When I was in my early teens my friends and I would cycle miles to pick strawberries. In the evenings if we were passing an old graveyard on our way home we would go in and look for the oldest dated headstone or an unusual inscription. One evening one of the lads said that he had heard that there was a pirates grave in the graveyard in Great Island. Of course, we had to go to look for it.
After a short search we found it, an old headstone dated 1789 with a skull and crossbones on the back. That was my first visit to Kilmokea cemetery, little did I know that years later I would be passing it every day in my job as a postman. As it happens it is not a pirates grave but a frequently used depiction inscribed on headstones to remind us of our mortality.
Between 2012 and 2016, as a member of the Sliabh Coillte Heritage Group, I took part in a series of geophysical surveys in the Kilmokea Enclosure which surrounds the cemetery. It is recorded as an Ecclesiastical Enclosure dating from the Early Medieval Period. If anybody called to see our progress while we were conducting the surveys I would enjoy bringing them into the cemetery to show them the various historical artefacts that can be seen there. In particular, it has the smallest high cross in Ireland at just 56cm high. Also there are Bullan stones/Holy water fonts, the base of a standard high cross, some cut and dressed stones from old buildings along with the base of a small medieval church. There is one grave marker that is very interesting. It is shaped like the lid of a coffin with the widest part turned down. The edges are chamfered and apart from that, there is no inscription or carvings on it. I sometimes wonder where did it come from or who decided to place it there.
During Heritage Week in 2019, I met geologist Dr. Bill Sheppard who has a particular interest in relating local rock to the building stone used in National Monuments. Subsequently I showed him around the area of Great Island including a visit to the Kilmokea Graveyard. While we were looking around the cemetery Bill noted the range of rock used in the gravestones and artefacts. These included granite, various limestones some with trace fossil trails, local shale rock and, of particular interest, two eighteenth century-dated headstones of rock not found in southeast Ireland. These two were of metamorphic schist rock with a characteristic shiny texture. One of these contained a mineral thought likely to be kyanite. The year of interment on this stone was 1784 in the family name of Foley and on the other stone were engraved the years 1794, 1841 and 1855 with the family name of Kent. The source of such rock is very limited in Ireland and restricted to Co Mayo, the Ox Mountains or close to the main Donegal granite, for example near Cresslough. Further afield, no such rock is known to occur in England or Wales, however, they do occur in Scotland.
I think that it’s remarkable that around 250 years ago there was a such trade in headstones that they would be transported hundreds of miles and end up in a small country graveyard like Kilmokea. It is certainly possible, if not probable that they journeyed here via the Three Sisters. To me that fortunate meeting with Bill is a typical example of no matter how familiar you are with a place something really interesting and exciting can be in full view and you won’t see it until the right person comes along and points it out to you.
I would like to acknowledge the assistance of Dr Bill Sheppard in the writing of this piece.
Submitted by John as part of our Three Sister Placenames project for Heritage Week 2020
The Poet Patrick Kavanagh once said “The man that knows his own half acre knows the world”. The older we become the more nostalgic we become. The summers were warmer, the grass was greener, life was simpler. We need to be careful not to look back with rose tinted glasses; it wasn’t always as wonderful and romantic as is often portrayed in novels like “To School through the Fields” and others. I can remember walking to school through wet fields on freezing cold mornings, with the promise of 3 slaps with án Bhata if I was five minutes late.
My earliest memories of Ballinlaw are cycling my Raleigh bike down the hill to The Ferry Pub with two shillings in my pocket to get 10 Carrols for the Master. Mrs Malone (Aggie) came out from the kitchen to the bar, she knew who I was of course, she also seemed to know what my mission was, “You’re here for fags for Mr Power” she said. She took the money and gave me the change but held on to the cigarettes until she was finished getting all the local news. Eventually she gave me the cigarettes and I set out on my journey up the steep hill back to the school. Outside the pub, the river Barrow carrying her sister the Nore flowed down to meet their third sister the Suir and continue to flow southward through Waterford Harbour to finally meet the great Atlantic Ocean. This area was known as “Comar Trí na Uisce” (meeting of three waters). This is also where for hundreds of years a ferry boat crossed to Loughtown on Great Island Co Wexford. In ancient times this was referred to as The old Camnoc Ferry, in modern times it was known as Ballinlaw Ferry. The area also offers a breadth taking view of Sliabh Coillte to the West and the Black Stairs to the North West with Mount Leinster protruding like the Jewel in the crown.
