The ancient Ballinlaw Ferry

Introduction

My blog this week is different to the norm.  Firstly it’s a long form article, almost three times the length of my usual stories.  I had toyed with the idea of breaking it up, but decided to let it run.  Secondly I have had a significant amount of help with the story and two men in particular have favored me with their time, resources and assistance; John Flynn and Paul Grant.

The Ballinlaw Ferry has an ancient history.  It ran in various forms, probably from the early Christian era to the early 1960’s and must have transported tens of thousands of people in that time from the most exalted to the most humble and I’m confident that we will never really know the true extent of it.  A ferry crossing was an important part of the transport infrastructure to our fore bearers allowing as it did for short cuts to be taken before the engineering ability existed to construct bridges to ford rivers.   As such they played a role in defense, commerce, social cohesion and wellbeing, a good example being the present Passage East Ferry further down the harbour.

The Ferry Point on Great Island and the stretch of water across to Ballinlaw, taken from Ballinlaw Castle
Photo by Paul Grant. For more great photos and information on the area check out slieverue.com

Earliest ownership

My own, and probably anyone else’s educated guess about the age of the Ballinlaw Ferry is that it surely dates at least to the foundation of a monastery on the road to the ferry on Great Island (Inis Teimle) at Kilmokea.  At least when the island was picked by Herve de Montmorency as his base of operations after the Norman conquest we are told that it was chosen because of its strategic position on the Wexford – Waterford road, suggesting, if not confirming the pre-existence of the ferry.  The Island was passed over to William Marshall on his death in 1205 and remained as an important trading centre until it was eclipsed in favour of New Ross.[1]  

The first official record of the ferry operating on the Wexford side is 1282 when the provost of the local burgh (village, which was probably close but not in the Kilmokea early Christian settlement, but actually associated with a tidal salt water mill and associated farm, buildings etc close to the islands causway) was paying rent on actually two ferries on the island, Colkery and Portilash[2]

Kilmokea graveyard, alongside the ferry road

The historian Hore speculates that the “vestiges of two intrenchments by some supposed to have been thrown up by the Danes to defend the pass to Ballinlaw ferry”[3]

Elsewhere he claims three ferrys are operating on or associated with the Great Island; Of these Hore speculates that Colkery is associated with a weir- after the Gaelic word Coraidh[4] and although not stated I understand from as careful a reading as I can manage, that it was close to Dollar Point, upriver from the Island,[5] 

The next has a number of variations in the spelling including Porsyllach, Portilash, Portillagh, Portculagh and finally Kylmuke – so this perhaps is what we comonly know as Ballinlaw Ferry, there being a very obvious relationship with the last name and with Kilmokea.[7]

The third crossing point is a bit of a mystery, but Hore is of the opinion that it crosses to Cheekpoint. For example he states that in one case it is located past Loughtown and Newtown[8] later a mention of a ferry at Le Crook, which he discounts as being the placename further out the harbour but rather a geographic description of Cheekpoint[9] and finally a mention of a ferry from Kennock (Kilmannock) worth 2s 6d per year [10]

Various amounts of rent are given for the ferrys, but the Kilmokea/Ballinlaw operation pays the most; consistently in the 13thC 5-6s.  Farms are associated with the operation, perhaps as a means of sustenance, or (and I think more likely) as a description of the operation, ie that revenue was farmed from the operation of the ferry.  Interestingly the income dropped from the Island after a terrific storm occurred on August 1st 1284[11].  The mill and much of the farm were destroyed by floods and strong tides and damage was caused to fishing weirs.  It would suggest that there was a vibrant trade on the island that was badly impacted by the weather.

