White Stone – Cheekpoint fisherman’s foul mark

A lighter in operation in New Ross

For generations of Cheekpoint fishermen, the White Stone was a foul mark to be wary of, a river-based location that was notorious for dragging nets to the bottom and causing costly damage. 

Recently I stumbled upon the back story to the foul, the cause of so much anxiety and upset to us drift netters of the past.  It arose from a dispute following the introduction of scotch weirs and the difficulties posed to traditional navigation, especially in this instance to craft using the Campile Pill.  But needless to say there were different opinions and numerous twists and turns before the White stone foul emerged!

Placenames on the river

I’m certain that my regular readers will be well aware of the relevance of place names and the important role each play in preserving the history and heritage of a locality.  In a fishing community river or coastal place names can be just as valuable but with an added significant role in fishing terms too.

Place names on the river at Cheekpoint denoted the commencement or end of drifts, marked hindrances to navigation or fishing, and useful landmarks for the location of nets, eel pots, etc.  They also marked fouls, spots notorious to fishermen, a location to be avoided, skirted around or just to show more caution.  One of the most infamous marks for the Cheekpoint men was the White Stone.  This blog looks at the origins of this foul mark, arising from some research I had conducted previously into the navigation of the Campile Pill. 

Salmon Driftnetting at Cheekpoint

When fishing salmon driftnets on the flood tide at Cheekpoint we principally concentrated our efforts along the Shelburne Bank, to the Campile Pill, and along up the “bank wall” – the embankment that held in the reclaimed marsh land at Kilmannock in Co Wexford.  The drift terminated at Great Island Power Station. 

As you proceeded up the bank wall, there was a mark in the wall, made by a piece of flat faced white rock which gave us the name White Stone.  This marked a notorious foul and as we approached the drift nets were hauled aboard, which pulled the boat away from the shore, and crews had their own preferred distance of net to retrieve.  (Later in the tide you might tighten up the foot rope, and take a chance on passing over) When a crew was satisfied, they would wait patiently for the onrushing tide, to drag the punt upriver, and once safely passed, the crew would resume the drift by setting the nets back into the shore.  Depending on the time of tide, some crews would set the entirety of the nets out at this point, others waiting until they got up to the “pailing” – a concrete fence post, before setting the remainder of the driftnets along the mud, or the wall – depending on how high the river had risen.   

A recent video highlighting the location
Salmon Fishery hearing 1864

Now the origins of the foul were reputed to be an old weir, but only recently did I actually get more details of this, arising from evidence gathered in New Ross in 1864. The hearing was part of a fishery commission established to examine fish weirs located countrywide – many of which had been established in the early 1800s as Scotch Weirs or had been adapted from the traditional Head Weirs.  I’ve written numerous accounts of the Weir Wars that resulted

Some of the placenames featured in my first book, Before the Tide Went Out.
Note the White Stone at Great Island

At New Ross, on March 10th, 1864 the Commission sat to gather evidence into the Kilmannock Weir with the three-person special commissioners in charge – Fredrick Eden, Captain W Houston RN, and W O’Conner Morris.   

From the report, it seems the only matter under examination was the impediment that the weir might cause to navigation, specifically traffic between the Pill and the River Barrow.  We learn that Mr. Knox of Kilmannock is the owner and the weir is fished by Richard Hewitson.  These men were represented by Mr. Ryland, instructed by Mr. Boyd, and called several witnesses to highlight that the weir posed no issues at all. Opposing this evidence was Mr. E Carr – representing the Nore, Barrow, and Suir Navigation Co. 

The entrance to the Pill is just below the lighthouse on the Bank Wall…we called this the Corner of the Pill

I won’t go into the opposing views that were reported, these continued for several days, though it is interesting to note that Fredrick Eden was less than enamored with the information provided stating that “…The evidence on both sides is biased and is to be taken with considerable caution.”

Legalities of the Kilmannock Weir

He summed up the legalities quite definitively, however – Basically the weir at Kilmannock was granted legal status under the fishery act of 1842 –  this was based on a lease dated 1669.  However other documents now presented had caused concern as they pointed to a different weir – in a different location, and the weir at use in 1864 was actually repositioned after the embankment was constructed, (The embankment is not shown in the first OSI map of the area {1829-1842} but is in the subsequent edition from 1914) or perhaps before in anticipation of its construction.  Therefore the weir was not strictly legal, as the older legal documents were for a weir, which was at that point either part of the embankment or covered in soil on the reclaimed marshland.   The decision made was that the weir should be removed.

