Lighters and Lightermen

On a recent boating trip in the Suir, I spotted the rotting timbers of what appeared to be an old boat jutting out from under the low hanging branches of a sycamore tree. Further investigation revealed, what for me at least was, an amazing discovery. A once common workboat on the river, which numbered in the hundreds, but now totally extinct.

Definition of a lighter

A lighter was a workboat employed in Waterford harbour and up the rivers Barrow and Suir. The function of this craft was as the name suggests, to lighten the load of incoming vessels, thereby allowing them to float over the sand and mud bars as they journeyed to New Ross or Waterford city. They functioned in much the same way the modern truck does.

A lighter underway at New Ross

According to the Dictionary of the World’s Watercraft the lighter can be described as “any small vessel employed in lightening goods. Describing it as a “…strongly built rectangular craft, open and flat-bottomed; used for short-haul work, especially for transferring cargo to and from a ship lying at anchor.” As to the origins it “…dates at least from the late 15th Century” In an Irish context it only names them in the SW of the country….”The River Shannon in the late 17th and early 18th Century was propelled by 4 men with 2 oars. Steered by a sweep. 12-16 ft long”

Design and build

The local design seems to have been very uniform in general, but size-wise there seems to have been local distinctions. 40-ton loads are regularly referred to in newspaper accounts and elsewhere, but 20, 25, and 30 were also mentioned. I imagine local conditions and purposes may have had an important role.

Patrick C Power in an article titled “The Lower Suir – boats and boatmen long ago” for the Tipperary Historical Journal (1991) gives this description from Carrick On Suir. “The lighters were built of pitch pine with a frame of oak. They were constructed on oaken frames each set about 3ft in the boat…The lighter was 70ft long and 16ft in the beam, but with a square stern and pointed prow. The sides could be as much as 4ft high…flat bottomed…without a keel. The rudder was 16ft long. Forward there was a well-room for bailing and on deck a caboose…where a fire was kept lighting in a cast iron box-stove supplied by Graham’s of Waterford…[there was] 36ft of useful cargo room…known to carry as much as 40 tons…distributed in two parts of the hold. There was no cargo in the centre of the lighter”

I would imagine that given the design was so basic these boats were built widely and locally in much the same way that punts and prongs were built at home in Cheekpoint. A local handyman or craftsman with a good eye would be supplied with the materials and the boat would emerge. Bill Irish lists five lighters coming out of Whites shipyard in Ferrybank but only one is given her size at 35-40 tons. No name was given for the boat. According to Pat Power, the Carrick lighters were made in Carrick Beg at the graving dock of the Kehoes. There was also a man named O’Brien who despite being illiterate could gauge the materials required for a build without ever having to measure, draw, or write.

Lighters above Redmond Bridge in Waterford

As regards the cost of building a lighter, there was a discussion at the Harbour Commissioners in March 1874 of the need for four new lighters to assist with port duties. These were estimated to cost £100. The article does not make clear, but I expect that is each. The cheapest of the five built at Whites shipyard cost £126-6-5

Propulsion

The lighters were sometimes referred to as dumb boats. They had no propulsion and depended on the tides and currents to get from A-B. I’m not sure dumb gives an accurate sense of their navigation, however. Anyone who has ever had to navigate the rivers knows that the vagaries of the tide, current, wind, rain, and moon play a huge role in the task. No day, indeed no hour is often the same and to simply push away from a riverbank and presume your destination would be both foolish and dumb.

The lighters had a rudder to help keep on course. According to Power it was operated by the skipper from his space in the well, it was used sparingly. The photograph above shows the rudder being operated from the stern. There was also an anchor that could be deployed in emergencies or when awaiting a favorable tide or weather. Two deckhands were also employed(I have read accounts with three men also in newspapers). Each operated a long oar (a sweep) which could be used to row the boat at specific times. They also used a pole to push along the river bed or bank. This was driven into the riverbed from the stern and then the crewman would have to clamber forward as he pushed the boat ahead. But mostly I would imaging the crew worked with the tides, with a lifetime of river knowledge, drawing the most from each knot of an ebbing or flooding current to make their way.

Cargo

The lighters carried anything and everything that came into port. Unshipping, transhipping, and loading ships at anchor in the harbour up as far as Cheekpoint I’m sure. They delivered as far as New Ross or Carrick and delivered into the villages, between the villages and from the villages to flour mills, coal stores, and lime kilns. The lighters seem to have been loaded and unloaded by their crew which must have been a back-breaking operation, but it also ensured that tight margins and any profit were kept onboard. An interesting example of the operation is a name associated with a quay on the Wexford side above Ballyhack. Tom Poor’s quay is the local name, but another associated with it according to Tomas Sullivan is Lighterman’s Quay. The quay has an old roadway leading away from it back towards Ballyhack. A similar track can be found almost directly opposite at Lambert’s cove on the Waterford side.

