An emigrants Christmas wish

To celebrate Christmas this year, I thought I’d bring you the words across the Irish sea, an emigrant’s lament, a cousin of mine from the Russianside, but one of my grandmother’s generation.  Fr Tom Doyle was one of two brothers to enter the priesthood and both spent their years in England and beyond.  This piece was published in the Munster Express in the 1960’s and the clipping was found by a relation of mine recently.
Fr Tom saying mass in the home of his cousin in 1980’s
L-R Jim Duffin RIP, Maura Moran (my maternal Grandmother) RIP, Gerry Murphy, Ella Hallahan RIP
Mary McDernott RIP, Fr Tom RIP, Brian McDermott RIP, Maureen Burke RIP
Memories
T’was Christmas Eve, I stood on Mersey’s Strand
And wished I were back home in Ireland.
Down by the Suir and gazing at the hook
Blinking “welcome home” to Passage and to Crook.
To Cheekpoint and my home of days gone by.
When Christmas really was a feast of joy.
I heard the slough of boots across the pass
That led to Faithlegg Church and Midnight Mass.
The heart greetings “Merry Christmas Pat”
The same to you, may all your pigs grow fat!
And in the morn, the tang of burning peat
Spurred on by turning wheel to cook the meat.
The crowded table on the old stone floor.
The stranger always welcome at the door.
The lamp-lit darkness of the Christmas night.
When tales of ghosts turned many faces white:
The fiddler played, the elders danced with glee.
And Grandpa bounced me on his bony knee!
Those were the days with innocence abroad
And Irishmen knew how to praise the Lord.
I see it all and sigh, and inward’ pray.
God bless the Emerald Isle on Christmas Day
Tom- An Exile

The house described above, is my aunts, Margaret O’Leary. His Grandpa was my own Great Grandfather;  Joseph (called Jose) Doherty of the Russianside who was married to Ellen nee Walsh. They had 9 children; one was my Grandfather, Andy, another, Tom’s mother Ciss. Ciss married a Wexford man named Joseph Doyle and they had 6 children, Tom was one of the youngest, born in 1919.  The family emigrated to Liverpool early on.
Ellen & Jose in the Russianside early 1900’s
Photo courtesy of Sean Doherty

Tom and his older brother Michael, both entered the priesthood, Tom was ordained a priest of the Monfort Fathers in 1948.  Fr Tom arrived  to Cheekpoint every summer for his holidays and offered mass in local homes, and always mass at Faithlegg church and Crooke if required.  I recall one Sunday, when I was serving as an altar boy.  A new PA system had been recently installed, so that the priest didn’t need to strain his voice to be heard. Now Tom had no fear of straining his voice, which boomed out and dominated every conversation. As my Father put it, “you’d hear him in Wexford even if there was a gale from the east”. When Tom started mass that morning even the sleepiest parishioners sat bolt upright under the aural assault. So much so, that during the mass I was called back into the sacristy by the chapel woman at the time, Joan O’Dwyer and told to turn off the PA. 

Fr Tom was the only priest I ever heard called by his first name, something he actively encouraged. He considered Cheekpoint home, and never missed a visit to the Russianside.  One of my fondest memories of him was the summer I was asked to show him round the village, and tell him the names of the people inside and who they were related to. Once I connected it back to my Gran’s era it all fell into place with him, and when the door was opened he was immediately at home, and always welcomed. On the occasions I got inside the threshold, I’d be treated like royalty, even if the occupant would turn their head to me normally.  Fed and watered and occasionally an envelope passed to Tom for prayers, we would saunter on to the next house and my intelligence called for once more. At the end of the visits each day, there was “an economic recompense for my time”, as he put it.

The one thing I never realised until I started to research this piece, and certainly not apparent from the poem above, was that Tom wasn’t actually born in the Russianside at all.  I can only imagine that having been born into the Irish emigrant community of Liverpool, the Christmas traditions must have been ingrained into him from the stories of his mother and his older siblings.  It was obvious to me all those years ago, that he certainly felt like he was coming home each summer.  Fr Tom died on the 10th November 1997 aged 78 and was buried in his communities burial ground at Romsey near Southampton. His obituary has more of his career.
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 

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.

