Remembering Ryan’s Quay, Cheekpoint, Co Waterford

Ryans Quay, Cheekpoint

Irish placenames are intriguing and sometimes confusing. Many originate from our early history. They may have been shaped by historic events, or relate to geographical characteristics. Some have been confused by language from our history of conquest. But they can also be fleeting, referring to families and their association with a place. These can come and go as a person or a family moves on. Yet others endure many years after, perhaps inexplicably so. One of those in Cheekpoint must be Ryan’s Quay.

Now it’s not just a quay, it is also a two storey dwelling and a very distinctive boathouse. For many years it included a freshwater well. And up to recent years was only accessible by boat, or by shanks mare along the strand or via a steep and narrow borren which was only passable by foot. It also refers to the shoreline on which it is located, a curved stretch between Cheekpoint and Passage East. Risking a local rift I would try to further refine it as between the Point Light and Sullivans Quay.

In my childhood, it was a popular summer swimming destination. Fishermen used it as a base, paint their punts, or carry out repairs. In my childhood the remains of the poles that were used to “Spreet” or dry the salmon nets were still to be seen. It also overlooked a very popular and frequented ebb tide salmon fishery drift. I recall many times sitting on the quay chatting to my father or other fishermen and they watched the corks of the driftnets or hauled them aboard close into the shore.

John Moran (Long Island NY and at the time service in Europe with the USAF, gets a lesson in cleaning a net at Ryan’s Quay from his uncle, Paddy Moran. August 1956. Paddy married Bridgid Heffernan and they lived there until they moved to the Mount Avenue. Eileen Moran Collection.

In my forthcoming new book, I have a chapter on smuggling in the area of Waterford Harbour. In this, I recall first hearing about smuggling when sitting at Ryan’s Quay as a child. I was with my father Bob, and his friend Paddy “Batty” Doherty. Paddy was recalling “oul Ryan the revenue man”.

Three Ryans were listed in the census of 1901. James (54) was an “Exams Officer Customs”. His sisters Ellen (60) and Sophia(56) were all in the house on the night of the census, all unmarried. James had a brother Captain William Ryan who lived at Passage East and a sister Mary. We met both previously through the writings of Catherine Foley. Unfortunately, no record of the family exists in the 1911 census. A similar case for many of the Cheekpoint records I’m afraid. I also found an earlier reference to a Ryan living on the shore her in a newspaper account from the 1840s and again in the 1860s relating to weir ownership. This was a scotch weir on the Wexford shoreline. In recent years I have often wondered was it this gentleman who had the quay built and the house. Its certainly the earliest mention I can find.

The next family I can associate with the house was Paddy and Stasia Heffernan and their daughter Brigid. We have met them before on the blog about Captain Udvardy and his wife Rosa. Paddy’s nickname was the “Shag”. The name may raise a giggle or two because of its modern meaning. However its the common name locally for a Cormorant, a seabird that is in its element on the water and is a renowned swimmer. Paddy’s nickname related to his swimming abilities. In my youth referred to the area as the Shags Quay and a tree below it as the Shags tree. (I know my brother in law, Maurice, still does – probably because his father fished so often from the location during his own upbringing)

A recent view.

At some point in the 1960s (I think) a lady named St Ledger moved into the location. I only remember her as an old lady with a distinctive accent who would come out and chat with my father. I understand she had fled Rhodesia in southern Africa during the conflict there (it is now the country of Zimbabwe). She had written at least one book of children’s stories based on her African experiences. She was featured on an RTE programme on one occasion, and I played a bit part, standing into a shot with my cousin Sean and his donkey which was used as a promo. Later she was joined by her daughter Geraldine Turner and her granddaughter Mary. As a consequence, some of my generation referred to the place at that time as Turners.

A view of the shore looking from the Point Light

Geraldine and Mary left the house and quay in November of 1986. They left on a beautiful crisp Saturday, November morning and half the village turned out to help them move their belongings. The inaccessibility of the house meant that we had to use punts and motorboats. Their belongings were brought out onto the quay, placed on board, and dropped to Cheekpoint Quay where a truck awaited. The reason I can remember it – The day before was my 21st Birthday and I was never as hungover. We worked all day to five pm and I collapsed into bed thereafter – pledging to never drink again!.

