Arrival of the new Port Láirge

On the 18th of November, a significant piece of local maritime history was created when the new pilot launch Port Láirge was received by Port of Waterford at Dunmore East.

‘Port Láirge’ is a name well known in the maritime heritage in Waterford. The previous namesake Portlairge was the much-loved steam dredger that served on the Suir from her arrival on the 10th September 1907 until she broke down in late 1982.

The Portlairge, in her heyday, was so identifiable with Waterford that I chose it for my recent books cover from an original image by Jonathan Allen. Press on the photo if you would like a signed copy for a present this Christmas 🙂

The origin of the place name of course is contested. According to one of our foremost young historians Cian Manning, Port Láirge translates in English as ‘Port of a Thigh’ with one origin story attributing the name to the tragic fate of a young prince named Rot. He was attracted to sea by sirens, the winged mythical female creatures, perhaps seeking an intellectual conversation when he is then torn limb from limb with his thigh bone washing ashore at Port Láirge. I have also read that Láirge may have been a person, or indeed that looked down on from Mount Misery, the shape of the Suir at the city may suggest the shape of a thigh. Think I prefer Cian’s theory 🙂

Pictured at the Dunmore East pontoon taking receipt of the new Port of Waterford Pilot Boat,‘Port Láirge’, are from left: Captain Darren Doyle Port of Waterford, Joefy Murphy from Dunmore East, John Glody from Dunmore East, and Sean Whitty from Passage East. Photo: Mary Browne

Back to the boat. The €1m all-weather 15-meter interceptor was built by Safehaven Marine in Youghal Co Cork which was established in 1998 and employs 30 people. They have built over 110 vessels in that time including 48 pilot boats from all over the world. Their latest will be based at Dunmore East and will provide safer working conditions for pilotage personnel. The vessel is self-righting and capable of recovering if capsized by a large breaking wave. The vessel also offers a reduction in fuel emissions and is a more efficient pilot launch vessel for the Port of Waterford. More info on the design of Port Láirge here.

On Sea Trials. Courtesy of Safehaven Marine
Cockpit with all the mod cons. Courtesy of Safehaven Marine
Plenty of room and comfort for pilots. Courtesy of Safehaven Marine

On the Port of Waterford website Capt Darren Doyle, Harbourmaster, said, “We along with the maritime community here in Waterford are delighted with the new addition to the fleet of Port vessels. The work of the pilot crew is highly skilled and it requires a state-of-the-art vessel to ensure that this work can be carried out year-round in all weather conditions.”

As the ‘Port Láirge’ arrived off Dunmore East she shadowed the pilot launch she will replace ‘Tom Brennan‘. A pilot had just been boarded to the bulk carrier Minneapolis Miyo IMO 9875721 inbound to Port of Waterford from Taranto in Italy. Photo: Safehaven Marine

I think it’s important to mark the arrival of Port Láirge. For not alone is it an important event in the harbour, it’s also a vote of confidence in the ongoing running of the Port of Waterford and indeed to a lesser extent New Ross.

But in its own way, this event will one day be history too. From bitter personal experience, I know that such events will at some point in the future elude researchers. Time and again I endure the frustration of searching the internet and written sources to piece together the events of relevance to our maritime community.

David Carroll is currently helping me to try to track down the first pilot boats to work in the harbour via the National Archives. To date, we can say that following the establishment of the Harbour Board in 1816 the first such vessel that we could name was the pilot cutter Scott in 1824. We have managed to piece together many other vessels that served the pilots since. Post-publication fellow blogger Pete Goulding of Pete’s Irish Lighthouses fame contacted me with details of the pilot cutter Caroline in operation in January 1818.

Dunmore as it would have looked in the era of the Gannet and the arrival of the Betty Breen

And we know that although the majority of pilot vessels were bought second-hand and repurposed from fishing boats and pleasure craft, a small number were purpose-built for the pilot service. For example in  1856 the Gannet,  described as a pilot cutter 58ft x 16ft x 9ft and 40tons burden, was built and launched from Whites shipyard in Ferrybank, Waterford. It later came to a sticky end in December 1863 off Creaden Head. And in October 1951 the Betty Breen was launched from Tyrell’s boatyard in Arklow, operating from Dunmore East until 1993.

