The Cheekpoint “cowboys” who lassoed a floating mine

As children in the 1970’s one of our favourite games was Cowboys and Indians. Everyone wanted to be John Wayne, or indeed Clint Eastwood as it was the era of the spaghetti western. On one occasion we were making a lasso out of some rope in the yard when my father fell to telling us about the Cheekpoint fishermen who had lassoed a floating mine. He had our eyes ‘out on sticks’ as they say in his embellished telling.

My Father of course was Bob Doherty, sometimes known as the Hatter, and considered by many to be as mad.  He was renowned for his stories, many of them tall indeed, but a recurring theme in my blog stories in which he features is that he like all great story tellers based his best on facts.

“The lads were coming down the barrow from fishing eels when they spotted the mine, a remnant of the just finished WW II, floating towards the Barrow Bridge.  As they rowed around the mine, they realised that the tide was taking it towards the opening span wharf and that if it hit it, the whole bridge could go.  Well as they debated it, they heard the noise of an approaching train. In a flash they fashioned a lasso out of some rope aboard, and getting as close they dared, they managed after a few attempts to get the line around the mine and then rowed it away.” “Jesus” said someone, “that was close one”. “Close” said me father, “As the train came across the bridge the driver blew the whistle the whole way to the tunnel, several passengers fainted, while the other roared and cheered”
The opening span of the Barrow Bridge allowing access and egress
from the port of New Ross
Lassos were all the rage after that, and it was all we could talk about for weeks. I often heard the story retold, but my fathers version of course bet all. Needless to say as an adult it became a more sober telling, and there are several contemporary versions in the newspapers, including the Munster Express, Kilkenny People, Irish Independent and Cork Examiner.
The men of course were Jack Heffernan and Jack O’Connor, both of the Rookery, Cheekpoint.  The year was 1946 and the second world war (or Emergency as we called it) had just finished.  As a consequence many dangerous experiences were had with floating mines.  What we can gleam from the newspapers (which contain several accounts of the same story) is that the men spotted the mine, and managed to alert the Guards at Passage.  It doesn’t say how.  And I can’t say whether they managed to call from the phone box in Molly Doherty’s shop at the cross roads, or if that was not there at the time did they run to Passage itself. The authorities alerted, a bomb disposal unit from the Curragh Camp was dispatched.
Barrow Bridge, the mine was located to the left at Drumdowney
Meanwhile the mine grounded between Snow Hill Quay and Drumdowney Point (known locally as the Point of the wood) as the tide went out and once settled on the mud, a rope was tied around it, to prevent it floating away. I can’t say if this was by the same duo or not.  But whoever done it, it was a risky act, but it proved essential in containing the issue. Although the boat train departed from Waterford that evening, it was decided to close off the bridge to rail and shipping on the Saturday and both the morning train to Waterford (6.50am) and the 9.40am market train from Waterford stopped and departed from Campile Station in Co Wexford. Bus transfers were used to get around the situation.  
A sense of what the mine may have looked like
The bomb disposal unit, under Comdt. Fynes, had to wait for the tide to go out before they approached the mine on the Saturday.  It was described as 5′ 4″x 3’4″ and was encrusted with rust and barnacles.  It was thought to have been a floating mine, deployed with an anchor and chain that had broken away.  The opinion of the army was that it had been deployed on the sea bed several years before,  There was no information provided about it’s origin.  The unit managed to make safe the mine by 4pm that evening, allowing the 5.30pm boat train depart Waterford in safety.
Although the facts in these cases are all important, I presume the younger reader would still enjoy my fathers telling even more.
Why not join us on Monday for our free bank holiday ramble departing Faithlegg House at 11am, where these and other stories will make up part of our walk.
Other stories about mines or the barrow bridge you might enjoy.
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Attack on USS Cassin- Waterford coast 1917

I like anniversaries.  It’s an opportunity to remember, and a chance to cast our minds back to how life was at a specific time in the past. This week marks the 100 anniversary of the Americans joining the First World War.  It was only in recent years I realised that it had a direct bearing on us here in Waterford as the ships of her navy used our harbour and port, patrolled off our coastline and engaged their enemy in deadly confrontations. One of the stories that caught my eye concerned a engagement off Mine Head in West Waterford that would see the naval vessel survive but a crew man die, but ultimately make his own piece of history.  The rescue mission happened as the ship drifted helplessly onto the Hook.
USN subcahser SC 272  at anchor at Passage East
circa 1918 with thanks to Paul O ‘Farrell

World War one was a bloody and brutal conflict, but I was generally unaware until recent years of its proximity to us here in Waterford. The southern approach to England was of course just off the Waterford coast and was known as one of the “killing lanes” by the German Navy. Having traveled the relative safety of a broad Atlantic, as allied or neutral ships approached the continent they faced the narrow access channels to English ports.