Jacqui Doherty and Sean Connolly bought the property in 1987 and they raised a fine family at the quay. Many of the present generation refer to it as Connolly’s or Jacqui’s. Jacqui is there to this day and I would imagine her name, or her childrens’ will be with it for a long time yet. Who knows, maybe it will endure, seeing off Ryan’s Quay as a placename in the future.

Ryan’s Quay from the river. Tom Sullivan hauling the nets after a drift around the Point Light. Tomás Sullivan photo

Dauntless Courage: A Book Celebrating the History of the Dunmore East RNLI
Regular readers will be aware of my good friend David Carroll. David has spent nearly two years researching this book which is now near completion. The book, which is based on archives both here in Ireland and the RNLI archives in Poole, England, will detail the boats that were stationed in Dunmore and the stories of the rescues they carried out. Also included in the book will be many interesting and unique photographs that have not appeared in public before. The story of the village itself, and its link as a fishing community with the Lifeboats and crews, brings the reader from the earliest times of saving lives at sea in the area up to the present.
Pre-orders are now available.

Deena and I have been involved in Heritage Week every year since 2005. This included walks, talks, exhibitions, re-enactments and collaboration with a wide variety of local groups, individuals and organisations like the Office of Public Works. Due to the Covid 19 restrictions, we needed to try something different. So moving it online, we came up with an idea around capturing various placenames associated with the Three Sister Rivers; the Barrow, Nore & Suir. We also put out an invite to people who have worked with us before. We got a very favourable response. So for heritage week 2020, we will do at least two blog posts per day from various contributors. This will stretch from the harbour mouth to the tidal extremes. It will culminate in the launch of a new web page with an A-Z of Three Sister Rivers Placenames on Water Heritage Day, Sunday 23rd August.

My thanks to Mary Chaytor nee Rogers for some extra details post publication.

Faithlegg’s ancient holy well

Many readers will know that we have a holy well in Faithlegg dedicated to St Ita.  January 15th is her feast day, (she reputedly died on this day in 570AD).  We looked at St Ita around the same time last year, and I left it with a question in terms of why the well is dedicated to her.  I still haven’t answered this to my personal satisfaction and have a few more thoughts on it, but to begin, here’s an overview.


Various sources state that Ita was born Princess Deirdre, to King Kennoelad and Queen Necta  of the Deise tribe in Waterford circa 470AD.  Her birth place is not certain but the majority of written accounts speculate that it was in or around Ballyduff, Kilmeaden.   A few online sources have claimed she was born in Faithlegg. 
Ita travelled throughout the Deise area and appears to have studied in Ardmore, Clashmore and Lismore, and eventually she settled down in Killeedy in East Limerick where she founded her monastery.  There she ran a school which was responsible for the teaching of many early churchmen and women, including St Brendan the Navigator.  So many passed through her hands that she earned the nickname “foster
mother of the saints of Erin”. St Ita is often described as the Bridgid of Munster, highlighting her position in the pantheon of Irish female saints, a close second to Bridgid of Kildare.  
Last year I speculated on several theories about the well being dedicated to her at Faithlegg. However this year I wanted to highlight what for me is an inconsistency. You see when Canon Power was doing his famous work on the Placenames of the Decies (published in 1907), he actually mentions several wells in the area, but omits any mention of St Ita.
For him, the well we now know as St Ita’s, is known as Tobar Sionnaig or the Well of the Fox.  What he actually says about it is this: “…though it is possible that the latter member of the name is personal.  This well, which is nearly opposite the church and on the west side of the road, had a reputation for sanctity.  Rounds or stations were said here, but have been discontinued for nearly a century”
I find it puzzling that Power would have no mention of a christian saint, if such a name was associated with the well at the time.  Maybe he was going with the earlier work of another renowned placename researcher John O’Donovan and the staff of Ordnance Survey Ireland who between 1829 and 1842 completed the first ever large-scale survey of an entire country. Acclaimed for their accuracy, these maps are regarded by cartographers as amongst the finest ever produced.   We’ve seen the lengths these early map makers went to for accuracy with the name of Faitlegg previously. 
OSI 6″ B&W with Tobarshorork opposite Faithlegg Church
Canon Power was well known for doing his research, and would seek out older members of the community or those with learning to seek further information.  He does decry the lack of native Irish speakers in the parish at the time, but surely Ita or Idé would be a name that even the corruption of it would have giving him a clue.  The
fact that Power was a local (Callaghan), would have surely strengthened his knowledge of the area.
Deena had a suggestion that Foxes were associated with saints and perhaps that would explain a connection.  She found stories associated with St Moling, St Kieran, St Patrick and even St Bridgid but none for Ita.  
I can draw no conclusions on this except to express the possibility that St Ita was a name of more modern origin, and one which O’Donovan and Power refuted, or at least ignored.  Is it possible that the Power’s of Faithlegg brought it with them, when
the moved into the area in 1819?.   Or is it an older name, that came to light after the efforts of the OSI and Canon Power.  Again, only more research will possibly tell.

