Waterford Harbour

Waterford Harbour
Home sweet home

Friday, 24 March 2017

Great Island Power station, a harbour landmark

If I had a penny for the number of people who asked me what was the factory across from Cheekpoint with the big chimneys I'd be wealthy. Of course those distinctive 450 foot chimneys, which belched black smoke into the atmosphere for just over three decades, were part of the oil burning power station at Great Island, Co. Wexford.  Many can see the beauty of them, but because we lived with it, I was never one of them.
The station from Cheekpoint quay 1970, second chimney commenced
with thanks to Brendan Grogan
Although it's now decommissioned, Great Island was an oil fueled power generation station that produced 20% of the nations power. It was owned and operated by the ESB, construction of which commenced in the spring of 1965. It was the first such station to be built outside or Dublin or Cork and at its peak employed up to 200 people. The station opened in 1967 with one generator and work commenced soon after on a further generator, which necessitated a second chimney. This extension was completed and working by 1972. To the right of the site, were five 17,000 ton capacity tanks for the storage of oil, which over time were screened by trees. To fill these tanks, a very fine jetty was installed to which tankers tied up and were unloaded by suction pumps and via pipework to the tanks.

The construction proposal when first mooted (around 1963) met with considerable disquiet in the community of Cheekpoint but not on any environmental or aesthetic grounds from what I was ever told. I never heard of any complaints from elsewhere, for example the view that is the meeting of the three sister river network. I suppose in the economic realities of the time people were happy for any local investment, or any offer of jobs. Its also worth remembering that for many electricity was a new convenience into their daily lives, something to make life easier, something they welcomed.   
A good sense here of the scale of the jetty, and how it blocked the fishery
accessed from:http://homepage.eircom.net/~horeswoodns/power_station.htm
That was except for the Cheekpoint fishermen. A deputation traveled to Dublin to discuss the fishermen's concerns. That the deep water jetty which would be planted smack bang in the center of some of the best local salmon drift netting waters was the principal concern and fishermen were anxious to communicate the loss that this would bring. They got what any of us would have hoped they would, the promise of jobs in the construction phase, and maybe a job thereafter. Although the jobs did materialise they were fleeting. Once the major construction work had ceased so did the work. 

In the 1970's the station was a real invasion into our lives.  The lights at night shone through all but the thickest of curtains, and was one of the reasons my father planted a line of trees between the house and the river. There was an ever present humming noise, which we managed to get used to.  But there was an extremely loud release of steam occasionally and also ear splitting bangs from time to time. These were bad enough during the day, but they also were the cause of many a night of lost sleep. 

An advert from the time with an artists sketch of the work in progress
Things were no better in the 1980's and perhaps they were worse, as I was then fishing and so felt the noise right beside the station and the difficulties of drifting close by the jetty's. There were several local campaigns to highlight the noise, but in those days we had limited means of recording the racket. Occasionally, a mobile monitoring station was set up outside our home as a result of my father (amongst others) campaigning through Brian O'Shea TD a local Labour deputy. Coincidentally however, any time the monitoring system was in place the station lay dormant.  It didn't seem to be as big an issue on the Wexford side.  Noise does travel more easily across water than land of course. One benefit was obvious to me of course.  As we drifted up along the station floods of people were out on sunny mornings on their breaks, sitting, chatting, enjoying the view and the fresh air.  Any job in the early 1980's downturn was welcome.
grass fire in front of the oil tanks late 1970's
Photo credit Aidan McAlpin
The 90's seemed to bring a small improvement, in that environmental laws were coming into force, and there seemed to be a greater appreciation for residents concerns. The noise was not as bad, it happened less at night and the chimneys were not constantly on the go. Mind you it also seemed that the station was winding down and not as busy. Perhaps the worst event in the stations history happened in that decade however, when a New Ross tug boat was overturned whilst helping to berth a massive oil tanker at the station jetty in 1995.  The tug crew were Johnny Lacey and Mickey Aspel, both highly experienced.  Their bodies were eventually retrieved.  
Appropriately named Grizzly at Great Island from News & Star dated Fri 11th Aug 1995.
As early as 2000 there was speculation that the station would have to close as a result of deregulation in the power industry and concerns about the commercial viability, pollution and cost of oil used in stations such as Great Island. The station closed when it was replaced by a gas fired station, which commenced in 2012 and officially opened in June 2015. However, the old station and chimneys remain, and there is often speculation as to their fate. Some say they are now an indelible feature of our harbour. Indeed a similar landmark in Dublin, the Poolbeg chimneys, have been retained because of their iconic status. I tend to believe that whatever the future of the chimneys, it won't be decided by aesthetics or nostalgia, but by commercial concerns.   

I accessed some of the information on this piece from http://homepage.eircom.net/~horeswoodns/power_station.htm

For the younger generations perspective, and more on the building here's a fine piece by Aoife Grogan http://architectureireland.ie/the-poolbeg-of-the-south-east-great-island-power-station

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 connect with me to receive the blog every week.  Simply email me to request to be added to my email list at russianside@gmail.com.