The local fishermen had tied their Prong’s which lay there sleeping in the mud waiting for the incoming tide to wake them. I started to cycle back up the road only to get off and walk after 80 or 90 Yards in defeat. Little did I know than I would one day be living at that exact spot. I eventually got back to school with the Cigarettes, I was probably aged 10 or 11 at the time, we had just moved to the new school in Ringville. The new school was the fourth to be built in Ballinlaw. The first school was a hedge school said to be situated down the Castle lane at the river, this dated back to penal times. This was followed in 1832 by a school built from lime and stone with a thatched roof situated half ways between the river and the house at the top of the Castle lane known then and now as The Rookery. This school was built by Thomas Devereaux of Ringville House. There was no free education then, pupils paid from one shilling and a penny to three shilling depending on one’s means. Children from the local area as well as children from across the river attended the school. The next school was built and funded by Thomas Devereaux’s niece Lady Letitia Esmond. In its day it was a very modern structure which featured two huge classrooms and living quarters for two teachers and their families. There was a fireplace in each classroom used to ensure the teacher was warm and to boil water in a big black cast iron kettle to make the Cocoa at lunchtime. The fuel for the fire was mostly sticks gathered by the pupils from the knock at the back of the school.
When I started school there in 1959 very little had changed. There was no running water which meant students from 6th class had to go to the well, over Danny Whelan’s lane which is quiet a distance. The Co Council provided a hand pump at the top of the hill above the school sometime in the 40s or 50s but unfortunately it never worked. After pumping for 5 minutes a rust coloured liquid sometimes came gurgling out in spurts and then stopped, making some obscene noises in the process. The sanitation in the school was absolutely appalling. There were 4 dry toilets available with no hand washing facilities. The smell of Jeyes Fluid wafted throughout the school. The toilet paper provided however was never more than a week old, you knew by the story or the date printed on newspaper. Sometimes when you ran out of newspaper magazines were used, The Irelands Own was a favourite, we all loved reading about “Kitty the Hare” written by local man Vincent O Donovan Power. It wasn’t all doom and gloom. One of the more positive sides to being educated in the 60s was the freedom we enjoyed. Once you were finished eating your lunch you played football across the road in Knoxe’s field, or you played in the old quarry or up the Knock. If you fell hurt yourself there was you were bandaged up and told to be more careful next time. There was never and mention of suing or litigation in those days.
This all changed in June 1966 when we said goodbye to the old school and moved to our new centrally heated school 200 meters away at the top of Ballinlaw hill. Not only did it have central heating but it had Flush Toilets. We were even made slippers at all times inside classrooms. For me best of all was the big windows showing the most incredible view of the River, Sliabh Coillte and across into Campile and Great Island. I can still remember daydreaming while watching the fishermen rowing over and back the river casting their nets for Salmon.
I had no regrets leaving Ringville School but as fate would have it in 1981 I ended up living 50 mts from the new school on the top of Ballinlaw hill. My children followed the tradition of school through the fields, they were very fortunate though as they had only one field to cross to jump the school wall. In 2003 we moved again to the place where I got off my bike on my journey back to the Master with his Cigarettes all those years ago.
Heritage Week continues with Myles Courtney, and the Salmon Ponds of New Ross
The ebb and flow of a river, its rising and falling tides can instill a sense of ease and relaxation in an observer. Since my retirement, I have had time to be more observant and appreciative of the majestic Barrow as it passes through the town of New Ross. It brought back happy memories of my youth in Enniscorthy and fishing at my father’s side on the Slaney and Boro rivers. He passed on to me an appreciation of the lore and traditions of the angler and the “net men”.