If you want a sense of what this new vessel can do, check out this video of her rough weather sea trials of punching through breakers in force 10 winds

So in marking the arrival of a new, Irish-made, purpose-built, vessel for the piloting service we are not just acknowledging a new boat. We are celebrating a long and proud tradition in seamanship, seafaring, and commercial activity that has enhanced and grown not just Waterford and New Ross, but the region itself. A major milestone, and for me anyway, a vote of confidence in the harbour for many more years to come.

The Minna and the Circassian, Irish blockade runners

This month’s blog comes from the pen of my cousin James and gives a fascinating glimpse into an era of history that many will have a general idea of and the Irish involvement. However, what was a surprise to me was the scale of Irish participation in the blockade running and the many Waterford connections too.

At the onset of the American civil war the Southern states faced a major predicament, theirs was mostly an agrarian economy based primarily around cotton. The Confederacy lacked major manufacturing capacity and after losing access to the steel mills and ironworks in the North of America by necessity they turned to foreign suppliers of the material of war. Cotton became currency and European merchants started to capitalise on the southern state’s desperation and the soaring price of cotton.  Irish merchants weren’t immune to this new business opportunity and one of the best-known examples is Peter Tait of Limerick who manufactured over 50,000 uniforms for the Confederacy.

Peter Tait and other merchant adventurers faced one major obstacle; the Union blockade. The North quickly moved to close the ports of the Southern states with their superior naval forces. Initially, this blockade was fairly loose but became more complete as the war progressed. European merchants with the aid of Southern agents started to break this blockade and even constructed purpose-built blockade runners with a focus on speed and stealth.  Low, dark painted hulls with telescopic funnels to reduce silhouettes these ships were nearly impossible to spot at night as they dashed at speed through the Union blockade. This article will focus on an unusual encounter between two vessels with Irish connections both involved in the blockade of the South.

Title: Federal Vessels Driving Back the Iron-Plated Rebel Steamer Yorktown, which attempted to Run the Blockade. Creator(s): Balling, Ole Peter Hansen, 1823-1906, artist. Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, D.C. USA. Public Domain Access. https://www.loc.gov/pictures/resource/ppmsca.22590/

Sometimes the tortoise catches the hare and this was certainly the case on the morning of the 9th of December 1863 when the USS Circassian captured the blockade runner Minna. The Circassian was a hybrid vessel carrying both sails and a steam engine and nearly twice the size of the Minna a modern screw driven steamer capable of higher speed.

Image courtesy of Naval History and Heritage Command. Original Creator: Painted by Erik Heyl.
https://www.history.navy.mil/our-collections/photography/numerical-list-of-images/nhhc-series/nh-series/NH-63000/NH-63870.html

The seizure of the Minna was a major blow to the Confederate states and made international news with papers as far away as England carrying the story of the “capture of the celebrated blockade runner Minna, splendid barkantine steamship of Waterford, undoubtedly one of the finest prizes of the war”[i]

The same newspaper that described the Minna in such tones of admiration also provides some insight into how the Circassian came to capture the Minna. It described the arrival of the vessel Ocean Wave into New York harbour and reported how it had lent assistance to the Steamer Minna of Waterford which had developed a leak whilst bound for the Confederate port of Wilmington[ii]

On the morning of the 9th of December, the Minna didn’t try run from the Circassian which was the usual tactic of the faster blockade runners which used speed to get themselves out of trouble.  Whether the Minna simply couldn’t run if it was leaking or whether it was taken totally by surprise is hard to tell. Another contributory factor to her quick surrender was that the Circassian mounted a 30-pound canon and Captain Upon of the Minna decided discretion was the better part of valour and ordered the Minna to stop and strike her colours.

As per standing orders, Upton ordered the Minna to be scuttled to avoid falling into enemy hands.  Anticipating such a move a boarding party from the Circassian was sent across with orders to save the vessel. The boarding party was led by a young engineer Theodore F Lewis who wrote home to his uncle to tell of his exploits. His proud uncle had the letter published in the Vermont Record explaining how Mr. Lewis and the executive officer of the Circassian “worked hard with a Colt revolver at the head of Minna’s engineer and succeeded in keeping the vessel afloat”.  The article also mentions the value of the Minna being set at $250,000 and bonus for the prize crew that seized the vessel; they were entitled to a one tenth share of the value. [iii]

A less fortunate fate awaited this blockade runner – Sullivan’s Island, S.C. Wreck of blockade-runner near the shore. Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, D.C. USA. Public Domain Access. https://www.loc.gov/pictures/item/2018666904/

Although physically very different vessels the Minna and the Circassian had a lot in common.  Firstly both were built in Britain; the Circassian on the Clyde and the Minna on the Tyne. Both vessels also shared strong Irish connections, Minna was built for the Malcomsons of Portlaw and registered in Waterford. In 1863 the Minna was sold to MG Klingender and later to CK Prioleau [iv] although she remained registered in the port of Waterford.  Klingender and Prioleau wouldn’t be your usual Waterford names and were both based in Liverpool working for a law firm called Fraser Trenholm, agents of the Confederate States of America.