An interesting anecdote from the newspapers of 1908 tells of “…two little boys named Patrick Kirby and James Grant who was charged with the larceny of a quantity of coal, the property of Messrs Wallace and McCullagh…Constable Thomas Ryan deposed that on the evening of the 21st November he found the defendants taking a quantity of coal from the lighter…” Having admitted to the constable that they were going to sell it, they were discharged under the First Offender’s Act.

They were also employed in providing ballast to sailing vessels. In 1842 I came across a tender presented to the Harbour Commissioners from R and W. Hayes for shipping ballast for five years. They agreed to deliver the ballast via their lighters to vessels in port at 8s per ton, and discharge ballast from vessels at 6s per ton.

Advert from Waterford Chronicle – Saturday 27th December 1831; page3

Lighters were also employed in river works such as dredging and I will share most of this interesting report from 1869 as there are some very telling details in it.

“ A report was read from Mr. Stephens, stating that little progress had been made at the ford works during the past month and that only 11 tons of rock had been raised since the last report. He further reported that he had taken up the four lighters belonging to the board from the contractors; that they were damaged state, and he repaired them. The board now had five lighters and eight punts capable of taking daily 350 tons of mud from the dredge…He further reported, in reference to the application from the sanitary committee of the corporation to clear John’s Pill…The nuisance arose from loading lighters of manure from dung yards adjacent to the pill, and the obstruction was caused stones and shingle…being dropped by these lighters in the vicinity…” Waterford Chronicle – Friday 15 October 1869; page 3

The Lightermen

But who were these Lightermen and how did they operate. Well, it appears that many companies and businesses had their own lighters and crews employed to act on their behalf. We have also seen that they were employed by the Harbour Commissioners on various duties though dredging seems to have been a major task. An interesting court case suggests however that even these men employed by the harbour board had certain freedom.

The case arose at a special jury hearing in the County Court by James O’Neill, of Arthurstown, against the Waterford Harbour Commissioners to recover £99, the value of a quantity of 105 barrels of oats and I07 sacks of barley containing 20 stone each lost by the stranding of a lighter on the Kilmanock Embankment in October the previous year, 1898.
The lighter, skippered by a man named Connolly, had arrived at Arthurstown on Monday evening 17th October 1898. They were obviously on the lookout for work and Connolly approached O’Neill and e asked him for the cargo at a price for transport at 2d. per barrel. This was stated to be the ordinary freight for corn. The deal was struck and the lighter was loaded on Friday 21st departing that evening as darkness settled. Later she was caught in a gale and grounded, causing the cargo to be damaged by water.

In evidence, Mr. John Ailingham, Secretary of the Harbour Board, explained that the Commissioners crew could take on other work when available to do so. This dated to a resolution passed in March. 1894. Two-fifths of the profits were generally paid into the Harbour Commissioners office. Since the accident happened a new rule was passed restraining their movements to not go below Cromwell’s Rock, or further up the river than Kilmacow Pill.

As regards the wages, one mention from a newspaper report in 1891 gave this insight: “THE LIGHTER SKIPPERS. The Quay Committee a recommendation to allow the lighter skippers 2s 6d a week, provided there were no complaints.” Whether there were complaints or not, I don’t know, but it gave no information as to the crew.

Many merchants probably had their own vessels employing their own crew as suggested by this advert in the Waterford Chronicle – Saturday 01 May 1841; page 3

It’s also likely that individuals or indeed families or crew invested in the trade. For example, there was a report in the Munster Express from December 1863 about a Carrick lighter which was lost in a gale in Waterford carrying freight for a man named Walsh. The crew survived but the paper concluded: “…It is hoped a subscription will be opened for the relief of the unfortunate men whose all may be said to have been invested in the lighter.”

Some of the characters of these men will be evident from what we have already learned, hard-working, resilient, impervious to the weather, and determined. Some other pieces from the newspapers of the time might put more meat on the bones.

In 1838 Morgan Doyle and William Nash were in court after a bare-knuckle fight aboard a lighter on Waterford Quays. A large crowd had gathered to watch the match and when the constabulary arrived, the men forgot their quarrel and working together let go the lighter, and shoved away from the quay to avoid the lawmen. They were subsequently apprehended, however, and found guilty of a breach of the peace.

In another situation, they were law-abiding. In February 1829 the crew of a Clonmel lighter observed bags being removed from a newly arrived schooner from St John’s, Newfoundland in suspicious circumstances. They raised the alarm with a Quay watchman, who instantly aroused the Tidewaiter (a member of the customs) from his bed. The bags were discovered to contain tobacco. A follow-up search discovered that the contraband had been hidden among a cargo of oil, and was that morning taken and put into bags, for transport. The mate and three of the crew were committed to gaol, but the Master was not with the ship at the time of the arrest.

