the region win this bid, it will bring crucial investment and tourist numbers to the region, and no doubt our area. If nothing else, it has already brought a renewed focus on the wonderful resource that is our riverine network and the beauty that is the meeting point of the Three Sisters. If you haven’t already done so, get involved in supporting the bid at: www.threesisters2020.ie/

I publish a blog each Friday.  If you like this piece or have an interest in the local history or maritime heritage of Waterford harbour and environs you can email me at russianside@gmail.com to receive the blog every week.
My Facebook and Twitter pages are more contemporary and reflect not just heritage 
and history but the daily happenings in our beautiful harbour:  
F https://www.facebook.com/whtidesntales  T https://twitter.com/tidesntales