The time period of the American Civil War was devastating to the Malcomson commercial empire, as the blockade of Southern ports by the Union navy tightened, their cotton factory in Portlaw started to run low on southern cotton and the Malcomsons financial fate rested on the outcome of the civil war. Additionally, William Malcomson head of the family at that time had started to diversify with varying degrees of success and was a major shareholder in the Galway Steamship company which owned several ships, one of which was the steamer Circassian.

As if a cotton shortage wasn’t bad enough, through a series of ill-advised business moves the Galway steamship company encountered heavy losses and it is estimated that William Malcomson personally lost nearly one and a half million pounds[v]. One of the other major shareholders in the Galway steamship company was John Orrell Lever, who had a shared interest in cotton manufacture and shipping. In 1861 Lever organised the sale of  the Galway Steamships companies paddle steamer Pacific to Fraser Trenholm  (a firm he also had a financial interest in) and the Circassian began its career as a blockade runner soon after. [vi] 

An 1862 Harper’s Weekly engraving of captured blockade runners: The ‘Circassian’ is in the right foreground (Naval History and Heritage Command)

The Circassian had a short career as a blockade runner, she was encountered by the USS Somerset in broad daylight under full sail and steam in May of 1862. She initially ignored calls to stop but a live round fired through the rigging from the Somersetconvinced the Circassian tosurrender[vii].  She would enter union service as the USS Circassian soon after.  

Another unusual feature of the encounter of the Circassian and the Minna was the freight being run. When the Minna was towed into Fort Monroe on the 14th of December it was reported that she carried a mixed cargo of spices, quinine, rifles, powder, vitriol, wines & liquors, agricultural tools, hardware and general merchandise[viii].  The report also mentioned the Minna carried a valuable marine engine probably destined for one of the new home made iron clad fleet adopted by the Confederacy. Part of the general cargo was a large consignment of Bibles printed in England and destined for the south.  What the desperate confederate soldiers might have thought of valuable space on a blockade runner being taken up by bibles is anyone’s guess.

The extent of involvement of Irish merchants in blockade running into the Southern states is difficult to estimate as it was a clandestine activity with union agents watching European ports for the departure of vessels bound to run the blockade. One strategy used to circumvent the blockade was transhipment. Large shipments were sent to ports such as Nassau and Havana with legal bills of lading, if these ships were intercepted mid journey by the Union navy they had committed no crime. Once landed the goods would be unloaded and ran at night into Southern Ports. 

Island Queen, owned by Curran & Co of Dungarvan was involved in the South American trade, and at one point took on a lucrative consignment of rifles and war materials which was freighted from Le Havre to the confederacy.  Having successfully out manoeuvred the blockade she was escorted to Fort Fisher near New Orleans by a Southern battleship and berthed amidst loud cheers from the quayside.[ix]

Despite the huge profits to be made, blockade running it was a risky business; the ships involved were only expected to make a handful of runs before being captured. As a consequence of this expected short life span some shipbuilders started to cut corners and the sea worthiness of some vessels was questionable. An example of this which also offers a insight into the makeup of a typical blockade running crew was the paddle steamer Hattie.  The vessel was launched on the Clyde in August 1864 and left in the depths of winter for the Atlantic crossing. The Hattie suffered storm damage and put into Waterford for repairs she left on the 15th of December and was never heard from again. After the disappearance, a crew list was published which revealed a crew of 26 of which 6 were Irish with only one American crew member; the master of the ship [x].

Peter Tait of Limerick’s blockade running activities are well established with his ships such as the Evelyn leaving Foynes to run his uniforms into the south for the confederate army.  The Circassian and the Minna were both controlled by Fraser Trenholm of Liverpool and Charleston but the purpose of their sale must have been known by their previous owners.  At the conclusion of the war complex legal arguments ensued between Great Britain and America concerning the legalities surrounding the running of the blockade and seizure of blockade runners.  One ship called the Alinehad arrived in Liverpool in June of 1865 as the war drew to a close. The American government launched a legal case to seize its cargo and some of the names mentioned in the cases prove insightful. One of the defendants listed was CK Prioleau of Fraser Trenholm a William Greer Malcomson and an Andrew Malcomson were also listed in the case[xi]. These Malcomsons were cousins of the Waterford branch of the family and were based in Liverpool.

