The “Divil” and the Captains Coffin

In 1932, a Hungarian sea captain, Rudolph Udvardy, who was master of the MV Honved,was in the port of Waterford with a cargo of Maize. To free up berth space, the Honved dropped down to Cheekpoint, where she anchored while the ship waited for an outgoing cargo.  (Following the Market crash there was a shipping slump, and ships struggled to find cargo)  Captain Udvardy was already ill when entering port.  So he continued to receive medical attention when at anchor off the Russsianside, Cheekpoint. The doctor traveled over from Dunmore East, and was regularly rowed out from Moran’s poles to the ship by my Grandmothers brothers, who also waited to return him to shore.

gathering at Faithlegg church gates
Alas, the Captain died on Friday 2nd September 1932.  And he was removed next day to Faithlegg on a beautiful sunny afternoon. Later that night the chapel-woman went to lock the church door.  As she was about to close it out she noticed a silhouette near to the altar. Moving slightly closer she could hear a low mumbling sound.  Terrified, she turned on her heals and ran to her home – The lodge at Faithlegg gates.  There she explained what she had witnessed to her husband and another man who was there playing cards.  There was a lot of talk about the devil coming for the captain, there was a lot of winking amongst the men too.
The captain’s body leaving his ship for the last time aboard the
“Point Lass” with Billy & Denny Doherty (The Green)

They agreed to accompany her back to the church.  Strolling in, they had a light step, but this froze at the back of the church when they too heard sounds.  More cautious now, they scooped up some holy water and began to inch forward, splashing it as they went, hoping t’wud be enough to keep any evil away.  In the darkness nothing could be seen, but as they inched forward, the mumbling could be discerned to words, strange and foreign words.  Panic was rising amongst the three and the holy water was being splashed with abandon when one of them stumbled and emitted a cry.  All went silent, no mumbling could be heard, and then a whisper came from the area where the Captains coffin stood. Someone was asking who was there, in broken English and in a strange tongue, but human undoubtedly.

Moving forward the protectors of the Captains coffin were confronted with the Arab crew,  They did not understand the Christian custom of leaving the coffin on its own in the Church overnight.  Their custom, they explained, was to remain. The chapel was left open that night and next morning the Captain’s body was committed to foreign soil.  The grave was surrounded by his officers and crew. And there was a huge turnout from the area, a turnout as befitted a sailor who died so far away from his family, something well known to the village of Cheekpoint.

The graveside, bedecked in local flowers

The ship remained for a few more weeks, and finally with a new Captain sailed out the harbour. His wife would later sent a small plant in a pot, asking that it be planted to mark her husbands grave. She need not have worried however.  His grave was originally marked by a very distinctive metal plaque (John Sullivan could tell me that this was made by Jimmy Shanahan (RIP)) and when this finally disintegrated, a local benefactor provided the headstone that now marks his last resting place.  Flowers still appear on the grave from time to time,  A reflection of how deep the connection to the events that autumn in 1932 went.

Udvardy Rezso: Elt So Evet, Szept 2 1932. Beke Hamvaria.
Sea Captain Honved, Nationality Hungarian. Died aboard Ship Honved at Cheekpoint

Photo credit:  I took copies of the three photos above from an article by John O’Connor in the Munster Express a few years back.  My grandmother had a full set of photos, as did many others in the village, but these are no longer at home.  One of the ships officers had a camera and took several photos in the village at the time.  He made several copies and posted them back, I’m guessing in some token of appreciation for the kindness shown.

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Faithlegg Graveyard’s Palm Tree -symbol of love

Have you ever wondered why a palm tree stands in Faithlegg graveyard. It marks the grave of Captain Rudolph Udvardy, a Hungarian Sea Captain. He fell ill while aboard his ship the SS Honved at Cheekpoint in 1932 and eventually died.

I blogged an account of it before through a story well known in Cheekpoint following the removal of his coffin to Faithlegg, called the Night the Devil came for the Captains corpse.

