Heritage Week continues with Myles Courtney, and the Salmon Ponds of New Ross
The ebb and flow of a river, its rising and falling tides can instill a sense of ease and relaxation in an observer. Since my retirement, I have had time to be more observant and appreciative of the majestic Barrow as it passes through the town of New Ross. It brought back happy memories of my youth in Enniscorthy and fishing at my father’s side on the Slaney and Boro rivers. He passed on to me an appreciation of the lore and traditions of the angler and the “net men”.
Research for my local history hobby lead me, as it often does, off on various tangents. One tangent that immediately grabbed my attention was the salmon fishing on the Barrow . I discovered numerous sources online and reference sources in New Ross Library which painted a picture of what at one stage was a significant local industry but is alas no more. The great 16th century poet Edmund Spenser mentioned the Barrow salmon in his epic The Faerie Queen when referring to The Three Sister Rivers.
The first, the gentle Shure that making way By sweet Clonmell, adorns rich Waterford; The next, the stubborne Newre, whose waters gray, By faire Kilkenny and Rosseponte boord, The third, the goodly Barow, which doth hoorde Great heaps of Salmons in his deepe bosome: All which long sundred, doe at last accord To ioyne in one, ere to the sea they come, So flowing all from one, all one at last become.
I went from keyboard to book to the horse’s mouth and was regaled with stories of fishing families of the fifties in New Ross. I met two local gents with first-hand experience and a treasure trove of knowledge of the skills and lore of the cot men.
Four men in 2 cots formed a crew. They fished every falling tide with snap nets, day and night, except for Saturdays & Sundays during the season. For reference and location purposes the river was divided into sections referred to as “ponds” by the cot men between the Pink Rock and Poulmounty.
My two friends recited the names of the ponds like memorised poetry to me and I was immediately struck by those whose origin went back to our Gaelic past. Names such as Conway’s Wood, Woodville Drift, and The Quay Pond offered no mystery but then I heard Tubbernacally, Cool na Stor, Leanacurragh, Lean Bheag, Touskeen, Cruptaun, and off I went on another tangent.
I wondered if these two repositories of local lore realised the value of their hereditary knowledge. It spurred me to convince them that it was indeed worthy of preservation. Much to my delight their experiences and knowledge can now be found in the County Wexford Oral History Project recordings of Wexford County Library.
This story is contributed as part of Heritage Week 2020
We have recently explored the exploits of a noble New Ross sea captain, John Williams. This week I wanted to look into some of the activities of one of his ships, the Lady Bagot.
The Lady Bagot was one of several vessels operated by the Graves family of New Ross and skippered for several years by Captain Williams. We saw recently how she had been in the right place at the right time in the rescue of the crew of the brig Atlas. In brief, arriving alongside the brig which had healed over on her side, Williams ordered his ships boat lowered and his crew row to the stricken vessel and attempt a rescue. In heavy seas and at great risk to themselves all the crew of the Atlas were eventually rescued. Little, I’m sure, did her crew know that that kind deed which they bestowed would be desperately needed by themselves within a few more months.
On the 21st October 1847 the Lady Bagot left go her moorings in her home port of New Ross and with the assistance of the Waterford Steamship River Services paddle steamer Shamrock was towed down the river Barrow to the harbour where she made her own way to sea. Her master was Captain Anderson, who had replaced Captain Williams earlier that year.
For many years her regular passage was New Ross – Quebec. Passengers fleeing poverty, starvation and seeking a new start were the outgoing manifest, timber (a backbone of the Graves family business) the return. A measure of the numbers fleeing the country can be gauged by a report of her arrival into Quebec on the 1st June 1846 when she was just one of four ships from the Waterford area; President of New Ross –Captain Grandy and Thistle – Captain Thomas and Lawrence Forrestal – Captain Toole both from Waterford city. Other ships recorded that week hailed from amongst dozens of European ports but included Liverpool, Dublin, Limerick, Cork, Derry and Galway.
Although the trips were regular, not all were without incident. The account from previously shows how dependent such sailing ships were on the elements and the Lady Bagot was no different. For example in August 1845 she was reported off Cork with her bowsprit lost having being in a collision with a larger vessel off St Pauls on the 24th July. She later put into Youghal for repair. A few months later, December of 1845, she was again in the wars. She put into Halifax NS having departed Quebec for Liverpool. She had lost her anchors, chains, her mizzen mast was cut away and other damage was reported but not described. She finally left Halifax on 5th February 1846.