Others were unfortunate, and there are many accounts of the crew falling over the side of their vessels and being drowned. For example on a cold wet Saturday night in November of 1864 a lighterman named Michael Meyler, was lost at Strangman’s Wharf. He was about 70 years of age and was in the habit of sleeping onboard lighter belonging to his brother. He slipped when boarding via the gangplank and despite efforts to save him, he was lost.

And then again others were just tough out. In May 1875 a case that was taken against James Doherty, a lighterman who cut a tow rope of the barque Constant that was being winched off the graving bank in Ferrybank. In court, the Captain of the barque was claiming damages of £20 against Doherty. It transpired that Doherty was coming up the quays just as the tide was starting to turn. In a hurry to make his berth he found the way blocked by the tow rope. Words were exchanged and tempers flared. As the barque would not release the tow rope, Doherty grabbed an axe and cut the hawser that blocked his path, before proceeding upriver. In a lengthy proceeding, it was found that the lighter had reacted hastily and the court found against Doherty for a much-reduced sum of £1. Doherty let it be known that he disagreed and would appeal.

End of the era

When the lighter’s reign in the harbour ended is not very clear. But the improvements in navigation including the opening of the Ford and the deepening of the river after the Harbour Commissioners came into existence must have been a crucial factor. The arrival of steam-driven vessels must have also played a part. Further upriver, the coming of the railways and improvements in road transport would have contributed to the undermining of transport by water.

Triton, the marine correspondant with the Munster Express had a lovely article in 1973 which drew on the memories of a previous marine correspondant Jimmy Hartery. It highlights that lighters were still in use in the first world war.

Munster Express. Friday 28th December 1973; Page 12
a lone lighter above Redmond Bridge circa 1950s via Brendan Grogan. Might this be the last of a proud tradition? It would appear that it is being used by workmen, perhaps on some maintenance duties with the harbour commissioners.

The wreck that I found that afternoon on the river, is to the best of my knowledge the only remains of a lighter that worked the river for centuries. In a way, it’s a shame that such a vessel would be left to rot away into the mud. And yet ironically, if it had not been abandoned where it was, it must certainly have rotted completely away. If anyone knows anyone in maritime archaeological circles that might have an interest in taking measurements and recording the vessel, tell them to get in touch. As such it might be the only such measurements to exist? I would also appreciate any further written details on the Lighter, particularly on the build or the propulsion.

For more detail on the trade of the lighters between Waterford, Carrick On Suir and Clonmel, here’s a previous guest blog Leslie Dowley
For more on the New Ross and River Barrow trade, a story of mine from 2018

Remembering the Schooner Lapwing

On the 9th November* 1917 a small schooner
slipped her moorings at Waterford Quays and sailed out the harbour and towards
the Irish Sea.  Her destination was
Cardiff in Wales. But she never
arrived.  At the centenary of the end of the First World War, I thought it fitting to remember a small
incident in the context of the war, but no less significant for the families’
left behind. What was the fate of the Schooner Lapwing?
The schooner SV
Lapwing
was registered in the port of Arbroath, where she had been built.
She was of 110 gross tons and 95 net and measured 84.0’ length x 21.4’  beam x 10.5’ depth. She was owned at the time
by a number of interests from Arklow in Co Wicklow, but largely by members of
the Kearon family.
SV Lapwing. Photo credit Arklow Maritime Museum

Schooners had originated in America but had quickly spread
to Europe as their size and sailing capacity made them a favourite for the
shorter coastal trade and the difficulties associated with navigating smaller
harbours and estuaries.  I could only
find a few mentions of her coming into local ports, two in particular are worth
recalling.  In 1909 a young sailor boy
named Patrick Hogan was recorded as having taken his own life while in port at
New Ross.[i]  Another account from 1912 describes a
collision between her and the Dublin steam pilot boat as she entered port,
resulting in severe damage to the schooner.[ii]

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On that fateful day in 1917, she departed the city with a
cargo of pit props.  My understanding of
this trade is that it was normally associated with freshly cut timber from
local estates which was drawn to the port and exported. The Lapwing most probably had arrived
previously with a load of coal.