Research for my local history hobby lead me, as it often does, off on various tangents. One tangent that immediately grabbed my attention was the salmon fishing on the Barrow . I discovered numerous sources online and reference sources in New Ross Library which painted a picture of what at one stage was a significant local industry but is alas no more. The great 16th century poet Edmund Spenser mentioned the Barrow salmon in his epic The Faerie Queen when referring to The Three Sister Rivers.
The first, the gentle Shure that making way By sweet Clonmell, adorns rich Waterford; The next, the stubborne Newre, whose waters gray, By faire Kilkenny and Rosseponte boord, The third, the goodly Barow, which doth hoorde Great heaps of Salmons in his deepe bosome: All which long sundred, doe at last accord To ioyne in one, ere to the sea they come, So flowing all from one, all one at last become.
I went from keyboard to book to the horse’s mouth and was regaled with stories of fishing families of the fifties in New Ross. I met two local gents with first-hand experience and a treasure trove of knowledge of the skills and lore of the cot men.
Four men in 2 cots formed a crew. They fished every falling tide with snap nets, day and night, except for Saturdays & Sundays during the season. For reference and location purposes the river was divided into sections referred to as “ponds” by the cot men between the Pink Rock and Poulmounty.
My two friends recited the names of the ponds like memorised poetry to me and I was immediately struck by those whose origin went back to our Gaelic past. Names such as Conway’s Wood, Woodville Drift, and The Quay Pond offered no mystery but then I heard Tubbernacally, Cool na Stor, Leanacurragh, Lean Bheag, Touskeen, Cruptaun, and off I went on another tangent.
I wondered if these two repositories of local lore realised the value of their hereditary knowledge. It spurred me to convince them that it was indeed worthy of preservation. Much to my delight their experiences and knowledge can now be found in the County Wexford Oral History Project recordings of Wexford County Library.
This story is contributed as part of Heritage Week 2020
The last guest blog of 2018 comes from the River Barrow and brings us back to simpler times in the company of the Connollys of Aylwardstown via the pen of Brian Forristal. The area of Aylwardstown is beside the river Barrow close to Glenmore on the Kilkenny side and Tommy was well known in Cheekpoint as a builder and repairer of the distinctive local boat the Prong. Brian like myself was raised around the river and has a deep appreciation of it and the people who lived upon it. I loved this account and I believe you will too.
Tommy realised as he looked to the north east that there was snow on the wind and it was blowing savagely down an angry River Barrow. He knew that there was a lot of work to be done before Christmas arrived and the last thing he needed was a blizzard of snow to delay him.
That Christmas tree he had seen last week in
Graiguenakill, softly nestled in a grove of larch wood needed chopping before
anyone else cast their eye on it. A
splendid specimen, not too tall so as to fit into the kitchen of the cottage nicely,
and not too broad as to impinge on the tight space near the dresser. He had better go soon and cut it down for he
had to drag it back to Aylwardstown across the fields as he did not want anyone
else to see him take it out of the larch wood.
That was one of the pre Christmas jobs to be done,
another was to kill the goose he kept on the commons and had been fattening for
the previous months. Extra kindling had to be brought in, in case the weather
took a turn for the worst, which meant dragging it from the cutting shed
situated just north of the cottage on the river bank. Country cottages were always adorned with
holly and ivy for the festive season and gave a natural feel of the outdoors,
indoors; this had to be gathered from the surrounding fields.
He dallied about which to do first and after much
soul searching decided to go after the tree, that was the one that could not
wait, all the rest would still be here when he got back.
He informed Molly that he was heading for
Graiguenakill to cut the Christmas tree and would be gone for a few hours. She asked him would he be back for his dinner
at 11 o’clock and he said he would, seeing it was only 8am, he thought he had
plenty of time to get there and back.
