Passage East “invasion” of 1937

Passage East, Co Waterford

Throughout Wednesday 6th January 1937 and into the night, groups of men began arriving in the small village of Passage East in Waterford harbour.  Some arrived in buses, others by car and as the day went on into evening their numbers swelled to an estimated 500.  Teenagers to middle aged, from all class of Irish society, they clutched cases or bags containing their belongings.  They had one thing in common, they all were constantly looking to the river.  But who were they?, where had the come from? and what was their purpose?

Passage East, Co Waterford earlier in the 20th Century from the Wexford side of the river
Photo via Tommy Deegan Waterford History Site

The cause of the invasion was actually several hundred miles south of Passage East; Spain, and a civil war that waged at the time between a grouping of nationalist rebels which was led by a fascist dictator named Franco and the democratically elected government of Spain.  Now being very economically in terms of the background, and perhaps under simplifying it, the Irish newspapers, church and much of the population were on the side of Franco because the democratic government were seen as anti catholic.  Imagine a state where the church did not get to dictate your every moments thought and action! A broader analysis here from History Ireland

In late 1936, the once IRA leader, pro treaty fighter, friend of Michael Collins, one time leader of Fine Geal and founder of the Blueshirts, General Eoin O’Duffy, called for volunteers to fight on behalf of the nationalist side in the war.  The response was so positive that he went on to announced the formation of an Irish Brigade.  But there was a dilemma in this.  Ireland was a neutral country, and the government of the time, Fianna Fail under De Valera did not want to be seen as taking sides.  So volunteers had to be shipped out of the country in relative secrecy.  However, about 500 were said to have left from Galway in late 1936 aboard a German ship SS Urundi flying the swastika, and were seen off by crowds from the quays, causing embarrassment to the government. 

So in January, when the next shipment of volunteers were due to leave, they made their way secretly to Passage East, their goal was to embark another German vessel and sail to Spain.  That day and into the evening and night as the men arrived, the scene grew more problematic.  According to one report[1] it was “a cold and dreary night“ and “some remained in the public houses until closing time” however “the majority had to pace the cheerless streets hour after hour”

Another report[2] stated that at least some of the men found shelter in “the local hall where, where food was provided by the villagers”  

Their ship was due by midnight, apparently a night time boarding and sailing seen as the safest means of leaving their homeland.  The ship however never materialised and by the next afternoon plans were afoot to try secure busses to repatriate the volunteers.  Many had already fled said to be “disgusted with the whole affair, decided to go home and engaged motor cars”[3]  Their ship was rumoured to have been intercepted by the Royal Navy, but I have not found any evidence of that as yet.  Other sources seem to suggest that the Spanish were less than enamoured by the quality of fighting men that were coming from Ireland and may have actually asked the Germans not to sail!

A sense of the public support, a rally in support of Franco in Cork 1936.
Raised hands in sign of a cross Via History Ireland

The newspapers had a field day with the fiasco.  And the following week the Waterford Standard published a three column synopsis of the event and its aftermath, drawn mostly from the national papers.[4]  Recriminations start to fly and argument and counterargument are rife.

Mixed accounts feature in relation to their experience at Passage East, but nothing but praise is uttered towards the villagers.  Plenty of criticism is reserved for the organisation of the event however. Here’s an example

“Mr. Thomas Crimmins, Iveagh House, Bride Street. Dublin, who gave up his employment as a scaffolder … We left Beresford Place, Dublin, at 8.30 p.m, on Wednesday, and, without food or refreshments on the way, reached Passage East at 1.30 a.m. The only public house in the village that was open had been drunk dry, and the early arrivals had eaten whatever food there was. With hundreds of others, I walked the streets for hours on end in the darkness and cold. Some young lads —they could not have been more than 16 years—collapsed from hunger and exhaustion. A few of us were fortunate. We prevailed on a lorry driver from Kildare, who had pigs in the lorry, to let us share the lorry with them. We were so weary that, amidst the grunting and smelly pigs, we actually slept.”

