So this is Christmas…2020

Well, 2020 has been a strange one, to say the least. A year where we saw Irish politics altered in a government formed of consonants and contrarians that was just missing a Big Brother/Love Island narrator. A pandemic that saw us hit pause in our schedules but ‘Continue Watching’ on our streaming services. We fell in love with Connell & Marianne, out of love with Zoom Calls and quizzes; but knowing that we never needed to hear the words “fancy a cuppa & a chat” more than ever before. We found new addictions like The Last Dance or The Nobody Zone, became masters of banana bread baking while the election turmoil in the United States appeared to offer a reprieve (from general monotony) before the real fare of the All-Ireland championship gave us Liam Cahill dancing a jig on the Croke Park side-line that would have made Michael Flatley blush.

     This year ranged from Shakespearian tragedy to screwball farce (golfgate & Rudy Giuliani to name but two) while our frontline services and their heroic endeavours surpass Arthurian legend. It was the strangest and toughest of years, but we’ve been here before. Could the words of Charles Dickens (the man who invented Christmas) ever be more applicable than from A Tale of Two Cities – ‘It was the best of times, it was the worst of times…’

     From the Pharisees to Faithlegg: St. Ita

     One could argue that Waterford has had a connection to Christmas from the start of the story itself. As Mary and Joseph travelled to Bethlehem where Jesus was born in a stable, the tale has a Waterford connection. St. Ita of Killeedy born in Faithlegg, County Waterford around 480 and known as the foster mother of the saints of Erin, was devoted to the Christ child with the poem Ísucán (cited in The martyrology of Óengus) depicting her nursing the infant Jesus. The reason for which was a logical way to fill the void of replacing her pet beetle. Yes, you have read that correctly. An unusual connection between the Pharisees and Faithlegg! Though Jenny Bledsoe concludes that “St. Ita’s tradition manifests a variety of forms of spiritual motherhood”. It’s not what Ita may or may not have done but rather that what she represents that is important.

St Ita
Eleanor McEvoy on stage

     She was seen to embody the ‘Six Gifts of Irish womanhood’ in the Celtic tradition; wisdom, purity, beauty, music, sweet speech and embroidery. It seems that Eleanor McEvoy’s A Woman’s Heart was for her – “as only a woman’s heart can know”. And just in case you’d like to mark your 2021 calendar, don’t forget Ita’s feast day is the 15th January. Even if you’re not religious like myself it would be nice to note the strength of the women in our lives on a more regular basis. Maybe the whole Woman’s Heart album might be played that day. Mary O’Neill and Ollie Carroll get the vinyl ready!

      Caring is Sharing & the Gift is in the Giving: Waterford Toy Shops

     As families rush to gather gifts for Christmas this year, spare a thought for C.V. K. of the Munster Express when he noted (in 1948) the toy shops Waterford could boast back in the early 1920s:

In the district of Waterford in which I grew up, we had – as it were – our own parochial toy shop, where all the year round we bought, at appropriate seasons, our marbles, hoops, tops, fishing nets, squibs, etc. That shop was…in Patrick Street and was owned in those days by Mrs. Manahan…her stock was always well stocked with the right kind of seasonal fare, and we seldom took our custom elsewhere, except perhaps a little farther down Patrick Street to Misses Nolan’s shop…

As we got bigger and ventured further afield down to Broad Street, we found that J.G. McCaul’s…shop had many more pretentious offerings in the line of toys, and here it was that many of us saw, for the first time, such modern wonders as trains on tracks, air rifles, Meccano sets, chemistry sets for the manufacture amongst other things of “stink bombs”…

In these pre-Woolworth days, the cheaper and less elaborate type of toy could always be purchased at Messrs. Power’s bookshop in Michael Street, and if we left our purchasing until as late as possible on Christmas Eve, we were always sure of a bargain in the drive to sell out Christmas stock before it went out of season…

…The shop of the late Mrs. Katie Dawson on The Quay, was another Christmas rendezvous of Waterford boys of my time, and here one could purchase cowboy suits…

This year will see the new Play Station top the Christmas list of many, while the cowboys of yesteryear such as Roy Rogers and John Wayne have been replaced by the Mandalorian and Stranger Things (if you pardon the pun). Air rifles now seem quaint to the capabilities of the new smart phone where likes on Instagram are akin to the games of Christmases gone bye. Still, it’s hard to beat the refrain of Shakin’ Stevens: ‘children playing, having fun’.

