Vaccine rollout welcomed in the Russianside

I’m delighted to be able to announce that all the residents of the Russianside, Cheekpoint, Co Waterford will receive the Russian-made Sputnik V vaccine against COVID-19 later this morning. Due to diplomatic considerations, a media blackout was insisted upon until now by both the Russian embassy and the Irish Dept of Foreign Affairs.

As most blog regulars will know, the small community of Russiansiders, here in the village of Cheekpoint, Co Waterford owe the origins of the placename to a shipwreck of many years past. The Russian sailors were taken in by the community, and those that died were buried on the local strand.

The event was largely forgotten after the Russian revolution, but in recent years with a change in political leadership and the effort locally to revive an awareness in the story, stronger links have been forged between the country and the small rural community.

In recent weeks the Russian embassy contacted local resident Kate Cunningham, a leading member of Busy Fingers, the Knitting and Crochet circle. As a gesture of solidarity between the Russian State and the community, Kate was asked to liaise with her neighbours, and in strict confidence test the waters as to the willingness to accept the offer.

Although some concerns were expressed about this being a publicity stunt, the offer was overwhelmingly accepted due to the ongoing shortages of other products. Specific guidelines have had to be accepted, including the media silence. However, it is with great expectation that we look forward to the vaccine rollout this morning. A large media gathering is expected and strict access to the Russianside will have to be observed. I look forward to posting pictures later today.

Update: The Gardai have already set up a checkpoint at the village cross roads

An America Wake

Today sees the inauguration of a new president in America. It promises to be an “interesting” presidency with many fears as to the direction America is taking. One concern is the attitude to emigrants. So today I thought what better way to reflect on the event than my own Grandmothers family experience of emigration to America in the early 20th century.

My Grandmother “Nanny” was born in 1919.  She was the youngest of seven and had six brothers.  Ritchie (Richard) Moran was the eldest and the other lads were Mikey, Christy, Paddy, Johnny and Willie. They were born in the Russianside, Cheekpoint, Co Waterford, Ireland in a small three roomed house. It was a fisherman’s cottage, close to the river, where as soon as the boys could pull an oar or haul a net they would have been out fishing.  I’ve blogged before about the realities of fishing for us youngsters, but my grandmothers generation had it all together tougher; fishing was a poor livelihood with no welfare protection net, political and economic uncertainty gripped the newly formed Irish state, and the only safety valve for families was emigration.

The Morans in their Sunday best, Ritchie is missing from the photo

Nanny was never sure how the money was raised to send Ritchie to America but she suspected that some of her uncles on the Moran side, who were sailors, were already living in New York and that they organised the fare and a job.*  Her only involvement was in the preparations for the the night of the American Wake which took place in the mid 1920’s.

She related how different the house was leading up to the event, the scrubbing and cleaning, painting and polishing. The setting of the table back in the kitchen to create space on the floor and the and the extra food that was prepared or dropped into the house. She recalled a night of music, singing, dancing and laughter, a magical night compared to the normal hard work of tending the men who were fishing daily leaving all the work to the women and the young. At some point she remembered being carried into a bedroom having fallen asleep where she sat. Next morning she woke to find the music and dancing over, but many of the neighbours still in the kitchen, or standing around outside.
Her parents didn’t seem to have gone to bed and her mother looked drained and tired. Soon she heard a pony and trap come down the road.  It was driven by a relation from Faithlegg named Burke. Into the trap went Ritchies case and after he said his goodbyes he hopped aboard and went off up the Russianside road, his brothers strolling beside the trap until it reached the top of the hill. Her father turned away and walked towards the shore and her mother turned towards the house and she remembered her wailing behind the bedroom door.
As the day passed her father returned, and her mother emerged from the bedroom, a sense of normality returned and they set to work tidying and preparing the dinner. She had her jobs to do and she recollected that as she was standing out on the roadside later in the afternoon, Ritchie strolled down the road. Nanny who was throwing the remains of a teapot over the ditch ran to him and he lifted her up and she innocently asked him “how was America?” 
It transpired that having travelled to Waterford to catch the train from Waterford’s south station to Cork and ultimately Cobh, (the route is now the soon to be fully opened Waterford Greenway) the station master had turned him back as they had received a telegram to say the ship was delayed.  He took Ritchie’s case for safe keeping, told him to come back tomorrow, as there was no point sleeping in the station, or the docks in Cobh overnight.** Ritchie’s trap had left, so he turned on his heels and walked  the nine miles home. The next morning when she awoke, Ritchie was gone again but this time she wouldn’t see him for over thirty years.  
gathering to celebrate the emigrants return,
Ryan’s Quay July 1956
Ritchie eventually married a Polish lady and settled down in Westbury, Long Island. In time two other brothers emigrated to join him. And not only his own family, but others from the village went via his new home on Long Island too. Packages and other assistance was sent back and there were bundles of air mail labeled letters kept in the glass cabinet of the living room in the Russianside. The framed portrait of JF Kennedy needless to say adorned the wall. Ritchie and Peg had a family of three boys and a girl and his grandchildren and their children are now American through and through. Ritchie eventually died in America as did another brother Johnny. Willie who spent half his life in New York, retired home to the Russianside only to die not long after.  Although my Grandmother was always sad to think of their loss to Ireland, I’m aware of how much opportunity the journey afforded them. 
Today in America a new President will be sworn in, and you can’t help but wonder how it will impact on actual or would be emigrants and their opportunities. It appears that President Trump and his team, themselves the product of emigrants, have lost touch with the origins of their United States. The Moran brothers sought a new chance not to sponge on their adopted land but to enrich it. Their motivation was to escape financial and economic hardships for an opportunity to continue to work hard and put money in their pockets. The vast majority of emigrants then and now simply want nothing more.