The Lapwing that day was sailing into treacherous
waters.  We’ve previously examined the
ferocious naval campaigns being waged off the Irish coast, sometimes referred
to as the “killing lanes” where U Boats and mines were a constant threat.  From February 1917 the German Navy had
initiated their unrestricted U Boat Campaign, meaning that ships would be sunk
on sight with no warnings.  It was a
response to the desperation they felt at home, and the near starvation of her
citizens.
Families of course could not be sure of when they might hear
from loved ones, so it was probably a matter of weeks before they would even
begin to have concerns.  And even then
how could they know for sure.  Were they
weather bound? Had they struck a mine? Had they succumbed to U Boat attack?
Of the five man crew three were of the one family. Four were from Arklow including the skipper and part owner Joseph Kearon(65), his sons
Edward(19 and George(17), George Tyrrell(18). The fifth crewman was
from New Ross, Patrick Merrigan, Age 23 from Old Post Office Lane, New Ross,
Co. Wexford**
The only other reference I can find to the boat or her crew
dates from a court action in Arklow in 1918.[iii]  Mary Tyrell (sister of George) has taken an action
on behalf of her mother against the owners of the Lapwing.  We are told only that since she left
Waterford “…no tale or tidings have been heard since.” George Tyrell had only
been aboard for two weeks and was employed as a cook.  Although there was some dispute legally about
whether she was lost or not, this appears to have been accepted on the basis
that the owners had received a settlement under the war risks. The court found
in his mothers favour. 
I’m sure it was probably many years after the war before the families would
know their loved ones fate for certain.  As it happens one
account is that she struck a mine, and it has often been repeated. (A steamer SS Lapwing was struck by a mine a day later, and if you look at the link you may spot an error confirming that confusion still may exist as Kearon is listed as her master too!) However the true facts are that the ship was
sunk by shellfire as she sailed towards Wales after being spotted by U-95.  Her last resting place here.
Perhaps for me one of the most frustrating things about the loss of the schooner was her obvious vulnerability.  In the following weeks the Coningbeg and Formby would be blasted from the Irish Sea too, but in their cases the U Boat had reason to be cautious.  They were steam driven and could have outrun the U boat, they could also have rammed her or they could also have fired on her, being armed and with naval gunners aboard.  But the Lapwing had nothing.  Five men on a timber ship at the mercy of the wind and tide.  A hard target to justify, except perhaps, she was unarguably an aid to the allied war effort. That perhaps and the fear that if they gave a warning to abandon the craft, she may have turned out a Q ship.

Tower Hill Memorial, London via www.cwgc.org

I’d imagine that as the media acknowledge the end of the First World
War this weekend, most of the commentary will be about the guns falling silent and the troops leaving the trenches.  But for thousands of men, and many women, it was just a different day as they struggled against the elements to keep lines of trade open.  Gone was the menace of U Boats, but mines would persist for many more years to come.  The majority of those that died at sea had no grave of course, but their names are recorded on the memorial to the merchant marine at London’s Tower Hill memorial


* From her position when sunk on the 10th  I’m assuming she left Waterford on this date

**Patrick Merrigan of the Lapwing was a son of Patrick Merrigan River Pilot in New Ross.One of 9 children. He was 15 years and 3 months and described as a Labourer in the 1911 Census. Via Mark Minihan

I’d like to acknowledge the help of Arklow Maritime Museum and Brian Cleare in help with this piece.

[i]
Irish Times. September 25th 1909. P14
[ii]
Irish Times. February 16th 1912.
[iii]
Wicklow Newsletter and County Advertiser. October 26th 1918. P2.
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Remembering Louis C Lee

While collecting my daughter from a bus recently I happened across a limestone slab set into the pavement behind the Waterford bus station. It was battered, damaged and out of place, but the inscription was legible.  It reads In Memory of Louis C Lee of Aberdeen.  Found drowned here Feb 3rd 18.  But who was Louis, when exactly did he die and why was a memorial stone set into the footpath for him?
Louis Cove Lee was born on the  August 18th 1876 and was 20 years old when he drowned on Waterford’s quays on the night of Feb 3rd 1897.  His parents were James and Jane Lee and according to the census of 1891 he had three sisters and two brothers. He was a trainee officer aboard the iron hulled sailing ship the Queen Elizabeth of Glasgow.  
The ship had sailed from Middlesboro in August of 1895 for Hong Kong and hence to Shanghai and San Fransisco under her master, Captain Charles Edward Fulton. The trip from America had taken 170 days via Cape Horn and she had entered Waterford the previous Sunday with a cargo of 2700 tons* of wheat for RH Halls.
Accessed from http://www.clydeships.co.uk/  
She was docked on the quays close to the then Market House and the job of unloading was commenced. On the day of his death Louis was counting the bags of wheat as they were discharged ashore. Louis finished his work at about 5.30pm on that Wednesday evening. The following morning at about 10am a cry went up as a body was discovered lying in the mud between the ship and the quay.