     Driving Home for Christmas

     In keeping with a musical vein, many will be listening to Chris Rea’s Driving Home for Christmas with some hope of the holiday ahead. But many will be filled with a bittersweetness such as for those who can’t make it home; from wherever green is worn like the United States, Australia and New Zealand. Though we will echo the thoughts of drive safely wherever you are.

Redmond Bridge – Waterford

     For instance on the 23rd December 1929, a motor lorry driven by T. Baldwin of Passage East, lost control of his vehicle and crashed into the iron railings of the Redmond Bridge. It was believed that the steering gear went and with carrying a large load, the lorry began to slip back on the slight incline and crashed. Luckily for Baldwin he was uninjured though the bridge had seen better days. Apparently, the city engineer wasn’t happy to inspect the damage on Christmas Eve, but he was just told to build a bridge and get over it. I should be writing the jokes for the crackers with that one.

     The festive season can be a very difficult time for many. We only need to look at the story of Larry Griffin, the Missing Postman of Stradbally, whose family never saw him again after Christmas Day 1929. Over 90 years later his descendants still look for answers of what occurred in a small rural community. Though in tough times, we as a people can display our greatest character. We see Christmas as a time of giving, such as to charity.

     Even with the pandemic of 2020 we still see the issue of homelessness still rife in a country that purports to be one of the most modern and diverse in the western world. Sadly homelessness is not a new tale around Christmas time. We have the story of the death of Patrick Kennedy of Lissellan, Tramore on the 26th December 1932. Kennedy aged 49 was stated to have died as the result of “heart failure” due to “starvation and want of proper care.” Ireland was a bleak place economically for large parts of the 20th century as the Great Depression worldwide and the economic war with Britain led to many being unemployed and destitute in the 1930s.

     Kennedy had no work and was living for a time with his mother. His wife Bridget and two children stayed with their aunt but as Kennedy was earning no wage there was no financial support. While he lived with his mother and brother Martin, they survived on her pension of 10 shillings a week. The labourers cabin had two bedrooms, a kitchen, an earthen floor which was moist and muddy, no beds while the roof was as porous as a cullender. Such cramped confines led Patrick to look and beg for other quarters to reside in. So stark were Kennedy’s circumstances he lived in a shed for three months where his only warmth came from wearing two overcoats. They never complained nor sought help. Was it pride of a family or neglect of a society? Nevertheless, it cost Martin Kennedy his life that Christmas 1932.

     Looking Back, Looking Forward

     Christmas gives us a chance to pause and look back at our year or even life. Nostalgia is a plenty and hope is ever eternal. As we enter the period of completing endeavours and creating resolutions, remember the story of the author Morley Roberts. Roberts spent Christmas 1937 awaiting the publication of his book Bio-Politics which had taken him 50 years to write. At 80 years of age, he had already published over 70 books; mostly novels but had an affection for Waterford. A friend of Edmund Downey (novelist and owner of the Waterford News), Roberts had written a short story and poem about Waterford published in the Green & Gold magazine. Such was his interest in Waterford (which he visited two or three times) it was noted by the editor of the Waterford News that Roberts had ‘once wrote a letter to us in which he proposed a novel remedy for partition – a remedy too drastic for publication.’ And we wonder where Boris Johnson got his theories from?

Turkeys loaded in carts on the quay of Waterford – early 1900’s

     The lesson would appear to be that no matter how far we come, be it from the beginning to end of a year, one Christmas to the next, completing education or starting a new job; there is always the hope and thirst for more. For many in the UK and Ireland, Christmas was made by Val Doonican whose rocking chair style and festive cardigan wear was compulsory viewing. His album Val Doonican Rocks, But Gently managed to knock The Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper off the top of the charts in December 1967. In fact, it was harder to get the Waterford man’s LP in his hometown then it was in England, not because of it’s popularity but due to a distribution problem as a result of foot and mouth. I for one know my father will have Val on in the car this Christmas. Before I use to raise my eyes upon hearing the album playing but now I can’t imagine the festive season without it.

     As you can see Christmas has seen difficult times before. Though it may not mirror that of EastEnders I think many will be glad for 2020 to be ending. Though we’ve had wonderful moments too such as Adam King (whose dad Dave hails from Dungarvan) who captured the hearts of a nation and reminded us no matter what obstacles, hugs can be given and dreams are there for us all. Some will dream of a White Christmas a la Bing Crosby. Others will not stop believing like Journey in the quest for Liam McCarthy. But Adam reminded me of a song that always comes to mind with Val Doonican, I can sing a rainbow. May we see brighter days ahead and all the colours of the rainbow.

