Water water everywhere…

Politicians in Ireland are currently at each others throats on the matter of water
.  Whatever your political views, which probably lie on or between two polar opposites – that water is a human right and should be provided free out of existing taxes, to water should be privatised and turned into a commodity – my philosophical view is that water is a valuable resource which should be cherished.

My grandmother, Nanny, thought me a lot about valuing water, or as she put it “sparing”
it.  She would pour water from the tap into a plastic basin which sat in her Belfast sink in the kitchen every morning.  Very often the water would rinse an egg from under a chicken before it was boiled for breakfast, do several rinses of dishes during the day and her to wash her hands as required.  It might be topped up with water being drained from steamed spuds or veg.  Usually it was early evening or night time before the basin water was thrown out, but never discarded.  No, it went on plants in pots, a shrub in the garden or maybe to wash the steps.

We often chided her about it, but of course to her it was just a habit.  Nanny would tell us about walking as child to the wells to draw water.  It was the child’s job and was done as soon as they were strong enough.  It was a daily chore, seven days a week and had to be done even before she would go to school in the morning and on her return.  It was also a
woman’s job, as her brothers would have been fishing as soon as they could pull
an oar.

Spring well at Barn Quay
The closest well on the Russianside was situated between Moran’s Poles and Whelan’s Road on the strand. It was about 200 yards away from the house and required a steep climb while carrying filled pails in both hands. Sometimes, the water from the well was tainted with seawater due to floods or storms. In such cases, the girl had to wait for her father and the neighbors to remove the seaweed and flotsam, pour lime into it to cleanse it, and let it settle for a few days. While waiting, she had to walk an additional 300 yards to Ryan’s Quay to access the nearest well.

She was born in 1919, and it wasn’t until the early 1950s that the council finally constructed a new house for her. This new house came with the luxury of an outside tap. In the 1960s, Chris Sullivan, who did odd jobs when he wasn’t fishing, installed a new tap and Belfast sink in her back kitchen. However, even though the water was now flowing, she continued to stick to her old habits.

The other water source she valued was the water barrel.  She had one at the front and back, placed under the down pipe of the gutters and she often used it to wash, saying her
hair was always softer after the rainwater.  She also vowed that it was much better for watering plants.

One of the wells that still is in use is the well pictured above at the Barn Quay.  We often drink from it and to my mind it tastes delicious.  The Teen’s told me that Jenny O’Brien recently did a science project for school in water analysis and used the water from the well which emerges out of the cliff face where once there was a Slate quarry.  Apparently the water was pure and free of any pollution.

The other wells that I can recall; one in the high street under Margaret and Des O’Keffee’s , one in the basement of Daisybank House, one in the Rookery, one in the Marsh under
Mahon’s (now Ray McGraths), three in Coolbunnia; by Ned Powers  as you head up
the Hurthill, below Everetts (where Malachy & Michelle Doherty now live) and at “Maggie Mooncoins” below my brother Robert’s.  The nicest well water I remember was at Larry
Cassins on the Old Road.  As children we often stopped with my mother to slake our thirst.  He would come out with some mugs and distribute them round to us as my mother filled them from an earthenware jug that was always available. I have no doubt but there were many others.

Water Pump on the Green, Cheekpoint

I’m not sure when the water pumps were added to the village landscape, but there were two. The first is still in place on the village green and was in use into the 1980s. Pat Murphy of the Green told me it was there before his family arrived in the 1940’s. It’s still a beautiful feature but if memory serves it was painted green when I was a child. The other was at the cross roads, between the present shop and my Uncle Sonny’s house. It was removed by the council in the early 1990’s.

I recently came across an article in the Irish Independent by Damien Corless (09/08/14) which sheds light on the construction of wells across Ireland. Following the discovery by John Snow in London that Cholera was spreading through dirty water in 1854, several wells were built across the UK, including Ireland, which had suffered greatly from cholera at the end of the famine period. It is possible that the Cheekpoint pumps were constructed during this time.

I’ve seen some recent maps that seem to support this view. While browsing the OSI website, I discovered that the Historic 6″ map, which was created between 1829-41, doesn’t show the well on the green. However, it is shown on the Historic 25″ maps, which were dated between 1897-1913. This indicates that the well was present in 1913, and it’s likely that it was there even earlier.

De La Salle scouts having a drink at the well on Green 1969
photo courtesy of Brendan Grogan

Pat Moran remembers walking up the Mount to a
tap on the road by Josephine Elliots, so perhaps the council were supplying water in other
areas using a similar method.  Pat was a child at the time so it would have been in the mid to late 1950’s. His story got me thinking about a tap at Joanie Hanlons (where Charlie and Paul Hanlon now live) which was inside her hedge but away from the house.  I always wondered why it would not have been placed on her house wall.  Maybe it served the Russianside in a similar way.

Nanny’s habit of water conservation was learned at an early age, and her valuing
of water lasted her lifetime.  It was something to be spared and used with consideration.  There’s a lesson there for us all whatever our political outlook.  And in the future it could save us a lot of money.

My Facebook and Twitter pages are more contemporary and reflect not just heritage
and history but the daily happenings in our beautiful harbour:
F https://www.facebook.com/whtidesntales  T https://twitter.com/tidesntales

2 Replies to “Water water everywhere…”

  1. i use to put aunt katies bucket at the well were o keffes is now , use to be a few buckets their statia morans, mary hanlons , biddy kirbys , water run down through a harts tongue fern into the bucket clerariest and tastiest water ever , just take your bucket and replace the next one in the que, then lug it back across the road and up on to aunt katies settle. hard times but happy times for me

    1. Paddy, thanks for reminding me – there was a big social element to gathering water as you say. As a child I was more interested in the actual work, and how hard it seemed. much appreciate you taking the time to comment. Andrew

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