A young man from Cork journeyed by bus, and they were ordered not to sing or make any noise, and the lights were put out as the bus passed through towns and villages. On alighting at Passage it immediately returned to Cork. They were left to sleep on the streets or wherever they could find a place to lie on. He went on to say “I slept on the open street. I had no supper, and I was hungry and cold. After some time we broke into an old, condemned schoolhouse but there was not accommodation for a quarter of us there and many of us still had to sleep in the street. From the schoolhouse we went to a club house in Passage East.”

The organisation itself was quick to defend itself, and rebutted much of the claims made. Another volunteer offered the following, and perhaps accurate, assessment:  “I knew I was not going on a picnic, and if men grumbled about the hardship they suffered for 24 hours on this occasion I am confident that their services would not be much of an acquisition to the Irish Brigade”

From what I have read on the topic it would appear that the Galway contingent was the last to enter the conflict from Ireland on the Nationalists side.  As it happens, the men in Passage could probably be said to have had a lucky escape.  The Irish Brigade did not cover itself with glory in the conflict and within a few months of 1937 they would be disarmed and asked to leave Spain due to a variety of embarrassing incidents.  In their defence they were poorly trained, poorly led and had effectively been sold a pup as to the reality of the conflict they were entering.

O’Duffy takes a salute from the Blueshirts.

Of course Irishmen also fought on the opposite side in Spain as members of the international brigade, and with much more distinction.  A book from their perspective that I could heartily recommend is by a Waterford man Peter O’Connor and called a Solider of Liberty; recollections of a socialist and anti-fascist fighter.  

Mark Power has a series of podcasts from a local perspective on the civil war that I would recommend

I’d like to thank Clifford Elliott and his son of Passage who first mentioned this event to me and got me interested

Long form article on the conflict

A book on the era recommended here by Frank Murphy

[1] Belfast News Letter Friday 8th January 1937 P 7

[2] Northern Whig Friday 8th January 1937 p 8

[3] Belfast News Letter Friday 8th January 1937 P 7

[4] Waterford Standard – Saturday 16 January 1937 page 8

Joe Walsh of Passage East

Catherine Foley, the author, has kindly submitted a second guest blog feature to the page.  It follows a hugely successful initial guest blog some months back, entitled Beyond the Breakwater which brought us back to the Passage East of her youth and Waterford city.  For this blog, Catherine remembers with a loving fondness her uncle, Joe Walsh.  

My uncle Joe was often with us when we came together at important family occasions in our aunts’ sitting room in Helvick. He was an integral part of family life, spending every holiday with us. He’d lock up, leave his home in Passage East for a couple of weeks, get the bus to Waterford, catch the outgoing one to Dungarvan and we’d drive in from Ring to collect him at the terminal.

He was a merchant seaman who went to sea as a young man. He spent many years working on ocean liners and oil rigs. In later years he fished out of Passage East.  He was a gravedigger in Crooke for a while too.

He was my mother’s brother and he was my godfather so there was a special link between us, not that I appreciated him when I was a young scamp with no time to listen to the cautionary voice of Joe.

Yet, I always knew he was my greatest ally, and as I got older I came to realise that we were alike in many ways.

In his downtime with us, I remember him working with rope. Even in the end when his mind was gone and he lay in a hospital bed, his hands working, tying imaginary ropes, repeated the same actions in the same sequence over and over until one of us caught and held them still.

Joe in later years

Once he arrived, Joe would take on all washing-up duties, and being a sailor through and through, he was far better than any of us girls: when he’d be finished the place would be gleaming, ship-shape and clean as a whistle, everything tied down and shining like a galley.

He often gave us money too, he’d bring us presents and he had all the local news for my mother, Ena, who had grown up in Passage and loved to hear stories about her home place.

And so on Christmas morning we’d all set off for our aunts’ house, which overlooked the fishing pier of Helvick in west Co Waterford, where us young ones would get presents, we’d get to listen to the adults talking about old times and to top it all off, we’d have a singsong.

My aunts always had Barley’s Lime Cordial as a treat for us, Cherry Brandy liqueur for my mother and Guinness and whiskey for the men. My aunts only drank tea.

