Blackwater and Bride book: ten years on
Niall C.E.J. O’Brien
In December 2008 (ten years ago this month) I published my history book (and to date, December 2018, my only history book) entitled Blackwater and Bride: Navigation and Trade, 7000 BC to 2007. The book ran to 562 pages including numerous illustrations and tables. The vast majority of historians first attend college, then write a few articles for various historical journals and then publish a book or two as the culmination of their gathered knowledge. I kind of did the sequence of stages in reverse – firstly publishing a book, then writing articles for various historical journals and then, in 2017-19, attending the University College Cork education course, entitled: Diploma in Local and Regional Studies.
As the preface of the book recounted (reprinted below) the book originally began as a project for an article in Decies: the journal of the Waterford Archaeological and Historical Society, in the summer of 2002. Having finished the article on navigation on the Rivers Blackwater and Bride, I asked Mike Hackett of Youghal was there anything else to know relating to the subject. Before I could say ‘Hop, skip and jump’, the word had travelled around the historian community of east Cork and west Waterford that I was writing a book about the two rivers. I tried repeatedly to tell them that I was just writing an article for a historical journal but eventually just gave up. In 2002 the Rivers Blackwater and Bride were just noted fishing rivers and the present of numerous quays marked on the Ordinance Survey maps was possibly just done in the hope of river traffic rather than responding to a substantial level of river traffic in former times. I was confident that the book would be 100 pages at most and, like the Great War, be finished by Christmas. It was to be six years later before the book was done – ah the foolishness of youth.
The official launch of the book in the Walter Raleigh Hotel, Youghal, 9th December 2008, was a nervous affair as I was then an unknown historian. The dust jacket of the book said that I had ‘written a number of articles in various historical journals’. This was a stretch of the truth. Up until 2008 I had only published two articles – one in a historical journal and another in a school history book. But to help promote the book I wrote off two articles during 2008 for two journals – Niall O’Brien, ‘The Earl of Desmond’s Navy’, in the Journal of the Kerry Archaeological and Historical Society, Series 2, Vol. 8 (2008), pp. 87-96 and Niall O’Brien, ‘The Estate of Maurice Brown of Rathmoylan: Its Origins and Descent’, in Decies, No. 64 (2008), pp. 41-46. The choice of these two journals was that they include a biography of the author and thus I could write in these biographies that I published the Blackwater and Bride book. The article in Decies did result in a direct sale of a copy of the book but I am not sure did it do much more.
In total 1,000 copies of the Blackwater and Bride book was produced of which 127 copies were sold at the book launch. It then took another 4 years to sell most of the books mainly through shops in Fermoy, Dungarvan and Youghal. The slow rate of sales, the end of Heritage Council funding of book publication and other distractions for my funds has meant that the Blackwater and Bride is so far my only book although the number of articles published in historical journals has increased to over sixteen.
The Blackwater and Bride book not only recorded the navigation and river trade on the two rivers and the Lismore canal but helped generate an appreciation of the two rivers among the communities along its banks. The river boating services offered by Denis Murray and Tony Gallagher acquired more customers. The Gathering 2013 festival in Knockanore used the river to boat people between Youghal and Cappoquin as an important part of its programme. A number of people have explored the idea of a restaurant river boat service on the Blackwater and the Bride. In 2016 the Villierstown community has established a boating service that includes a special boat for wheelchair people. Recently, the various communities along the Blackwater between Clashmore and Lismore have come together to develop the economy of the region with the river as a central theme. Before 2008 people along the two rivers had mostly forgotten about the river as they drove their cars to destinations away from the rivers. Since 2008 the two rivers have once again become a linkage between the communities.
On a personal level, the Blackwater and Bride book generated invitations to give history talks about the rivers and trade in Youghal, Tallow and Waterford city, which would not previously happen. The book further generated an invitation to write an article on the history of the Irish timber trade for the journal, Irish Forestry, which was nice to do and also opened my eyes to other places to publish history rather than keeping it too local.
