Cork history, General History, Maritime History, Waterford history

Blackwater and Bride book: ten years on

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.[1]

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.[2] 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[3] or by two history pages on Facebook[4] 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.













  1. Early years of travel, 8,000 B.C. – 1600                               1
  2. The Rivers 1580 – 1700                                                          17
  3. Tidal river traffic 1700 – 1800                                              37
  4. Opening the river 1700 – 1850                                             53
  5. The ferries                                                                                67
  6. Lismore canal                                                                          81
  7. Tidal river traffic 1800 – 1900                                              98
  8. Shipbuilding by the river                                                     128
  9. Passenger traffic and steamboats                                       135
  10. The Bride River 1902 – 1922                                                145
  11. Blackwater dredging and river improvements              159
  12. River quays and bridges                                                      165
  13. Rowing, coting and yachting                                               187
  14. Tidal river traffic 1936 – 1958                                             196
  15. Bride and Blackwater vessels                                              213
  16. Conclusion                                                                              272


Bibliography                                                                                     274




Appendix I

Partial returns of trade on the Lismore canal                      283

Appendix II

Local corn and flour mills from Griffith’s Valuation           284

Appendix III

Personalities of the river in the nineteenth century           285

Appendix IV

Types of vessels on the river                                                   286

Appendix V

Time table of the Blackwater Steamer Company                287

Appendix VI

Coastal trade at Youghal 1866 to 1879                                  288

Appendix VII

Some mallow canal accounts for 1761                                   289

Appendix VIII

Figures by Musgrave to get £10,000 savings on river traffic 291

Appendix IX

Notes on the Youghal Harbour records                                  292

Appendix X

Notes on the Lismore Canal Lockage accounts                     293

Appendix XI

Miscellaneous trade on the two rivers 1879 to 1898           294

Appendix XII

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).[5] 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






[1] O’Brien, N.C.E.J., ‘Timber exports in the south east’, in Irish Forestry, Vol. 74, Nos. 1 & 2 (2017), pp. 168-190

[2] [accessed 30 December 2018]

[3] [accessed on 30 December 2018] covering medieval history and [accessed on 30 December 2018] covering modern history.

[4] [accessed on 30 December 2018] and [accessed 30 December 2018]

[5] 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

Maritime History

Christmas on the River Bride for merchant sailing vessels

Christmas on the River Bride for merchant sailing vessels

Niall C.E.J. O’Brien

This brief article recalls past times between 1903 and 1920 when some merchant sailing vessels, chiefly from England, had to spend Christmas Day up the River Bride in west County Waterford, far from their family and loved ones.

On the 15th of December 1903 at 3pm the Progress of Wicklow passed up through the swivel opening of Camphire Bridge to sail up the River Bride in west County Waterford.[1] The identity of this vessel is not clear. The full description given in the Bride Bridge log book is “Progress of Wicklow, port of Dublin”. The latest online edition of Lloyd’s Register, 1899 does not list any vessel that would fit that description.[2] The Youghal Harbour records are of little help. It appears the Progress came up the Bride with no cargo and as such is not mentioned in the import books. The exports books simply say that the Progress left Youghal on 15th January 1904 with pit-props with no other details.[3] The Bride Bridge records say that the Progress of Wicklow left the River Bride at 10.30am on 5th January 1904.[4]

On the 22nd of December 1903 the New Design No. 2 of Bridgwater sailed up the River Bride, through the swivel opening of Camphire Bridge at 2pm.[5] The New Design No. 2 was built at Bridgwater in 1874 by Carver. Her dimensions were 84.1ft X 20.7 X 9.1 and her original tonnage was 75 tons gross. J. Exon was her master in 1883 and Symons of Bridgwater, her owner. The New Design No. 2 began life with a schooner rigging.[6] The firm of Clifford Symons was involved in the brick and tile making business.[7]

The rigging of the New Design No. 2 was later changed to that of a ketch and her tonnage was reduced to 50 tons net. In 1935 she was owned by Colthurst Symons of Bridgwater. She was later sold to Henry Nash of Bristol and was broken up at Bristol in 1952.[8] The New Design No. 2 stayed up the River Bride until 10th January 1904 when she passed down through Camphire Bridge at 11am.[9] The stay over by the New Design No. 2 on the River Bride in Christmas 1903 was not to be the only occasion when this happened.