words and phrases my Grandmother used

I’ve mentioned before that I first came to live in the Russianside with my grandmother, Maura Moran, in my late teens.  “Nanny” as she was called was in the family had her own way of expressing herself. But of course, she was just a different generation, and from an old fishing family who had words and expressions that had not changed for many generations I presume.

To be honest I was oblivious to the way we spoke until Deena came into our home.  Deena and Nanny took an instant liking to each other and they would talk for hours at the fire, or in the kitchen. Afterwards Deena would often ask me for a translation, and as she herself became part of the home, would ask Nanny directly what she meant.

Nanny with the “Thursday Club” gang in the Reading Room several
years back now.  The club finished this past September. Another important
meeting point and sharing or stories and maintaing local connection.
Photo courtesy of Bridgid Power. 

So between us, we have put the following little dictionary together.  Most words are spelled phonetically as we are unsure of the spelling.  Of course you can also check out the Dictionary of Waterford Slang, and you don’t even need the book, as they have an online version.

Streel.  A person would “streel in” to the house, meaning they looked the worse for wear, but probably more like they had done something wrong.  For some reason the phrase tended to be used to describe a female.  She might also remark – “did you see the streel of that wan”, “she streeled in” or “thats some streel of a wan”.  I particularly remember a chap visiting us one time with his wife and he was wearing a pair of jeans with rips in the knees – all the fashion at the time.  Nanny was apoplectic when they left “Did you see the streel of him, and his wife sitting there looking at em”

Scrawb.  Any cut or scrape of little or no consequence was considered a “Scrawb”  “How did you get that scrawb on your arm”  Always to be treated with warm water and dettol

pish óg. Any oul tall tale or incorrect story was considered “pish óg” this also went for sayings which she considered untrue or questionable.  I remember Deena asking once about fishermen meeting red haired women on the way to fish and turning back as it meant they would catch no fish.  “arrah that’s only oul pish óg” she would say

As you would expect from a commercial fishing home, there were many phrases to describe the weather.  A sample:

Maugey.  Generally a dreary, grey overcast day, most likely with a chance of rain,  In discussing this with Vic Bible he wondered would it have meant muggy.  But generally a muggy day includes heat, and it was an expression I can remember being used winter or summer, but maybe that was the origin.

Black wind – any wind from the east was described as the black wind.  No idea why, but she was convinced it brought illness

Ang-ish.  Another expression to go with the weather.  An angish day.  An angish day was a day that looked like it was going to rain at any minute.  I now realise this is an Irish/Gaelic phrase – a work colleague one day who is a native Irish speaker asked me how the weather was in work.  I said it was Ang-ish.  And asked after her own situation.  “Go Aingish ar fad” and when I expressed surprise that she knew the term she told me it meant miserable altogether.

Moolick – When something was dirty.  When it was worse than that twas “Pure Moolick”  when used it was often combined with a facial expression of disapproval or even disgust.

There were also phrases she used that we always enjoyed.

When someone disagreed with you – “well, tis not the one way takes everybody”

When something inevitable happened, like someone fell off a bike, who was always careless – “long threatening comes at last”

Or when you had to do something even when it was against you will, but necessary none the less – “groan she may, but go she must”

The current generation probably get less opportunity to hear such words or phrases, with heads stuck in computers, on phones or other screens accessing information, entertainment or connecting with people across the globe.

