Cheekpoint Fairy Tale?

I was often chided for my romantic notions of the Cheekpoint name deriving from the fairy folk, the Sidhe.  However in recent months strong, albeit circumstantial, evidence is coming to the surface that those of us with romantic notions may not be totally without support.
I wrote previously about the place name of Cheekpoint.  To reprise it now, there are those with a geographic bent, who consider it the point of the streaks, referring to the currents and eddies created as the three rivers flow over the rock that is to this day know as the Sheag rock.  Whilst others like myself are inclined towards the Point of the Sidhe or fairies.
Now the evidence for the fairies was always circumstantial.  Stories of fairy folk were legion in the community that I was reared in, fairy rings still exist, and few but the foolish or unwary would interfere with them. When fishing at night I was warned about particular gaps on the Russianside lane, that I was best to hurry past and certainly not stop if any voices tried to engage me. Of course the most magical event I have ever seen is the Sí Gaoith, an occurrence I have witnessed several times, by the most exciting and spectacular with my son Joel while fishing in the late 1990’s.
I had also mentioned the fabled Cesair, and it is to her that I now return.  Now Cesair has as many versions of her life (and spelling of her name) as there are internet links. Many interconnecting points are present however which boil down to a lady of immense courage who before the flood set sail in three ships, with three men and 150 women.  They wandered the oceans until they arrived in Ireland and the three groups broke up and set to populating Ireland. Her band are referred to as the Sidhe, and over the millennia this has become tied into fairy folk and leprechauns.  I’d linked the landing point of the Sidhe to Cheekpoint, although I’m sure many thought me misguided.
Meeting of the Three Sisters, from the Minaun, Drumdowney Kilkenny on the left opposite bank,
Great Island Co Wexford on the left

However last summer an academic gathering at Kilmokea, Great Island  put weight behind this theory, albeit on the opposite bank. As foundation myths go, the location is very plausible, strategically placed with abundant access via the three sister rivers to the hinterland of the SE.

What for me is a related argument in any foundation myth is evidence of early settlement in an area.  Evidence already exists of the oldest known settlement in the South East being at Ballylough beside Belle Lake on the road to Dunmore East.  Destroyed promontory forts such as at Dunmore also confirm early settlement, although of a later era. Again more evidence is emerging, this time due to the efforts of the redoubtable Noel McDonagh at Creaden Head near the mouth of the harbour.  
The linking of an early foundation myth with physical evidence of, potentially, Ireland’s earliest known settlement is still of course speculation.  But as Noel’s evidence builds and academic interest in exploring the foundation story develop, its a case of watch this space.  
I’m conducting a free guided walk this coming Bank Holiday Monday from Cheekpoint quay, departing at 5pm.  Its 2km, over rough ground and will concentrate on the villages maritime heritage. We will arrive back at 6.30pm.  Details on my facebook event page

For a flavour of the walk, here’s a piece from Mark at Waterford Epic Locations depicting our Bank Holiday walk Easter 2017 along the Faithlegg Marsh. If you haven’t seen Marks page already treat yourself, what a stunning area Waterford is! And don’t forget to like and subscribe for more of Marks great video content

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An Sí Gaoithe, the Fairy wind

I’m occasionally asked what I miss most about drift-netting for Salmon. When it stopped in 2006 I was fishing on a part time basis, but I refused to participate in the buy out of licences, preferring instead to hope for a return. So when I answer, I’m usually a bit off hand and probably say something straightforward and easy to understand, such as the thrill of landing a large fish. But if I was honest what I miss about fishing is complex. A way of life is hard to quantify and communicate in a few sentences.  It has elements of relationships, boat handling, fishing nous, traditions, and experiencing nature and weather on a ongoing basis that you just don’t appreciate to the same extent on land.  A great example of this is the Si Gaoithe, or the Fairy wind.
I think I was sixteen when I first encountered the Si Gaoithe.  I was the boy that season with Michael Barry of the High Street, which would have made this event occurring in the summer of 1982.  It was one of those beautiful sunny and still summer days, which are so rare when fishing.  So dry and calm, that you can forgo the oilskins and woolly jumpers, and controlling the punt was a lot less of a challenge, having only tidal conditions to contend with.
An Sidhe Gaoith Daniel McDonald 1841 NFC
It was nearing high water, and we had the nets out on “the mud”, the Shelburne Bank, on the Wexford side of the rivers.  We had opted to leave the nets where they were lying, virtually static at this point given the time of tide, and joined several other punts on the “bank wall” – the embankment constructed around the Marsh on Great Island.  There we lay out on the warm summer grass keeping a constant watch on the nets for signs of a fish and swapped stories.  Below us other punts were with their nets, whilst at Nook the Whitty’s were in their usual perch on the grassy bank overlooking their bay, monitoring the nets at the Big rock or the Knock.
Suddenly all hell broke loose.  One of the punts was rocking and a voice could be heard in high animation.  Despite the distance, it was clearly the punt of Christy Doherty (RIP) and there was some talk that Christy must have “lost it” or perhaps had landed a “pig of a salmon” our parlance for a very large fish.
Hauling the nets Photo via Tomás Sullivan
Anyway, I was old enough to realise whatever was going on Christy Doherty was not a man to either “loose it” or get over excited.  Christy and his brothers were highly regarded in our house.  One of the stories I heard of him fishing was one night in winter, he went to the Sheag Weir, an old ebb weir just below the quay of Cheekpoint.  The wind was northerly, and it was freshening all the time. Christy was emptying the net when a squall came on and the punt sunk beneath him.  If I recall right he couldn’t swim, and of course would not have had a lifejacket, so he pulled himself up the weir net and eventually managed to climb the weir poles to the head of the weir where he settled down to await daylight.  When several hours later he was found, despite the wet and stinging cold, his only complaint was that he hadn’t had a cigarette in hours!
It later emerged that what Christy was so excited about was the Si Gaoithe, which was falling all around his punt and he was letting other punts nearby know, so that they might see it.  I was never clear if he was upset or happy to see it.  For many you see the Si Gaoithe is a omen they prefer to avoid.  When I told my grandmother later, she blessed herself and said, “God protected ye from all harm”