Mahons Weir. Cheekpoint, Photo credit: William Doherty
Salmon Fishery hearing 1867

The weir verdict must have been appealed however as in 1867 it was again before the Salmon Fishery Commission in New Ross.  On this occasion appealing a decision to remove or alter the Kilmannock Weir was Maurice Wilson Knox of Kilmannock.  Several witnesses were called who operated lighters on the Pill to clarify that the weir was no impediment to navigation. 

An extract from Sayers chart of the harbour in 1787, no embankment and I’d imagine the weir was close to the first line on the right, where the river meets the shoreline at low water. I’m afraid no weir is shown in the location on any map or chart I have, not even in the OSI historic series. The only weir in the vicinity is a flood weir shown close to the present jetty and Kents Point.

The first witness was Matthew Power – a boatman on the Pill, working lighters for 45 years.  Power described his trade, and that they carried limestones from above Waterford and reached the Cheekpoint area (I’d imagine he means here Snow Hill or Drumdowney Point) on the ebb tide where they anchored.  On the next flood tide they crossed to Cheekpoint and (depending on the tides and weather I guess) sometimes waited on the next tide before crossing to the Pill.  They went up the Pill on the flood tide.  No detail is given of how long the journey was, but I would imagine it could be two tides – as they would be under too much pressure to make it through the New Bridge.

Power later clarified that was a tenant of Knox but that the only difficulty posed by the weir was if they were heading to the Ross River (Barrow) and even that was not a major issue.  They generally headed towards Waterford and they used a single-lug sail when the wind was right.  The weir he claimed was no impediment on this tack.

John Carroll of Horsewood (spelled Hore’s Wood in the article) was another witness who had worked the Campile River for 40 years.  When heading to New Ross, he steered a course well outside the weir, keeping a line for Kents Weir on the Great Island.  He stated it was useful on a foggy night as a landmark as there is no other light (suggesting there was a light on the weir perhaps).  He remembered boats going up inside the weir in the days before the Embankment was built but not since.   The lawyer acting on behalf of the Cotmen Mr Carr, is less than taken with their evidence however and although it is not part of the article it is obvious that Carr knows very well the issues caused by the weir for lighters depending on poles and oars to get into or out of the Pill when trying to keep to the shore heading for New Ross.

A lighter in operation in New Ross
A lighter in operation in New Ross – courtesy of Myles Courtney

Another witness is a Coastguard based at Arthurstown Daniel Jenkins.  Jenkins gave evidence about the tides and how the weir impacts these.  A fisherman Richard Power had no issue with the weir either – the ground is too steep for trawling and no great advantage there to a drift net either apparently (Cheekpoint fishermen of my generation would certainly disagree – and in the 1870s there were 90 driftnet licences in the harbour area!).  Another boatman Michael Doyle also gave evidence. 

The Commission made no decision on the day – asking for a survey of the site by the Coastguard officer, to be completed in the company of one of Mr Knox’s men, and once submitted a decision would be forthcoming! 

The White Stone
Outstanding Questions

I can’t find any detail as to how the White Stone in the wall originated. It seems to have been there from the outset of the building of the embankment. I’m also not clear as to the exact date for the removal of the weir, and I can not be sure if this was a redesigned head weir that had the wing extended to the shoreline, or some other specific design like some of the scotch weirs in the Kings Channel for example. 

Conclusion

Whatever part of the weir that was left behind when ir was removed, proved to be a considerable obstacle up to my years of salmon driftnetting.   Although we have not set a driftnet at the spot since it was banned in 2006, I daresay any of those left who remember the foul would still show it some respect if were allowed back fishing tomorrow.

As regulars will know I am deeply interested in the workings of the Lighter vessels and the lightermen, and this evidence has given me a rare glimpse into the activities of these men. The details of the journey from Grannagh to Campile although brief, give a glimpse into the lives of these men who worked in harmony with the tides in order to move their freight cargos. Patience was a virtue, they had to have a deep knowledge of the river and its tides, but they also required a lot of luck for the job to go well. I’m ever hopeful of finding other snippets of their lives as my research continues.

I’m grateful to Tommy Sullivan for letting me discuss the White Stone with him recently to clarify some points. Its been so long ago I like to check in with others to be sure I am not imagining stuff. All errors and omissions are my own needless to say.

