Enduring Mystery of Creaden’s Forty Steps

One of the most intriguing and enduring mysteries we have anywhere in Waterford harbour is the Forty Steps at Creaden Head.  Carved into the cliff of this inhospitable headland the purpose and the creators of the stone steps have intrigued and perplexed many. 

Creaden Head is located on the western side of Waterford harbour, 1 ½ mile NW of Dunmore East.  The stone at the tip of the headland is from volcanic Old Red Sandstone, sometimes called puddingstone, a sand and pebble mixture that was forged in the furnace of the earth’s natural heat.  It juts out into the harbour and stands as the most eastern tip of the county of Waterford and the province of Munster.  Canon Power speculated that the name originated from a person, but someone unknown to us.[I] As the land is in private ownership, I have only ever seen the steps by water, the best way to my mind!

Creaden Head is marked by the +

The steps were carved into the cliff face in a very steep area. It would have taken time, determination, and a lot of skill. It would also have had to be financed. Numerous theories have been put forward about the steps and I will share those that are known to me in no specific order.

The steps as seen this summer from our punt. We are looking upriver.

I might start with a piece written by the column “Sean Suir” in the News & Star in 1949.  “While camping in Woodstown my old pal and myself walked down those steps when the tide was very low. I often wondered who made them and why they were cut in such a point almost at, the steepest part of the cliff. If you have not seen them, do go and have a look at them.  Seemingly no one in the locality could tell us anything about them. The first time I saw them was when brought by my parents for a cruise to Dunmore on the old ‘ Vandeleur,’ the once-famous river steamer.[ii]  What I love about this is the notion that even in the era of the Paddle Steamers (1837-1905) the steps evoked speculation and intrigue. 

New Book Out Now
Templetown, Co Wexford

One theory is that the steps were created when the Knights Templar operated a ferry between Creaden and their church at Templetown in Wexford, just over a mile across the harbour.  The Templars were granted ferry and numerous other rights after the Norman conquest.  According to Byrne[iii], they established a ferry crossing at the narrowest point (Passage East to Ballyhack).  No mention is made of another crossing, and why they would want another crossing point a few miles away and in a wider and more dangerous location is beyond me. 

A more incredible theory is that it was used as a means of taking African slaves ashore to be walked in chains (for exercise apparently) before being reloaded and sent to the America’s.  The origin of this theory is that an old path close to the shore at Fornaght leading inland known as Bothar na mban Gorm , the road of the blue women.  The name has created much speculation and wild theorising, but the notion of diverting northwards from off the customary slave route has no evidence that I am aware of.  More importantly, It ignores the well-known practice of triangular trade that governed shipping at the time, and indeed the fundamentals of the theory are still in use to this day.

The late Noel McDonagh had a very interesting and to my mind plausible theory which linked this roadway with Creaden and the ancient burial site of the Giants Grave at Harristown.  Noel’s research was unfortunately cut short by his untimely death but his theory, in brief, was that ancient people may have used the road and steps as part of a funeral rite as they placed the bones of their dead at the base of Creaden in a sea cave to enable their passage to the other world by water. Noel’s findings of flints and other evidence have turned the heads of everyone with an interest in the early settlement of Ireland.

The steps and the cave beneath to the left

One theory that I occasionally discussed with Noel was smuggling.  Neither of us really thought smuggling at the location made any sense.  Firstly it was within view of Duncannon which had a military presence since the medieval era. But it is also an inhospitable location.  Tides can reach three knots on the Head during spring tides, and it is open to all wind directions except south-westerlies.  To put it mildly, it is far from being an ideal location.    

There is merit to the theory, however.  Firstly smuggling was a well organised and lucrative trade in Ireland up to the mid 19th Century.  My cousin James has guest blogged on it before.  Creaden is out of the way, right beside the channel into the ports of Waterford and New Ross.  More importantly, such steps have an established association with smuggling in other areas including west Cork. 

My view of smuggling was that it would involve a ship coming into the head to unload.  Not feasible on this site in my view.  But what if it anchored above the head, and a number of smaller boats worked to bring the goods ashore, where willing hands passed the goods up onto the headland and distributed them inland.  Not just feasible, but practical.  It may have also served the purpose of offering a diversion to the revenue coastwatchers, another site amongst many to be watched and the spreading of resources. And it’s a theory supported by one of Ireland’s foremost archaeologists Connie Kelleher. Connie specialises in underwater archaeology for the National Monuments Service.  She spoke about it in Waterford some years back in a talk organised by the cousin.  Connie has a new book out called The Alliance of Pirates: Ireland and Atlantic piracy in the early seventeenth century, which I have promised myself for Christmas.  I’m sure Creaden and Waterford will get a substantial mention.

Another theory about the steps was that they were used by pilots for boarding sailing vessels coming into the ports. See for example Michael Fewer’s account from Rambling Down the Suir[iv].  Most likely this was the era of the hobblers, prior to the formation of the harbour commissioners in Waterford (1816) who appointed their own official pilots and a pilot boat.  However, it’s also known that the hobblers operated for many years after this and that they operated from the area.  I would think it would be highly unlikely they went to the bother of cutting steps into the cliff, but very likely they used the steps when tide and weather allowed.

a virtual tour via Mark Power

There is one idea I have myself that I have yet to properly research.  That is the use of stone on Creaden by millstone makers and which has been researched by Niall Colfer (son of the renowned late Billy Colfer) Colfer estimated that almost 300 millstones were quarried from the site and he describes it as “…the most intense example of millstone quarrying located in Ireland as part of…[his]… research.”[v] Is it possible the workmen employed in such an operation used the steps as a point of access at certain times. They would certainly have had the skill. The quarry stands a long way from the steps and there is no evidence that I have seen of any millstone quarrying in their vicinity, but as I say more research is merited.