Perhaps as a measure of the ferrys importance, the rent for Kilmokea ferry is on par with the rent to operate the ferry in New Ross (5s), which is equal to the rent paid by burgesses (villages).[12]

In later years the ferry’s are less prominent in the accounts, and it is hard to judge if they were operating at all.  For example in 1397 “Richard II granted to Roger Codde the custody of the towne of Ross together with the mills, meadows, fisheries and ferries and the town of Dubarresilaund and everything belonging to it”[13]  Dubarresilaund referes to Great Island, when it was leased by John Durbaro de Llond who exported herring from the area to England.  However, as you can see there is no direct mention to the ferry operation.*

Ballinlaw Co Kilkenny. Photo Paul Grant
Much reference is made to the Waterford side, this is just a common phrase connecting the ferry with its destination, Waterford

The operation

Looking more closely now at the Ferry of Ballinlaw as regards the operation I have been told that two boats operated on the route, one for foot passengers the other for animals and that this appears to have been the case until at least the start of the 20th Century.  From local sources the preferred passenger transport seems to have been the locally abundant and popular Prong.  However a larger craft was required for animals.  One description was of a boat propelled by two long oars that rowed the vessel across the water.  This brings to mind a lighter, but perhaps it was just a large punt or other vessel (Prongs of great size were also built).  I was also told that within living memory horses were guided across by a boat as they swam the river.  The operation, no doubt, conducted when the tidal conditions were favourable.

In all cases the departure point from Great Island seems to have been the end point of the present roadway which we always called when fishing, the Ferry Point.  Two opinions were offered locally on the landing point of the ferry on the Kilkenny side.  One, that it was close to the present road as it meets the water at Ballinlaw, the other that it was further downriver at a larger quay.  Evidence of the historic maps series tends to prove both in fact to be right.  The 6inch of 1837-42 has it close to the present road, the 25inch map of 1888-1913 positions the landing point further down closer to Hennerbrys/O’Briens, perhaps as a consequence of the ending of the official route.

I found no information on the cost to patrons for a trip. However as the rent was similar for New Ross and the Kilmokea ferry it’s plausible at least, that the rates were similar. The New Ross Corporation book stated that the prices were as follows; ½d for every man and woman, 1d for every horse, cow or bullock, ¼d for every sheep or goat, ¼d for every stone of wool and ½d for each barrel of corn. [14] 

A fascinating account of connecting with the river paddle steamer Ida is worth quoting.  “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” [15]

 Another perspective is dated from 1786; “This is a very good horse ferry, but not so for carriages.  It is by much the most convenient way for travellers coming from Waterford, as the boat is on that side of the river; and for this reason you are subject to great delays if you come this way from New Ross – The other road is then recommended” [16]

A lighter being rowed in New Ross…a bit too big perhaps for the Ballinlaw animal ferry?
Via Myles Courtney New Ross Street Focus
Thought to be the Little Island Ferry on the Suir and perhaps a more likely similarity to Ballinlaw. Photo via Andy Kelly

What the papers say

A Headline[17] of UNRESERVED AUCTION OF HIGHLY-BRED DAIRY COWS appeared in the papers of 1863, from the Executors of the late John G.Ussher, at LANDSCAPE (2 miles from New Ross, 15 from Wexford and nine miles from Waterford via Ballinlaw Ferry.  Which I think highlights the benefit as seen by using the ferry instead of the road to New Ross.  The piece goes on to mention of the Ferry Inn, Ballinlaw, Slieverue, on the old stagecoach route.  This notion of a stagecoach route seems to tally with local stories I have heard, but I have nothing concrete to draw on as yet.

Underlining its use as a horse ferry I found this piece.  “Saturday morning a melancholy accident happened near the ferry Ballinlaw.—As Mr. Lumsden, Fethard, was riding towards Waterford, for the purpose of meeting his daughters, who were going from that city on a visit him, he was thrown from his horse and killed on the spot.—He was so much disfigured by the fall, that, although perfectly known in the neighbourhood when living, persons could not discover whom, or where he belonged, until his daughters arrived to the fatal spot, who were the first that made the melancholy discovery.”[18]

And it wasn’t just horses! This from an election of 1830 “A fine bullock donated by James Esmonde Esq. for the support of the Freeholders belonging to the Independent interest  during the approaching contest brought in triumph into town (Waterford) decorated with green ribbons, green boughs, laurel, and orange ribbons being attached to the extremity of the tail and the feet, on which the animal trampled. Mr Esmonde had him landed at Ballinlaw Ferry.  Numbers went from town, met him, and marched him on in regular procession.”[19]  Meeting objectors on Timbertoes, they finally entered the city after the procession was forced through.