     So if you’re spending your Christmas in Ballyhack or Ballybeg, reading the excellent Waterford Harbour: Tides and Tales by Andrew Doherty or listening to Val, have a very happy Christmas.

Thanks to Cian Manning for this wonderful reflection on a year that we will all want to forget. If you want to experience more of Cians work you will find him on Twitter where he regularly promotes his blogs on his twin interests of Waterfords history and sport. He is also the author of the excellent Waterford City, A History. Currently available in the Book Centre Waterford

KEYSER’S STREET

Cian Manning

Edmund Spenser, the 16th century English poet penned the words ‘the gentle Shure that making way. By sweet Clonmel, adorns rich Waterford’. As we follow the river Suir we reach Ireland’s oldest city founded by the Vikings and are presented with a majestic Quayside. The British architectural historian Mark Girouard (grandson of Henry Beresford, 6th Marquess of Waterford) remarked that it was ‘the noblest quay in Europe.’ The Quay is a mile in length with the Dublin Penny Journal of December 1832 recording ‘and presents a continued line with scarcely any interruption throughout its entire extent’. Surrounded by natural beauty, the city which thrived along a river that afforded a depth of water from twenty to sixty-five feet at low water which could accommodate vessels of up to 800 tons mirroring mansion pieces on a Monopoly board.

the quays loooking from the Ardree Hotel. Courtesy of Brian Walsh

As one enters Waterford city by crossing Rice Bridge and turning left the half-way point of the Quay is marked by the Clock Tower. The renowned 19th century Gothic style landmark also illustrates the previous industriousness of the city’s docks with water troughs for horses. Continuing along the Quay you will pass four laneways on the right with the last of the quartet being Keyser’s Street. The city derives its name from the Norse Veðrafjǫrðr meaning ‘Winter Haven’.

The name originates from the Norse era in Waterford. Courtesy of Cian Manning.

However, it is not the only name that Waterford bares of it’s Viking past. The aforementioned Keyser’s Street is a name of Norse origin while the street dates to the medieval period. ‘Keyser’ meaning way of the ship wharf or path to pier head. The former Publicity Officer of South East Tourism, Patrick Mackey noted that this is where the ship wharves were situated. The street runs southwards of Custom House Quay and reaches the junction of High Street and Olaf Street. As part of the Viking fortifications, there stood a Keyser’s Castle and by 1707 these walls from John Aikenhead’s Coffee House (the first coffee house in Waterford city and listed in the corporation minutes of 1695) to William Jones’s new house by Goose Gate (named after the 17th century Searcher of Customs Thomas Goose) were pulled down. It was ordered that the stones from the battlements would be used in the construction of a Corn Market where the old Custom House stood.

The iconic Clyde Shipping Office building now stands at the entrance from the Quay to Keyser’s St

Down through the centuries this street has been referred to by a couple of different names. A deed of lease between William Bolton and a clothier, Samuel Pearn records the name Kimpsha Lane. In the Civil Survey map of 1764 the street is referred to as Kempson’s Lane.
Now the street captures the hustle and bustle of modern life from the trade union movement to the workings of the General Post Office. It’s best to finish with the words of a 19th century poem evoking Waterford’s Viking connections with the story of Keyser Street in mind:


Like golden-belted bees about a hive
Which come forever and forever go
Going and coming with the ebb and flow,
From year to year, the strenuous Ostman strive.

Close in their billow-battling galleys prest,
Backhands and forwards with the trusty tide
They sweep and wheel around the ocean wide,
Like eagles swooping from their cliff-built nests.

And great their joy, returning where they left
Their tricorned stronghold by the Suirshore
‘Mid song and feast, to tell their exploits o’er –
Of all the helm-like glibs their swords had cleft,
The black-haired damsels seized, the towers attacked.
The still monastic cities they had sucked.

Submitted by Cian for our Placenames of the Three Sisters project for Heritage Week 2020

Waterford and the River Suir: A Family bond

Since I went to the monthly format I have stopped the very popular guest blog segment. However, as Cian Manning publishes his new book on Waterford I asked if he would consider sharing some memories of why the river and our maritime past means so much to him. Much like myself, it’s becuase of a deep family tradition.