Friday, 17 March 2017

St Patrick's day in the 1970's

Happy La le fhéile Padraig, an occasion for the “wearing of the Green”.  During my childhood I really looked forward to it and particularly the nine am mass at Faithlegg Church. I guess the mass stands out, as in those days before it became a "festival" the day was a much simpler affair. As we didn't have a car, we went to no parade. But it was a welcome day off from the dread of school, which like so many others we spent out rambling.  If unlucky and it rained we hadn't much option but to sit inside at the black and white telly and watch Darby O Gill and the little people or the Quiet Man re-run.    

My earliest memory is coming home from school with a hand made badge, a pin stuck on the back with sellotape and a drawing of a harp or St Patrick and plenty of green white and gold. It was always gold, never orange in our home. Apparently the badge originated with Irish soldiers that fought in the trenches of World War I.  We could look forward to a break from school, and also a break from lent.  Lent in those days to me meant no chocolate, or sweets, or one of my favourites; Tayto crisps.  On Patrick's day, you were given a reprieve. I remember calling to a friends house one day with a bag of crisps and being challenged about my Lenten vow. "The Lord didn't get a day off when he wandered in the desert for forty days!" When I said it at home later I picked up a new saying; "If you want to be criticised, marry" I later realised she was probably more upset that her husband was slaking his thirst in the West End, with a want spanning from Ash Wednesday. 
via www.voskrese.info/spl/Xpatric-ire.html
I’ve mentioned before how important church was in our home, and Patrick's morning was no less an occasion.  The main difference of course was the obligatory bit of shamrock, splashed across the left lapel of the coat, and the attachment of it, which had to happen just as we were about to go out the door, in case it would wilt. There were years of course when the shamrock had not been sourced.  On those occasions we were dispatched across the strand and up to Nanny’s in the Russianside. Nanny, like many of the older citizens, took a marked pride in the display of the trinity leaf and crucially she had the time to ramble in search of the plant.

Nanny would have a bowl, fully laden, and as we crashed in atop of her, she would call us in one at a time to her tiny kitchen and fuss and bother (in a way my mother didn’t have the time to with five to divide her time) by picking a nice piece and pinning it on our lapel with an eye to detail.  Her own attire on the day always had a lot of green, including blouse, cardigan, head scarf and coat.  The coat would have a spread of Shamrock that would have fed a sheep.  On then we went, up to the cross roads with her, to board the Suirway mass bus for the trip around the village.
accessed from www.millstreet.ie
The bus of course was a trial.  The oul lads black-guarding, accusing your shamrock of all manner of insult, from wilting, to scrawny or worse; “a bit of oul clover” At the church the unspoken competition would be in full swing for the most impressive display, but I can never remember anyone besting Matt “Mucha” Doherty.  The spray of shamrock would be emblazoned across the left side of his chest, like the mane of a lion.  I always wondered how he kept it so fresh looking, to this day I wonder did he have the sod with it, tucked away in his coat.   

The ceremony on that day always appealed to me.  I enjoyed the stories associated with Patrick, they were more real to me, I could identify with them. But most of all I loved the singing, and in particular the singing of Hail, Glorious St Patrick.  Songs in the church were generally the preserve of Jim “Lofty” Duffin.  Jim would stand up in the centre of the congregation and from his hymnbook, sing solo.  It didn’t feel right to accompany him, and generally people stayed quite.  But there were days during the church year that the congregation shook itself free and one of them was St Patrick's morning.

It’s as if we dropped our reserve on those days, and led off by Jim who was quickly joined by the women, and eventually it seemed by us all.  For me, I think the day meant a lot to us as a community in a nationalistic kind of way, a day that celebrated something that made us proud to be Irish in a country that at the time, probably didn't have a lot to be proud of.  And in standing to sing, it was almost like singing the national anthem. For a few short years it was the central meaning of the day for me.  

After more than forty years, I can hear the singing yet.  Here's the words if you want to sing along. To assist, here's a beautiful organ accompaniment.
Hail, Glorious St Patrick
Hail, glorious Saint Patrick, dear saint of our Isle,
On us thy poor children bestow a sweet smile;
And now thou art high in the mansions above,
On Erin's green valleys look down in thy love.
On Erin's green valleys, on Erin's green valleys,
On Erin's green valleys look down in thy love.
Hail, glorious Saint Patrick, thy words were once strong
Against Satan's wiles and an infidel throng;
Not less is thy might where in heaven thou art;
O, come to our aid, in our battle take part.
On Erin's green valleys, on Erin's green valleys,
On Erin's green valleys look down in thy love.
In the war against sin, in the fight for the faith,
Dear saint, may thy children resist unto death;
May their strength be in meekness, in penance, their prayer,
Their banner the cross which they glory to bear.
On Erin's green valleys, on Erin's green valleys,
On Erin's green valleys look down in thy love.
Thy people, now exiles on many a shore,
Shall love and revere thee till time be no more;
And the fire thou hast kindled shall ever burn bright,
Its warmth undiminished, undying its light.
On Erin's green valleys, on Erin's green valleys,
On Erin's green valleys look down in thy love.
Ever bless and defend the sweet land of our birth,
Where the shamrock still blooms as when thou wert on earth,
And our hearts shall yet burn, wherever we roam,
For God and Saint Patrick, and our native home.
On Erin's green valleys, on Erin's green valleys,
On Erin's green valleys look down in thy love.