Joe was usually called on to sing first because he loved to and because his voice was rich and melodious. He relished singing and he had a store of favourite songs that he’d learned from listening to artists like Johnny Cash and Jim Reeves.

He used to sing Roger Whittager’s The Last Farewell as well. After a swallow of Guinness to slake his throat, he’d put his glass down carefully on the coffee table and compose himself. His face would take on a dreamy, serious expression. Then he’d lift his head and begin: his deep, rich voice filling the room with the music and the story: “There’s a ship lying rigged and ready in the harbour, tomorrow for old England she sails.”

From the start we’d be hooked by the song. “Though death and darkness gather all around me… and the taste of war I know so very well,” he’d sing, his shoulders rising philosophically on the crescendo.

We loved this one because it told a story and we all knew the chorus with its lilting, easy melody: “for you are beaut-i-ful, and I have loved you dearly, more dearly than the spoken word can tell.”  We‘d join in at that point and sing along with Joe.

Walsh children 1930’s

His own life at sea seemed to give the song an added pathos. He had never married, and I always felt that those songs of lost love were heart-felt in some way. I had a sense that there was some hidden trauma but I could only guess at what that might be.

A ring of stout around his mouth was a sign that Joe was truly in the moment. The sadness in Joe that us young people could never miss but never understand seemed to add to the piquancy of the words.
As he sang, he’d lift his head up at certain parts almost in sympathy with the fate of the tragic sailor and time would slow down as his voice filled the room.

He had a head of rich black hair, a strong jaw-line and a fine profile. He was a very handsome man. He smoked Major cigarettes – the tops of the fingers on his left hand were brown from years of holding the stubs in the cup of his hand. His masculinity and strength coupled with an incongruous vulnerability could leave me feeling slightly embarrassed. The angelic quality of his voice and his open trusting eyes seemed to pose a question that I could not fathom.

Joe had thick black eyebrows and his dark brown eyes would hold your gaze with a look of honest appraisal while speaking to you.

He walked with a limp: one shoe was always built up by the cobbler to compensate for the shorter leg that had shrivelled as a result of excessive cycling and hurling as a young man. Because of this, he sat in the armchair in his own characteristic way, almost in a kneeling position as if genuflecting, the shorter leg folded underneath him, his knee nearly touching the floor.

Catherine’s dad Joe left and her uncle Joe

Those times remain clear in my memory now, of Joe singing with emotion of other worlds and times. Looking out the window in Helvick, I remember the grey-green sea stretching off down the coastline to the east, towards Hook Head in the distance with the town of Dungarvan visible to the west.

He always favoured songs about loneliness, about drinking and about disappointment. I remember him singing about the man sitting in a honky in Chicago when he sang Little Old Wine Drinker Me. “I asked the man,” he’d sing, “behind the bar, to play the juke-box, and the music takes me back to Tennessee”. He used to lift his shoulders in a semi-shrug as he sang the last line: “When they ask, who’s the man in the cor-ner cry-ing, I say little old wine drinking me.” Unhurried, he’d pause like any singer if a long breath was required. He’d often close his eyes but sometimes, he’d look into the near distance as he put his heart into the words. Now the words and the music of those songs merge like a collage of melodies: the notes unfolding slowly in my head, Joe’s voice rising effortlessly.

He died in his late sixties in the hospital in Dungarvan. We buried him on an icy cold, wet day in Crooke in January 2004 alongside his parents,  Joe and Mary Ellen Walsh (née Martel). There were hailstones and freezing rain on the day and it seemed fitting. As the coffin was lowered into the ground; it was as if whatever he’d endured was blanched away and his life was purified by the freezing downpour.

I’d like to thanks Catherine for providing this tweaked extract from Beyond the Breakwater, Memories of Home. If you follow the previous link you can buy it online, or as a kindle.  Its published by Mercier Press and is available as they say in all good bookshops, including the Book Centre, Waterford.  If you need any more convincing about this wonderful book Manchán Magan gave it a “rave” review in the Irish Times. 

A tweaked extract from Beyond the Breakwater Memories of Home
By Catherine Foley (c) Published by Mercier Press 2018.