Front cover of Cian’s new book

Ireland’s third longest river, the River Suir is 184 kilometres long and for centuries was a major artery bringing the life blood of trade and visitors to the island’s oldest city – Waterford. It has seen Norsemen traverse its waves to settle on its banks, Anglo-Norman mercenaries have travelled along its estuary, English kings have followed it as their entry point to Ireland and in later centuries would see many Irish leave the port of Waterford to explore the globe in search of opportunities and a better life not afforded to them in their homeland.

     The ebbing and flowing of the rivers tide represents the story of the city of Waterford from its early development as a Viking settlement to becoming a medieval walled enclave. The city was a place of intense religious devotion in the 13th century and would transform into a modern European city over the course of the 18th and 19th century as a hub of industry and commerce. This is reflected in the numerous shipyards that sprang up over the period. This was accelerated by the development of steamships and in June 1817 the Princess Charlotte was the first such vessel recorded on the Suir.

     A noteworthy shipyard is that of Pope & Co which constructed the SS Kilkenny in 1837, it was purchased by the East India Company and later renamed the Zenobia. The noted maritime historian Bill Irish stated that this vessel ‘was one of the first steamships to make the passage around the Cape of Good Hope to India.’ By 1841, Waterford and Cork accounted for 41% of ships built on the island of Ireland. Such demand led to the development of the Neptune Shipyard in 1843. Their steamship the SS Neptune was one of 40 ships built at the yard till 1882. It was one of the first steamers to regularly service the London-St. Petersburg route. On her journey up the River Neva, she was boarded by Tsar Nicholas I who decreed that whenever the Neptune was docked at Petersburg it did not have to pay its port tariffs.


SS Neptune. Illustrated London News.
Andy Kelly collection

     Sadly, the Neptune Shipyards demise was precipitated by the decline in the fortunes of the Malcolmson family who declared themselves bankrupt in 1877. The interests of the Malcolmson’s shipping empire were assumed by the Clyde Shipping Company, the oldest steamship company in the world. Originally in partnership with the Malcolmsons they operated services from Belfast to Plymouth and Waterford to London. Another successful route of the Clyde was the Waterford to Liverpool route in transporting travellers and cattle. Though the events of the First World War would cause some troubled times for the Clyde and tragic events for the people of Waterford that are still hard to quantify to this day.

     Just ten days before Christmas 1917, the SS Formby and SS Coningbeg were torpedoed by German submarine, U-62. Altogether 83 people perished aboard the vessels, sixty-seven of whom were from Waterford. The master of the U-boat, Ernest Hashagen details in his memoirs the stalking of the Coningbeg:

It is rather dreadful to be steaming thus alongside one’s victim knowing that she has only ten or perhaps twenty minutes to live, till fiery death leaps from the sea and blow her to pieces. A solemn mood possesses the few upon the bridge. The horror of war silences us. Every one of our orders, every moment, every turn of a wheel is bringing death nearer our opponent. All is exactly settled in advance. We, too, have become part of fate.

Only one body was recovered from the sinking of the two Waterford ships, that of Annie O’Callaghan, a stewardess on the Formby. My great-grandfather James Manning was one of the victims (a cattleman aboard the Formby) of the tragedy. Living at Roanmore Terrace in the city, James was the father of nine children. His widow was Mary, a Tipperary woman, aged 40 in 1917.

     My grandfather Michael was the third youngest of their children. Waterford must have been a very bleak place that Christmas as the families waited by the quayside for news of their loved ones. The uncertainty must have been heart wrenching. Hope is eternal but can be a very bitter pill to swallow as time passes with little reward in such faith. In 1924 a message in a bottle washed ashore with a note from a soul clearly resigned to their fate. The morsel which survived the ravages of the seas read “We will never reach the Hook” and signed “Jack”. The family were issued with a Memorial Plaque known as “Dead Man’s Penny” which has sadly been lost.

Monument to those lost on the steamers Coningbeg & Formby

     James’s son Michael went on to serve in the army (reaching the rank of Sergeant) of the Irish Free State and was a successful participant in the All-Army Championships winning the ‘Hop, Step, and Jump’ now known as the ‘Triple Jump’ at Croke Park in 1924. Michael was adept at signalling and undertook courses in ‘Chemical Warfare’ from October 1937 to January 1938. In concluding his career with the army in order to support his young family of four children, he followed in his father’s footsteps and worked as a docker for Clyde Shipping. It must have been a very difficult decision with the memory of his father’s death in mind. However, it was necessitated by the need to provide for his family. The memory of my grandfather Michael lives on in his children Terry, Oliver, Elizabeth and Bennie while my great-grandfather’s name is enshrined in stone on the wonderful monument located at Adelphi Quay erected in 1997 in honour of those who perished in 1917.