A further development by the book was the establishment of a Facebook page, entitled, Sailing Merchant Vessels, which records the history of various sailing vessels and accounts of sailing history that is today long gone. The page has (December 2018) over 2,300 followers and it is hoped to continue to develop the site with more maritime history.
Hopefully someday I will get a chance to publish another book if I don’t get too distracted with articles in historical journals, or by two history blogs or by two history pages on Facebook as well as the fun of life, work and family. Should be good fun as the Blackwater book was even with all the work involved.
- Early years of travel, 8,000 B.C. – 1600 1
- The Rivers 1580 – 1700 17
- Tidal river traffic 1700 – 1800 37
- Opening the river 1700 – 1850 53
- The ferries 67
- Lismore canal 81
- Tidal river traffic 1800 – 1900 98
- Shipbuilding by the river 128
- Passenger traffic and steamboats 135
- The Bride River 1902 – 1922 145
- Blackwater dredging and river improvements 159
- River quays and bridges 165
- Rowing, coting and yachting 187
- Tidal river traffic 1936 – 1958 196
- Bride and Blackwater vessels 213
- Conclusion 272
Partial returns of trade on the Lismore canal 283
Local corn and flour mills from Griffith’s Valuation 284
Personalities of the river in the nineteenth century 285
Types of vessels on the river 286
Time table of the Blackwater Steamer Company 287
Coastal trade at Youghal 1866 to 1879 288
Some mallow canal accounts for 1761 289
Figures by Musgrave to get £10,000 savings on river traffic 291
Notes on the Youghal Harbour records 292
Notes on the Lismore Canal Lockage accounts 293
Miscellaneous trade on the two rivers 1879 to 1898 294
Line drawings of a Blackwater market boat 296
Index of people and places 200
Index of ships 317
Today when we think of travel, we mention cars, buses, trains and planes. But for an island nation we often fail to mention ships. Yet to people in the past, ships would be their first choice. The Blackwater and Bride are today noted all over the world as rivers for good fishing. For our forefathers, they were the super highways of their time. If we want to go to England, France or Australia, many hours in a car and at an airport would have to be endured. Our grandparents just had to go down to the bottom of the garden and board a ship which would take them there direct.
The first river navigators came to do shopping and find accommodation. The Irish of the early medieval period used the rivers to export their agriculture surplus as did the later Normans while importing luxury items from across the globe. The seventeenth century saw a great expansion in river traffic with the influence of the new English and the happy survival of more documents than the medieval period. After such activity, the first haft of the eighteenth century was one of rest until 1750 when the Mallow Canal and the growth of the corn trade brought an increase in traffic. From this time until the 1950’s, the corn trade provided varied levels of river activity, along with imports of coal and exports of timber. Such trade was carried on the river lighters and after1884 principally on the merchant schooners. Facilities such as the many river quays and warehouses were constructed while many of the fishing weirs were removed to aid navigation. The two rivers saw some of the first navigators to Ireland and had visits from some of the last merchant schooners at the end of sail.
The origin of this book was a request by Patrick Grogan that I write an article on west Waterford for the Waterford Archaeological and Historical Society journal, Decies. Navigation on the Suir had been well written about in Decies and I felt a little balance to marine affairs in Waterford would do no harm. Therefore I wrote a piece on the opening of the Blackwater River above Lismore from 1700 to 1850 (which now forms chapter four).
Having finished the proposed article in just a few months, I felt really happy with myself. This article encompassed the whole picture of Blackwater navigation, as I supposed it to be. But just to make sure that I had covered all the aspects of the subject, I wrote a letter to Mike Hackett of Youghal, asking was there anything else to be learnt on the subject. Mike had written so many books on Youghal and the Blackwater that he seemed like a good fellow to ask (he also happen to be the only marine person I knew at the time). Mike replied that Frank Mills of Knockanore was the person to ask. He wisely never let on that only the tip of the iceberg had been touched. So I rang Frank in February 2003 and five years later, this book is the bigger picture. Even Frank was amazed at the amount of information available.
