Moran’s Poles – a placename, a refuge

I’ve a long association with Moran’s Poles, its provided me with some of my happiest times, and to date, the scene of the worst tragedy in my life. As a child it was a working space, an area where the fishermen hauled out their punts and prongs to dry them out over winter and make repairs and paint them up. It was also a safe anchorage except in easterly wind, and the strongest of SW winds. And there they gathered, the fishermen to work, to smoke, to yarn the short winter days away, and there I sat absorbing all that they said and done and felt part of them.

A summer capture of the sunrise – I have to admit I am surprised at the positive reaction I continue to get to these photos, surprised but very grateful

Now that the fishing has all but gone, and those old fishermen are enjoying their eternal reward, I still cling to the place and still use it to keep the punt safe and overwinter. But there is hardly a day that passes that I don’t walk down and enjoy the peace and tranquility of the place and it was this that started me out on the social media posts, and which on twitter are now found on the hashtag #MoransPolesSunrise. But whether it is dawn or dusk, ships passing, birds flying, swans foraging or young people rowing, I probably take more photos of Moran’s Poles than anywhere else.

Perhaps part of the draw is that it was here that my 8 year old brother Joseph drowned on Sunday 10th August 1980. He set out with an older boy to show him a raft we had made to enter a race in the village regatta. Joesph got onto it, pushed it away from the shore and fell. His lifeless body was retrieved the following Thursday. The people at the time said it was important to have the body back and he was laid to rest in Faithlegg graveyard. But I never feel closer to him then when I am at the Poles. And although I have thankfully passed those years of yearning, of wondering what might have been done different, of wishing I could have been there, of never having made the bloody raft, of, of of… there are still moments.

Nanny sorrounded by her brothers – the boys went to fish from as early as they had the strength to pull the oars. Richard, the eldest is missing from the photo, he emigrated age 16 to New York

The Poles are just below the house where my mother, Mary Moran was born. The name derives from her family and when my grandmother (nanny) was asked she said simply that her father and brothers built the poles as a breakwater. The Moran family, Michael, Catherine (nee Malone – Bill Malone had come in the famine times from Whitechurch on the River Barrow and married a woman named Anne Lynch from the village my grandmother said) Richard, Paddy, Christy, Mickey, Johnny, Willie and the last to be born Maura (aka nanny). I don’t know exactly how many boats the family operated, but I do know there was a punt, a prong and a half decker in the family possession – and there may have been more.

Launching the punt after overwintering and repairs photo includes a pre grey me at the bow, my brother Chris, our father Bob, Gavin and Anthony Doherty and Dermot Kavanagh

The Basic design of the Poles was that it afforded a breakwater to the prevailing westerly winds, but it also did two other things. It maintained a soft mud bank above the poles, where the boats could safely lie when the tide went out and it also acted as a barrier to the carrying of rocks up river when the gales blew and the tides roared and worked their combined attrition on the strand.

Some of the damage that needed to be replaced
Our recent repairs
The crew busy picking up the rocks on the upper side and placing them below the poles

Although some have claimed that the poles are the remenants of an old Scotch weir, I don’t hold with that at all. Not just because I never heard the old lads say it, but because design wise they are not compatible. The scoth weirs poles were futher apart as nets were hung from them, and stretched as far as low water – Moran’s Poles have never gone futher than half way out the strand.

Over the years we have tried to maintain the poles to prevent them disappearing, the most notable work was done with our family, Pat Moran and Maurice Doherty in the 1990’s when we employed a digger to help. In recent weeks we did another patch up job, replacing a number of poles near the shore, and subsquently picked the rocks that had strayed upriver and were a risk to grounding the punts. Its an ongoing job.

The appeal of the Poles on social media has given them a renewed focus. Just as well, as with the loss of the fishery such features and placenames risk being lost to history, and yet such places are rich with it. In recent times I have had several artists share work that has been inspired by the Poles, and most recently Tomás Sullivan used it as a fundraiser for the Darkness into Light appeal. Such attention is welcome and will go some way to maintaing the placename. I also use it as a backdrop for heritage walks and talks. I had hoped to do something similar for this years Heritage Week. However due to the Covid 19 restrictions this is no longer possible. But the Poles will feature, as we have a new idea for this year, an online concept to record the old fishing placenames. More at a later stage.

If you have any thoughts on what you have read, I would love to hear from you at or place a comment on the blog

Passing on the tradtions to the younger crew – no longer able to fish, they can at least learn something of the old ways and keep some of our traditions alive

Launching the punts (and book)

This day next week Friday 20th October I will launch my first book titled Before the Tide Went Out.  It takes place at Jack Meades on the Cheekpoint road at 7.30pm and everyone is welcome.  Of course launches are something I am very familiar with.  Launching punts that is, not books!
As a child in Cheekpoint there was no greater symbol of the fishing than the punts that we worked the rivers on.  In those days they were made of timber, generally larch planks over oak frames. Following the long spring and summer of the salmon and eel fishing boats were heavy having absorbed river water into their planks.  The usually needed repairs also. 
Boats were generally hauled out on some of the high tides such as the equinox springs in late September. These tended to be a community event, groups of men (and children) gathering to help to drag up the punts from high water and onto the shoreline. Once up, they would be turned over, keel side up and the gunwales raised off the ground with rocks under them to allow the wind blow under and dry them out.