And of course it wasn’t just law abiding citizens who traversed the waters. A Waterford city man named Patrick Goggins, described as a tramp, who was on the run in Wexford having attacked General Napper, used the ferry to make his freedom.  He “…crossed into Sutton’s Parish, going towards the Great Island, where he knew there a regular ferry across the river at Ballinlaw. A short distance outside the village of Campile, he met a policeman, who was on the look-out for him… and deliberately walked up and asked for a match. Of course the constable never imagined that Goggins would be so cheeky, and leaving the policeman, he passed on into the village, got a drink and a bun in one of the shops, and then set out for the Great Island district. Here he lay in concealment for some hours…crossed over in the ferry-boat. They crossed too, but could get no trace of him. As to his course on reaching the Kilkenny shore there are many stories told. One is to the effect that he walked through Mooncoin to Carrick-on-Suir and … to county Waterford from which he passed on to his native city, where among the lanes and slums of Waterford be has been since able to evade the police of the city…”[20]

And there were women trying to evade capture too! In a piece titled “The Adventuress in New Ross” [21] we learn of a Kilkenny lady named Keating, well known to the local constabulary of that city as a con artist.  She had spent several days in the town of New Ross and the outlying area tricking people out of their money.  “…she is known to have driven in a covered car from Waterford on the following day out to the Kilkenny side of Ballinlaw Ferry, and crossed over to the county of Wexford from which place all trace of her is lost completely. Where she has gone to, or where she is at the present moment, is now a mystery, but if the police had any grounds to go upon—or if any of the victims cared to make an information there is not much doubt but that the adventuress would soon be in ‘durance vile’ awaiting the sentence of the court. As it is, however, those who have been victimised are not inclined to go before the public and prosecute.”

And of course the weather impacted the ferry too.  In 1838 a S.E. gale washed out the causeway linking Great Island to the Wexford mainland, and also the ferry.  The condition of the causeway was described as “…been intersected several deep and wide chasms, and rendered impassable…” causing problems enough for the island, but impacting travel between Waterford Kilkenny and Wexford via the ferry”.  The article demands a more secure and better engineered causeway for the future of transport security.[22]

20th Century and closure

In terms of later years I have heard that the Barden family ran two boats until at least 1906, or the building of the Barrow Bridge.  I suppose it would be no surprise to anyone that the railways had a significant impact on it.  However locally I was told a service, unofficial perhaps, but a service nonetheless ran until the 1960s.

A member of the Shalloe family did kindly correspond with me recently with some family memories which I think are valuable and deserve recording.  “My granny was a Shalloe from the ferry / Ballinlaw…We were told the Hannigans and Heneberrys ran the ferry from the Waterford side…and that a few of the Shalloes ran it from Wexford side in the early 1900’s anyway ( Ned/ Markie/Michael). They all used prongs as it was very muddy on the Wexford side and you could pull up on the mud with the prong. My greatgrandfather Michael Shalloe ran a prong across. He told stories of dropping lads in under Snowhill who were on the run from the black and tans…The Lannons may have been involved in the 1800’s and the Shalloe/ Lannon families did inter marry”

In some sense the work of Jim Walsh[24] tallies with the family memories above. In it we read that the Barden family (who lived in what I believe was a coaching Inn on the Ballinlaw side)ran a licenced[25] ferry using two boats, one for animals, another for passengers.  Mail was transported, but was collected by horse drawn mail coaches (this seems to confirm that there was no system to carry coaches already suggested).  The last two ferrymen who lived on the Wexford side were said to be Larry Lennon and Markie Shalloe; Larry retired in the 1920’s, Markie retired circa 1963.  The last ferrymen on the Kilkenny side were said to be Neddy and Pat Doyle.

While walking around Ballinlaw last week I met Joe Malone who was happy to share some memories of the Ferry.  His thoughts of course tallied with my own in terms of these area and how close the communities were.  Joe recalled taking a group of Dutch cyclists across not so many years back as a favour.  They had come to Ballinlaw from Waterford thinking the ferry still ran.  They intended cycling onto Arthurstown where a youth hostel was to be their bed for the night.  Rather than show them the road to New Ross, he piled them and their bikes into his boat and dropped them across.  