Williams last voyage that I could find was a round trip to New Orleans in December 1846 arriving back to Waterford (New Ross I’m sure) in May. Her next outward bound trip was reported on 15th June 1847 but no details are given, however she is reported as arriving in St Johns NB in July under her new master; Captain Anderson.
As we mentioned earlier, Anderson sailed for Savanah in October and thanks to the Duchas Schools collection we have access to some mentions from the ships log for detail. Having arrived into port of 18th December 1847 it would appear the crew left their hair down. One crew man, Martin Moran, was detained for fighting with a “coloured man” whilst two others “gave way to drunkenness” These may or may not have been Joseph Irvine and David Cooper who were elsewhere described as “getting into scrapes”. On the 24th December a crew man William Simpson had an accident onboard, falling into the hold. This required hospitalisation and he was not released until January 6th. No other details are given of the 7 week overlay but eventually the Lady Bagot sailed on the 4th February 1848 with her hold filled with timber, apples, molasses, sugar and rice.
A few weeks later (possibly Tuesday 28th February) the Lady Bagot sailed into heavy weather. The log records that at 2pm a squall split the foresail, while by 3pm a complete hurricane was blowing with the seas crashing over the ship and Anderson surviving being washed overboard after a crewman grabbed him by his hair (the ships dog was less lucky). At 4pm the ship “hove to” and using a storm mizzen the crew were set to operating the pumps to remove water from her holds.
All that day and the next the crew stayed manning the pumps but by midnight up to four feet of water was reported in the hold. By 8am of the following morning the water was still rising. It was then that a passing American ship the Oregon under Captain Healy came upon them. Anderson requested that she stand by until the next morning in the hopes that the crew could arrest the worsening situation, but they were out on their feet with exhaustion and the carpenter having found the waters rising at an alarming rate (8 ½ feet at that stage) the captain gave the order to abandon ship.
As they boarded the Oregon, the Lady Bagot was down to
her chains and Healy later reported after he arrived at Le Harve that they left
Bagot in a sinking state at latitude 47 longitude 14.
Next week I’m unraveling a mystery of a ship photo that reveals another occasion in Waterford’s history with a connection with the river. Its titled, at least presently, as the “Visit of the Stormcock“ I will also have a blog on Sunday morning to honour the national holiday; St Patricks Day. Have a lovely weekend wherever you be.
The last guest blog of 2018 comes from the River Barrow and brings us back to simpler times in the company of the Connollys of Aylwardstown via the pen of Brian Forristal. The area of Aylwardstown is beside the river Barrow close to Glenmore on the Kilkenny side and Tommy was well known in Cheekpoint as a builder and repairer of the distinctive local boat the Prong. Brian like myself was raised around the river and has a deep appreciation of it and the people who lived upon it. I loved this account and I believe you will too.
Tommy realised as he looked to the north east that there was snow on the wind and it was blowing savagely down an angry River Barrow. He knew that there was a lot of work to be done before Christmas arrived and the last thing he needed was a blizzard of snow to delay him.
That Christmas tree he had seen last week in
Graiguenakill, softly nestled in a grove of larch wood needed chopping before
anyone else cast their eye on it. A
splendid specimen, not too tall so as to fit into the kitchen of the cottage nicely,
and not too broad as to impinge on the tight space near the dresser. He had better go soon and cut it down for he
had to drag it back to Aylwardstown across the fields as he did not want anyone
else to see him take it out of the larch wood.
That was one of the pre Christmas jobs to be done,
another was to kill the goose he kept on the commons and had been fattening for
the previous months. Extra kindling had to be brought in, in case the weather
took a turn for the worst, which meant dragging it from the cutting shed
situated just north of the cottage on the river bank. Country cottages were always adorned with
holly and ivy for the festive season and gave a natural feel of the outdoors,
indoors; this had to be gathered from the surrounding fields.
He dallied about which to do first and after much
soul searching decided to go after the tree, that was the one that could not
wait, all the rest would still be here when he got back.