The Si Gaoithe itself however is a natural phenomenon and is something that traditional people have their own names for worldwide. We also have our own local traditions about it here in Ireland, which vary from county to county.  I decided to borrow a definition rather than pretend I know the science. “A dustdevil is a whirlwind of air into which dust and debris gets caught up, making it visible. Dust devils form through a different mechanism than tornadoes, and are much smaller, usually only 10 to 50 feet in diameter, and usually not extending more than 100 feet into the air. They usually are seen during relatively dry conditions, when sunlight is providing strong heating of the surface, and when winds are generally light. The heated land surface produces convective rolls of air (as in the diagram above) since the wind is a little stronger at (say) 100 feet in altitude than near the ground. If these rolls get tilted upright, then a dust devil can form.
Joel and myself many years back out on the river
I experienced the magic that Christy described several times later.  My lasting memory was one I shared with our son, Joel.  He was only a boy of about eight and we were drifting on the ebb tide one beautiful calm summer evening.  Again not a liu of wind, and the river surface was like glass.  Joel was chatting away and searching the bottom of the boat for a crab whilst I kept a close eye on the nets. Suddenly around us little whisps of straw started to fall.  I jumped with joy to see it, and explained what we were experiencing to Joel.  Looking up into the sky, we could see hundreds of little pieces of straw cascading down upon our general direction, and as they fell Joel tried to capture some of them. The straws were falling from out of a clear blue evening sky, from about 100 feet up, although very hard to judge.  We followed the line of straw with our eyes, as it went horizontally from above our position in towards the Wexford shore.  We were passing Nook at the time, and we could clearly see the line of straw heading in over the land and then trace it back down to a field recently harvested with straw lined up waiting to be bailed.  Amongst this a mysterious wind was whipping up loose pieces of straw into mini whirlwinds, carrying it into the sky.
Witnessing such events is a privilege, one that I haven’t seen since we stopped fishing.  It may seem like I’m fooling myself, but I still believe today as I did in 2006, that I would one day be back on the river and I am not going to loose sight of that anytime soon.

Cheekpoint placename

Cheekpoint is both a village and a townland, and for many’s the year there has been two explanations to the origins of the name, a practical, geographical placename and what is probably best described as a romantic version.  The name Cheekpoint derives from Pointe na Sige or in other cases Rinn na Sige. Sige, phonetically is pronounced “she-ge”.

According to Canon Power, and his book the Placenames of the Decies, the name derives from the river that flows past the village, and in particular the eddies and currents that are caused as the river flows over the Sheagh (pronounced she-egg) rock, which is an outcrop at the Mount, below the village.  As the tide flows over the rock it causes a distinctive streak in the tide, which the learnered priest considered the origins of the placename, the point of the streaks.  Its hard to discount the theory, as you can see from the photo a streak is very distinctive, and indeed locally we call this, to this day the Stroke.  It’s slightly different to the streaks that are caused as the tide ebbs over the rocks.  However it is easy to see where Canon Power was coming from, that the first settlers to the village would have come by water and would have named the landing point by a distinctive riverine feature.

Sheagh Rock and “the stroke”

Against that however, is the fact that strokes can be seen in the river at various spots and at all different times of tide.  And rocks and outcrops cause eddies and marks in the river at other locations too, such as the point light, Snowhill, etc.  To be honest, to a fisherman there’s nothing too special about the river as it flows there, except for the strength and flow of tide.

Of course the romantics prefer a more elaborate origin.  The gaelic Rinn na Sige may also suggest the headland of the fairies, or the fairy folk.  Interestingly the Loganim site records a reference to “the landing place of the fairies”  Si, Siog or Sidhe (which is very close to the phonetically spelled Sige above – “She-da”) suggests a connection to the other world or fairy folk,  The Sidhe were a mythical people who were thought to have been the first settlers to Ireland and were defeated by the coming of the Gaels to Ireland.  The disappeared into mounds or hills but emerge in times of need.  Their ring forts and fairy paths still exist and to interfere with them is a cause of great harm to an individual.  I was reared on such stories in the Russianside, particularly by our Granduncle Christy Moran who, if he didn’t believe the stories must have been a great actor.

Now the reference to a landing place provokes another speculation on my part.  My cousin Jim Doherty passed on a newspaper article from the mid 19th C which attributed the coming of an ancient tribe to Ireland via the harbour and which landed at Cheekpoint.  Cesaire, Granddaughter of Noah, built an ark to carry her and her lover Fintain and fifty followers.  They left 40 days before Noah and at his direction sailed west.  According to the story, they landed up after much adventures at Cheekpoint, at the confluence of the three rivers and there they settled.  In time Cesaire died and was buried at the foot of the Minaun.  The book of invasions has a similar story, but without Cheekpoint!

Is it possible that the placename Cheekpoint, anglicised but still retaining is older origins may hint at a much more ancient past, a past that includes remnants of the foundation story to the earliest settlers in this area?  We may never know, but what I can say for certain, that the location which was of such strategic importance in the centuries past must have a lot stories yet to be brought to the surface.

I guess the version you prefer depends a bit on your personality.  But as a certified romantic and dreamer, I have to say I tend towards the version that includes the Sidhe!