I’m sure he or others like him would think nothing of doing likewise today.  Or at least they would if boats such as prongs, and those skilled in handling them were are numerous as heretofore.  Those days are fading fast of course and I think I will leave the final say on the men and their qualities to T.F. O’Sullivan[26]: “The test of a good boatman…was to negociate…the river bend at Ballinlaw, on a moonless night. The river at Ballinlaw is known as Paul Gauls, after a pub that stood on the shore there.** I never saw the name written down before I wrote it down myself, because old boatmen are not all that good at writing; but I have spelled it as I think an old boatman would, if he could.  Writing is another skill, to be sure, and no harm to those who have some use for it; but if you were rash enough to challenge a Barrow boatman’s skill the least you might expect as a reply is the proud boast of the Barrow Boys: ‘I’d steer down Paul Gaul’s if the moon was tarred”

Acknowledgements

I have a regular crew of helpers who come to my aid with links, contacts, books, opinions and advice and on this trip Frank Murphy, Jim Doherty and Michael Farrell were to the fore. But as I could find little in my usual resources on this topic I did something unusual, I put it out on social media in the hope of other leads. I had an overwhelming response, and too many to thank individually. But John Flynn not alone gave freely of his time, he also trusted me with his books and other materials which I am deeply grateful for. Paul Grant, likewise, could not have done enough to help me both in terms of time and resources and I am indebted to him for many of the images that I have used. Joe Malone was also very generous with both his time and his knowledge. I also would like to expressly thank Brian Forristal and Martha Bolger for information which is contained within the piece. I also received some worthwhile links and information from the local research section of Kilkenny Co Library. My thanks there especially to Nuala.

Lastly can I just say that I hope I have neither offended or misrepresented anyone’s information in the article. Any errors, omissions or inaccuracies are mine and mine alone and are based on my mis-judgement or mishearing/reading of material supplied. Happy to correct or amend as required. Please leave me a comment below or contact me at tidesntales@gmail.com

A piece recently recorded by Waterford Youth Arts on the boats in the Barrow and a short piece on the actual ferry

[1] William Marshall and Ireland.  John Bradley, Cóilin Ó Drisceoil & Michael Potterton, editors.  2016 Four Courts Press, Dublin (From a chapter by Billy Colfer, William Marshalls Settlement Startegy in Wexford (pp 260-261) via John Flynn

[2] Hore.P.H History of the Town & County of Wexford. Dunbrody Abbey, The Great Island, Ballyhack etc. 1901 London.  (I’m indebted to John Flynn for the loan of his copy)

[3] Ibid p 198 & see also A Topographical Dictionary of Ireland Vol II), Samuel Lewis (1837):

[4] Irish for weir according to Hore p 205

[5] Ibid p 205

[6] I mention this here because in discussing the position of a ferry crossing to Cheekpoint the south side had three fishing weirs of note, one at Kents Point, the other at Culletons and a third at what we call the White Stone. This appears to be at variance with Hore’s later opinions on the Cheekpoint weir, but I mention it as i think there might be some merit in at least highlighting it.

[7] Hore.P.H History of the Town & County of Wexford. Dunbrody Abbey, The Great Island, Ballyhack etc. 1901 London pp 205-213

[8] Ibid p 205

[9] Ibid p 213

[10] Ibid p 219

[11] Ibid p 210

[12] New Ross Rosponte Ros Mhic Treoin An Anthology Celebrating 800 years.  Tom Dunne Ed., 2007. Wexford County Council Public Library Service p 216

[13] Hore.P.H History of the Town & County of Wexford. Dunbrody Abbey, The Great Island, Ballyhack etc. 1901 London pp 205-213p 223

[14] New Ross Rosponte Ros Mhic Treoin An Anthology Celebrating 800 years.  Tom Dunne Ed., 2007. Wexford County Council Public Library Service. p 216

[15] Quote from Jogging my Memory, The Monks School New Ross in the 1880’s.  Mark Canon O’Byrne.  From The Past: The organ of the Uí Cinsealaigh Historical Society. No 18 (1992) pp 55-74

[16] Quoted from “The Post-chaise Companion: Or, Travellers’ Directory Through Ireland”. William Wilson 1786 Dublin and accessed as a free ebook via Google Books

[17] Waterford News and Star Friday, July 03, 1863 Page: 1

[18]Hampshire Chronicle – Saturday 21 April 1798  page 2

[19] Waterford Chronicle – Saturday 20 February 1830 page 1

[20] Wexford People – Saturday 21 July 1894 page 4

[21] Wexford People – Saturday 07 October 1893 page 5

[22] Wexford Conservative – Wednesday 05 December 1838 page 3

[23] Email communication received over Christmas from Yvonne Uí Chuanacháin

[24] Sliabh Rua: a history of its people and places / compiled  by Jim Walsh.