Michael with his fellow Clyde dockworker colleagues

     My connections to the River Suir and the sea are not only exclusive to my paternal side but also my mother’s side of the family. My maternal grandfather was Thomas ‘Tunney’ Murphy of Ferrybank. He was a keen hurler playing with the local club and later Erin’s Own. His own father William ‘Feehan’ Murphy numbered the Shamrocks side which won back to back county titles in 1915 and 1916. My grandfather Thomas served as a ‘fireman and trimmer’ with Irish Shipping in the latter part of the Emergency. He carried out the duties of cook ‘unofficially’ with his speciality being bacon and eggs. To add some variety to the menu he would re-package the meal as ‘rashers’ and eggs. Some of his notable voyages were on the Irish Ash with destinations including Montreal in Canada and North Africa in 1945 while he was aboard the Irish Rose which reached New York in 1946.

   His love of the water came from his own father as the family punt was passed from generation to generation. Thomas’s father and grandfather were carpenters with Hamilton’s. The punt was docked near the mud boat Portlairge which served in dredging the river Suir for decades. My mother was the youngest of three children and was ten years younger than her nearest sibling, her brother Raymond. Thomas Murphy died in April 1973 aged 49, ten days short of reaching a half-century. My mother was just eleven years old when he passed away. The memories and moments spent between my grandfather and my mother Miriam on the punt (painted in Corporation colours) are some of her most cherished of a relationship that cruelly ended too soon.

Thomas with his son Liam on the streets of Waterford 1950’s

     My brother Olin and I are still regaled by stories of salmon magically jumping into the punt (left by those our grandfather had done favours for in his later career as a Corporation worker) or to the hair-raising incident of when a ship nearly hit the boat with my grandfather and his daughter in it. Apparently he had drifted off, but Olin and I like to think it’s the rogue-ish sensibilities of playfulness (that we aim to continue) than that of nodding off carelessly.

     Such bittersweet moments are evoked in my uncle Liam Murphy’s poem about the funeral of his father Thomas titled ‘Donal Foley Played Hurling With My Father’ (published in Issue 3 of the Poetry Ireland Review) and the lines:

my fathers funeral stops outside theatre royal

beside corporation yard where he worked and died

near where we lived and laughed in my childhood

closeby on the river his boat floats

on a flood of memories

No further words can adequately conclude the story of my family and our relationship to the River Suir and the sea. The lyrics of Bruce Springsteen, the words of WB Yeats or the images revealed in this piece can not elevate the stories of the Manning and Murphy families to a way of life that is more alien to my brother and I, our boat trips have been as tourists along the Amstel, Seine and Liffey. To us a novelty was a way of life for centuries which we can just about cling to. The River Suir is the impetus behind the narrative of Waterford. The story of my family is an intrinsic part of that history like the stories of many a family of this city. Memories do not flood back unless they are told, I’m glad my parents shared a reservoir of them to me.

Cian’s new book was published yesterday by the History Press. It’s called Waterford City, A History.  I want to wish Cian the very best of success with it and hope he gets the support he deserves. The launch of ‘Waterford City: a history’ will take place on Friday 15th November at 18:30pm in the Book Centre. Donnchadh O Ceallachain, curator of the Medieval Museum, will speak at the event and will be accompanied by music from Waterford duo Deep Foxy Glow. 

You can contact Cian by email if you would like to wish him well, get more information, or find out about stockists camanning93@gmail.com