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White Horse

As you pass under Barrow Bridge entering the River Barrow or (Ross River as we call it in Cheekpoint) there is an outcrop of rock that rises almost vertically from the river. Located on the left hand side, or port if we want to be suitably nautical, this Kilkenny based feature is known as the White Horse. It certainly catches the eye and imagination.

In recent years it has been a location over which buzzards soar. Their calls add to the magic of the spot. I have also seen a number of goats on it occasionally which must help to keep the furze and briars in check.

White Horse

It’s unavoidable to think that the placename has some association with the colour of the stone. But there are other local origin stories that are intriguing. In the Duchas collection, there were two accounts related to the site. One went as follows. “… a man, who was very fond of hounds, jumped from the rock in pursuit of a fox and was killed. The burrow of the fox is to be seen there”. How that connects to a white horse I am not very sure, however – maybe the chap was on a horse at the time? That detail is not included however. Source

A goat keeping an eye from above
A much clearer photo of a goat on the White Horse via Brendan Grogan
A video I shot of the location on Friday 8th September 2023

The other story in the collection is that of Crotty the Robber.  “It is said that Crotty, the robber, while he was in the district jumped from the rock on his white steed, and on account of he being a robber there is supposed to be money hidden in the rock. It is from this white steed the rock derived its name. When he was trying to decoy his pursuers, he turned his horse’s shoes backward.” Source Maybe the goats I sometimes see have an ulterior motive?

White Horse Rock on the Richards & Scales map in 1764. This is looking downriver with the site on the right of the map. Courtesy of Seán Ó Briain

Now another story comes from Cheekpoint via a wonderful collection of stories by the late Jim Doherty.  Jim’s account tallies with Crotty above, but for Jim, the highwayman was Freeny (phonetically spelled Franey).  In Jim’s account, Freeny was on the run after a hold-up.  As he only robbed the rich and was generous to the less well off, he was well regarded amongst the ordinary folk.  Being pursued, he turned the shoes backward on his white horse.  He then rode off the cliff.  I heard it said elsewhere that the horse managed to land on Great Island. I suppose if it was the winged Pegasus that might have been possible.  Jim’s account is more sobering.  They managed to hit the water and the horse swam to the Island and made good their escape.  The pursuers on reaching the cliff saw the hoof marks moving away from the cliff and went back the way they came!

Locating the White Horse on a map

Having climbed up there recently from the river, I have to say both horse and man are to be commended if they actually did jump.  It’s a heck of a drop. 

Great Island, Co Wexford, as seen from the top of the White Horse

Sean Malone writing in Sliabh Rua, A History of its People and Places, mentioned that the name in Irish is Garinbawn. I saw this also in a recent discovery I made, spelled Garrinbawn (see image below). The bawn I presume is Irish for white – but what is Garin or Garrin… indeed is it spelled correctly at all? I suppose the most logical assumption is that it connects with horse in some fashion that my limited knowledge of the own language hinders. Another thought however is a connection with Cheekpoint. Here we have the Gorryauls which is thought to combine Garden with height or high. Could it possibly be the White Garden? Pure speculation on my part. Anyway, the name was part of the instructions given to sea captains negotiating their way upriver to New Ross. It’s from the Sailing Directions for the Coast of Ireland, 1877, Part 1, by Staff commander Richard Hoskyn RN. Needless to say, the Barrow Bridge did not warrant a mention, as it would not be started until 1902.

Excerpt from Sailing Directions for the Coast of Ireland, 1877, Part 1. Staff Commander Richard Hoskyn RN
Pete Goulding kindly sent this along, from the OSI historic series – Garraunbaun Rock which Pete thought had some thoughts on thinking white trees might be close to the original. Seán also sent on a link to the name on the logainm site showing the name in three different counties but not ours alas – Seáns comment below.

I’m sure older names existed, and perhaps someone can shed some further light on the origins of the name. But for anyone who still passes on the River Barrow, the rock is a formidable feature, and easy to imagine its significance from a navigation point of view to previous river users.