He informed Molly that he was heading for
Graiguenakill to cut the Christmas tree and would be gone for a few hours. She asked him would he be back for his dinner
at 11 o’clock and he said he would, seeing it was only 8am, he thought he had
plenty of time to get there and back.
Gathering an axe from his shed he headed along the
road as far as the railway tracks and cut into the fields that ran behind
kelly’s big house, then veering right in the direction of Carrigcloney until he
met the road that ran back to the river.
Moving on north west from here he cut across the large stubble field
behind Killivory/Kilmokevoge ruined church, he was now in sight of the glen
where the larch wood was. He crossed the
stream at the end of the gorge and climbed the winding lane that led through
the larch wood. About half way up this
lane and in behind the first few lines of larch stood the tree that Tommy had
eyed up weeks before. Taking off the
rope that he had carried around his shoulder, he firmly gripped the axe with
both hands and began to chop at the butt of the tree. While it did not take long to cut through the
stump, by the time he had felled it he had worked up a good sweat, which kept
the biting cold at bay. He proceeded to tie the rope around the butt and then
headed for home making his way more or less back along the same route taken
previously towing the tree behind him.
When he got to the ditch at the far end of the
stubble field, just as he was about to push the tree over onto the road, a
voice bellowed to him from the roadside, it was Dermoy Ryan from Killivory just
along the road.
“I see the Christmas tree is free again this year
Connolly?” he shouted
“As every other year” he retorted back.
“You must be frozen to the bone crossing that 5o
acres of stubble, come up to the house and we will have a Christmas drink to
put the heat in you”
Tommy tied the tree to a fence post on the inside of
the ditch, out of sight from anyone using the road. Both of them headed to Dermoy’s cottage along
the roadway and went inside, Tommy sitting in beside the fire to feel the
warmth of the glow. Dermoy handed him a
full glass of whiskey and then joined him by the fire.
Both men talked and drank for ages and those
reminisces of years ago entered their conversation with laughter and good
banter. One glass led to another and
before long Tommy had forgotten about the time and the dinner, when something
tweaked his memory he jumped up suddenly and bade Dermoy farewell and a happy
Christmas and sprang out the door to look for his tree. Luckily his tree was in the same spot so he
untied it and headed for home, even though as a much slower pace that he had
left that morning.
It was now around 1 o’clock and he still had a
number of jobs to do around the cottage.
Getting back to Aylwardstown he was met by the wiry comment from Molly
that a liquid lunch must have been provided by the fairies considering the
state he was in. He shook off the verbal
onslaught and brought the tree into the cottage and sat down and had his dinner
before tackling the other jobs on the list.
Molly said she would look after the tree and
decorate it while Tommy finished his dinner and got on with the other
jobs. Having soaked up much of the
whiskey he set about killing the goose for the Christmas table and was glad he
had a few that morning to steady his nerves.
The kill was swift and humane and the bird did not suffer, the prized
goose was prepared for the pot and left to hang until the flesh was ready for
the pot in the days to come.
By now a few flakes had started to fall and
gathering in the holly and ivy was now paramount before the real cold spell
arrived. Two fields over towards
Carrigcloney lay a grove of hazel and hawthorn trees which had a good covering
of ivy and would be easy enough to pull from the trees. Having arrived and pulled the long strips
from the bark he rolled them into circles and tied them down, now they were
handy to throw over the shoulder for the short journey home.
For the holly he would travel up the lane and over
the railway tracks to the Phelan’s land.
On the boundary ditches lay some good specimens of holly which always
supplied a good crop of berries; without the berries the spirit of Christmas
would not sit in the cottage, this was his way of thinking.
With all that collected and left in the yard, Molly
worked away at making it into shapes that were accessible inside the
cottage. The list was dwindling and now
all that was left was to get the train into New Ross and gather the groceries
to tie them over the festive spell. A
little extra would be bought in the event the weather turned bad and they were
unable to get out of Aylwardstwon over the coming weeks. Shopping completed Tommy would head into the
local pub to catch up on the news with old friends and acquaintances, while
Molly would head over town to do the last few bits and pieces. When fishermen get together there is no
stopping the talk and the time passes quickly, half one after half one soon
disappear and merriment ensues.