Beyond the Breakwater

Catherine Foley is a proud Waterford woman who grew up initially in the city before moving to An Rinn in the Waterford Gaeltacht. Deena and I had known of her before, through her contributions to RTE Radio 1’s Sunday Miscellany.  However it was her cousin, and a regular contact of tides’n’tales on facebook, Mary Chaytor nee Rogers who alerted me to her recently published book; Beyond the Breakwater, Memories of home.  The memoir takes us from her early days in Lower Newtown, a move in 1970 to the Gaeltacht, her career in journalism and as a carer for her parents in later years.  But as this is a maritime blog, Catherine decided to share some recollections of regular visits with her maternal grandparents in Passage East; Joe and Mary Ellen Walsh. I think you will enjoy them.

My maternal grandmother, Mary Ellen Walsh, was a tailoress who lived in Passage East in County Waterford, all her life. She wore her grey hair tied back in a bun at the base of her head. She had deep-set dark brown eyes – a link to her Corsican ancestry. She wore a navy wrap around apron that had a pocket at the front in which she carried her beads, a few stray hairpins, sometimes the stub of a pencil or a spool of thread and maybe a little ironed handkerchief.

Catherine as Little Red Riding Hood with her mother Ena Foley nee Walsh

I remember her sitting at her Singer sewing machine, her upper body curved over the machine as she swayed back and forth in time with the motion of the wheel and the foot pedal underneath, all aligned and working with clockwork-like syncopation and co-ordination. I remember her starting the machine when she pressed down on the pedal underneath and then gave the wheel at her side a bit of a push. With nicely timed and precise movements, she’d crank up the beast and like a great steamboat it would all start up, and the whole machine would trundle into action, the needle ratcheting along. Then my grandmother’s highly controlled and beautifully intense dance would begin in earnest.

As children we stayed with my grandparents Joe Walsh and Mary Ellen in Post Office Square in Passage East throughout the 1960s. The noise of the Singer was like the sound of a great farmyard contraption clattering along. It had a rhythmic beat, a battering ram of a tune that carried a message of great condemning conviction and certitude, both satisfying and mesmerising. It was like hearing little hammer blows falling, cascading, tumbling down through the needle onto the fabric.

In the midst of this mechanical mayhem, she’d sometimes give the wheel at her side an extra little encouraging lash of her hand to speed up the sewing and that’s when she’d travel into the stratosphere of sewing wizardry. With her head bent low and her hands over the dress, she’d be flying along, concentrating fiercely, united as one with the powerful engine, her needle jabbing in and out of the material.  At such moments, she was completely focussed, having to keep the seam in its correct place, the pressure up and the momentum going, pacing it, weaving it, all the parts moving in one great headlong rush. She was the seamstresses’ version of Zen and the art of Motorcycle Maintenance.

Mary Ellen Walsh and Catherine as an infant

The Singer, coming to a temporary stop for a moment, used to sound exhausted as it wound down, the frantic energy seeming to dissipate while my gran readjusted the fabric and fixed it under the needle. Then I’d see her thread the needle, holding her breath like a tight-rope walker, her glasses half-way down her nose as she tried to hold the cotton between her thumb and forefinger and direct it through the eye.  It seemed to me as if she was facing down the beast, and a dual of two wits, a fight to the finish, would ensue until she’d threaded the needle, and once again bent the automaton to her will…

Her father was Joe Martel, a Corsican who ran away to sea when he was sixteen. He left either a year before or a year after a full census was conducted in Adjaccio in 1873 and although my sister and I went to Corsica years later and combed through the census returns in the heat of the National Archives we found no trace of him or his family. His father was Bastien Martel, a stone mason.

Joe Martel secured a job as a sailor on board a ship and sailed out of Adjaccio and thus he became a merchant seaman. In time, he became a bosun. On one of his voyages, he met a Captain William Ryan, from Passage East, and the two became friends. They must have been in their twenties when they came home to Passage on leave, Captain Ryan showing him his home place, where small fishing boats were tied up along the quays in the village, at a narrow stretch in the River Suir before the estuary widens to flow out to open sea. It was here that Joe Martell met Willie’s sister, Mary Ryan.