Mark Power made this video with me two years back looking at some local river placenames which we hoped might lead to a few commissions from the tourism sector. Hopefully, it might still. But to see the White Horse check out from about 2 minutes in

I later found this description of the area from O’Kelly’sThe Place Names of the County of Kilkenny Ireland (1969, p. 112)

Ballinlaw , Baile an lagha, place of the hill. Area 613 acres.
Part of the townland is listed in Rathpatrick Civil Parish on Index of Townlands. Ballinlaw castle, in ruins, forfeited under Cromwell in 1653 was Ormonde property, Ringville national
school is here, a good distance from Ringville townland. The old ferry across the Barrow river is here and the local public house quaintly situated is called “the Ferry”. A high bluff overlooking the Barrow Bridge over which the Waterford/Rosslare train passes is called the White Rock. Fields are Ban an gheata; Leicean, and Leacht, a sepulchral mount, still in evidence.

Carrick Beg, Carrick On Suir

Jerry McCarthy

I got my first glimpse of Carrick Beg in Nov 1974 when my then girlfriend invited me up for the weekend. It didn’t take me long to get to know the neighbours as I began to spend more and more time up here after that.

Straight away it became very apparent how important the river was to so many locals with salmon fishing being a great provider of a few bob when the season was in. Families by the names of Norris, Power, Doherty, Fitzgerald, Brett, Tobin and many more fished the Suir in what became known to me as their Cots.

Each family would have their own distinctive way of making their own boat as I found out when I was told who owned such a cot by a man named Tom Brett. His fishing days were all but a memory as he was a retired man when I got to know him. In his day the cots he built were sought by many as they were so well made. What a storyteller he was too. You’d always meet him on one of the bridges with all his butties reminiscing of the days and nights they fished and with every story those salmon grew bigger.

The three rogues on the Old Bridge at Carrick On Suir; Jeff Wells, Tom Brett and Mansell Ryan

Sadly all of these men are gone now and the fishing traditions that have lasted centuries are but a shadow of the past with very few from these families using the river now except to walk what is called The Blueway. Those that still fish the river are mainly confined to Treacy Park with the Power family continuing the tradition of casting their rods from their Carrick Cots.

The Power family with their late dad Bob, before the River Rescue this family retrieved many lost souls from the river from Clonmel to Waterford
A man and his cot. Paddy Doherty RIP, who only passed away recently

Submitted by Jerry for ourThree Sisters Placenames project – Heritage Week 2020

Kilmokea

John Flynn

When I was in my early teens my friends and I would cycle miles to pick strawberries. In the evenings if we were passing an old graveyard on our way home we would go in and look for the oldest dated headstone or an unusual inscription. One evening one of the lads said that he had heard that there was a pirates grave in the graveyard in Great Island. Of course, we had to go to look for it.

After a short search we found it, an old headstone dated 1789 with a skull and crossbones on the back. That was my first visit to Kilmokea cemetery, little did I know that years later I would be passing it every day in my job as a postman. As it happens it is not a pirates grave but a frequently used depiction inscribed on headstones to remind us of our mortality.

The “pirates” grave. Photo courtesy of John Flynn

Between 2012 and 2016, as a member of the Sliabh Coillte Heritage Group, I took part in a series of geophysical surveys in the Kilmokea Enclosure which surrounds the cemetery. It is recorded as an Ecclesiastical Enclosure dating from the Early Medieval Period. If anybody called to see our progress while we were conducting the surveys I would enjoy bringing them into the cemetery to show them the various historical artefacts that can be seen there. In particular, it has the smallest high cross in Ireland at just 56cm high. Also there are Bullan stones/Holy water fonts, the base of a standard high cross, some cut and dressed stones from old buildings along with the base of a small medieval church. There is one grave marker that is very interesting. It is shaped like the lid of a coffin with the widest part turned down.  The edges are chamfered and apart from that, there is no inscription or carvings on it. I sometimes wonder where did it come from or who decided to place it there.

Irelands smallest High Cross. Photo courtesy of John Flynn
The unusual grave marker. Photo courtesy of John Flynn

During Heritage Week in 2019, I met geologist Dr. Bill Sheppard who has a particular interest in relating local rock to the building stone used in National Monuments.  Subsequently I showed him around the area of Great Island including a visit to the Kilmokea Graveyard.  While we were looking around the cemetery Bill noted the range of rock used in the gravestones and artefacts.  These included granite, various limestones some with trace fossil trails, local shale rock and, of particular interest, two eighteenth century-dated headstones of rock not found in southeast Ireland.  These two were of metamorphic schist rock with a characteristic shiny texture.  One of these contained a mineral thought likely to be kyanite.  The year of interment on this stone was 1784 in the family name of Foley and on the other stone were engraved the years 1794, 1841 and 1855 with the family name of Kent.  The source of such rock is very limited in Ireland and restricted to Co Mayo, the Ox Mountains or close to the main Donegal granite, for example near Cresslough.  Further afield, no such rock is known to occur in England or Wales, however, they do occur in Scotland.