The Point Lass bringing the Captain’s body ashore
His wife Rosa was aboard the SS Honved at the time, and she offered a bereft sight to the congregation when the Captain was laid to rest. The ship subsequently departed the harbour, and I believe his widow was aboard.  She was never to return.
Rosa communicated by letter to the village to the family of Paddy Heffernan of Ryan’s Shore.  And it is locally understood that the palm tree arrived as a small plant in a package sometime between 1932-34, with a request that it be placed as a marker on the grave.  Her last letter was worded thus:
(?) Udvardy (?)
Carnaro, Italy


My Dear Mr Paddy,

All Saints Day will soon be here again & my thoughts, as always are with my (late) husband.  I am deeply grieved to say that this year it is absolutely impossible to send money for the mass & flowers. It is strictly prohibited to send it out of the country.

I will have the Mass (read) here, I beg you to see that the grave is in order, and place a few simple flowers and a candle on it.

Furthermore, (following) your kindness of (heart), I ask you to (place) a flower on the grave on the following dates: Birthday 21st December, Wedding day 28th February, (?) day 17th April, Death 2nd September.  I cannot be there in person, the distance is so great, and I beg you to do it for me.

Dear Mr Paddy when all the (political) trouble is over and everything is normal again, I will send the money to cover all the expenses.

As a mark of my respect for you in have (enclosed) a photograph of my dear husband.  The little picture is the (famous) road Church of (Tersalli) which stands on the hill near here.

We are having dreadful weather (?) now, heavy rainstorms, & (sudden) changes of temperature. There is every sign that winter is approaching.

How are you and your dear family getting on?  I expect you are also having bad weather in your country.

Now dear Mr Paddy I thank you again for your (?) kindness and feel sure you will do what I have asked of you (here)

Wishing to be kindly remembered to your wife and dear children.

I remain
Yours Gratefully,
Rosa Udvardy

This was the last letter that Rosa wrote.  We have put in brackets the words we are unsure of.  The “Mr Paddy” was Paddy Heffernan of Ryans Shore, known as the Shag because, like the seabird, he was a great swimmer and catcher of fish.  His home and family were obviously a great comfort to Rosa at the time of her husband’s illness and subsequent death.
His wife need not have worried however.  The grave was marked by a very distinctive iron fabricated cross which my good friend John Sullivan could tell me Jimmy Shanahan had some connection with.  (Coincidentally or perhaps not, the grave is located beside the Shanahan plot too)
Some years back, the rusted grave marker crumbled to dust.  But a headstone sprung up in it’s place.  I only know that the headstone was provided by an anonymous donor.  As a child I recall that flowers occasionally appeared on the grave.  No doubt the letter from Rosa may explain it more.
The reason this was Rosa’s last letter we can only speculate.  Perhaps the address is the most instructive. The Honved was registered in the port of Fiume which was in a disputed region called the Regency of Carnaro, the address used by Rosa in the letter.  The area was historically fractious and had seen an ebb and flow of rulers and governments.  The difficulties raised in the letter refer to the political situation caused by the government of Mussolini and his fascist Italian state.  During WWII tensions boiled over with regular attacks by partisans in retaliation for axis attacks, and following the war, the area fell under the rule of Yugoslavia. The city of Fiume is now known as Rijeka. and is part of Croatia.
In this context, it is no surprise that Rosa’s letters dried up.  One can only speculate, but it would not be hard to imagine that in the context of political unrest and the subsequent war that simple everyday activities such as posting a letter might become impossible.  It’s also possible, if not probably, that Rosa herself became a casualty of such strife.  Surely had she survived, even as a refugee in another state, some subsequent communication would have emerged.
Reading the letter was bittersweet. The love and affection for her departed husband are obvious, and the comfort she would have gained from knowing that the grave was still cared for would, I feel, have been immense.  Sitting on his grave Sunday fortnight, the 28th, the anniversary of their marriage, I couldn’t help but wonder about her. Reunited again, no doubt, at this stage, perhaps the upkeep is no longer so important.  And yet maintained it is, and maybe, because of the Palm tree she sent, one of the most notable graves in the graveyard.
The Captain’s grave, and Rosa’s Tree
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I have to acknowledge the work of Jim Doherty (RIP) and his book, The Next House which he published in the 1990s and from which I got a very faded copy of Rosa’s handwritten letter transcribed above.  I also want to thank my wife Deena and daughter Hannah for helping me to try to decipher what the letter said.