As dusk begins to fall and Molly returns to collect
Tommy, they both head across the bridge to catch the returning train. Weighed down with several bags they would be
glad to see the sight of the cottage and the flowing river, home they would be,
tired but happy that they got through the necessity of the festive shop and
they could now relax and enjoy it all together.
Christmas morning brought a late dawn with grey
skies and a bitter cold feel to it.
Tommy had a blazing fire going early on to keep the bitter cold out and
the crackling of the blocks sent slivers of red hot wood out into the centre of
the cottage room. Dinner was prepared
early as they usually had theirs at about 11 o’clock in the morning. At that
time Molloy and himself sat at the little table that looked out over the yard
and out to the river and rejoiced in the little feast that lay before them.
of the winter light soon caught up upon the Barrow valley and Molloy drew the
curtains and settled down to the evening.
The television was put on first to see if there was anything of interest
to watch, failing that the radio was engaged and some traditional Irish music
would sooth the evening away. Tommy was
often tempted to take down the fiddle and join in with the music, but he
preferred a few people to play to than rather an almost empty room.
Both of them sat in on the fire and watched the
embers glow and talked of the day, what tomorrow might bring and past
Christmas’s had went. The clock chimed
on the wall and the night was still, crackling logs the only intruder into the
About 8 o’clock when all was quiet a faint knock appeared
on the front door, slightly startled Tommy shouted to know who was there.
“Tis Seán Óg Kennedy from Rathinure”
Tommy opened the door and the dark shadow of Seán
entered the cottage spouting seasonal greetings to them both.
On been asked what brought him out on a dark and
cold night, he said he could not put up with listening to his brothers
bickering any longer in the house, even on Christmas night they argued about
the price of cattle, what field to sow potatoes in next spring, who’s turn it
was to feed the calves in the morning.
He had enough and strolled to the river to find a bit of solace and a
quiet corner to sit in.
Shuffling in on the floor he warmed his hands and
then Tommy handed him a glass of whiskey and the chat ensued. They talked well into the night and the sign
of sleep never set upon any of them. As
the clock chimed midnight Seán decided he had taken up enough of their time and
decided to head for home. Tommy offered
him a spare bed in the back room if he did not fancy going out. Declining, he faded into the darkness of the
night with the words of Tommy ringing in his ears not to go home by Kilcolumn
graveyard as the dead would still be about celebrating the festive night and he
might get caught up with them. If he felt
any fear at walking home at that hour it was the last thing he wanted to hear
The cottage door was bolted and the two elderly
people made their way to their bed.
Another Christmas night had passed and now they looked forward to the
New Year and the coming spring, when the haggard would take all his attention
to get ready for another growing season. The spirit of Christmas had for
another year settled on the cottage by the Barrow and gave it its blessing, all
was quite there again.
My thanks to Brian Forristal for bringing that slice of life from the River Barrow at Christmas, even if you did not know the people I’m sure the characters depicted would be familiar to you. A neighbour of the Connollys on the Wexford side of the Barrow was John Seymore, known as the god father of self sufficiency who I have written about before. Guest blogs are published on the last Friday of the month and if you have a story to share about the three rivers or the harbour area please submit it to email@example.com
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I was reared on a story about the local weirs. As I heard it, one day the cot fishermen of Carrick and New Ross and areas in between descended en mass on Cheekpoint and proceeded to cut down the fishing weirs in the river. The cot men were bazzed out of it with stone by women and children but great damage was done to the weirs. One cot was overturned resulting in a man drowning. You might imagine that as a child I greeted the news with much indignation and fancied I would have thrown stones myself had I been there. In recent years I have heard others refer to it as the weir wars. But what exactly was the incident?, how did it come about? and what happened subsequently?.
An example of a head weir
My present understanding* of the origins of the weir wars goes back to the coming of the Normans and the establishment of the Head weirs which I grew up with. I’ve described this before, but in layman’s terms**, the weirs were a large fishing structure, built in the rivers using timber poles, and employed the tides to catch fish. As the tide ran, the weir poles funneled the water into a narrow shute called the Head and from which a net was hung. Fish were swept into the net and retrieved by fishermen. This method of weir was employed exclusively up to the start of the nineteenth century.
If you would like to know more about the head weirs, construction, fishing method and history I’m doing 3 workshops in the Irish National Heritage Park in Co Wexford over the summer.