“wearing the green” on St Patricks morn

With St
Patricks weekend coming up, my thoughts turned to that “wearing of the Green” day
of my childhood, and particularly the 9am mass at Faithlegg Church. On reflection I guess the mass stands out, as in those days before it became a “festival” it was much simpler of an affair.  We also didn’t have a car, so no parade.  It was a day off, which like so many others we spent out rambling, and if unlucky and it rained we probably had to re-sit a of Darby O Gill and the little people or Quiet Man re-run.   

My earliest
memories seem to be of coming home from school with a badge, hand made, and pin
stuck on the back with selotape and a drawing of a harp or St Patrick and
plenty of green white and gold.  I read recently that the badge went back to the Irish soldiers that fought in the trenches in World War I.  We cold look forward to a break from school, and also a break from lent.  Lent then generally meant no chocolate, or sweets, or one of my favourites; Tayto crisps.  I remember one Paddy’s day being almost sick after gorging myself on bags of Cheese & Onion.

via www.voskrese.info/spl/Xpatric-ire.html

I’ve
mentioned before how important church was in our home, and Patricks morning was
no less an occasion.  The main difference
on this morning of course was the obligatory bit of shamrock, splashed across
the left lapel of the coat, and the sticking on of it, always happened just as
we were about to go out the door, in case t’wud wilt before we got to mass.

There were
mornings of course when the shamrock had not been sourced due to scarcity.  Those were even better, as we were dispatched
across the strand and up to Nanny’s in the Russianside.  Nanny, like many of the older citizens, took
a marked pride in the display of the trinity leaf.

Whereas at
home my mother or father first
dressed their own attire and we got the scraps, Nanny’s was different.  Nanny would
have a bowl, fully laden, and as we crashed in atop of her, she’s line us up
and fuss and bother (in a way my mother didn’t have the time to with five to
divide her time) by picking a nice piece, pin it on and then splay it across
the lapel with an eye to detail.

Her own
attire on the day always had a lot of green, and could include in part, and sometimes in total blouse, cardigan, head scarf
and coat.  The coat would have a spread
of Shamrock that would have fed a sheep. 
On then we went, up to the cross roads with her, to board the bus for
the trip around the village.

A borrowed photo from www.millstreet.ie

The bus of
course was a trial.  The oul lads
blackguarding accusing your shamrock of all manner of insult, from wilting, to scrawny
to the worst of all “a bit of oul clover” At the church the unspoken competition would
be in full swing for the most impressive display, but I can never remember
anyone besting Matt “mucha” Doherty.  The
spray of shamrock would be emblazoned across the left side of his chest, like the mane
of a lion.  You could only marvel at how
he managed to keep it fresh looking.    

The
ceremony on that day always appealed to me. 
I loved the stories associated with Patrick, but most of all I loved the
singing, and in particular the singing of Hail, Glorious St Patrick.  Songs in the church were generally the preserve
of Jim “Lofty” Duffin. 
Jim would stand up in the centre
of the congregation and from his hymnbook, sing solo.  It didn’t feel right to accompany him, and
generally people didn’t.  But there were days during the church year that the congregation shook itself free and one of them was St
Patricks morn.

It’s as if
we dropped our reserve on those days, and, generally led off by Jim who was quickly joined by the women, we
all stood to make it a community event.  For me, I think the day meant a lot to us as a community in a nationalistic kind of way, a day that
celebrated something that made us proud to be Irish in a country that at the time, probably didn’t have a lot to be proud of. 
And in standing to sing, it was almost like singing the national anthem. For a few short years it was the central meaning of the day for me.  

After more than forty years, I can hear the singing yet.  Here’s the words if you want to sing along… oh and a beautiful organ accompaniment if you choose