We have a photograph of Joe Martel with his drooping moustache and a slouched soft cloth cap, very much in keeping with the manner of his countrymen back in his native Corsica. His eyes are deep-set under the brim of his cap. The two were married in Crooke Church in 1883 – the same place where my parents married in 1958.

Catherine as a toddler with her grandfather Joe Walsh 

Joe Martel and Mary, his wife, had four daughters – RoseAnn, Maggie, Angela and Mary Ellen Martel, who was the youngest and my grandmother. Ena, her daughter, and my mother, remembered Joe Martel even though she was only a little girl when he died. They used to walk along the cockle walk together, chatting away, hand in hand. He had black hair, dark brown eyes and sallow skin. He used to make model ships, which he moored against detailed miniature piers, all set against the painted background of the river estuary with detailed scapes of Ballyhack, Arthurstown, Duncannon and Cheekpoint all easy to pick out. These elaborate seascapes were housed in great display cases made of glass. He used Mary Ryan’s grey hair for the wisps of smoke coming out of the funnel of the ships. He was the first seaman to bring a gramophone home to Passage East from one of his voyages.

I have photographs of the times when we posed in the lee of the derelict Geneva barracks at a summer fair. I remember the swinging cots, the sandwiches and the cups of strong tea from wobbly tables in the field. Different years, different photographs. In another I am a child with my mother kneeling in the grass beside me, smiling. I am dressed as little red riding hood – in a kind of djellaba down to my sandaled feet. I have a basket on my arm but my tear-stained face shows what an unwilling participant in the fancy dress of the early 1960s I was. I can remember being afraid because I thought I was going to meet the wolf.  But tear-stained or not, I came away with first prize. Some of those memories are still vivid. Here’s an extract from Passage,  a poem, that is part of my recently published memoir, Beyond the Breakwater.

Their words are in my head today,
they echo back and forth
lulling me into a half-remembered time
when I was four and younger
in my pram
outside on the footpath
looking up at Canacanoe Hill.
The pump in front of Connors’ house.
The shop. Ice-cream,
Did they get a salmon?
No, they’re very scarce.
Crabs, gulls, stones, herrings.
The smoke house, shells, rain.
Get up to bed,
The Men’s Walk, the dock, evening,
The Blind Quay,
The slip, the steps, the gunwale.
We all grew up but their words are in my head today.
They echo back and forth.

I’d like to thanks Catherine for providing this tweaked extract from Beyond the Breakwater, Memories of Home. Its published by Mercier Press and is available as they say in all good bookshops.  (I got my own in the Book Centre, Waterford). There were many stand out pieces in the book for me like her wandering up Alphonsus Road on her communion morning knocking on doors, or the deeply poignant Ardkeen Visit.  And I was delighted to readt her perspective on the visit of Jackie Kennedy to Woodstown which featured in another recent guest blog by Joe Falvey.  If you need any more convincing about this wonderful book Manchán Magan gave it a “rave” review in the Irish Times. 

Community Notice: Free Concert at Faithlegg House Hotel. Booking essential…

Finally from me just to say that I’m delighted to get contributions for the guest blog, especially from a female perspective.  This is blog post 241 and only the third guest blog since we started in late 2016 from a woman.  So if any others out there would like to contribute, I would love to hear from you.  The bref is 1200 word count, on a theme of  the three sister rivers and harbour maritime history by email to  Next month will feature a well known Dunmore East personality.