Wear and tear on punts could have been simple or more complicated including; keel bands (a band of metal that protected the keel) could be loose or broken following a season of beaching on gravel or stone, natural wear on timber from weather, damage to gunwales from hauling nets or ropes or having to replace timbers or planks, knees, thwarts etc.  Other works were guaranteed; touching up damaged or missing caulking and dealing with faded paint work.

Turning over a punt at Moran’s poles 2012. including Johnny Leftor, Joel Doherty, Bernard Cunningham,
Chris Doherty, Andrew Doherty, Robert Doherty, Pat Moran & Niall Cunningham. Photo: Hannah Doherty

In the village the Green was the favourite spot to overwinter. The Rookery quay would also have a few boats. Moran’s poles was a favourite of Paddy & Pat Moran, Terry Murphy, Paddy, Christy and Johnny Doherty and Maurice Doherty too. Further along towards Whelan’s Road Charlie Duffin kept his boat and in the next spot Jim Duffin. All of them sadly gone to their eternal rest now except Pat. Ned “Garragier” Power kept his punt and prong down under the house on the strand below Coolbunnia.

The barnacles and green moss that would have grown on the boats bottom during the heat of the summer would have died back while upturned. At some stage these would be scrapped off and washed down. Some preferred to do it soon after, others not until they were readying the hull in the spring. There was always someone down at the boats tinkering away at something. As children we loved to come across the men working on the boats. There was always a yarn, maybe a few bob for running an errand or an opportunity to learn some particular skill.  Some skills were less appreciated at home than others however. 
Work in progress on a punt, Sean Doherty and Michie Fortune.
Photo: Molly Doherty
One Sunday morning I returned home from the strand and asked my father if I could light his cigarette. He was sitting at the fire and nearly choked on his cup of tea. Anyway I persisted and relenting he said “go on so”. I took one out of the box and put it in my mouth, struck a match on the box and cupped me hand around the flame. Bending down I puffed hard and came up with the cigarette lit to perfection. Amazed, he asked me “Where did you learn that” – “Paddy Doherty just showed me” I said, beaming with pride, “He said any man that fishes needs to know how to light a fag when out in a gale”. “Well, you’re on your way so” said my father as he snatched it out of my fingers
Before the boat was turned it would need to be coated with a mixture of tar and pitch to seal the hull. Any caulking that had come undone would be replaced prior to this. Tar and pitch could be purchased from the now sadly closed Johnny Hearne’s on the quay in Waterford or from Dunphy’s hardware store in Campile. But people had many sources, and I remember it said that the best you could get was from the Harbour Board, if you had a contact.
launching from Moran’s poles 1990’s.  Anthony Doherty, Gavin Doherty, Dermot Kavanagh, Bob Doherty RIP, Chris Doherty, Andrew Doherty and just out of shot Robert Doherty.  Photo: Deena Bible
This would be melted down in a pot or an old paint can over an open fire and you had to be careful that the tar didn’t boil too hot or it could catch fire. The same pot and brush tended to be used from year to year.  The brush used would have to be a good one, or it would fall apart in the heat. You needed to be careful with the boiling liquid, as it would burn like hell if it got on your skin.  A friend still carries the scar left from an accident, the only relief from which was to run headlong into the river and plunge his hand into the water.  
Once the hull was tarred it would be left to dry and then the punt was turned over to expose the inside. Then this too would be tarred and finally the gunwales and strikes would be painted inside and out. Each boat had her own traditional colours and a lot of care was generally paid to ensure that the upper paint work looked well.  
Blessing of a punt at the Green Cheekpoint c1964
Once all was in order, it was time to launch. This tended to be done a few weeks before the new season started as boats needed time to swell in the water and close up after the planks had dried out and most probably shrunk. Again it was a big event and most boats would go out together to save on time.
Modern day launching, from left, Tomás Sullivan, Tom Sullivan, Seamus Heffernan, Maurice Doherty & Michael Murphy
Sat 26th July 2014
Repairs these days take place with power tools, so boats tend to come out on a trailer and be towed home to a shed and a nearby power source. It’s also a fact that most boats these days are fibreglass or are timber boats that have a fibreglass coating. Hence the traditions described above have either died out or are significantly altered and reduced, which when you think about it, is a big loss to a local tradition.
This story is an edited excerpt taken from the book.  Before the Tide Went Out has been a work of passion for several years now and Damien Tiernan RTE’s SE correspondent will be my special guest on the night. Tommy Sullivan will MC the event and we will have someone to speak on behalf of the SE FLAG group who helped me with some of the costs associated with the publication and launch.  It takes place in Jack Meades, Friday 20th October at 7.30pm and all are welcome.  The book will be available on the night and sells for €15. Tom McSweeney has written the foreword to the book and just this week wrote and produced a podcast explaining why the book is essential reading to anyone with an interest in fishing communities, particularly department officials.  If you click on this link and scroll down to the fisheries podcast you can hear it.

You can buy the book online

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