Another vessel with a Waterford connection the PS Denbeigh, not alone called for fuel but was repaired in Malomsons Neptune ironworks. Photo sourced from https://nautarch.tamu.edu/PROJECTS/denbigh/

Legal action between Britain and America came thick and fast after the war with claim and counter claim, a look through some of the legal actions reveals some more interesting Irish connections.  Another Waterford connection is Captain John Read of Tramore, Master of the bark Science (built at Waterford by Whites Shipbuilders in 1836, originally brig rigged) which was seized by the Union on the 5th of November 1863 sailing from the south with a cargo of cotton bound for London[xii].

Legal papers also reveal that the Waterford vessel the Queen of England in July of 1861 was turned back from the Southern coast by an armed Union vessel. The Queen of England had sailed from the port of Waterford and was due to collect tobacco from Richmond for a Dublin based distributor. The owners of the vessel launched legal action after the war in an attempt to recover loss of earnings[xiii].

Another facinating Waterford link is the number of vessels that actually called to the port or the outlying villages such as Passage East where fuel for the crossing was taken on. A practice that certainly raises some interesting questions, as does the common way this event was reported. Source: Waterford Chronicle; Friday 16th September 1864; page 2

The American Civil War had far reaching economic impacts with fortunes made and lost by merchant families across the globe. Some reliant on Southern exports backed the Confederacy out of necessity whilst others hoped to take advantage of the opportunities offered by the conflict. The Irish participation in blockade running is a topic worthy of further research.

For anyone with an interest in the Irish participation in the American Civil War I would thoroughly recommend following the work of Damian Shiels who has worked tirelessly over the years to explore this topic https://irishamericancivilwar.com/

I would like to thank James for this fascinating account on a story that has opened my eyes to another area of Waterford’s rich maritime heritage which I was unaware of.  There must have many more twists and turns to be unearthed in such activities  If you have any other information to share with James he can be contacted through twitter on his very popular Irish Smuggling site @IrishSmuggling


[i] Greenock Advertiser 29/ 12/1863

[ii] Ibid

[iii] Vermont Record 01/01/1864

[iv] www.tynebuiltships.co.uk

[v] Bill Irish, Shipbuilding in Waterford.  2001.  Wordwell Books

[vi] The Galway Line in Context: A Contribution to Galway Maritime History Journal of the Galway Archaeological and Historical Society Vol. 47 (1995)

[vii] Official records of the Union and Confederate Navies in the War of the Rebellion Harrisburg, PA : National Historical Society, 1987.

[viii] Perthshire Constitutional & Journal

[ix] Irish. P40

[x] Clydebuilt , Eric J Graham Birlinn publishing 2006

[xi] The Morning Advertiser 27/07/1865

[xii] British and American Claims, British Claims No. 1 to 478 Memorials, Demurrers, Briefs, and Decisions Available at https://play.google.com/books/reader?id=wklHAQAAMAAJ&hl=en_GB&pg=GBS.PA1

[xiii] Ibid

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
acknowledgement.
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
Services
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Passage East Quarantine Hospital

The quarantine station at Passage East was used in the past as a place where sick sailors could be held under observation, to ensure that the ports of Waterford and New Ross were protected from diseases such as Cholera.  I first heard of it as a child when fishing, as it was often mentioned as a placename, when we drifted downriver for salmon. The site is above the village of Passage on the Waterford side and it was little more than a step on the rivers edge in those days.  But the story had the power to scare, and I never once went near the location for fear of catching the plague!
OSI Historic map excerpt of the hospital
The stories I heard were of ships calling to the harbour being held at Passage and Ballyhack until they were cleared by customs to continue upriver to Waterford and New Ross. Captains were required to report the health of the ships company, and any sick sailors were expected to be declared, either to the custom officials directly or by the hoisting of a flag (the yellow jack) which led to a punt being rowed out to the vessel and the sailor, or sailors being taken ashore to the hospital. The ship was then anchored away from others to await news of the sailor in an area designated as “quarantine grounds”. In some cases it appears that ships coming from ports where illnesses had been reported, could expect to be detained. They would anchor away from others, and I had heard there was an actual spot near Buttermilk for excluding ships.