Hail, Glorious St Patrick

Hail, glorious Saint Patrick, dear saint of
our Isle,
On us thy poor children bestow a sweet smile;
And now thou art high in the mansions above,
On Erin’s green valleys look down in thy love.
On Erin’s green valleys, on Erin’s green
valleys,
On Erin’s green valleys look down in thy love.
Hail, glorious Saint Patrick, thy words were
once strong
Against Satan’s wiles and an infidel throng;
Not less is thy might where in heaven thou art;
O, come to our aid, in our battle take part.
On Erin’s green valleys, on Erin’s green
valleys,
On Erin’s green valleys look down in thy love.
In the war against sin, in the fight for the
faith,
Dear saint, may thy children resist unto death;
May their strength be in meekness, in penance, their prayer,
Their banner the cross which they glory to bear.
On Erin’s green valleys, on Erin’s green
valleys,
On Erin’s green valleys look down in thy love.
Thy people, now exiles on many a shore,
Shall love and revere thee till time be no more;
And the fire thou hast kindled shall ever burn bright,
Its warmth undiminished, undying its light.
On Erin’s green valleys, on Erin’s green
valleys,
On Erin’s green valleys look down in thy love.
Ever bless and defend the sweet land of our
birth,
Where the shamrock still blooms as when thou wert on earth,
And our hearts shall yet burn, wherever we roam,
For God and Saint Patrick, and our native home.
On Erin’s green valleys, on Erin’s green
valleys,
On Erin’s green valleys look down in thy love.

“Old Folks” party

This weekend marks an renewal of an old tradition, the Senior Citizens party. 

I recall many years back the parties going on in the Reading Room and as youngsters we passed by and could hear the voices and the music and do our best to avoid the cars abandoned on the roadside in the dark.  Cars drew up all the time, disembarking patrons to the event and when in full swing more cars drew up, this time filled with steaming pots, boiled potatoes & veg, roast turkey, hams and side dishes.  All the food was prepared in local homes and was delivered piping hot and ready to serve.  The beer and spirits had been stacked up earlier in the day, and I believe little of it had to be bought as the two pubs in the village went out of their way to provide the liquid refreshments.

Pattie Ferguson reprises here role at the party, with the Thursday Club
in Reading Room in the early 2000’s – following much improvements.
Photo via Bridget Power

The hustle and bustle and organisation must have been tremendous as, in those days, the Reading Room was a much more basic building.  A small porch at the upperside was the access point. The double doors that are there at present marked the entry to the main hall which as now could be divided into two, and a curtain at the rear screened off the stage.  No space then for a kitchen, which would come in time, much less for a toilet, which from a present perspective, must be a bit shocking to realise.

According to details in the 2009 book, Cheekpoint & Faithlegg Through the Ages, the origins of the party were thus “The present Cheekpoint and
Faithlegg Community Association evolved from a small group of people who got
together in 1977 in order, we understand, to organise an annual
dinner-dance.   At that time the local
population was much smaller than at present, the postman (Martin Nugent) delivered
mail by push bike from Half-way-house Post Office to less than two hundred
homes.  The initial ad hoc committee
comprised of amongst others Gerry Boland, Kay Boland (Doherty at the time),
Patty Ferguson, Tommy and Theresa Wheeler, Helen Barry and Kathleen
MacCarthy.  The “Residents Association”
were formally established in 1978 with the assistance of Tommy Sullivan and Fr
Michael Dee and adopted the aim of promoting and fostering a community spirit
among the people of the area

The plan was to cater
for all ages, from infant’s class at school to those collecting the old age
pension at Wheeler’s Shop at the Crossroads. Someone came up with the idea of
organising get-togethers in the form of an annual party at Christmas for the
children and one for elders during that bleak period between January and March.” 

It was a few years later that I got my first “taste” of the party, which at that point had moved to the school.  Then I was a volunteer member of the local Civil Defence and it was part of our duty to be mobilised into action on the night.  Either Gerry Boland or Neil Elliott would drive the ancient ambulance on the night and we would wind our way around the village and off the roads in Faithlegg to collect anyone without a lift.  The collection was usually a sober affair, serious chat about the weather, the menu, little snippets of news, the drop home was an all together more fun affair and as a teen I got great mileage out of it.

Diners sitting to their dinner
Photo via Bridget Power

The school provided great comfort in the extra space and convenience of a toilet for patrons.  The dance space was probably half as much again.  Music was provided from amongst the locality also, Jim Duffin would be eager to perform, but it was Peter Hanlon and band who provided the main act.  Singers were much in demand, and it must have been a minefield to Peter to keep the show on the road, and ensure the regular tenors or sopranos got their five minutes of fame.  A few years back we pulled together a short video of the events with photographs supplied by Damien McLellan, Tommy Sullivan and Bridget Power.