But despite the bigger picture, this book does not tell the full story. People may find the use of notes to be excessive. I apologize if the notes break the flow of your reading and enjoyment. The subject of navigation on the Blackwater and Bride Rivers has never been written in book form before. Some aspects like the Mallow Canal and the passenger steam boats of the nineteenth century have appeared in articles of historical journals or in a chapter of a book, but not the full story. Therefore this book not just corrects this lacking but also forms an information source for future research and publications. Hence the excessive notes are I hope an aid to the next voyage of discovery.
I could even have spent more time on further research. We didn’t consult old newspapers. What! Didn’t consult newspapers; what scandal. Yea well some people are full of scandal. To do so would postpone publication for two or three more years. As the living memory of navigation is fast leaving us with the last vessel having left the Blackwater in 1958, it was felt that further postponement would deprive of us all of giving acknowledgement to the men (they were mostly men), who sailed the Blackwater and Bride where now only fish and ducks travel.
In such a work there have been high and low points. Meeting Frank Mills and the legendary Dick Scott was a joy and pleasure which long years will never diminish. Johnny McGrath looking into a skip full of papers in Dungarvan, from where he pulled out the bridge log books of Camphire (for 1902 to 1956), and of Youghal (from 1936 to 1958) was an invaluable piece of salvage. Some would express disappointment that he didn’t pull out more papers, but without those log books the navigation story would certainly be the poorer. Finding the log books for the Lismore Canal in Dublin and, in greater number, at Dungarvan was great. The disappointment came with only one book for before for the fifty four years before 1851 (and that book only covering three years). Further sorrow arrived with the Youghal harbour books only surviving for the period after 1878, made establishing the level of trade on the two rivers extremely hard. Thankfully the harbour books after 1878 gave us wonderful information. Chapter seven and fifteen are based heavily upon these books.
Dr. Johnson once wrote to Charles O’Connor on his “Dissertations on the History of Ireland” that “I hope you will continue to cultivate this kind of learning, which has too long lain neglected, and which if it be suffered to remain in oblivion for another century, may, perhaps, never be retrieved.” This book is slightly late in time to retrieve much of the living folklore, but I trust, not too late to tell this remarkable story, and keep it from oblivion.
If there any errors or omissions, I hope they are few and that if readers note any, we can correct same in a further edition. With this proviso, hopefully you will find the result of this book to be worthwhile and enjoyable, fascinating and interesting.
End of post
 O’Brien, N.C.E.J., ‘Timber exports in the south east’, in Irish Forestry, Vol. 74, Nos. 1 & 2 (2017), pp. 168-190
 https://www.facebook.com/sailingmerchantvessels/?ref=bookmarks [accessed 30 December 2018]
 http://celtic2realms-medievalnews.blogspot.com/ [accessed on 30 December 2018] covering medieval history and https://niallbrn.wordpress.com/ [accessed on 30 December 2018] covering modern history.
 https://www.facebook.com/MallowFermoyLismoreWaterfordRailwayBranchLines/?ref=bookmarks [accessed on 30 December 2018] and https://www.facebook.com/sailingmerchantvessels/?ref=bookmarks [accessed 30 December 2018]
 Since the writing of the preface in 2007 the National Library of Ireland completed a new catalogue of the Lismore Papers by Stephen Ball in which additional information on the Lismore canal before 1851 was discovered. MS 43,786/1 is an Account for the Lismore Canal with Samuel Kenah & Co. (1816-9), returns of lockage received (1828-49), and return of proceeds of lockage from the Lismore Canal (1855-7), 6 items; MS 43,786/2 is entitled Lockage account book for the years 1828 to 1840, 1 item