Passage Hospital via Paul O’Farrell and from an original via NLI
panoramic album photos circa 1907/8.
http://catalogue.nli.ie/Record/vtls000284024#page/1/mode/1up

Quarantine has a long history, most probably originating with the black death in Europe in the 14th Century where it took millions of lives. The concerns for ship borne diseases grew and from the early 1700’s laws were enacted in the UK and Ireland to protect ports and citizenry. In some cases ships were used to guard harbours, here’s an example from Liverpool. Evidence about the local hospital however is scarce, and apart from the local folklore (always in my experience containing many grains of truth) little seems to be written about the building or its history. Online sources deal with the issue of quarantine in general, and highlight just how prevalent it was at all the major ports*.

The earliest mention I could find in the newspapers for Passage was from 1884 (1). Under a heading of Waterford Board of Guardians, we are told via a sub heading of a meeting of the board (best known for their overseeing of the workhouses and administering the poor laws). There are efforts afoot to take back control of the Quarantine Hospital, the keys of which were then in the hands of a builder who had refurbished the building at a cost of £200.(2)

Quarantine ship at Standgate Creek (Medway)
By Unknown – UK National Maritime Museum, Public Domain,
https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=47865275
In June 1905 the Waterford Standard (3) covers another meeting of the Board, and the minutes reveal a letter received from the workhouse, seeking permission for sick children to be allowed attend Passage Hospital. The Board however, is no longer in charge. It passed to the control of the Waterford and New Ross Port Sanitary Authority in 1904.

HMS Hazard flying the yellow jack 1841
source: National Maritime Museum, London

In 1910 we learn of a dispute amongst members of the Waterford and New Ross Port Sanitary Authority where the building is referred to as an Intercepting Hospital(4). Following a cholera outbreak in Russia and three cholera incidents; on two separate ships in London (where a quarantine hospital is based close to Gravesend), and an incident in Italy, a circular has issued from the Local Government Board of Ireland urging the need for up to date disinfecting devices to treat the clothing and bedding of quarantined sailors. The article provides lots of heat, by way of argument, but not much light! Readers will be delighted to hear that a sub committee was to be formed, if any cases arose.

The most recent mention comes from 1949 (5), when we are told the Intercepting Hospital which was under the control of the Waterford and New Ross Port Sanitary Authority has passed to the control of the Health Authority.

To conclude what better than a memory from a member of the fishing community. Eamon Duffin shares this recollection with me from a fishing trip in the 1950’s;
I remember calling in there with my grandfather, Jimmy Duffin, on the way back from salmon fishing. There was a concrete landing stage with iron railings. The building was of rusting galvanised sheets. You could see old iron beds with bedclothes and pillows thrown on them and on the floor. There were bottles and jars and dressings strewn about also. That was as far as we got as my grandfather said that, “you wouldn’t know what you’d catch if you went in”.

The landing stage as it looks now

My thanks to Paul O’Farrell, John O’Sullivan, James Doherty, Bernard Cunningham, Pat Moran and Eamon Duffin for assistance with this piece

Since publication Paul O’Farrell sent on the following list of Irish quarantine stations on the Island of Ireland, from government papers dated 1828  –

  • Poolbeg in the harbour of Dublin
  • Warren point in the harbour of Newry
  • near Garmoyle in the harbour of Belfast
  • Tarbert in the River Shannon, harbour of Limerick,
  • Baltimore,
  • Passage on the River Suir, Harbour of Waterford,
  • White Gate, Cove of Cork
  • Green Castle, Lough Foyle and
  • Black Rock, Galway Bay

Also a link I have since found, dating an order for the establishment at Passage to 1824
http://www.dippam.ac.uk/eppi/documents/9788/page/214351.  This must have been a temporary station, or an area designated as a quarantine ground as a later blog post revealed that there was no hospital in place during a cholera outbreak in the country in 1832.

Childhood memories of the Cheekpoint pilot boat

A picture paints a thousand words they say, and that was
proven yet again recently when Catherine Heffernan posted to the Cheekpoint
Faithlegg and Coolbunnia Facebook page. 
The photo was of the Morning Star II, the pilot boat that operated from
Cheekpoint when we were children and it brought the memories flooding back.