When my Grandmother experienced the American wake in her childhood it was to acknowledge a loss, but also to celebrate the opportunities. Afterall, the entire family had a stake in the emigration of their eldest sibling. You can’t help but think that today in America the stakes are no less important, but on a national scale.

*Brian Moran subsequently told me the Richie, his grandfather, left in 1922, 16yrs old and was sponsored by his uncle Peter Moran of New York
**Many of previous generation before had departed in sailing ships such as the SS Dunbrody from New Ross and those leaving would be rowed out from the shore to join the ships as they passed down the river

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An emigrants Christmas wish

To celebrate Christmas this year, I thought I’d bring you the words across the Irish sea, an emigrant’s lament, a cousin of mine from the Russianside, but one of my grandmother’s generation.  Fr Tom Doyle was one of two brothers to enter the priesthood and both spent their years in England and beyond.  This piece was published in the Munster Express in the 1960’s and the clipping was found by a relation of mine recently.
Fr Tom saying mass in the home of his cousin in 1980’s
L-R Jim Duffin RIP, Maura Moran (my maternal Grandmother) RIP, Gerry Murphy, Ella Hallahan RIP
Mary McDernott RIP, Fr Tom RIP, Brian McDermott RIP, Maureen Burke RIP
T’was Christmas Eve, I stood on Mersey’s Strand
And wished I were back home in Ireland.
Down by the Suir and gazing at the hook
Blinking “welcome home” to Passage and to Crook.
To Cheekpoint and my home of days gone by.
When Christmas really was a feast of joy.
I heard the slough of boots across the pass
That led to Faithlegg Church and Midnight Mass.
The heart greetings “Merry Christmas Pat”
The same to you, may all your pigs grow fat!
And in the morn, the tang of burning peat
Spurred on by turning wheel to cook the meat.
The crowded table on the old stone floor.
The stranger always welcome at the door.
The lamp-lit darkness of the Christmas night.
When tales of ghosts turned many faces white:
The fiddler played, the elders danced with glee.
And Grandpa bounced me on his bony knee!
Those were the days with innocence abroad
And Irishmen knew how to praise the Lord.
I see it all and sigh, and inward’ pray.
God bless the Emerald Isle on Christmas Day
Tom- An Exile
The house described above, is my aunts, Margaret O’Leary. His Grandpa was my own Great Grandfather;  Joseph (called Jose) Doherty of the Russianside who was married to Ellen nee Walsh. They had 9 children; one was my Grandfather, Andy, another, Tom’s mother Ciss. Ciss married a Wexford man named Joseph Doyle and they had 6 children, Tom was one of the youngest, born in 1919.  The family emigrated to Liverpool early on.
Ellen & Jose in the Russianside early 1900’s
Photo courtesy of Sean Doherty

Tom and his older brother Michael, both entered the priesthood, Tom was ordained a priest of the Monfort Fathers in 1948.  Fr Tom arrived  to Cheekpoint every summer for his holidays and offered mass in local homes, and always mass at Faithlegg church and Crooke if required.  I recall one Sunday, when I was serving as an altar boy.  A new PA system had been recently installed, so that the priest didn’t need to strain his voice to be heard. Now Tom had no fear of straining his voice, which boomed out and dominated every conversation. As my Father put it, “you’d hear him in Wexford even if there was a gale from the east”. When Tom started mass that morning even the sleepiest parishioners sat bolt upright under the aural assault. So much so, that during the mass I was called back into the sacristy by the chapel woman at the time, Joan O’Dwyer and told to turn off the PA.