(Dates 11th May, June 15th and August 24th. 10am – 1pm. €35 pp)
Booking essential via https://www.facebook.com/events/2061825747386715/
I’ve also written about the introduction of the Scotch Weirs and their fishing methods. Again, and in brief, these were also made with poles, and were used exclusively as I understand it to catch Salmon. They generally ran from high water mark to beyond lower water, were placed perpendicular to the shore and worked effectively to block the passage of anything up or down the river.
Woodstown Scotch weir photographed in the late 1960’s Brendan Grogan Collection
The scotch weirs were generally owned by landlords who leased out their operation to local fishermen. However the effectiveness of these weirs caused severe difficulties for local fishermen along the length of the Barrow, Nore and Suir. Indeed they were problematic where ever they were found. Newspapers carried many stories of traditional fishermen complaining of their livelihoods being destroyed. However, if the structures were owned and made money for the landlord class, then what could they do?
The first mention I have as yet found of trouble was 1828, when the use of the weirs were questioned and there removal muted(1). By 1833 an article stated that “Captain Murphy and a detachment of the 70th regiment are now stationed at Passage for the purpose of preventing the peasants from injuring the salmon weirs in the district. Captain Jarvis and another detachment of the same regiment are stationed at Duncannon.”(2)
A Carrick Cot, courtesy of Jerry McCarthy
And it seems matters became more heated. The Dublin Penny Journal gives the following account “In 1834, the cotmen assembled to the number of two hundred cots and armed with hatchets, saws, etc, braved the dangers of the sea in their small boats which are generally built of four or five boards. They left Ross in the morning, accomplished their object and returned on the tide exhausted and fatigued, having performed a voyage of nearly fifty miles. The lovers of cheap salmon welcomed their return with three hearty cheers and made a handsome collection to buy bread and beer to refresh these nautical heroes”(3)
A sketch of a Scotch weir
And on it went. The account I have heard so many times in Cheekpoint corresponds with an article from the Freemans Journal of 1844. Just before 12 noon upwards of fifty cots appeared off Cheekpoint, carrying two to three men in each and armed with hatchets, billhooks, scythes tied on sticks etc. 17 came down the Suir past the city, the remainder being from Ross. They cut down two weirs on the Wexford shore initially, they then crossed over to Cheekpoint and destroyed the weir of a “poor woman, the widow Walsh, who begged of them, on her knees, not to destroy it; but her intreties being in vain…” Next they visited the Spit at Passage where they were “…cheered by the majority of the Passage folks…” where another scotch weir was cut, next to a weir at the Church Point and then returning upriver. However, here things went awry. A man named Meathe (locally Meades dock is still used as a place name by fishermen) successfully protected his weir by displaying a heap of stones to ward off the cots. Whilst at the next weir they encountered a fisherman named Doherty (another report gave his first name as Andrew, my forefather), who called some of them by name and so they moved on. When returning to the Ross river (The River Barrow is generally called the Ross River locally even today) a man fell overboard and drowned.(4)
In case you were not aware of them, the cots are traditional boats of the upper waters, originating from log boats. For a sense of them and the snap netting practiced by the men that operated them, here’s a brilliant video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=G0zc73JMS-E&t=302s
The weirs must have been wrecked and rebuilt many times after. At a cursory glance through the newspapers numerous events, altercations, parliamentary hearings and court cases occurred in subsequent years. One poignant article from the height of the famine(5) relates how cots that were employed in removing weirs from the Barrow had been confiscated, leaving their owners with no means of earning an income. It was not until the 1860’s when new rules emerged to outlaw the majority of Scotch weirs. In most cases the Head Weirs were not affected. They were, of course, an altogether different operation. Something that is probably still not clearly understood today.
*I say present understanding, as I am finding and considering new information at every turn in relation to the weirs…In fact its a topic that I believe deserves at least a masters research project if not a PhD.
** I am aware of a wide range of local descriptions and several terms from literature used to name weirs. In Waterford the two types of weir I am certain of as those I describe here. However the other words used about the harbour include; Sprat weir, Eel weir, Herring weir, Salmon weir, Ebb weir, Flood weir, Stake weir, Fish Traps, Fixed engines, Fish Garths.