Morning Star II photo from Catherine Heffernan White

My Uncle Sonny returned from sea in the early 1970’s and
took up the role of pilot boat officer from the village, servicing the port of New Ross.  His boat the Morning Star II was
a familiar feature, and it was rare that you wouldn’t find Sonny standing on
the quayside waiting for a boat, or in my Aunt Ellen’s house having a cup of tea in between boats.

The Cheekpoint pilot boat serviced ships entering or leaving
New Ross. Because of our location at the point where the three sisters meet, the Barrow, Nore and Suir, and the junction to the two port, Cheekpoint was a logical choice for such activities.  I can’t say I have yet discovered when the practice started but I do recall a photo, below, which depicts a pilot officer house, where pilots waited on ships from the late 1800’s, and I’m guessing it was at least for most of that century.  Hobblers would have been to the fore prior to that.

Pilot House in the left corner of photo, AH Poole

New Ross pilots
departed outgoing ships at Cheekpoint, or joined incoming ships to pilot the
ships up through the Barrow Bridge to New Ross. I’ve blogged about the difficulties caused by the bridge before.  It also marked the point where the Waterford
pilots took over.  Hence a Waterford pilot relieved his New Ross counterpart and took the ship to the mouth of the
harbour, and was then relived of his duty and taken to Dunmore by the Betty
Breen.  They also obviously performed the
reverse role.

Of the pilots themselves I can only remember a few.  The New Ross pilots of the time were my Uncle John of course, and Mickey Duffin, Kevin Barry of Fethard and a Dutchman who I can only recall a smiling face and a smell of cigars.  Of the Waterford pilots  Willie Hearne, Pat Rodgers, John Whitty and the Walsh brothers and come to mind.

What made the whole affair so memorable was that Sonny would regularly take us children aboard the Morning Star II when he was going out to a ship.  We’d be hanging around the quay, fishing for flats
with sprat bait, or playing rounders or soccer on the village green.  Sonny would give the nod and we would
carefully hop aboard and sit on a small midship deck that housed the inboard
engine.  The Morning Star was no more
than 22 feet long, but beamy, and a whole gang of us could easily sit in
comfort.
Local and visitor alike were taken aboard and away the whole
party went.  We were always the happier if the pilot was coming from Ross and had to
be dropped to the Island Quay, at Great Island. 
It made for a longer trip.  Or
other times the Waterford pilot might be put on an outgoing ship, the New Ross pilot come
aboard, and then away to an incoming ship, which he re-boarded to take to New
Ross.

Pilot boat Crofter working at Cheekpoint this week

The scene was familiar to
me from an early age.  Ship sited at
Ballinlaw, coming towards the Barrow Bridge. 
Sonny would slip the painter from the ladder at the quay, negotiate the salmon
punts moored at the quay, cursing a floating anchor rope.  As the ship came though the Bridge, Sonny
would get into position, lining up with the bow of the ship and approaching at
an angle to close the gap.  As we neared there was always
a flutter in my belly, the ship which looked small at the distance, rearing up
and glaring down upon us the nearer we approached.  Always a curious smell, particular
to ships a mixture of food, diesel oil and cargo such as fertiliser, oil or
cement.

The ladder was down at the ships
side, two deckhands waiting at the gunwale of the ship.  We come alongside, Sonny gunning the engine
to maintain position with the ship, the pilot deftly hops upon the jacob ladder and
ascends, something none of us would probably ever choose to do.  Sonny casually looking
around, seemingly oblivious to the anxiety we felt, would he fall away from the
ship coming close if not under the churning propeller astern, would we be
sucked beneath the side.  Then having being relived
in the wheelhouse, the New Ross pilot would be seen sauntering down the side of
the ship, leg out over and onto the ladder, and waved off by the crew.  Once he had a foot aboard, Sonny with a deft
touch on the wheel effortlessly drew the Morning Star II away and departed from
the ship.

Pilot climbing the Jacob ladder
via: newsfromthebow.wordpress.com

My preference was for going alongside tankers, which rather
than a high side, had a railing and you could see much more of the ship and her
fittings. The NO SMOKING sign seemed strangely out of place on a ship, as
everyone I associated with ships and pilotage smoked, well, with the exception
of Sonny. 

All in all a magical era.  A time when health and safety and all manner
of regulation were yet to be devised and jobs to oversee them yet to be created.  In some ways it was a bad time for children.  We know that from the various scandals that
have come to light.  But it was also a
great time to be a child, when we had freedom, were left to create our own entertainment,
when parental fears, screen time and mobile devices were yet to suck up so much of children’s time and
innocence. 

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:  
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