As ships approached the Irish coast they could encounter torpedo or deck gun attack from subs. Meanwhile entering port the threat of mines was ever present.  The British however were severely stretched, and their commander of the Southern Command, Admiral Bayly was hard pressed to get extra resources or indeed for his superiors to recognise the threat faced by the U Boat menace.
The American declaration of war could not have come at a more important time. Germany had announced an “unrestricted U Boat campaign” in February of 1917 conscious as they were of the balance of the war and the belief that if supply lanes could be cut to the English, the war would swing to the German side.
Six destroyers of the Eight Division sailed from New York on the 24th April 1917 arriving to Cork ten days later on Friday 4th May.  Within days they would be patrolling the Irish coast, picking up ships, troop carriers, cargo boats or other neutral craft and escorting them towards the English coast or in reverse; to the relative safety of the Atlantic. Over time the flotilla grew to include Destroyers, Cruisers, Submarines and Anti-Submarine boats. Although their activities were primarily based out of Cobh or Bearhaven in west Cork the fleet became a regular feature along the coast including Waterford and Wexford.
USS Cassin at Queenstown (now Cobh) Co Cork
accessed from

Such work naturally gave rise to many run ins and close calls.  One such events was the attack on the USS Cassin. The Cassin was on patrol off Mine Head in Co Waterford on 15th October 1917 when she spotted a U boat running on the surface and engaged her.  When a torpedo was spotted running towards the ship, Gunners Mate Osmond Kelly Ingram realised that given the track of the torpedo, that it was liable to strike the depth charges on the stern of his ship. If that occurred the whole ship would probably explode.  Consequently he raced aft and facing certain death, he proceeded to release the ordnance into the sea. As he worked the torpedo struck and in the ensuing explosion he was blown overboard, his body never retrieved. Despite his efforts almost thirty feet was blown from the stern of the ship and 9 crew were injured. The ship however remained afloat, and without a rudder drifted helplessly in a SW gale up the Waterford coast towards the rocks of Hook head.

The U boat in question was U 61.  Having disabled her quarry the U Boat followed to complete the job.  She had used her last torpedo in the attack, and was probably hoping to finish the job with her deck gun. The Cassin may have been disabled, but her guns were functioning and when fired on, the U Boat dived and disappeared.
Osmond Kelly Ingram accessed from
With their communications down and their vessel barely afloat the Cassin crew worked to raise the alarm and a makeshift antennae was mounted and a SOS sent.  The first ship to assist was the USS Porter, joined later by the British ships HMS Jessamine and HMS Tamarisk.  The Cassin at this stage was dangerously close to the rocks of Hook head and with a gale blowing, a direct rescue attempt was deemed impossible. Tow lines were cast but could not reach.

Eventually an Australian volunteer aboard HMS Tamarisk, was sent off in a ships boat with a tow line attached and in total darkness and heavy seas managed to reach the Cassin.  The tow line secured, she was pulled away from the rocks. Following refurbishment she eventually returned to service.

The damaged section of the USS Cassin accessed from

As far as I am aware Ingram was the first enlisted American sailor to die in the war, giving us a distinction that we probably do not want.  But for his selfless efforts, Osmond Ingram was awarded the Medal of Honour and was the first ever enlisted man to have a naval ship named after him: USS Osmond Ingram.

Much of the specifics of the USS Cassin story were taken directly from:
Nolan et al.  Secret Victory.  Ireland and the War at Sea 1914-18.  2009. Mercier press.Cork

I publish a blog each Friday.  If you like this piece or have an interest in the local history or maritime heritage of Waterford harbour and environs you can email me at to receive the blog every week.
My Facebook and Twitter pages are more contemporary and reflect not just heritage
and history but the daily happenings in our beautiful harbour:
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