Louis had spent three years aboard ship and was highly regarded.  He was about to leave to return home and attend navigation school in Aberdeen and no doubt looking forward to seeing his family again.  Within another year he would qualify into the junior officer ranks and could look forward to a life of foreign travel and, most probably, a much easier working future aboard steam vessels. The mood in the city was full of remorse and when the young man was laid out aboard his ship, many of the city residents attended to pay their respects. Understandable, given that almost every family in the city had a maritime connection at the time. Louis embodied the potential fate of so many sons, brothers, husbands and fathers. 
An map excerpt showing the quay at the time, the second line between the quay and the floating hulks is the low water mark
An inquest was called and took place at Dooleys Hotel under the stewardship of coroner E.N. Power. Witness after witness deposed as to the good nature and upstanding character of Louis. No one seemed to know what Louis had done ashore**. The watchman aboard the ship heard no disturbance during the night and a watchman on the quay, Morgan Kavanagh, who walked between the Market House and the Graving Bank had heard nothing either. Kavanagh described the night as “very thick” meaning foggy. The verdict of the inquest was of “accidental drowning”

The coroner had some harsh words for the Waterford Harbour Commissioners stating that he had raised for many years the need for protection along the quays and that railings ought to be erected.  A follow up meeting of the Board was strongly of the opinion that such railings would cause a liability and should be discounted. However, within two years the railings were in place, by order of the Board of Trade as I understand it.
The sad fate of the memorial stone.
And Louis? Well Louis’ father James travelled to Waterford that same week and made the arrangements to bring his sons body back to his family and his home town. Mr Lee was described as a manager of Ogston’s (a soap factory). A service was held at St Andrew’s Church and Louis was buried at Trinity Cemetery.
The wording on the Lee headstone. Via Pat Black of Aberdeen
As regards his memorial stone, I’ve heard two differing accounts of its origins. One that it was locally organised and paid for under the auspices of the Commissioners.  However newspaper accounts did state that in early March of 1897 Louis’ father wrote to the board asking for permission to erect a memorial marble tablet to remember his son. This was initially welcomed because a further letter was received on the 18th March outlining some ideas re its design and seeking further information from the Commissioners. At this point the Board seems to have balked, stating concern about precedent and concern that what was suggested could perhaps be an interference to trade. 
I don’t know the exact details of when or who decided on the present stone, but it was cut into the quay wall, where it stood until the extension of the quay and the building of the bus station. It’s obvious the stone was damaged at some point it this process and why it should be set into a footpath is beyond me. Perhaps like me, those who were responsible at the time had no notion of Louis or what his loss meant to the city.  But that doesn’t mean we have to allow such a neglect to continue.

I have had a lot of help in pulling this story together as I had made an appeal via twitter and facebook for further information. Tomás Sullivan, Eoin Nevins, Brendan Grogan, Jamie O’Keeffe.  In Aberdeen I got extra information via Pat Black, Pat Newman and Julie at the Aberdeen Art Gallery & Museums.

The following newspapers were accessed for information :
Evening Herald. Thursday 4th Feb 1897 page 2
The Waterford Standard. Saturday Feb 6th 1897 page 3, Feb 10th page 3, April 14th page 3,
Aberdeen Press and Journal. Feb 10th 1897 page 2
Munster Express Dec 14th 1956

* Another newspaper gave the cargo at 9,700 tons, which I thought too large, but open to correction.
** A later account by Thomas Drohan in the Munster Express was of the opinion that the ships company went ashore that night to toast Louis’ departure to navigation school and that he stayed behind when they returned to ship.
If you like this, here’s some other links from a different perspective that I think you will enjoy
https://jamieokeeffe.wordpress.com/2018/04/03/the-last-voyage-of-louis-c-lee/

https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=10207512040862887&set=gm.582579671883276&type=3&theater&ifg=1

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The Paddle Steamer Ida

Last week we looked at the river services operated by the Waterford Steamship Company.  This week I wanted to look at the work of one particular ship the Paddle Steamer Ida.

The PS Ida was launched from the Neptune Iron Works on Friday 27th September 1867 and was described at the time as “A very handsome little paddle steamer…of unusual size (149 ft x 19ft x 9ft) and beauty…intended to ply between this city (Waterford) and Ross (New Ross)” (1)

PS Ida circa 1898 leaving New Ross.  No standing room available
Andy Kelly collection

The Ida made her maiden voyage on Friday 31st January 1868 accompanied by the PS Shamrock , making it in 1hr 10 mins , both vessels getting a terrific reception when they reached the New Ross quays.  She would be a constant sight on the Suir and Barrow for the next 37 years.(2)  The steamers took freight, agriculture produce and passengers each way.  The Ida departed New Ross at 8.15am each morning (Mon-Sat) making stops as required at quaysides along the way.