When John Barry returned from Canada in the 1960’s he was nicknamed “the Guy” because he used the Americanism so freely, and because it stood out as being so odd in the community.  No such oddity would exist now I’d imagine.  Different times indeed.  And yet when relations visited us from Prince George, BC in Canada recently they struggled with our accents and our words.  So perhaps much of the words and expressions of Nannys generation remain.  We just dont pause to consider them in our daily use.

Others, such as fishing expressions and local placenames however are much under threat,  The fishing ones because as the fishing activities the community grew up around have been removed, so those activities are no longer practised or discussed.  The placenames, because many of them related to the fishing also, or because as the older people die out, so do their use.

That’s why activities such as the placenames project currently under way with the Cheekpoint Fishing Heritage Project is so relevant.  There will be several events over winter 2015/16 in the Reading Room Cheekpoint.  Please come along to share your local knowledge, or improve it!

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The origins of Faithlegg

It is reputed that one of the earliest of the parishes to be
founded under the Norman system was at Faithlegg.  The lands (some 4000 acres [including 199 at
Cheekpoint and 353 at Faithlegg]) were granted by Henry II to Aleward Juevinis.  Henry had landed at Passage East in 1171.  Aylward was a merchant from
Bristol who had apparently donated a number of ships towards Henry’s imposing
entrance to Waterford harbour.  Aylward
built a Motte and Baily to secure his position and it became the centre of Faithlegg Parish, which existed until amalgamated with Crooke & Killea in the mid 18th Century.

old gates to Faithlegg House 1969.  Brendan Grogan

The name has featured widely down the ages, probably because of its strategic importance and the presence of Aylward and latterly his Bolton and Power successors.  Frustratingly however, each time it featured it seems to have had either variations of its present name, or widely different names.

These are very helpfully gathered on the Logainm website for your perusal,  Initially it seems to have been spelled as Fathelig and this name has had several corruptions.  But it has also been called BalyFalyng, Whalyng and even Thatlegg.

In equal measure with the spelling, there seems to be as many variations with the origins of the name. For  example I came across this account many years back online.  As far as I can recall it comes from the Journal of the Waterford & South East Archaeological Society.  Full account here.  The excerpt below: 

Faithlegg.-In your January number, Miss
Hickson’s interesting 
paper on (( Danish Names in Waterford
and Cork” discusses 
the probable derivation of the name ‘(
Faithlegg.” I think she
rightly assigns it to be of Gaelic and
not Scandinavian origin. Dr.
Joyce ((‘ Place Names,” Vol. I., p. 494)  Fethard (Fioth-ard) signifies (I High-wood.” In the County
Donegal there is a wellknown 
mountain called (I Slieve-league,”
which signifies (( The 
Mountain of Slates.” Following these
two clues, we make Faithlegg 
(Fioth-league)–” The Wood of the
Slates.” Anyone who has
observed the geological stratum of the
wooded hill of Faithlegg 
will at once perceive that this name,
as Miss Hickson says of Gaelic 
place-names generally, gives a perfect
word picture of the physical
features of the place, the hill being
composed of layers of thick 
slates or flags. It is not necessary, I
think, to go further for an 
explanation of the name.

I think that this account is a bit wide of the mark.  From a desk you might think it makes sense, but knowing the geography of the area and the amount of pudding stone found on the summit, would challenge it.  The slate mentioned is found on the Northside, but down towards the river on the Glazing wood side.  I’d imagine it’s related to the quarrying that went on to build the marsh embankments, than anything older.

Pudding stone, old volcanic rock on the summit of the Minaun

Br Lawrence O’Toole (responsible for the creation of the secondary school in De La Salle College) in his  “The Faithlegg Story” agrees.  He goes on to consider that Minan Fheilinn may be an origin.  The Minaun obviously which he equates with height,  but who or what is Fheilinn.  A person perhaps?  Br O’Toole also considers that it might be a Gaelic term for Woodbine or Honeysuckle.  Woodbine does grow on the Minaun presently but I don’t think anyone would say that it grows to such an extent that you would name the area after it.  Perhaps in the past?