(1) Freemans Journal. 03/09/1828 page 1
(2) Connaught Telegraph. 17/07/1833 page 4
(3) Quoted in Sliabh Rua A history of its people and places. Ed Jim Walsh. 2001. page 251
(4) Freemans Journal 03/04/1844 page 4
(5) Freemans Journal. 26/07/1847 page 3
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We celebrated the Waterford Harvest Festival recently which had a significant input from the local Grow it Yourself GIY project. Its a philosophy that I have subscribed to with my wife Deena for many years, and I have my grandmothers generation to thank for that. But another influence was John Seymour (1914-2004) who has been called the “Godfather of Self Sufficiency” and was the author of the “Bible of Self Sufficiency”. What many apparently didn’t know, was that he lived locally here in the harbour.
A one man rowed prong on Ryans Shore
My first introduction to John was as a teenager standing on Cheekpoint Quay with my Father in autumn time. We stood watching as a Prong approached from Great Island. It was skillfully handled and because of such expertise, it gracefully entered the harbour in the village. My father went forward to take the bow line, which was thrown from out of the Prong, and up onto the quay popped an older man, but how old I could not guess. He had a craggy face, tufty white hair with a flat cap covering a balded dome and a mischievous twinkle in his eye.
“How are you Bob?” was his first words, and although he nodded towards me by way of a hello, he paid no interest in me but continued a wide ranging chat with my father on his spuds, the weather, local fishing and international shipping. I always marveled at my fathers ability to match anyone for discussion on a topic.
Seymour in later years
Born in England into a wealthy family he got a first class education but “turned his back on it” in favor of agriculture. At 20 he emigrated to Africa where he tried his hand at various ventures and served in WWII. He returned to England after the war, but was said to be appalled at how farming was becoming an industrial process and he rebelled against it, turning to writing and journalism to give voice to his opinions. He started a family in the mid fifties and to sustain them, he set up farming again, but on his own terms and under the principals he held dear. The concepts he espoused were articulated in over 40 books during his lifetime, but I think he is probably best known for his book “The Complete book of Self Sufficency” and here’s a you tube review. It’s claimed the book was an influence for the 70’s BBC comedy series called “The good life”
It was the first book of his that I read, and I’ve read a few since. (A full list here) If I was to try and capture the essence of what he had to say it was probably that you need to live in harmony with nature, and turn it to being your ally in the way you work. Something that is as true for fishing as it is for farming. There were some concepts that I didn’t like, for example he seemed to take a hard line with children in the garden, no messing about, which I would find to be essential. But even if you didn’t like the concept, or the have any interest in the practices, the book itself is remarkable for the images and drawings used, and for capturing a way of life that is now almost extinct.
John came to Kilowen, on the River Barrow (which is just above Great Island on the Wexford side) in 1981 and there he set up another smallholding from where he ran courses and basically lived the good life. He continued to write and make appearances (for example Michael Bance from Woodstwon did a number of pieces with him for Nationwide). But he is perhaps best known at this time for his court appearance with the “Arthurstown Seven”
In 1999, in a direct action response to the growing of genetically modified sugar beet in Wexford, John led a protest against a Monsanto product being trialed in fields near to his home. It was the first of a number of actions. When challenged in court he shrugged his shoulders, tilted his head and quipped – “t’was the fairy’s your honour”. Somehow, I don’t think I’d get away with that defense.
My knowledge of him, his books and the events with Monsanto was yet to come. As we walked to the top of the quay, Seymour headed towards the Suir Inn for a pint and I think he was disappointed we couldn’t join him. Once alone I asked my father the inevitable question, to which my father simply replied “a Brit living the good life”. On further prying they had met whilst sinking a weir up the Barrow and Seymour had rowed across to ask about the process. Walking home that evening what I had yet to realise was that by Seymours terms, we were already living the good life. In many ways including growing our own potatoes and veg, catching and eating our own fish, able to freely gather driftwood to keep the home fires burning.
I would come to live through times that would see that all turned on its head. When as a country we would know the price of everything and the value of nothing. I can only speculate that Seymore came here because he could sense that the life he thought possible, still existed in Waterford harbour. In fighting Monsanto he showed his resolve to try and protect his adopted country. Too bad, those who were born and reared here could not have done likewise.
If you have yet to read Seymour here’s a lovely flavor of his work, titled the Age of Healing
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