The Lighters – work boats of the River Suir

Some boats are just not sexy.  Sailing ships, paddle steamers, even smokey steam boats returning from foreign shores all have their appeal. But work boats tend to get a poor press, except perhaps amongst the men that plied their trade among them.  One that surely fits this category is the Lighter, the river transporter par excellence and one that is now confined to memory. I know of nothing extant and no plans for a replica.  So today’s guest blog is very special to me.  I was put on to the source of the information by David Carroll, but the writer today is Leslie Dowley and his topic; The Lighters of the River Suir.
Waterford’s unique location in the south-east corner of Ireland allowed for easy access to ports in the UK and continental Europe. It was also serviced by two of Ireland’s largest rivers, the Barrow and the Suir. The former serviced counties Carlow, Kilkenny and Wexford and was tidal as far north as St. Mullins in Co. Carlow. The latter serviced counties Kilkenny, Tipperary and Waterford and was tidal as far west as Carrick-on-Suir in Co. Tipperary. These counties were among the top food producers in Ireland and the long tidal stretches made it easy to transport goods up and down the rivers in large boats. This resulted in Waterford becoming one of Ireland’s leading ports for the import and export of goods. By the early nineteenth century, Waterford was the second largest port in Ireland (after Dublin) in terms of commercial traffic. 
Prior to the “great famine” Waterford had some £2.5 m worth of exports and £1.7 m worth of imports and was therefore a net exporter. The exports where nearly all food stuffs, as prior to the famine, Ireland was exporting sufficient food to feed 2 million people in the UK and had gained the name of being the “breadbasket of England”. In 1832 the volume of goods going down stream from Carrick-on-Suir was estimated to have been 11,527 tons of flour, 28,678 barrels of wheat, 19,445 barrels of oats, 3,878 barrels of barley, 1,028 tons of butter, 139 tons of lard and 63,751 sides of bacon. 
In the tidal areas, the main boats used to transfer goods to and from the ships in Waterford were known as a “Lighters”. These were a type of flat-bottomed wooden barge which were about 71 feet long and 16 feet wide and could carry up to 40 tons. The lighter’s had a crew of two and they used 30 foot steel-shod poles for manoeuvring at close quarters and to keep the boat in the tidal stream. While the main power was generated by the rising or ebbing tide each crew member was equipped with a 35/36 foot oar or “sweep” which swiveled on a 2 inch oak dowel. These were used to increase propulsion and each stroke meant walking six steps forward and six back. The lighter men were very skilled operators, with intimate knowledge of the river, its currents and tides. The journey from Waterford to Carrick normally took two tides while the reverse journey took at least 8 hours. While Carrick was the main destination upstream, there were wharf’s at regular intervals for the unloading of coal from the lighters. This was due to the delivery radius of a coal-horse being some two miles.
Lighters being poled into position in Waterford
By 1835 there were some 88 boats operating between Carrick and Waterford. In 1836, the Suir Navigation Company was founded to control all commercial traffic on the Suir and to improve and maintain the navigation. One of its first projects was the construction of the “navigation cut” at Carrick, which allowed the lighters to avoid the weir at Carrick Castle and enter the harbour at periods other than high tide. To finance these ventures, the hauliers were empowered to charge one penny per ton on all goods transported more than one mile west of the bridge in Waterford. The main investors were Lord Bessborough, Lalor of Cregg, Richard Sausse, the Grubbs of Clonmel, William O’Donnell and the Dowleys of Carrick-on-Suir. 
In the same year there were 93 boats employing 200 men on the stretch of river between Carrick and Clonmel. The boats on this route were known as yawls and carried about 14 tons. They were initially towed upstream by a team of men, but were later replaced by horsepower. The route to Clonmel was dogged with industrial action. In 1918 there was a strike which went on until February 1919 and the route to Clonmel was finally abandoned by Dowleys, who were the sole operators at the time.

Yawls in Carrick awaiting a cargo for Clonmel
Many of the lighters and yawls were built in the Carrick-on-Suir area. Three firms of boat-builders are listed in Slater’s Directory of Ireland of 1870 and one of them, Keogh Brothers, were still active in 1919 according to Kenny’s Irish Manufacturers’ Directory of that year. 
In 1877 J. Ernest Grubb founded the Suir Steam Navigation Company and was the owner and sole shareholder. In the same year he bought the steam tug the “Fr. Matthew”. It could tow four lighters to a maximum of 160 tons and could also carry passengers to fairs in Waterford. This improved the commercial use of the river and the stores on the quayside were a hive of activity and employment. By the end of the nineteenth century the route to Waterford was dominated by J. Ernest Grubb with the steam tug the “Fr. Matthew” while the others using the route included Thomas Butler, the Healy’s, T. G. Howell & Co., Richard Walsh of New St. and Edward Dowley of New St. 
In 1912 J. Ernest Grubb retired and his grain business was sold to Edward Dowley & Sons Ltd. while the Suir Steam Navigation Company was sold to Richard Walsh of New St. In the same year Dowleys bought a tug of their own, the Knocknagow I, for service between Carrick and Waterford. The Knocknagow II was added soon afterwards and both were used to tow lighters also.
The fully laden Knocknagow II making way from Carrick to Waterford
In 1923, Dowleys and Walshs attempted to reduce the rivermen’s wages. This resulted in a series of strikes and the river trade was further disrupted by a dockers strike in Waterford. All of this hastened the demise of the river trade in favour of the more dependable road transport. The civil war led to some revival in the river trade as road and rail traffic was disrupted by the blowing up of strategic railway bridges. However this revival was only temporary.