Peter and band entertaining the crowd
Photo via Bridget Power

Although we were there to work, and did so including serving, clearing and directing people around the building, we were also there to have a bit of craic.  The big draw of the night was a chance to maybe sip a beer.  The older men were always encouraging. Tom Ferguson, Ned Hefferenan and Jimmy O Dea amongst others.  As a teen, prior to going out to a pub, it was often the first time I heard great yarns, similar to the one I retold about my father at this years heritage week event.

There was also dancing to be done, and the women on the night danced with the men, with each other and if need be with us, the helpers.  This of course was a cause of mortification, but you were told to grin and bear it, and indeed you did.

Although very simple affairs, ran for very little cost and with a maximum of community goodwill the old time Christmas parties were a great affair.  Hopefully this years event will match those of the past, either way, we wish all those who are organising and all those who go along, a great night.

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

A fishy Tail!

It was a March evening in 1993 and my brother Robert had joined me with Pat Moran and Dermot Kavanagh as they sorted oysters on the back of a trailer in the Mount Avenue car park.  It was promising to be one of those frosty evenings, dry and cold and very still.  We had chipped in to help the lads grade the oysters in terms of shape and size, some going to a fish box for dumping, others into buckets to be bagged up for replacing on the trestles on Woodstown beach to grow on.

As we worked and chatted away Pat heard an odd sound and stopped work to investigate.  We gathered round him to see what was going on.  Nothing as it happened for a short time, but Pat was watching with a keen fisherman’s eye at a point across the river at Great Island Power Station. Suddenly a great spout of water shot into the air, whilst at the same time a dark form came into view.  It was coming from the waterline near the mud below the jetty of the power station.

Robert ran to get binoculars off our father and when he returned and looked through them, he was puzzled.  He handed them round and we each took a turn, and all took turns speculating. We were joined by our Father Bob who was of the opinion it was a whale, and Anthony Rogers who had seen something similar to a whale in the river earlier in the day, but had dismissed the idea.  Always a man of action Pat announced a sortie, and we ran to get our boots and joined Pat on the Mount Quay where his boat was moored and Robert, Pat and myself headed over in the direction of the disturbance.

Approaching the scene, we were cautious to keep a safe distance.  A grey shape like a torpedo was lying in the water just off the mud bank.  There was a small fin showing well back.  There was a dividing line running the length of the body, white beneath and grey above.  Folds of blubber were lying in the water beside, where it was pressed to the surface by the grounded body.  What looked like a blow hole was facing us.  It could only be a whale!As we stared at the hulk of a body we heard a whoosh of air emitted and then the air was filled with a distinctive fishy smell, but it hadn’t come from what we thought was the blow hole, which turned out to be an eye socket, and when he opened the eye it was a dark pupil surrounded by a yellow pupil and seemed to draw us all in.

The whale was about ten feet outside the waterline and inside the that, about thirty feet away, was a thin seaweed strip of shoreline which then raised up an embankment of ten feet beyond which was the site of the power station.   As the tide was rising (coming in) the distance was narrowing all the time. 

Pat put the boat ashore and Robert jumped onto the mud and walked down towards the shape.  In length it must have been ten feet that we could see shaped like a gradual hill in the water.  Robert had brought a pole from the boat to keep him steady on the soft mud.  He approached and was again drawn to a very large eye that seemed to be watching him.  Meanwhile we had pushed off and were floating close by.

An intelligent looking eye.  Photo via Anthony Rogers

As Robert approached from inside, the snout of at least seven feet raised out of the water.  It brushed his knee as it rose.  Another step and it would have risen between his legs!  Robert stumbled back, with I guess a mixture of shock and disbelief.  Next moment a tail broke water at least ten feet away from the body and began to splash and churn water.  Shocked ourselves by the size and might, we hardly noticed that a ton of water had covered us and we were wet to the skin.

At this point a car turned on the roadway on the embankment and flashed a light at us.  Robert walked in to join them.  On his return he was able to say that the incident had been reported and that a team was being dispatched from some organisation from Dublin who would be experts and who would take charge.  Discussing it, we greeted the news with some relief but said they had better hurry.  We realised that as the tide rose on the mud, each time the whale started to struggle it was to push itself further onto the mud.  The nature of the beast was trying to free itself, but was in fact further beaching and getting further away from the safety of deep water.  Not alone was it pushing forward, but at times, maybe in frustration, it’s whole body turned and turned, an incredible feat for such a heavy creature.  Pat was of the opinion that if we could get some rope around the snout that maybe we could hold the creature back and make it easier to be refloated.  So Robert hopped ashore with instructions to keep well back and we returned to the Mount Quay for a length of rope.