I’ve heard she called to places such as Pilltown -where a hulk was stationed away from the quay- Great Island and Cheekpoint frequently, apparently it was all down to whether there were passengers or freight requiring transport.  Of course as is well known locally, boats dd not need to call to the shore as this fascinating account proves:  “But the most exciting experience of all was at Ballinlaw, when the ponderous ferry-boat with passengers and farm produce from the Great Island made contact with the Ida as she lay to mid stream.  To get the passengers safely aboard by means of a companion ladder involved considerable risk in rough weather.  But the Ballinlaw boatmen knew their job, and no accident occurred in living memory”

Once in Waterford the Ida and her sister ship the PS Vandeleur could be assigned to various tasks in the port, towage, maintenance works and indeed salvage and rescue missions for example the steamers featured in the wreck of the SS Hansa in 1899.  I’d imagine there was many a fisherman or boatman could thank these ships for a tow into town or up the Ross river against the tides, saving them from an agonising row.

PS Vandeleur at Cheekpoint (note no Barrow Bridge)
Andy Kelly Collection

The daily services ran Monday to Saturday but summer Sundays were used for special event trips, one of which started me on this quest to learn more. As I said last week Christy Doherty told me years back of memories of older folk of the Sunday outings, memories of which can still be found in newspaper searches of the time.  Bill Irish quotes one such account: “I have very pleasant memories of the shilling trips return every Sunday by steamer from Waterford to Dunmore East and the splendid tea for eightpence at Galgeys or Shipseys Hotel at Dunmore. These trips were the best value that have ever been offered to Waterford residents. The boats the Ida and Vandeleur left about mid-day or 3pm on alternate Sundays.  We had three hours in Dunmore and reached Waterford at 10pm” (3) As lovely as it sounds, it would appear to be very costly for ordinary folk.  But Christy Doherty did tell me that the special event trips called to all the quaysides and landing posts in the harbour and that a trip to Duncannon could be had for a few pennies and it cost nothing to walk the beach at Duncannon.  He also mentioned their roles in transport to and from regattas and events such as horse racing on Duncannon beach.

Bill Irish gives a first hand account from Captain Farrell of one such trip on the Ida to Duncannon when he was a boy. “A man named Friday, with one eye, played a melodeon box on the way up and down the river. The hat was then put around for a collection. The Ida stopped in Duncannon for about one hour to allow people to ‘stretch their legs’.  Along with the captain, was a first mate, two men to handle ropes, two engineers and two firemen”(4)

There were many episodes associated with the river service that I have come across.  But for sheer madness, this piece sent on by my good friend and heritage ally Frank Murphy must take the biscuit.

On Saturday evening July 23rd 1870 the Ida departed her normal berth at the hulk (The Duncannon Hulk I presume based on the events mentioned) on the quay at 4pm.  She proceeded down the Suir.

Opposite the Mall a drunken passenger jumped onto the railings and hurled himself into the river in an apparent suicide attempt.  The Ida immediately stopped her engines and the crew tried to effect a rescue.  The gentlemen was struggling in the water, fully clothed and with his boots on.  However he didn’t seem minded to accept the crews help.

The Clerk of the Waterford Petty Sessions, Mr PF Hanrahan was rowing by in a small boat and came close to the man offering him an oar.  He was met with abuse and turning on his back, the ‘drowning man’ proceeded to kick water and practically over turn Hanrahans craft.  A boatman in a prong met a similar fate.
A dock worker named Kelly had stripped on the quay and dived in to attempt a rescue also, however he met with an uncooperative client.  Kelly was picked up by the prong and the two men then managed to overpower and haul the ‘drowning man’ aboard.  In the melee that ensued Kelly ended up knocking the gentleman out with a punch who was then rowed ashore where he was arrested on the spot.
Meanwhile another rescue was required.  A considerable crowd had assembled quayside and in an effort to get a better vantage of the incident, some rushed aboard the ship Malakoff moored alongside the quay Proceeding to the bridge, they leaned out to view the scene, pressing against some netting designed to provide security but not to take the weight that was now placed on it.  The netting ripped and ten spectators ended up in the Suir fighting for their lives!  All were successfully rescued by a fleet of small boats that were gathered at the scene. The instigator of the drama was whisked off by the police. The writer of the piece expresses the hope that the miscreant will face the full force of the law at the next court session, something assured if Mr Hanrahan had any part in it surely.  The Ida then proceeded with her trip (5)

The final chapter of the gallant PS Ida, Bristol 1908
Andy Kelly collection

So many dramas, so many journeys, so many memories.  The Ida last sailed on the route in 1905.  I’m not yet sure when she last steamed down the harbour, but it took her to Bristol where she was broken up at Clevedon Pill in 1908.

My thanks to Frank Murphy, Pat Murphy Cheekpoint and Andy Kelly for their assistance with this piece.