Fr Tom was the only priest I ever heard called by his first name, something he actively encouraged. He considered Cheekpoint home, and never missed a visit to the Russianside.  One of my fondest memories of him was the summer I was asked to show him round the village, and tell him the names of the people inside and who they were related to. Once I connected it back to my Gran’s era it all fell into place with him, and when the door was opened he was immediately at home, and always welcomed. On the occasions I got inside the threshold, I’d be treated like royalty, even if the occupant would turn their head to me normally.  Fed and watered and occasionally an envelope passed to Tom for prayers, we would saunter on to the next house and my intelligence called for once more. At the end of the visits each day, there was “an economic recompense for my time”, as he put it.
The one thing I never realised until I started to research this piece, and certainly not apparent from the poem above, was that Tom wasn’t actually born in the Russianside at all.  I can only imagine that having been born into the Irish emigrant community of Liverpool, the Christmas traditions must have been ingrained into him from the stories of his mother and his older siblings.  It was obvious to me all those years ago, that he certainly felt like he was coming home each summer.  Fr Tom died on the 10th November 1997 aged 78 and was buried in his communities burial ground at Romsey near Southampton. His obituary has more of his career.
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Whatever happened the SS Honved?

The SS Honved was a Hungarian registered ship when she called to Waterford in 1932 with a cargo of Maize for Halls in the city.  She dropped down to Cheekpoint to await an outgoing cargo, and whilst there, her Captain died.  Rudolp Udvardy was subsequently removed to Faithlegg Church for his funeral mass and burial. I’ve blogged before about the night of the removal in a story called the night the devil came for the Captains corpse. And the story of his grave is recorded in the account of Why there is a palm tree in Faithlegg graveyard.

SS Honved via
As a child I had a fascination with the story.  This was probably because my Grandmother was so involved, but in seafaring villages such ships, seamen and events were told and retold regularly and always fired my imagination.  However one question that I had, it seemed no one could answer. And that’s the question I want to answer in this post. Whatever happened to the SS Honved?
The Honved was built in 1928 by the Swan and Hunter Shipyard in Sunderland.  One of the most famous ships to be built there was the SS Carpathia which was the first vessel to arrive after the sinking of the Titanic.
Unloading Ganz motorwaggons at Buenos Aires 1930’s
She was ordered for the Levant Steamship Company which operated from Budapest, Hungary, but the ship itself was registered at the Italian port city of Fuime.  She was 4208 tons and a single screw steam driven vessel.  She plied the European and Atlantic trade routes and as already said was carrying Maize when she called to Waterford in 1932. Her arrival sparked a lot of interest in Waterford apparently, because after the break up of the Austro-Hungarian empire, it was the first time the new flag had appeared in the city, and it made the local papers.  Two years later, 1934, the Honved was sold to the Italian company of Martinolich & Figlio and renamed the Carlo Martinolich and was registered at the port of Trieste.

I could only find one mention of her under her new name in Irish records, and that was in August of 1936 arriving into Dublin with a cargo of wheat from Fuime and departing four days later for Avonmouth.  I could find nothing about Waterford, although had she called, even under a new name, I’m confident it would have been noticed.
She continued under her new name up to and including the outbreak of the war, during which she continued to sail under the Italian flag, and thus was a legitimate target for the allied side. On the 9th January 1941 the Carlo Martinolich was torpedoed and sunk while sailing out of the Adriatic about 10 nautical miles east of Punta Stilo, Calabria, Italy at position 38°28’N, 16°44’E.  One crew man died, four were reported as missing and thirty four were later recovered by an Italian torpedo boat. The torpedo was dispatched from HMS Parthian.

HMS Parthian via

So that became the fate of the SS Honved.  Had she survived she doubtless would have returned, or a local would have spotted her in some foreign port and an account of her would have come back to Cheekpoint.  There are few memories more enduring in a seafaring town or village than the men who plied the trade or the ships they sailed on.  I for one am delighted to have finally completed the account of the SS Honved, an ordinary cargo vessel that called to port and left an extraordinary mark on the people of Cheekpoint.