The Kent and Foley headstones. Photo courtesy of John Flynn

 I think that it’s remarkable that around 250 years ago there was a such trade in headstones that they would be transported hundreds of miles and end up in a small country graveyard like Kilmokea. It is certainly possible, if not probable that they journeyed here via the Three Sisters. To me that fortunate meeting with Bill is a typical example of no matter how familiar you are with a place something really interesting and exciting can be in full view and you won’t see it until the right person comes along and points it out to you.

I would like to acknowledge the assistance of Dr Bill Sheppard in the writing of this piece.

Submitted by John as part of our Three Sister Placenames project for Heritage Week 2020

KEYSER’S STREET

Cian Manning

Edmund Spenser, the 16th century English poet penned the words ‘the gentle Shure that making way. By sweet Clonmel, adorns rich Waterford’. As we follow the river Suir we reach Ireland’s oldest city founded by the Vikings and are presented with a majestic Quayside. The British architectural historian Mark Girouard (grandson of Henry Beresford, 6th Marquess of Waterford) remarked that it was ‘the noblest quay in Europe.’ The Quay is a mile in length with the Dublin Penny Journal of December 1832 recording ‘and presents a continued line with scarcely any interruption throughout its entire extent’. Surrounded by natural beauty, the city which thrived along a river that afforded a depth of water from twenty to sixty-five feet at low water which could accommodate vessels of up to 800 tons mirroring mansion pieces on a Monopoly board.

the quays loooking from the Ardree Hotel. Courtesy of Brian Walsh

As one enters Waterford city by crossing Rice Bridge and turning left the half-way point of the Quay is marked by the Clock Tower. The renowned 19th century Gothic style landmark also illustrates the previous industriousness of the city’s docks with water troughs for horses. Continuing along the Quay you will pass four laneways on the right with the last of the quartet being Keyser’s Street. The city derives its name from the Norse Veðrafjǫrðr meaning ‘Winter Haven’.

The name originates from the Norse era in Waterford. Courtesy of Cian Manning.

However, it is not the only name that Waterford bares of it’s Viking past. The aforementioned Keyser’s Street is a name of Norse origin while the street dates to the medieval period. ‘Keyser’ meaning way of the ship wharf or path to pier head. The former Publicity Officer of South East Tourism, Patrick Mackey noted that this is where the ship wharves were situated. The street runs southwards of Custom House Quay and reaches the junction of High Street and Olaf Street. As part of the Viking fortifications, there stood a Keyser’s Castle and by 1707 these walls from John Aikenhead’s Coffee House (the first coffee house in Waterford city and listed in the corporation minutes of 1695) to William Jones’s new house by Goose Gate (named after the 17th century Searcher of Customs Thomas Goose) were pulled down. It was ordered that the stones from the battlements would be used in the construction of a Corn Market where the old Custom House stood.

The iconic Clyde Shipping Office building now stands at the entrance from the Quay to Keyser’s St

Down through the centuries this street has been referred to by a couple of different names. A deed of lease between William Bolton and a clothier, Samuel Pearn records the name Kimpsha Lane. In the Civil Survey map of 1764 the street is referred to as Kempson’s Lane.
Now the street captures the hustle and bustle of modern life from the trade union movement to the workings of the General Post Office. It’s best to finish with the words of a 19th century poem evoking Waterford’s Viking connections with the story of Keyser Street in mind:


Like golden-belted bees about a hive
Which come forever and forever go
Going and coming with the ebb and flow,
From year to year, the strenuous Ostman strive.

Close in their billow-battling galleys prest,
Backhands and forwards with the trusty tide
They sweep and wheel around the ocean wide,
Like eagles swooping from their cliff-built nests.

And great their joy, returning where they left
Their tricorned stronghold by the Suirshore
‘Mid song and feast, to tell their exploits o’er –
Of all the helm-like glibs their swords had cleft,
The black-haired damsels seized, the towers attacked.
The still monastic cities they had sucked.

Submitted by Cian for our Placenames of the Three Sisters project for Heritage Week 2020