Working Ryan’s Shore

As a child there was a popular song by Glenn Campbell called Rhinestone Cowboy.  Somehow, it wound its way into the local parlance, often sang about the exploits of a certain fisherman who worked Ryan’s shore (or the shore) for a living.  It could have been about many at the time, because thirty years ago, Ryan’s shore or, probably more likely known as the Strand now, was a busy place.

Ryan’s shore looking down from Hurthill
All the place names on the shore are associated with fishing.  The quays, strands, paths, mud banks and even the rocks…the half tide rock jumps to my mind – a way of knowing when the tide on either ebb or flood was at its mid mark.  Ebb was most important, as Ryan’s shore was an ebb tide salmon driftnet fishery, the Wexford shore was for the flood.  On the days when the wind blew north-westerly the village boats would come down to “trip off” on the shore.  It was also a good spot for ground nets in winter and you’d get a good feed of mussels off the rocks.

Paddy Moran and Michael Ferguson working the shore (1950’s)

You would be forgiven for thinking that it was all fishermen on the shore.  Far from it.  In those days it was a mecca for young and old, men and women, fisherfolk and non! For some it was a walk, particularly when the wind blew from the North West, but for many it was for beachcombing.
My grandmother (Nanny) spent a lot of time down there and principally this was because it was a good source of timber.  Everyone gathered timber in those days and people had their own piles, where they gathered timber to a particular spot, standing it to dry, and easier to come back and collect.  As you walked the strand you would stand each piece you wanted.  Standing it did two things, drying it obviously but it also denoted that it wasn’t just a piece of driftwood anymore – no, it was now claimed.  Driftwood washes up all the time, but it never stands itself up!  A stood up piece was claimed and woe betide any one to touch anothers.  I remember some fairly fierce rows in the Mount Avenue in days gone by as someone with a pile on their back tried to get past with someone elses timber.  If the timber was too big to stand it could be tied.  But it had to be tied to a fixed object like a rock or a tree etc. 
Drying driftwood
As Nanny grew more frail she gathered “kippings” as she called them; small pieces of driftwood that would kindle the fire for her.  These she drew together with a piece of rope and she stood her “bresnees” (phonetically Bres knees) on rocks etc.  As a teen I recall spotting the bresnee’s on the strand and realising she was gone over along and raced off to find her.  Coming back I gathered the bresnees onto one shoulder and carried them home, all the time she was giving out to me about the weight I was carrying.  It was only later I realised how frail she had become, how reliant she was starting to become on others.  To her dying days, one of her only regrets was no longer being able to get down to the strand, and even two days before she died, then wheelchair bound, she mentioned it again.
But it wasn’t only timber for burning that was important.  Many’s the trip I had with a hammer or a screwdriver to collect boat nails or other fittings that washed up attached to floatsam.  And there was always tennis balls, sliotars and footballs.  Nanny was always lamenting the fact that people trew away such good stuff, all of which she could see a use for. 
I remember one evening I arrived home from fishing to spot a mug sitting in the kitchen sink.  Puzzled I asked Nanny where it had come from, hoping it wasn’t what I had seen for weeks filled with stagnant water and dead sand hoppers embedded amongst seaweed, rushes, sticks and other rubbish.  But no, I wasn’t mistaken…”shure wasn’t it a perfectly fine mug?”…” who would cast such a thing?”
Next day she was having a hot cup soup out of “Lenny” having steeped it over night and scouring it that morning and for years after she was gone from us, I used it myself.  It was a sad day when it broke, but at that stage it had given at least twelve years of service.  I’ll never know who did cast it, but it was a good lesson to me, part of my grandmothers philosophy on life I guess and learned in a different era.  But an era that we can learn a lot from I think.
Glued together now, it’s a memento, too fragile to store anything in…but a useful reminder that there’s always something of use to be found on Ryan’s Shore.
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:  
F  T

5 Replies to “Working Ryan’s Shore”

  1. I spent the two hours bracketting low-tide yesterday between Annestown and Cheekpoint happily rooting through the Spring-tide-line looking for buoys for my current blobby art project. I left a pair of servicable but slightly unmatched chain-saw boots because I had no more room in my rucksack. It was a wrench to leave so much handy-sized driftwood knowing that nobody would be arsed to pick it up or stack it before the next spring tide carried it off again to the North Atlantic Gyre.

  2. proof positive of the wealth of resources discarded to the long suffering water source…found a lovely fire shovel for cleaning out the wood stove yesterday…healthy and good for your pocket! Thanks for the comment mr blobby

  3. Lovely reading..thank you…Why was it/is it called Ryans Shore? I’d love to know more about Ryan ?

    1. The Ryans started out as fishermen from a house down on the shore. The last of the family a man with two sisters were unmarried and they died out. The name remains however

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *