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 tidesntales@gmail.com 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

Time and Tide waits for no man

I started what has emerged into the tides and tales blog four years ago this month.  It began with stories that concentrated on my youth in Cheekpoint, themes of life, occupation and structures or local features such as the quay, church and limekilns. My favourite theme of course was the fishing and the first story I published was almost by way of an introduction to what was to come, as it featured the role of the tides in our lives, a role that although diminished, still has a place to this day.  It is no coincidence then that this would become the theme of my first book published in 2017; Before the Tide Went Out.

We all have particular clocks that we need to respond to. For new parents time is defined by the cries of a baby that needs tending too.  For farmers it’s generally the dawn, when it’s light enough to see what you are doing, stretching to the dusk. All in all a long day in the height of the summer, but is balanced by the dark of winter.

For factory workers it’s the clocking in machine, that no nonsense system that demands you be on time, or you won’t be paid. What I hated about this system when I worked on the weekend shift in Bausch & Lomb was that it never took account of day or night, snow or sunshine, just a continuous pattern or rhythm like Fords assembly line.

When it came to the fishermen in the harbour and its rivers the rhythm was the tides. As a child growing up in the harbour village of Cheekpoint the tides tripped off our tongues, even as children, and before we really knew what they meant. Tides change approximately every 6 hours and we get two high waters and two low waters in an average day. As a fisherman you followed these with a tenacity of any good hunter following his prey.

Eel fishing tended to happen when the tides are slowest, hence High and Low Tides, day or night. All the eel fisherman required was the eel to emerge from its winter slumber in the river mud.  It was similar for setting and hauling the weirs. But the salmon fishing was a bit more complex. The salmon had a season and a weekly close. So we started originally on February 1st and fished to August 15th and weekly we fished from 6am on Monday morning to 6am on the Saturday. The rest of Saturday was giving over to repairing nets and Sunday to rest. The drift net was used in Cheekpoint, employing two men to an open 18ft punt. . We used a set of 6 nets marked by buoys on either end. Originally punts were oar powered but outboards made things a lot easier in getting about to the drifts.

Local fishing placenames; Andrew Doherty

For simplicity let’s say that tides started with High Water. Thus the tide was at its highest on the banks of the river and along the shore. On neap tides high waters were something you could relax around, but on spring tides you needed to be cautious, the higher tides tended to bring weeds off the shore and you were at risk of filling your nets. Once the nets stood still in
the river it was High Water, and once they started to slip back down the river it was known as “First of Ebb”.

Following High water boats went ashore, and nets would not be set again in the area until the “Stripping of the Mud” about two hours after high water. The Strippin was a word we heard daily during the salmon season, and even as a child there was a recognition of its importance. The Strippin was a drift that was waited for in the Bathing Box below the Mount Quay. Boats would often go in to the bailing box to wait for two to three hours for the chance to be first boat to set on the Strippin. The wait was straightforward. First boat in, was first to set, as long as one of the two crew men stayed with the boat. If they left, their place was forfeit.

Launching my fishing punt in the 1990’s

Once the stripping boat set others could set at the same time from the Binglidies or Snow Hill or at the Point. The Stipping occurred when the mud on the Wexford shore (Shelburne Bank) was exposed by the outgoing tide. It also marked the tides being at their strongest. 

The ebb tide continued with punts drifting down as far as “The Castle” or “Buttermilk Point” on the eastern side of the estuary or to the Barn quay or Ryans Quay on the Western shore (Waterford side). When the drift ended the nets were hauled and the punt returned to the Bathing Box to await their turn to set once more, or set them in on the Point if there was a space. The drifting continued to “Low Water” although many punts went home depending on how catches were going, whilst others when they reached “The Castle” would haul and reset the nets on Seedes Bank and drift them down towards Passage East and Ballyhack.  

A local fishing weir

Low Water could be drifted from a number of points, but the favourite was “Low water on the mud”. This drift was waited for at “the Rock” and was started depending on the strength of tides or wind direction and indeed time of day and whether the sun was out. Again, the boat had to be manned and generally it allowed that one person could go home for a feed, while the other waited. They could use the time to repair nets and generally it was a great way to hear news as other boats passed by. Coming close to low water, a stick could be placed in the mud beside the dropping tide to gauge the time it was taking to drop. The stick would be moved to beside the river until the river stopped dropping, and actually started to “rise” on the stick. The rising tide meant that it would soon be low water ie the tide would stop running out of the river and start to run in again.


Another great measure of the tide was the stroke that would drift in onto the rock marking a change in the tide. When the punt and crew decided it was time to set for Low water, they set off for the Wexford side of the estuary and set the nets off from the mud at “Campile Pill” and then came back in and held the nets close to the mud as they drifted down, in order to “jam” a fish in the shallows, or prevent them getting round the inside end of the nets. Low water was determined when the nets stopped drifting down. This would be seen first with the outside buoy on the net “hanging back” or the corks going “slack” as the current slowed. “First of Flood” was marked by the nets starting to drift upriver again. As the tide strengthened this was called “Flood Tide”. 

The “Covering of the Mud” was another milestone in the day, as the mud on the Shelburne Bank (Wexford side) was covered once more by the inflowing river, and most boats were keen to have their nets in the water for this time of tide.  The flood tide then continued to High Water and the whole process was repeated.

To mark the fifth year of the blog I’ve organised an evening in the Reading Room Cheekpoint on Saturday 8th June form 7.30-9.30.  I’ve invited a few friends, neighbours and colleagues to share a specific blog, a memory prompted by a blog or something that has emerged from a blog.  I’m calling it Tide Line as it marks some changes to the future direction of the blog. Its open to all, free of charge and it promises to be a lively night, hopefully with plenty of laughter. 

“Shaking” the Herring nets

Over the last few weeks I’ve occasionally covered my exploits fishing herring in Waterford harbor. The first week looked at getting prepared, and the second installment looked at the finding of the shoal and the catch.  This week I look at the really hard part of the work, what we termed “shaking the herring”, the tried and trusted method traditionally used to clear the fish from the nets.

Every other fish I ever pursued was a joy to take from the nets.  Salmon may need to be extricated, sometimes at the cutting of a mesh, eels could be spilled from a pot, bait or bottom fish poured from the cod end of a weir net or trawl, but herring were a different matter entirely.

Although the phrase gill netting is used to describe how fish are caught with a drifting net, the truth is that many fish thus caught, very often don’t actually get meshed by the gills, or if they do, its relatively slight.  Salmon for example in Cheekpoint were usually trapped in the bag of the net, only the younger, smaller peal, as we called them tended to be meshed,  But herring, truly lived up to the description.

The nets were set on shoals of swimming fish, and the vast majority came into to the boat firmly meshed.  Therefore, they needed to be freed from the mesh in order to be sold.   Whereas a few salmon might make for easy handling, at least thousands, if not tens of thousands of herring was a totally different matter. 

Once the nets were aboard, we usually took a break, waiting to get either into port, if we were heading to Dunmore, or into calm water if we were heading back to Cheekpoint.  The nets had to be stretched between the head and the foot rope, the greater the spread the easier the job.  Some boats rigged a pole or an oar from gunwale to gunwale, but aboard the Reaper I would take both ropes up and over a beam running from the wheelhouse astern to the gantry.  Denis and myself would haul the nets over the beam and towards the stern, shaking the herring as we went along.  Once we were tied up, Jim would start be freeing the net from the pile on the deck, considerably lightning our workload. 

An old photo from UK, our method was no different

This was always an easier job with “full herring” but spents were a different matter. Spents were herring that had spawned already and spents tended to be narrow fish that when they met the wall of netting pushed through the mesh to their back fin.  Spent fish often had to be removed by hand, and in the worst of cases had to be twisted in half to be removed.  As we shook, you had to take care to have a good grip.  Shaking herrings was a difficult job with gloves, it was easy to loose your grip, but if you tried to do it with your bare hands, the meshes of the net cut into your fingers and your blood mixed with the herring scales, guts and blood of the herring made the stinging and throbbing unbearable.


Many was the night I would be practically crying with the pain, my father standing over me, plunging my hands into scalding hot water with a quarter bottle of dettol for disinfectant.  Each cut had to be cleaned, the hangnails thoroughly washed, and all the while the skinned hands redder than if they had been burned in a fire and roasting hot to the touch.
A modern image of Stephen and Tommy Perham, Devon
accessed from
http://www.bbc.co.uk/devon/content/articles/2008/11/04/clovelly_herring_feature.shtml

As bad as shaking herrings was on the night of the catch, it was twice as bad the following morning.  On occasions we would stop, whether it was too late, or the weather too bad, or maybe it was a Friday night and people had better places to be.  The following morning it was pure misery.

Everything was cold and wet, oilskins, boots and worst of all the gloves.  The gloves because they were damp with the previous nights sweat, going over the stingily painful fingers.  Some mornings the frost was thick on the ground, and those mornings seemed the ad an extra level of pain to those fingers, that is un-describable.   In time things warmed up and you’d be fine.  However in all the features of the herring fishing I think it was the scales of the herrings that were the worst. 

Typically enmeshed Herring, accessed via
http://www.ifish.net/board/showthread.php?t=343319

Herring scales are small in size, huge in quantity, and they got everywhere.  How many times I had pulled on the oilskins over my head only to feel the piercing dampness of scales going down my back I can’t say.  Scales got everywhere, the oilskins were covered, the gloves, your hat, or hair if you weren’t wearing one, the boat was covered, the deck, anything within 2 meter radius of the boat.  Worst I guess was when you got one in the eye.  Impossible to see and thus remove, you would endure the agony of it, until you could get to Ardkeen, and then wait in a queue to see a doctor who hadn’t an iota of an idea what you meant be shaking out herrings.  The patch over the eye was a common occurrence for me, never lasting more than to the time it was to go fishing again.

Once shook the herring laid on the deck of the boat and it was then time for them to be boxed and sold.  A topic I will return to soon.


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.
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