And of course, there’s likely to be other theories that I have not heard, or have yet to unearth.  But that’s the joy of research.  It’s an ever-evolving story. 

Any feedback can be added to the comments on the blog or by email to tidesntales@gmail.com


Memories of Passage East in the 1940s

Author: Fintan Walsh

Passage East in the era described

On the banks of the Suir that flows out to the sea
Lies a quaint little village that’s like heaven to me
Steeped in our history and also Ireland’s folklore
It is called Passage East and it’s a place I adore

In these few verses that follow a little story I’ll tell
Of the people and places I can remember so well
The great days we all had yet little money to spare
Everyone in the same boat yet all happy to share

The streets and the lane ways are a joy to behold
Beresford Row, White Wall,the Men’s Walk so old
Barrack Street ,Parade Street, Post Office Square
Dobbyn Street,The Brookside, they’re all still there

From the Gap of the Wall down to the Blynd Quay
Passing all the streets there’s loads you can see
A loose rock on one hill looking down from above
An old Church on the other the landmarks we love.

Passing by the Park, the Fish House, there no more
The memories flow back of these great days of yore
Arthur Miller he came there with the jobs to provide
Kippers from this old Fish House famed worldwide

Passage East Community hall – the old Fish House

Just behind was the Watch House for pilots to meet
To keep a check on the ships that they were to greet
Card games were played which at times raised hell
They played Thirty’s and Rummy and Pontoon quite well

Patsy Barron around that time was the lone ferryman
For pedestrians and cyclists a small ferryboat he ran
White flags on the quayside in Passage and Ballyhack
Were hoisted high by his clients to come over or back

The cockle women sisters with their donkey and cart
Nan Na, Maggie and Masher these were women apart
To the back strand in Tramore for cockles they went
Selling them inside in the city each Friday they spent

Nan Na, Mrs Robinson on the New Line out of Passage East

Four Gardai in the Barracks with Sgt Eustace the Gaff
Martin Darcy, Paddy Quigley, Tom London were his staff
Four pubs were in the village Lily White’s near the Pier
Kennedy’s, Brennan’s and Miller’s all sold plenty of beer

All the shopkeepers we recall as we roll back the stone
Mrs Carey, Mrs Angie Rogers, Cathy Colfer on her own
Mary Kate Connors, Mollie Cahill, Maggie Carey, Julie Ann
Willie Murray’s coal yard, Donnelly’s the Post Office ran

The Baldwin’s had the garage and a hackney car also
Rich Flynn owned the bus and he lived up in Knockroe
Jimmy Hanrahan was his driver a man never in a rush
Much better known by the nickname of “Jimmy the Bus”

Around Ireland the Emergency was in place at this time
We had the second World War now well in to its prime
Lots of men from the village then joined up the reserve
The LDF, The Maritime Inscription their country to serve

To the old School up in Crooke we all went to school
Frank and Clare Ahearne and Mary Kennedy did rule
They taught us our lessons never spared us the cane
Some loved these schooldays, they put others insane

Crooke Church on Sunday’s serving mass we would go
All the masses were in Latin which we all had to know
Many farmers would come there in their pony and trap
Some more walked miles with their cares to unwrap

A great part of our history the herd of goats on the Hill
For generations we’ve had them and hope always will
Fishermen loved them, weather change they could tell
As they moved into the valley from the front of the hill

Those great days of our youth we remember with pride
The many games that we played down by the seaside
All the fish that we caught with hooks, sinker and line
From the Quays,the Breakwater the memories entwine

Near every street corner we all played pitch and toss
Sometimes it twould be a win more times ’twas a loss
We all went hunting for rabbits with ferrets and dogs
In stubble’s,knocks and meadows,and very wet bogs

We played hurling on the streets and up against walls
The hurley’s we made,we hurled with old raggy balls
On the very top of the hill stood the old Bowling Green
Lots of matches were played many times with a scene

On fine summers days we loved to swim on the strand
For those who were learning we would all give a hand
There were very strict rules applied to both sexes then
The lady’s rock for women,the boy’s rock for the men

When the frost came in the winter we’d all have a ball
Sprinkling water on the streets how we can still recall
We skated and fell then someone would send a report
Then a lady with hot ashes would become a spoilsport

We caught finches and linnets with nets and birdlime
Every house around the village had a bird at the time
We worked with the farmers, picking spuds, saving hay
Thinning turnips, mangolds and also on Threshing Day

For the fishermen of the village we also did many a job
In the salmon and herrings season’s all got a few bob
The blackberries we picked and sold them by the stone
Many orchards we would rob in little groups or all alone

Travelling shows every summer always gave us a call
The shows they presented inside Tom Murphy’s Hall
Amusements by Hudson’s, swinging boats the big draw
An odd circus and pictures were other things we saw

So these are just a few memories of my days long ago
Growing up in Passage,there are many more I know
Some time in the future I’ll get out the paper and pen
With more memories to share of Passage East again

Submitted by Fintan Walsh as part of our Three Sisters Placenames project for Heritage Week 2020

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. 
 
via www.holyimagesicons.com
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!

I publish a blog each Friday.  If you like this piece or have an interest in the local history or maritime heritage of Waterford harbour and environs you can email me at russianside@gmail.com to receive the blog every week.
My Facebook and Twitter pages are more contemporary and reflect not just heritage 
and history but the daily happenings in our beautiful harbour:  
F https://www.facebook.com/whtidesntales  T https://twitter.com/tidesntales