The Knocknagow I with a lighter being loaded in Carrick
In 1927 there were further strikes by the rivermen and the river trade never fully recovered from these disputes. In the same year Edward Dowley & Sons Ltd. purchased the Suir Steam Navigation Company from Walsh’s which effectively ended Walsh’s involvement with the river trade. 
During the Second World War the two Knocknagows continued to ply the route between Waterford and Carrick when fuel for road transport was in short supply. The lighters also served the town well during the war. 
After the war Edward Dowley & Sons Ltd purchased another two barges in the UK called the Rocksand and the New Forge. They also bought a cement barges that was towed by the Knocknagow. The imminent arrival of a cement boat in Carrick caused a lot of debate in the local pubs and bets were being laid as to whether a cement boat could float or not. It did float and was 100 ft long by 24 ft wide and 13 ft high. However, it was very cumbersome and an ill-advised purchase and its’ use was abandoned not long after. The Knocknagows kept operating up to 1973 when they were sold and this effectively marked the end of commercial trade on the river Suir.

My thanks to Leslie for this piece of vital maritime social history. You can read more of his amazing family history on his family website. Our next guest blog is due for May 26th and at this point I may have two to choose from.  We have several others in writing I’m told and would still be open to some female contributions.  The only criteria is that the piece needs to be about our maritime heritage, about 1200 words and I can help in editing if required, source photos and add in links etc.  I’d also welcome any contributions from younger readers including students

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 connect with me to receive the blog every week.  Simply email me to request to be added to my email list at russianside@gmail.com.

Walter J. Farrell 1862-1944, Master Mariner and Harbour Master Waterford Port

Today’s guest blog, is from one of my earliest supporters and sources of encouragement, Brendan Grogan. Brendan has worked in the background and supplying photos, information and advice on my online mission to celebrate Waterford Harbours maritime tradition. This week he steps into the limelight, so to speak, by sharing the life and times of his grandfather Walter J Farrell; his early life growing up in Waterford, his going to sea at 16 where he rises to Master Mariner and his role as harbour master in the port of Waterford from 1904-1941. Walter’s diary entries depict a life of hardship and adventure, that was replicated by thousands, if not tens of thousands of harbour men down the generations.  I’d like to thank Brendan and his family for entrusting us to read it.  
I never knew my grandfather, In fact all four of my
grandparents had passed away before I was born. However, my mother’s father
left a lasting legacy. The account of his many voyages and stories of sea, live
on in his diaries, photographs and other paraphernalia of his life on the ocean
wave.
 

Walter Farrell in Harbour Master’s uniform c. 1935.
Walter Joseph Farrell was born on 16th July 1862 at 10 Sion
Row, Ferrybank. He was the third child and eldest son of thirteen children born
to Richard and Mary Farrell. His father, Richard Farrell was a ship broker, married
to Mary Monica Downey, daughter of Michael Downey, agent for the Clyde Shipping Company and Great Western Railway Steamers
He attended school at Mount Sion and later at Father Joe Phelan’s School
in Stephen’s Street.  In 1877 the family
moved to 57 High Street where his mother had set up a provision store.
SS Lodestar of London 1890
Walter served as bosun and later 2nd mate
Walter took to sea life in 1878 at the age of 16 when he
joined the barque Queen of the Northof the London firm of Ms. George
Lidgett & Sons, under Capt. P. Nolan (from Slieverue).  In May 1878 he sailed to Madras in India,
arriving back in London in May 1879 after a 12 month voyage without ever
touching dry land.  His second voyage
took him to Mauritius and Rangoon, onwards to Conception Bay Newfoundland  and back to Fleetwood after a voyage which
had lasted 19 months.  Subsequent voyages
as an Able Seaman brought him to Imbatuba in Brazil and home via San Francisco, Bombay, Buenos Aires Argentina,
Iquique Northern Chile, and many other ports around the globe.
One of his favourite stories to my mother as a child, was to
recount how the sailors slept in their clothes to try and keep warm. In the
night while sleeping, rats would gnaw on the buttons of their tunics which were
made from bone.
The following are extracts from the log which details his
many voyages:-
Extract from his 4th voyage in 1882:
“1882, Oct. 20th. I again joined the brig ‘Lorriane’ as A.B,
at Workington and sailed 20th Oct. with Captain Nolan for Bombay where we
arrived at the end of January 1883, discharged our cargo and loaded linseed for
Amsterdam arriving September 26th after an eleven month voyage. I left
‘Lorriane’ and went to London to study at Captain Maxwells’s Potters Academy in
Tower Hill where there was a wild lot of young sea men. I spent a fair share of
my money on amusement, Music Halls, Theatres etc. and not enough time on study,
failed exam for 1st Mate and came home to Waterford. I had a fancy to do a
little coasting”
Extract from his 8th voyage 1886:
“February 11th 1886, I sailed in ‘Lodestar’ again as Bosun heading
for San Francisco where we arrived some 17 weeks later having had very bad
weather rounding the Horn. The captain’s wife Mrs. Nolan and their two sons
John and William were on board making the voyage. This time I met many
Waterford people in San Francisco, A Mr. Dillon, Cadogans, Thorntons and an old
school mate Eddy Cummins and his brother , both sons of Mr. Cummins the
hardware and hotel  business now occupied
by Hearne and Co. the Quay. After we discharged our cargo, we took in ballast
and lay out in the bay for 2 months. Eventually we got orders to proceed to
Portland Oregon. On the return voyage, in bad weather rounding the Horn, we
lost an A.B.  off the mizzen topsail
yard, too much sea to launch a boat. Coming up for the Equator, little John Nolan
died. He was well coffined and carried to Queenstown where we arrived in 1887.
John Nolan was buried in the family grave in Ferrybank”
Extract from his 9th voyage 1887:
“August  1887, I
joined the Lodestar as 2nd Mate,  Captain
Nolan in charge and sailed for Bombay, discharged the cargo, loaded part cargo
of salt for Calcutta.  After discharging
the salt we loaded wheat for London arriving there 3rd October 1888 after a 14
month voyage. Captain Nolan went home leaving me by the ship”
SS Ardnamult unloading coal at Le Havre 1899