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Harbour Hobblers

Last Saturday I had the good fortune to
call over to Waterford Airport to see the materials that were uncovered by Noel
McDonagh at Creaden Head, Co Waterford. 
While there we got into a conversation with Michael Farrell of the
Barony of Gaultier Historical Society and Brendan Dunne and his son Ian about
the area around Creaden and one curious place name that jumped out at me was
the Hobblers Rock.  The feature is on the
upper side of the headland, in a sheltered spot, and was a departure point for
the hobblers and their boats in a vital element of our maritime trade, ship
pilotage and docking.
The term Hobbler was first introduced to me
as a boy, listening to the stories of my father and the older men of
Cheekpoint. Their definition has been challenged by others, enhanced or
diminished, depending on who you listen to.  Indeed many look at you, if you mention the word, like you had another head.  Thinking more likely about Hobbits!
Hobbler attending the MV Julia at Waterford circa 1950
Shortall via the Andy Kelly collection
According to my father a hobbler was defined as one of a team of
men who rowed down the harbour in long punts and vied with each other to have
the right to guide a ship into Waterford or New Ross. He admired them as hard working, tough and
resilient men who could row miles off the Hook to engage a craft, and if need be, tow a
ship past Cheekpoint up through the Kings Channel and into the city. (Or via the Barrow to New Ross) Crews were
made up from all the villages and the towns and the competition between crews was fierce. 
The method of securing the right to take charge of a ship has
variations in its telling too. Some said
that it was a straightforward race; first hobbler team to get a rope aboard the
incoming vessel secured the prize. However I have also heard that bidding wars took place with ships
masters, when conditions allowed. Competing hobbler teams would be forced into a bidding war, resulting in bad feeling, scuffles or much worse. My father had one story of a man named Whistler who lost almost all his teeth in a row with another hobbler. As my father had it, thereafter you would hear the Whistler coming because of the wind blowing through his damaged teeth! 
Other accounts say that it was just a
couple of men in a boat, which met incoming boats and won the right to tie them
up. Others talk of winning the right to
discharge or load ships. Whilst others
again talk of them almost in terms of a modern era tug boat, used to move ships
from moorings to berths and vice versa.  Another
curious aspect of the hobbler story is that in Cheekpoint one theory of the
site known locally as “the Lookout” was also linked to them.  I’ve speculated before on a link to this site
and other lookout points as a signaling system employed within the port.
Hobblers mooring a WWI era troop ship. Artist Charles Pears.
First published in the Illustrated London News Jan 1916

With the formation of the Waterford Harbour
Board[1] in
1816 piloting became more organised and pilot boats were employed to put recognised
pilots aboard ships.  This must certainly
have impacted the role of the hobbler, but not completely (I’ve seen accounts of hobblers piloting as late as 1894). I also read
that on the south coast of England “Hovellers” [2]
were a description of the craft or men that sailed as far as Lands End at times
in search of incoming ships in need of a pilot. Indeed the term also existed in Cork and Dublin (I haven’t seen it recorded elsewhere as yet). David Carroll has only recently sent me a book[3]
highlighting their courage and skill, including one poignant story of a
hobblers crew demise.

The Hobbler memorial at Dun Laoighre.  Photo via Derek Carroll and passed along by page regular David Carroll

I’m now convinced that the reason so many
definitions or accounts of hobblers exist, is because the stories I have heard
come from at least two hundred years of maritime trade. Their roles altered as times changed, perhaps initially with the
formation of the Harbour Board and the formalisation of pilotage. Increases in sailing ships with auxiliary engines, and steam boats must
have been the next phase. 

For me, Hobblers Rock in Creaden is a
very important maritime place name connection with the port of Waterford and New Ross’
past.  A point from which I’m sure men
had a lookout post, and where a wary eye was kept on the horizon, and hardened
fishermen waited impatiently for a sail to be sighted and the cry to go up of “sail ahoy”.  Mighty men, deserving
I finally got to the monument in Oct 2018
Phioto courtesy of Michael Farrell 

[2] A Dictionary of the Worlds Watercraft.  The Mariners Museum. 2000.  Chatham Publishing
[3] A Maritime History of Ringsend. 
2000.  Sandymount Community
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Gallivanting to Ballyhack 1978

Last week I visited Ballyhack Castle in Co Wexford with my wife Deena.  It was a bit of a day out, and most enjoyable as the sun shone, entry to the castle was free and neither of us had a care in the world on a welcome day off for us both.  Later I posted about it on Facebook which drew a huge reaction, and it got me thinking.  Firstly, there is so much available to us to see and do, that is literally under our feet.  All it needs is a bit of planning.  But it also got me to reminiscing about my first visit to the “hackers” when I was only a garsún and what an adventure it was.
I think it was 1978 when on a bright and clear Saturday, Jimmy Duffin announced that we would go for an adventure.  Jimmy was a year or two older and basically whatever Jimmy decided was right and fine by us.  So we set off up the High Road, along the Coolbunnia Road, over the Hurthill and down to Passage East.  On the main quay Jimmy hoisted a flag on a short pole, and there we waited. In our company was William Elliott and Michael Duffin. I can’t recall if anyone else had come along, but if they did it would have been Michael Moran and Brendan Foley. 
Ballyhack circa 1970 courtesy of Brendan Grogan