Gathering an axe from his shed he headed along the
road as far as the railway tracks and cut into the fields that ran behind
kelly’s big house, then veering right in the direction of Carrigcloney until he
met the road that ran back to the river.
Moving on north west from here he cut across the large stubble field
behind Killivory/Kilmokevoge ruined church, he was now in sight of the glen
where the larch wood was. He crossed the
stream at the end of the gorge and climbed the winding lane that led through
the larch wood. About half way up this
lane and in behind the first few lines of larch stood the tree that Tommy had
eyed up weeks before. Taking off the
rope that he had carried around his shoulder, he firmly gripped the axe with
both hands and began to chop at the butt of the tree. While it did not take long to cut through the
stump, by the time he had felled it he had worked up a good sweat, which kept
the biting cold at bay. He proceeded to tie the rope around the butt and then
headed for home making his way more or less back along the same route taken
previously towing the tree behind him.
When he got to the ditch at the far end of the
stubble field, just as he was about to push the tree over onto the road, a
voice bellowed to him from the roadside, it was Dermoy Ryan from Killivory just
along the road.
“I see the Christmas tree is free again this year
Connolly?” he shouted
“As every other year” he retorted back.
“You must be frozen to the bone crossing that 5o
acres of stubble, come up to the house and we will have a Christmas drink to
put the heat in you”
Tommy tied the tree to a fence post on the inside of
the ditch, out of sight from anyone using the road. Both of them headed to Dermoy’s cottage along
the roadway and went inside, Tommy sitting in beside the fire to feel the
warmth of the glow. Dermoy handed him a
full glass of whiskey and then joined him by the fire.
Both men talked and drank for ages and those
reminisces of years ago entered their conversation with laughter and good
banter. One glass led to another and
before long Tommy had forgotten about the time and the dinner, when something
tweaked his memory he jumped up suddenly and bade Dermoy farewell and a happy
Christmas and sprang out the door to look for his tree. Luckily his tree was in the same spot so he
untied it and headed for home, even though as a much slower pace that he had
left that morning.
It was now around 1 o’clock and he still had a
number of jobs to do around the cottage.
Getting back to Aylwardstown he was met by the wiry comment from Molly
that a liquid lunch must have been provided by the fairies considering the
state he was in. He shook off the verbal
onslaught and brought the tree into the cottage and sat down and had his dinner
before tackling the other jobs on the list.
Molly said she would look after the tree and
decorate it while Tommy finished his dinner and got on with the other
jobs. Having soaked up much of the
whiskey he set about killing the goose for the Christmas table and was glad he
had a few that morning to steady his nerves.
The kill was swift and humane and the bird did not suffer, the prized
goose was prepared for the pot and left to hang until the flesh was ready for
the pot in the days to come.
By now a few flakes had started to fall and
gathering in the holly and ivy was now paramount before the real cold spell
arrived. Two fields over towards
Carrigcloney lay a grove of hazel and hawthorn trees which had a good covering
of ivy and would be easy enough to pull from the trees. Having arrived and pulled the long strips
from the bark he rolled them into circles and tied them down, now they were
handy to throw over the shoulder for the short journey home.
For the holly he would travel up the lane and over
the railway tracks to the Phelan’s land.
On the boundary ditches lay some good specimens of holly which always
supplied a good crop of berries; without the berries the spirit of Christmas
would not sit in the cottage, this was his way of thinking.
With all that collected and left in the yard, Molly
worked away at making it into shapes that were accessible inside the
cottage. The list was dwindling and now
all that was left was to get the train into New Ross and gather the groceries
to tie them over the festive spell. A
little extra would be bought in the event the weather turned bad and they were
unable to get out of Aylwardstwon over the coming weeks. Shopping completed Tommy would head into the
local pub to catch up on the news with old friends and acquaintances, while
Molly would head over town to do the last few bits and pieces. When fishermen get together there is no
stopping the talk and the time passes quickly, half one after half one soon
disappear and merriment ensues.