[Publication- Ireland: The Jubilee and Bi-Centenary sub-committee  of Slieverue Parish Pastoral Council, 2011]

[25] As said earlier in the piece, I am unclear about the ownership/charter employing the ferry throughout much of its history.  From a conversation with my cousin James Doherty who is employed in Kilkenny Castle, it seems that the Butlers may have held this.  How they came to have it, or when requires further investigation.

[26] O’Sullivan TF.  Goodly Barrow, A Voyage on an Irish River.  2001.  Lilliput Press.  Dublin

*Paul Grant first mentioned the name of the ferry to me as Camnock, from the Irish suggesting the steep road of the knock, giving a very accurate geographic description of Ballinlaw even today. Jim Walsh records that in 1407 the ferry was leased for the sum total of 20 pence . In 1427 it is leased to a Richard Fitz John by the Earl of Ormond The Earl was reputed to have built Ballinlaw Castle as a defensive structure for the protection of the ferry Suggesting an important investment, and tallying with a similar investment at Grannagh.

**Poll Gaul was a lady, who ran the pub at Ballinlaw with her husband a man named Lyons. It was later taken over by the Halligan family, and later still (and to this day although no longer a pub) the Malones when Aggie Halligan married a Malone. Via Paul Grant

16 Replies to “The ancient Ballinlaw Ferry”

  1. Great article, loved reading it as we pass alongside the beautiful river barrow daily, living between Ballinlaw & Aylwardstown. Very informative & looking forward to sharing it with family & neighbours. PS, bought your book for my hubby at Christmas & have since bought two more as it proved so popular in this area that it’s been borrowed so much already… Keep up the great work, otherwise it will all soon be lost & forgotten forever

  2. Once again, a very interesting and informative article. It is good to have such local history recorded for future generations.

    1. Thanks Redmond, there’s a multitude of stories in the rocks, quays and inlets all along the rivers and coastline. Shame it would be lost

    1. Thanks as always for the considered response and extra information Brian. I had thought about contacting you prior to publication but just ran out of time. Locally it seems the only memory was as described. I may yet find something written, but I did cast the net very wide in terms of extra information. I had only three other newspaper references, but nothing much different to what I published, except a reference to whistling for the ferryman in 1912.
      Thanks for the continued support. A

  3. What a wonderful blog Andrew I loved reading it.thanks for all the hard work you and your team put in,
    Is Kilmokea you mentioned the same place as Kilmorquay in Co Wexford.

    1. Hi Marie, Thanks for the compliment. No they are different areas. Kilmokea is on Great Island behind the tall chimneys of the Power Station as you look across from Cheekpoint. Kilmore Quay as you probably already realise is on the coast close to Wexford Town

  4. Enjoyed reading the Article Paul spent a lot of my childhood in my Brothers House Bill Kirwan in Ballinlaw !!

  5. Another great blog Andrew, especially the information that Yvonne gave, brings back a lot of memories, as my Dad (r.i.p.) was Ned Shalloe, n Grandfather was Michael who had a Prong. Really enjoy all your work, Cheers.

  6. What an interesting article never learned anything like that at school in RIngville where I attended with Joe Malone who has a great memory remember those little boats and Joe going across to Camille
    Many thanks
    Carol meleady new Roche from up the road from the ferry Ballinlaw

    1. I learned little enough about the river myself in school Carol, but got a lot from listening to the fishermen locally. The river was truly a different country a few generations back

  7. Andrew,Many thanks for a very thorough and long article.My great-great-Great grandfather was William Halligan(1812-1846).Poll Gaule seems likely to have been the mother of my g-g grandmother,Mary Lyons.My Sherlock ancestors were interred at Kilmokea graveyard,starting in 1814. Michael Halligan,San Francisco

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