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 to receive the blog every week.

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February – traditional start date of the Salmon Driftnet Fishery

The traditional start of the Salmon drift net season in Ireland was, for generations, February 1st. Once opened it stretched to August 15th, the Feast of the Assumption, and a very important church holiday in the village in the past.   By the time I started to fish the season had been shortened to commence on St Patricks Day, but I was raised on stories of the February start and the harsh winter conditions faced by my father and my mothers people.
My maternal Grandmother Maura Moran raised me on stories of the conditions her father (Michael) and brothers (Ritchie, Paddy, Christy, Mickey, Johnny and Willie) faced while drifting for fish. One of those earliest memories I believe, was the smell of drying clothes at the open fire day and night.  All the outer garments and even the socks steaming away on the fire, and her mother, Catherine, often up through the night, keeping the fire in and turning the clothing, so that the men would be some way comfortable going back out to fish.  That might be the following morning, or in a short few hours depending on the tides.  The season in those times closed each week between 6am on a Saturday morning to 6am on the Monday.  Once the week opened it operated for 24 hrs a day.
Paddy Moran RIP and Michael Ferguson RIP
Ranging nets on Ryan’s Shore 1950’s
Walter Whitty (RIP) told me that as a child he remembered seeing “oilskins” hanging to dry in the high street.  These were not the comfortable oilskins of today.  These were homemade, by the women generally and cut from calico purchased in town.  The calico would be measured, sown and then soaked in linseed oil to keep the water out (or at least some of the water).  They would then be dried in the sun and be fit to wear.  My Grandmother said that often as not an oilskin might return from sea journeys and during WWII might wash up on the strand or in the nets, but in general the men wore thick overcoats to keep the weather out and always a few pairs of socks if they had them.
Blessing the boats, Nets and men prior to the opening 1930’s
Terry Murphy (RIP) once told me a yarn.  He was only a boy and was fishing with Billy the green, grandfather of Elsie Murphy.  He called down this cold frosty morning and Billy came out with his socks in his hands.  He plunged the socks into the water barrel and squeezed them out.  He then put them on his feet and put his boots on. Terry paused for dramatic effect and looked at my puzzled expression.  “Well” he said, “when you are on the oars all day the water in your socks heats you up better than any hot water bottle”.  It was often I saw the proof of those words since, I have to admit.
The oars were the only way to get around and it meant that fishing was a slower, more rhythmical affair.  I’ve written before about how hard it was for us as children even with outboard motors to use the oars.  The men in the past had to use the tides and had to make the best out of each drift.  Once set the aim was to get the maximum out of each drift, prior to hauling and setting again.  It meant that on ebb tide when they set from “Binglidies” or “the rock” that they drifted as far as they could, then reset the nets from where they stopped, rather than returning (as we did with the aid of an outboard).  They would drift to the end of the ebb tide, take the low water where they found it and return village-wards with the incoming tides.  My Grandmother said the men were starving on their return.  They might put in to warm some tea in a billy can, but often as not, wouldn’t eat from the time they left the house to when they returned. (Low water to high water is a total of 6 hours)
Returning home was also work of course.  The hemp nets that my Grandmothers father and brothers used had to be ranged out of the boat and “spreeted” – hauled up and dried in the wind.  Not doing so would shorten the life of the nets which was a cost they could not afford.  So on returning to go fish, the nets had to be lowered and then ranged back into the boat.  Any wonder the majority of my gran uncles took the boat to America or England as soon as they could.  Any wonder also that it was the older men and young boy that did the fishing in all the other families around, those old enough choosing the emigrant boat or a sea going berth, at least until the summer peal run.
Poles along the quay for “spreeting” or drying the nets 1950’s
As I mentioned in my own time, the start of the season had been shifted to St Patricks day and in the 1990s (1996 I think) the season was destroyed from the perspective of commercial fishing in Cheekpoint in that it was reduced to a June 1st – Aug 15th season and operated from 6am – 9pm.  It was a slow strangulation of the fishery which eventually closed in 2006.  Funnily enough in those times there was hardly a week went by without some media outlet decrying the state of the Salmon fishery and trying to close down the drift netting as a means of preserving the Salmon stocks. Salmon stocks have not recovered however.  Now those media outlets have to look beyond the traditional bogeyman, and yet seem unwilling to challange any sacred cows such as farming, industry or forestry.
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