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 connect with me to receive the blog every week.  Simply email me to request to be added to my email list at russianside@gmail.com.

Friday, 10 March 2017

Misadventure on the SS Pembroke, 1899

The SS Pembroke was one of a proud fleet of ships of the Great Western Railway company which carried passengers, freight and mails between Waterford and the UK. While en route to Waterford in February of 1899 she encountered dense fog and ran aground on the Saltee Islands, sparking a major rescue and salvage operation. 
SS Pembroke heading inbound to Waterford, Flying huntsman ahead. 
AH Poole Collection NLI
The SS Pembroke was built by Laird Brothers of Birkenhead, in the year 1880. She was originally a paddle steamer, but in 1896 she was altered by the shipyard into a twin screw steamship as shown above. She was operated by the Great Western Railway Company and did regular sailings on the Waterford to Milford Haven route, latterly Fishguard, and as such would have been a regular site to the people of the city and the harbour.

She departed Milford port on the 18th February 1899 with 28 passengers, a crew of 30, the mails, and a cargo of 28 tons. The ship was under the command of Captain John Driver. At 6.19am the ship was forced to reduce speed having encountered dense fog off the Wexford coast. At about 6.30am the Master spotted breakers ahead, and immediately ordered the engines to full astern. The response came to late and before the way could be taken off her, she struck land.  
Aground on North Saltee- AH Poole Collection NLI
A passenger takes up the story; "...we were thrown out of our bunks onto the cabin floor. For a few seconds we heard a terrible sound underneath the vessel.  The rest of the passengers thought that the vessel had collided with another vessel and was sinking...When we got on deck, other passengers were huddled together in a group, half dressed. Among the passengers were some ladies, who seemed very calm, while male passengers were running about in terror. The captain ordered the boats to be launched and by 7 o clock all the passengers were landed on the island"(1)

The land they encountered was one of the Saltee Islands and there were two men staying on the island at the time (William Culleton and Anthony Morgan).  These men guided the ships boats in, and treated the passengers to tea and tried to make them comfortable. The second mate then set off in a ships boat for Kilmore Quay where he raised the alarm by telegram to Waterford. The entire fishing fleet set to sea and the tug "Flying Huntsman" part of the Waterford Steamship Co fleet which was then at Dunmore responded and eventually took on the passengers, cargo and the mail and brought all to Waterford that same day.(2) 
Paddle tug, Flying Huntsman at Limerick,
 courtesy of Frank Cheevers and NLI
A man named Ensor from Queenstown (Dun Laoghaire) was engaged as salvor and it was considered feasible to refloat the ship.  This was achieved five days later on the 23rd Feb and under the Pembroke's own steam, but with several tugs on stand-by, she was brought into Waterford harbour and up to Cheekpoint.(3)
Aground again, but purposely
AH Poole Collection NLI 
Inspection in progress - AH Poole Collection NLI
She was re-grounded at the Strand Road, above the main quay at Cheekpoint, and it seems that it was a major draw for city and country people alike.* The photo above shows clearly the benefit of re grounding the vessel as a full view could be got of the damage and temporary repairs could be carried out.

The Pembroke sailed down the harbour for Lairds of Liverpool for repair on Saturday 4th March. Again she sailed under her own steam and safely got across the Irish sea, but sprung a leak off Liverpool and had to call to Hollyhead for emergency repairs.(4)

The subsequent inquiry into the incident was held at the Guildhall in Westminister on March 29th 1899.  It found that the ships Master, John Driver, made insufficient allowance for the tide which appeared to be running abnormally strong on the morning of the grounding. They found that he did not reduce speed sufficiently and should have cast a lead when unsure of his position.  However after a previous unblemished career of 39 years, the tribunal made no ruling on his position saying that he was "entitled to the confidence of his employers"

The Pembroke returned to service the Irish Sea and continued up until 1916. In that year she was given over to general cargo runs.  She survived the war, having at least one near brush with a U Boat which she managed to outrun. She survived the war but following 45 years of loyal service she was sold for scrap in 1925. 

 If you follow the links under each photo it will bring you to the NLI website and you may then zoom in on each photo where you will get a good sense of the crowds at Cheekpoint.  There is also a great view of a paddle steam tug ahead of the Pembroke as she departs above Passage.   

The original story was passed on to me by Tomás Sullivan Cheekpoint.

(1),(2) & (3)John Power - A Maritime History of County Wexford Vol 1(2011) pp 377- 381
(4). Waterford Standard. Wednesday March 8th 1899