View from the Deerpark of Faithlegg and the river

Canon Power tends towards the woodbine theory, but interestingly he also thinks that the name may not be gaelic at all!  His Place Names of the Decies here.  So is it an old danish name or the tongue of some other tribe, who settled the area in the past and left a name to posterity.

None other that John ODonovan of the original ordnance survey, and noted Irish placename scholar was of a similar opinion.  But he felt that the anglicised spelling of the placename as he found it, was closest to the original meaning, whatever it was, as listed in the older documents that he had access to.

So for now we might leave it to Canon Power who noted that “The name…has long been a puzzle, which we can only hope future investigations may solve”

Why is the Russianside, called the Russianside?

One of my earliest memories as a child was my mother bringing us off on a Sunday afternoon to visit our Nanny in the Russianside.  It was a smaller place then.  From the cross roads you passed the homes of Martin Nugent, Joanie Hanlon, Andy Lannen and Nellie McDonalds, all on the right as you walked along.  At Nellie’s there was a laneway to the right that brought you over to Powers fields and down a boreen to Ryan’s quay where at that stage a lady who had returned from Rhodesia named St Ledger lived. The road just continued to the left at Nellies and Mrs Ferguson and her “boys” Charlie and Tom were in the house on the right.  Nanny was on the left with “Uncle Christy” and coming towards the Strand there was a lovely old barn and farmyard on the left and below it on the right lived Pat and Margaret O’Leary and family.

Nothing was made of the name, and I don’t remember ever thinking of it as strange or odd, or to even think of asking where the name came from.  It was a matter of fact affair.  The Russianside just was. Unremarkable, save for Nanny; where we always wanted to go, where we always felt special.

At some point in my teens I remember being in Nanny’s company when a visitor asked where the name had come from.  As I recall, she said that locally people said it had a connection to a Russian ship, but the details she was hazy on.  She always did say though, that even as a child she remembered the fishermen taking a short cut through the yard when the wind was North West.  They had moored off their punts on the “Russian side of the village”  Subsequently I have heard many different theories, and I have passed them on when asked but always with a grain of doubt or uncertainty.

Tall ships passing the Point Light, marking the Russianside

Some have said that a Russian ship sank off the Russianside, and the sailors were buried along the strand.  Interestingly enough Irish Wrecks list dozens of ships that sank in the harbour area, but none seem to have a Russian name.  Others have said that as many as seven sick sailors perished aboard ship and were subsequently buried on the strand.  I’ve never seen any bones unearthed, and I walked the strand almost every day as a child and at least once a week as an adult.

Illness is an age old concern with ships what with plague in particular.  But again this is highly unlikely.  Waterford, like many harbours you see, had their own isolation stations, such was the fears about diseases spreading from sailors.  Ships entering Waterford had to declare any sickness to the “Hospital” above Passage East and sick sailors were rowed ashore and monitored. It appears to have been strictly monitored,  The memory of the black death and other endemics probably ensured a strict enforcement.

Another account was that the Russians were refugees who were fleeing persecution in Russia and were put ashore to look for safe haven.  Stories of the Russian pogroms against Jews do come to mind.  Between  1881-4 there were over 200 incidents, but these dates would correspond with my Grandmothers Grandfathers time Bill Malone. She knew him, and any Jewish refugees would most certainly have been known to him.  As a consequence I would imagine she would have heard some first hand account.  That she didn’t would suggest that this is also unlikely.  I have also read of earlier pogroms, at Odessa for example in 1821.  I contacted the Jewish Museum recently to see if they had any knowledge.  I was delighted to get a very quick and courteous response, but not any information to corroborate such a theory.

The final theory that I have heard comes from a good friend from Carlow, via Dublin, Boston, and heaven knows where else.  Bob the scientist thinks its an Irish name, corrupted and anglicised from the Gaelic “Ros an Sidhe”  For him this comes to Headland of the Fairy Folk.  I think Christy Moran would have approved.

Ryans Shore with the Point light at its tip (on the right)

Now we have talked about the Fairy Folk of the Sidhe only last week in relation to Cheekpoint or Rinn na Sidhe.  Is it possible then the Russianside and Cheekpoint are both one in the same?  Its possible and indeed probably.  But who will ever be able to say for sure.  Canon Power went with the Russian sailor story though!  Which might be well as the blog is just gaining some traction in the federation!