According to Jimmy, he’d been over to visit his auntie Anne (White) and her family dozens of times, hoisting the flag was the method by which you called over the ferry to cross the expanse of water that separates Waterford from Wexford, Munster from Leinster. I have to admit I had my doubts.  Standing on the quay, feet shifting nervously, conscious that the “sharks” of Passage didn’t take kindly to us Cheekpoint lads coming into their patch (not that it would any different if reversed), disparagingly referred to as “mudlarks” by some or shortened to “pointers” by most. Voicing my concern Jimmy was all bravado, shur wasn’t his cousins the Heffernans of Passage and everyone knew Sean Heffernan would break them in two if the looked crooked at his younger cousin.  

Eventually, a boat was seen to depart from Ballyhack quay and as the half decker without even a cabin pulled in to Passage a soft capped man called up to ask would we risk setting sail with him.  Before we were in and settled Jim Roche had the measure of us, our parents and all belonging to us, and he chatted away about sailors and fishermen he had known from Cheekpoint, and of course he knew all our fathers.  I have no recollection of payment, the reality is we would not have had much between us.

Community Notice Board
Don’t forget the Beat the Ferryman event Saturday 23rd June.  As good a spectacle as anything you will see, and a great day out.  Cheekpoint Fun day takes part the following day Sunday June 24th.

In Ballyhack we wandered around like lost souls.  Apparently there was a football match on, and the village was practically empty. I can only remember that we tried to get access to the castle but it was barred to us and inhospitable looking. One other memory  stands out of the day, as we met a lovely man with a jackdaw named “Jack” who asked after us and made us feel right at home.  Maria Doyle told me during the week that this was Muck King, and that working in the OPW he often came across a hurt jackdaw, which he adopted and nursed back to health. He had a succession of such birds, all named Jack! She remembered one such bird that Muck fashioned a helmet for from a golf ball, which travelled everywhere with him on the handlebars of his Honda 50.
When it was time to return we strolled over towards the quay and signaled to Jim, who was sitting “in his office” as he described it, the window of Watty Byrnes Pub, from which he could monitor his fares over and back the river. As fisherboys we would be in an out of Watty’s a lot in the future first to the shop for sweets and large bottles of pop, and later for large bottles of harder stuff.
Deena getting some fascinating info from Bob Doyle on other off the beaten track sites to visit. 
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Arriving home that evening in the 1970’s I must have presented a tired, bedraggled and hungry sight in the Mount Avenue. Coming in the gate my father, who was in the front garden, asked where I had been and laughed to himself when I answered.  My mother hearing us came out, I suppose she had been worried, but it of course never entered me head.  “Where we ya” she asked.  “The buckos went gallivanting to Ballyhack” was all me father had to say before he cleared off to let me mother do the chastisement.  He was probably making a mental note of the large bottle he would owe Jim Roche the next time they met on the high stool.

Last week Deena and I needed to raise no flag as the present Passage East Ferry sails like clockwork between the two villages, in everything except the most exceptional of weathers. For €2 pp we walked on and off and this time Ballyhack Castle was open to the public, fully restored and really a gem of tower house to visit.  It’s free and is open Saturday-Wednesday all summer from 9.30-5pm. Bob Doyle, Maria’s brother in law, is one of the guides, and if you like talking history, you’ll enjoy a chat with Bob.

Thanks to Maria Doyle, who grew up with Ballyhack castle in her garden, for helping me with the details of this piece.  Maria’s mam, Anne White nee Fortune (RIP) was Jimmy’s aunt and, coincidentally, a great friend of my grandmothers.

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