As dusk begins to fall and Molly returns to collect
Tommy, they both head across the bridge to catch the returning train. Weighed down with several bags they would be
glad to see the sight of the cottage and the flowing river, home they would be,
tired but happy that they got through the necessity of the festive shop and
they could now relax and enjoy it all together.
Christmas morning brought a late dawn with grey
skies and a bitter cold feel to it.
Tommy had a blazing fire going early on to keep the bitter cold out and
the crackling of the blocks sent slivers of red hot wood out into the centre of
the cottage room. Dinner was prepared
early as they usually had theirs at about 11 o’clock in the morning. At that
time Molloy and himself sat at the little table that looked out over the yard
and out to the river and rejoiced in the little feast that lay before them.
of the winter light soon caught up upon the Barrow valley and Molloy drew the
curtains and settled down to the evening.
The television was put on first to see if there was anything of interest
to watch, failing that the radio was engaged and some traditional Irish music
would sooth the evening away. Tommy was
often tempted to take down the fiddle and join in with the music, but he
preferred a few people to play to than rather an almost empty room.
Both of them sat in on the fire and watched the
embers glow and talked of the day, what tomorrow might bring and past
Christmas’s had went. The clock chimed
on the wall and the night was still, crackling logs the only intruder into the
About 8 o’clock when all was quiet a faint knock appeared
on the front door, slightly startled Tommy shouted to know who was there.
“Tis Seán Óg Kennedy from Rathinure”
Tommy opened the door and the dark shadow of Seán
entered the cottage spouting seasonal greetings to them both.
On been asked what brought him out on a dark and
cold night, he said he could not put up with listening to his brothers
bickering any longer in the house, even on Christmas night they argued about
the price of cattle, what field to sow potatoes in next spring, who’s turn it
was to feed the calves in the morning.
He had enough and strolled to the river to find a bit of solace and a
quiet corner to sit in.
Shuffling in on the floor he warmed his hands and
then Tommy handed him a glass of whiskey and the chat ensued. They talked well into the night and the sign
of sleep never set upon any of them. As
the clock chimed midnight Seán decided he had taken up enough of their time and
decided to head for home. Tommy offered
him a spare bed in the back room if he did not fancy going out. Declining, he faded into the darkness of the
night with the words of Tommy ringing in his ears not to go home by Kilcolumn
graveyard as the dead would still be about celebrating the festive night and he
might get caught up with them. If he felt
any fear at walking home at that hour it was the last thing he wanted to hear
The cottage door was bolted and the two elderly
people made their way to their bed.
Another Christmas night had passed and now they looked forward to the
New Year and the coming spring, when the haggard would take all his attention
to get ready for another growing season. The spirit of Christmas had for
another year settled on the cottage by the Barrow and gave it its blessing, all
was quite there again.
My thanks to Brian Forristal for bringing that slice of life from the River Barrow at Christmas, even if you did not know the people I’m sure the characters depicted would be familiar to you. A neighbour of the Connollys on the Wexford side of the Barrow was John Seymore, known as the god father of self sufficiency who I have written about before. Guest blogs are published on the last Friday of the month and if you have a story to share about the three rivers or the harbour area please submit it to firstname.lastname@example.org
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In my recent book on growing up in Cheekpoint I devoted a chapter to my uncle Sonny and his operation of the Cheekpoint pilot boat. His role was to embark and disembark pilots coming to and from New Ross. The role of pilot or river guide is probably as old as people have sailed into foreign waters. Its a topic I remember well stories of competing crews of hobblers rowing down the harbour attempting to engage a ship with a pilot and a crew to tie up their vessel. A fascinating story in itself, but for another day.