Walter eventually passed his exam for 1st Mate at John Merrifield’s Navigation School in Plymouth in 1889 and subsequently his
Master’s ticket for steam in 1891.
In 1892 after eleven 
voyages, some lasting as long as 19 months, over a period of 14 years,
to all corners of the globe, Walter with his Master’s Ticket for steam ships
joined Waterford Steamship Company as 2nd Mate on the SS Comeragh which worked
Tenby, Bristol and Wexford. He was subsequently, in 1895 placed in charge of
the SS Creaden which had the honour of bringing the first cargo of continental
sugar to Fenit and Limerick. He was appointed Master of the SS Ardnamult owned
by Limerick Steamship Company in 1896 and plied this and other steamships
between Hamburg and Ireland for nine years.
At sea on the SS Ardnamult 1899 doing his washing.
Walter was appointed Harbour Master or Pier Master of
Waterford Harbour on the 14th January 1904 at the age of 42, by the Southern
and Western Railway Company who had taken responsibility for Waterford Port,
later to be succeeded by Waterford Harbour Commissioners.  He had sailed the seven seas as boy and man
and now it was time to bid farewell to sea life.
Everyday duties included the management of all vessels
berthing at Waterford Port and responsibility for the Pilots who guided vessels
safely up the Suir Estuary to port. Captain Walter Farrell remained as Harbour
Master until his retirement in 1941. He lived a very active life, was married
to Bridget Lawlor from Sallypark who bore him three children and later, on her
death, married Mary Murphy from Mount Neil with whom he produced a daughter, my
mother, Maureen Farrell (Grogan). He passed away aged 82 in 1944. Maureen Grogan passed away
in 2014 in her 102nd year.
His successor was his nephew Richard Farrell who took the
reins as Harbour Master in 1941. Captain Richard (Dick) Farrell retired in 1975
and passed away in 1993 aged 95. Dick’s widow Maeve passed away this February
in her 104th year, she had been living at Havenwood Retirement Home for the
past seven years where she was looked after with great care and respect.
© Brendan Grogan
This is our fourth guest blog. The intention is to offer a
platform to others who are interested in writing about the maritime heritage of Waterford
harbour an opportunity to publish their stories. If you would like to
contribute a piece, please email me at russianside@gmail.com. The only criteria
is that it needs to have a maritime connection to the harbour and a maximum
word count of 1200 words. I will format, source the photos if required and add
in the hyperlinks. Guest blogs will be published on the last Friday of each
month. Our next guest blog is scheduled for Friday 28th April, a story about
the lighters that once reigned supreme in the Suir.  The story is brought to us by Leslie Dowley
of Carrick On Suir.

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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