(1) The Cork Examiner. Monday 30th September 19867

(2)Decies #53 Waterford Steamship Company. pp 67- 89. 1997.  Bill Irish
(3) ibid
(4) ibid
(5) This is an edited and abridged extract from the piece published in the Tipperary Free Press – Tuesday 26 July 1870

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S.S. Macuto: The Dunmore East connections. A recollection from the summer of 1960

I offer a platform for anyone who wants to write about Waterford harbour on the last Friday of each month.  This month David Carroll joins us with a tale of ships and people from the port in 1960 and his experience of the impounded vessel the SS Macuto and how it featured in his life at the time.  I hope you enjoy it.

An image spotted while recently looking through Michael Power’s interesting book ‘Tales from the River Suir’, brought back memories of the S.S. Macuto, a ship that became famous, or maybe that should read ‘infamous’, in the Port of Waterford during my summer school holidays in 1960.

For the months of July and August in that year, the S.S. Macuto became a big news story in Waterford and further afield. For most of that time, the ship was under arrest, with a writ nailed to her mast. Port and pilot dues were owing to Waterford Harbour Commissioners. The crew had not received payment for several weeks and a cargo of maize for R. & H. Hall Ltd., Ferrybank was in dispute due to damage from a leaking oil or water pipe on its voyage from Chicago, through the Great Lakes and arriving in Waterford on July 2nd 1960.
In Dunmore East, we listened for the gossip emanating from the city and we read the local papers avidly each week to update ourselves on the progress of the various legal difficulties being resolved. The ship was later to play a part in the enjoyment of my summer holidays and the operation of one of Dunmore’s leading hotels but to learn about these stories; you will need to continue reading.
Meanwhile, the S.S. Macuto became almost a tourist attraction, as the old-fashioned steamer remained moored on her berth in Waterford. Many people wondered as to how this ‘old rust bucket’ had successfully got through the Great Lakes and crossed the Atlantic let alone sailed up the River Suir to Waterford Port. The S.S. Macuto was built in 1918 in Oakland, California. Governor John Lind was the original name and was 3,431 tons. The ship had a succession of different names and changes of ownership until finally sold in 1960 to the Seaforth Navigation Corporation and renamed S.S. Macuto.
The voyage to Waterford was her first voyage under this name and new owners and the first-time sailing under the flag of Panama. This was very much a ‘flag of convenience’ as a small number of countries such as Panama did not adhere to normal shipping regulations with abuses very prevalent. The aged and decrepit S.S. Macuto was therefore ‘always and accident waiting to happen’. The crew of 23 were all Greek nationals and despite being owed wages by the owners, managed the have a good time during their stay in Waterford. The Munster Express later described the members of the crew as ‘becoming more Irish than the Irish themselves’.
On arrival, following the initial arrest and legal wrangles, Captain Trimis seemed puzzled and was reported to have said, “I do not know how this happened, it my first visit to Ireland”. Interestingly, the Munster Express reported later in the middle of August that the same Captain Trimis, driving a hired-car, was involved in a minor road accident in Tramore where luckily no one was injured, only a small amount of damage caused to the two cars.
S.S. Macuto at Waterford port, 8th August 1960: Shortall Collection © A.Kelly
Wednesday August 24th 1960, the night that the ship finally left port, has become the stuff of legends. At this stage, the legal matters had been more or less determined. The outcome was an order that the ship be sold and to set sail for Cork, where it was to be fitted with a new compass before final departure to La Speiza in Italy to be scrapped. Even in 1971, eleven years after her final voyage from Waterford, the Munster Express shipping correspondent recalled the scene: He reported: “The night of her departure was one of the most exciting ever witnessed in the port. After much delay and lofty voluntaries on the steam siren the crew were shepherded aboard – one finally made it at Dunmore or did he have to go by car to Cobh where she sailed to have her compass adjusted? At one point, Pilot Tom Furlong left the bridge to consult ashore with Captain Farrell on the advisability of sailing – time, tide and the pilot’s patience had all been running out.”
I’ve written previously about Dunmore East being a wonderful place to grow up in the 1950s and early 1960s. There were endless games of tennis, cricket and soccer in the park apart from the brilliant natural facilities that the harbour and all the small coves and beaches provided for swimming, sailing, rowing and fishing. Summer school holidays were a brilliant time and the best day of all, in my opinion, was the annual Regatta Day. Regatta Day was a day on which visiting families to Dunmore, who came each year to stay and enjoy the facilities that the village offered, and local fishermen who made their living from the sea came together with the entire community for a day of competition and fun. A large gathering of spectators would take place on the ‘Island’, a rocky outcrop that was part of the harbour in those days, which was accessed by an archway from the end of Island Lane.
The regatta was a very traditional event, like ones held in other coastal communities. Bob Desmond of the Barony of Gaultier Historical Society kindly gave me a press cutting from 1962, which was the centenary celebration of the Dunmore East Regatta. That would make 1960 to be the 98th one held. Apart from sailing, swimming, rowing and outboard motor races, there was also a series of novelty events such as ‘the duck hunt’, ‘greasy-pole’, model yacht race and the one that I always liked the best, the fancy dress parade. On Regatta Day, the national flag was flown on the flagpole in our garden at the harbour and all yachts in the harbour would be dressed with flags for the occasion.
For the 1960 regatta, it was real ‘no-brainer’ as far as I was concerned, I would enter the fancy dress parade as ‘S.S. Macuto’. A fair bit of imagination was required to make my small yellow-painted rowing boat ‘Turmoil’ resemble anything like the decrepit old steamer that was in Waterford all summer. However, with help from John Murphy, we set about the task. Fish boxes, painted brown, were a great source of material to make the upper hull and bridge. The flag of Panama was made from cardboard, red and blue paint. I still await, all these years later for this flag to come up in a Table Quiz! Paint tin lids were used to make the portholes and an empty paint tin formed the top of the funnel, where there would be real smoke. We found that old fishing net burned really well and gave off lots of smoke, which we believed would give us an edge on the day over other competitors. Dress rehearsals went very well, with plenty of smoke coming from practice sessions on dry land. Unfortunately, on the day, things did go quite as well. The old netting probably got a bit damp and not too much smoke was seen around the harbour, much to our disappointment. However, as they say, the taking part matters. We certainly had lots of fun dressing up as Greek sailors and pretending to be the S.S. Macuto.
Incidentally, August 1960 must have had some nasty bad weather as the regatta was finally held on Thursday August 25th, (the day after the S.S. Macuto set sail from Waterford) after three earlier cancellations. Thursday was the traditional half-day in Waterford and holding the regatta on that day would have been the best alternative to a Sunday. After that, there were just a few short days remaining for me before it was time to pack my school bag and start my secondary school education in Waterford.
The Haven Hotel in the 1960s with thanks to Waterford Co Museum