On our return however Robert was dejected with the news that the cavalry had rung to say that they would be along in the morning when they could see what they were doing!  Apparently they were of the opinion that the whale hadn’t a chance and it would be futile to try.  We knew that once the tide started to drop that the Whale would be beached and the weight of its body would crush it to death.  The cavalry would arrive to a corpse.

Robert trys to get a rope under.  Photo via Anthony Rogers


Pat was of the opinion that if we could get the rope around the long snout of the whale we might be able to swivel him about on the soft mud.  He had noticed that the nature of the beast was to push forward, and his plan made sense, however unlikely.   In the deepeening gloom we set about paying out the rope which Robert then tried to lasso around the snout .  Several times he succeeded but as we began to put weight on it as we towed away at an angle from the whale, the rope either slipped off or the whale twisted or turned out of it.  We then changed tack.  We kept one end in the boat while Robert took the other.  We were upriver and Pat steamed out around the whale whilst I held the rope and we took it downriver where we met Robert.  We took the other end from him and then hauling on both ends of the rope drew them together and managed to get them down onto the head of the whale, significantly further than we had managed before.

We twisted the ends of the rope around the after thwart and Pat gunned the engine.  Miraculously the rope held and we could feel the tension take on it.  Measuring our progress against the lights on the shoreline we could see that we were inching along.  Pat slowly altered course bringing the bow of the punt further away from the shore but suddenly the whale reacted.  In stead of helping he went against us.  He started to pull away from us and not having any luck, he reacted by turning over and over and somehow the rope snagged.  Rather than us pulling him, the whale, just like a bucket being pulled up out of a well on an axel, we were hauled into the path of the whale.  Too late I reacted by loosening off the rope, as he turned we were dragged into him, then up onto him and the engine was broken off the stern of the boat.  Pat managed to hold on to the engine as we mounted the top of the whale, but for some reason just as we were about to be tossed out into the river, the whale stopped.  the punt slipped back into the river…we were safe, but my legs were like jelly and to be totally honest I wanted to go home.

But then we had a bit of luck.  The rope had stayed snagged.  And although the engine was damaged we now had the rope firmly placed around the body of the whale, it had even shifted further onto the body.  Pat had another idea.  We retrieved a further length of rope and with it I went ashore to Robert.  He had gone up to the men from the power station and they had managed to find extra rope.  We tied the ends together and then joined them on the embankment.  I didn’t know any of them but explained briefly what had occurred and asked would they be willing to try and haul on the rope and it might just turn the whale away from the mudbank.  All were willing and between us we lined up like some berserk tug of war team going up against a ten ton truck. 

Pat Moran hatching a plan, me looking on. Photo via Anthony Rogers

Someone suggested getting a car to tow it, but we were worried about doing more harm and so decided in the first instant to try with manpower.  We began to heave and I have to say I was crushed when the rope just simple came towards us and I was convinced that it had come off the whale.  In the dark we could not really see.  But then as painful as feeling we had failed the whale, came a feeling of pure joy.  The rope hadn’t come away, Pat’s plan had worked.  In the gloom, with only the lights of the station, we could make out the tail of the whale splashing in the water and then the rope started to slip from our hands and incredibly he headed out into deep water. 

A few weeks later the rope we used was recovered by Paddy Duffin when fishing for Salmon down on the mud.  For weeks after we listened to news reports etc but no mention of a dead whale were heard.  Although we would never know for sure that the whale was saved, the only thing we can know for sure is that he didn’t die on our watch.  I never did find out if the cavalry arrived.  No one seemed interested in our story.  But I guess had it happened in daylight the national media would have been there, as would the cavalry…but I wonder would our whale have survived to tell the tale.

Our best guesstimate was that our whale was 30 feet minimum.  In referring to the reference books we considered it to be either a Fin or a Minke whale.  Maybe if the experts had arrived we might have known!

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