SS Pembrook at Cheekpoint Feb 1899, note Pilot House sq building on left
AH Poole Collection NLI
The pilots were divided in two separate and distinct groups. The Waterford pilots took ships upand down river to the city. As part of their duties they took New Ross destined ships as far as Cheekpoint, at which point pilots for the competing port of took charge. The actual extent of the New Ross pilots role was “To pilot vessels within the limits from the junction of the River Barrow with the River Suir, up to the entrance of of the canal at St Mullins on the River Barrow, and to the lock quay of Inistioge, on the River Nore”
In the year 1854 New Ross Pilots were expected to abide by the following instructions;
“…to lose no time in boarding such vessels as may be ordered…and to behave in strict propriety…hoisting your distinguishing colour (white, with his number in black) immediately on going aboard a vessel…” A rule I was never aware of and certainly not used in my days of viewing the pilots comings and goings.
“You are to suffer no boat to take any vessel in your charge in tow, except you have orders…or except in cases of of sudden emergency or danger.” Presumably this was to avoid any claims of salvage and unnecessary expense.
“You are in no case whatever to interfere with the duties of the Revenue Officers, but on the contrary are to afford them every assistance…any pilot found so engaged in … shipping contraband…will be immediately suspended…” we have seen before the issues of smuggling and what a serious challenge it was in the ports.
To encourage “…zeal, activity and good conduct…” pilots are allowed to share in money for “…meritorious services…” however severe penalties are threatened for “…disobediance of oders, irregularity of conduct, or wilful neglect…” Drunkenness is considered the highest order of misconduct!
For a bit of, admittedly poor, modern day footage of a pilot exchange at Cheekpoint here’s a piece I took during the week. Pilot cutter Crofter, putting a New Ross pilot aboard the inbound MV Arklow Cadet and awaiting the Waterford pilot to disembark. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZF3gQ9HFSsE
Pilots are also expected to discourage any master who might “…cause any part of his ballast to be thrown into the river or harbour…” obviously causing any hazard to navigation, or lowering the available depth of water for shipping was a concern then as now.
The Pilots concerned were:
Stephen Dunn 62
Michael Dunn 60
John Doyle 60
Daniel Eustace 62
Thomas Kehoe 47
Daniel Carroll 41
Patrick Toole 49
No apprentices were listed.
A sliding scale or rates for pilotage are given. These vary with a higher rate for foreign ships and the lowest for ships trading within the then UK waters. Ships between 30-40 tons are 10s for a foreign vessel, 8s for a British ship (this obviously included Irish owned and registered at the time) sailing from overseas and 5s for vessels trading within the UK. The highest charges went to ships listed at 400 tons and upwards. Charges range from £4 1s for a foreign vessel, £3 0s 9d for a British ship sailing from overseas and £2 0s 6d for vessels trading within the UK.
In total 261 vessels paid for pilotage that year into the port, and the same number left it. All but 6 of these ships were British registered. The income this raised was £190 16s 4d each way. The total cost for the pilots that year £315 1s 7d. Disappointingly, there was no breakdown of the size of ships entering or leaving. Ships towed up or down must still pay pilotage, as a pilot is required at all times we are told.
Nothing is made of the pilot boat operating at Cheekpoint, no name of the boat or person or persons employed. However in the costs of running to port, a small sum of £6 19s is expended for the pilot boats, buoys etc, which seems a small sum for the work involved in running a boat, except that the costs are made up elsewhere. In the photo from 1899 a square box pilot hut is partially seen, this was a base that pilots could await in “comfort” for a return trip back upstream. Not like today when cars are readily available.
Of course the pilots had an altogether easier time of it than the later generations as the Barrow Bridge was yet to be built, and it would prove a challenge to pilots in time to come.
In June we will take a look at the rules governing the Waterford Pilots, of which there is some curious and interesting information. If anyone can supply a local image of the 19thC pilots or related photos to complement this piece I would appreciate it.
Much of the information contained is taken from Return of all Bye-Laws, Regulations, Orders or Ordinance, relating to Pilots or Pilotage now in force within the Jurisdiction of the Commissioners of the Port of New Ross; for the year ending 31st Dec 1854. Accessed from House of Commons Parliamentary Papers.
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