The Dunmore East Regatta was not the only Dunmore connection to the S.S. Macuto. Dick Ballintine and his wife Honor were still owners and successfully managing The Haven Hotel in Dunmore in 1960. The Kelly family did not arrive until a few years later. The Haven had originally been called Villa Marina (that name can still be seen on the wall at the entrance with steps opposite the park) and was one time the summer residence of the Malcolmson family of the Portlaw Cotton Industry and Shipbuilding fame in Waterford. The Ballintines had bought the property in the late 1940’s and turned it into a thriving and popular hotel. Dick Ballintine was an innovative person, a man before his time and saw a terrific opportunity in pre-twitter times to publicise his hotel.

He managed, somehow, to get a painter, or maybe a group of them to paint “Drop anchor at the Haven Hotel” in large white letters on the side of the ship when it was finally berthed near the Mall. Unfortunately, someone rumbled the plan and the Customs Officers stepped in and disallowed the project. For a brief period, the words “Anchor a…” appeared on the side of the ship before being blanked out by black paint and being another chapter in the story of the S.S. Macuto on her stay of notoriety in Waterford.
Finally, returning to the Dunmore East Regatta of 1960, there is a lovely connection with the events of last August (2017) when Dunmore East celebrated Friend or Foe in brilliant fashion. This event commemorated the brave rescue by three young fishermen, Jack McGrath and the brothers Tom and Patsy Power of Kapitan Kurt Tebbenjohanns, commander and only survivor from German mine-laying submarine UC44 that sank in Waterford Harbour in August 1917.
A flavor of the scene; Regatta day Dunmore East 25th August 1938, © Brendan Grogan

The record of winners from the Regatta of the various events as listed in the Munster Express of August 26th1960, show that Thomas McGrath won the Model Yacht Race. Thomas was a nephew of Jack McGrath and John Martin, a nephew of the Power Brothers, won the Open Pair-Oar Rowing Race, rowing with Billy Power. Another successful contestant in the various rowing races was John Aylward, who later went on to become a well-known figure in the Waterford licenced trade.

I would like to thank Andrew for his invitation to me to contribute to Waterford Harbour Tide ‘n’ Tales again. It is a privilege to be a small part of Andrew’s mission to celebrate and preserve the rich maritime heritage of Waterford Harbour. Gratitude is also due to Andy Kelly for his kind permission to use the image of the S.S. Macuto and to the library staff at the Central Library, Lady Lane in Waterford for allowing access to old copies of the Munster Express on-line. I also received valuable assistance form Brian Ellis, Honorary Librarian at National Maritime Museum of Ireland, Dun Laoghaire.

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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