On 6th December 1907 the New Design No. 2 sailed up the River Bride at 10.30am. She stayed the Christmas of 1907 on the river before leaving on 27th December at 1.30pm for a destination unknown.[10]

On 16th December 1905 at 8.30am the Harvest Home of Preston sailed up the River Bride.[11] The Harvest Home was a vessel of 79 tons and Captain Doyle was her master.[12] The Harvest Home was built by Dawson of Liverpool in 1866. Up to 1883 she was owned by C. Boden of Runcorn and mastered by C. Boden. In 1883 the Harvest Home was purchased by T. Thomas of St. Ives who also became her master. Her dimensions in 1883 were 80.2ft X 20.8 X 10.7 with 100 gross tons and 86 net tons.[13] After spending the Christmas of 1905 on the River Bride the Harvest Home left on 9th January 1906 at 7.30am – an early start on a cold dark winter’s morning.[14]

On 20th December 1907 the Baltic of Liverpool sailed up the River Bride.[15] The Baltic stayed on the Bride for Christmas 1907 before sailing down river on 6th January 1908 at 11.30am.[16]

It is customary for all work to cease on Christmas Day with shops, factories and offices closed. Some necessary work does continue like feeding animals down on the farm or emergency services standing by, hoping for no call out. In 1909 Christmas Day on the River Bride was no quiet and peaceful day – there was plenty of work to be done. At 3pm on Christmas Day 1909 the Hannah of Gloucester sailed up through Camphire Bridge and onto the River Bride. A half hour later, at 3.30pm, the Cesina Lucia of Dublin sailed up the River Bride.[17] The Hannah left the River Bride on 2nd January 1910 while the Cesina Lucia left of 22nd January 1910.[18]


The old swivel iron Bride Bridge was between the

thatched house and the modern Camphire bridge 

The busy Christmas Day of 1909 may have upset the dinner and rest of Mrs. Joyce, who lived in a thatched house beside Camphire Bridge and turned the handle which opened and closed the swivel mechanism of the Bridge, but she had some blessing after as no further vessels stayed over on the River Bride until 1913. On 20th December 1913 the Kate of Barrow sailed up through Camphire Bridge and onto the River Bride.[19] The Kate was built in 1874 by White of Ulverston at 104 gross tons and 75 net tons. Her dimensions were 82.8ft X 20.8 X 9.7 and she was a two mast schooner. She was later fitted with an auxiliary engine. In 1911 Captain Hugh Shaw purchased the Kate and sailed her for many years across the Irish Sea.[20] The Kate left the River Bride on 5th January 1914 but would return in December 1916 to spend another Christmas Day up river and far from home and again on Christmas Day 1920.[21]

The Kate avoided spending Christmas Day in Youghal in December 1914 by being alert to a favourable wind and having the courage to know the sea. By the winter of 1914 most of the young able-bodied seamen in the merchant fleet joined the Royal Navy and the coastal sailing merchant vessels were left with their maters and a few old crew members. Captain Shaw had no crew left and had to get the help of his seventy year old father. While at Youghal in December 1914 Captain Shaw recruited a local lad as a crew member but the father of the lad died and the boy could no longer sail with Shaw for England. Captain Shaw had a cargo of oats for Bristol but no crew and no wind. The other schooner captains took the lack of wind as reason to stay at home with their families for Christmas.

About 4pm on Christmas Eve the wind changed to a westerly. Captain Shaw was anxious to get home and with his old father they raised the anchor with difficulty and were gone. Two days later they reached Bristol. When the Youghal merchants saw that the Kate had left with only two crew members, they lambasted the other sea captains for not sailing with six crew members. The captains thus raised their sails and left Youghal but they were late. The favourable westerly changed and the vessels had to pull in at Passage East on the Suir Estuary where they had to spend Christmas away from their families.[22]

On 22nd December 1913 the Claggan of Barrow went up the River Bride but her stay up river on Christmas Day was not a time of sadness at being away from family.[23] The Claggan was a local vessel, owned by David O’Keeffe of Tallow, a town on the River Bride.

David O’Keeffe began his working life as a draper’s assistant in Youghal. He subsequently moved to Tallow on his marriage to Josephine Carey and assisted in the business there of his father-in-law, William Carey. In little time David O’Keeffe took over the drapery business and expanded as a coal, grain and timber merchant. By the 1880s he was one of the leading merchants of Tallow. In September 1912 David O’Keeffe purchased the Claggan. After trading for a few years he sold her in 1916.[24]

The Claggan was built in 1876 by Gough of Bridgwater and was owned by J. Fisher & Co. of Barrow in 1893. Her dimensions were 76.8ft X 20.7 X 8.6 with a schooner rig. Captain J. Latham was her master. She was 84 gross tons in 1893 but this was later reduced to 75 tons.[25]

One hundred years ago, the Red Tail of Runcorn spent Christmas Day 1914 up the River Bride. She had arrived on 18th December and did not leave until 4th January 1915.[26] The schooner Red Tail was built in 1867 by Blundell and Mason of Runcorn for William Rigby of Runcorn. By 1916 she was owned by William Cooper of Runcorn.[27] She was torpedoed off Dieppe in 1916 with a cargo of coal. Her captain at the time, William Durepaire, was buried at Dieppe.[28]



On Christmas Day 1916 there were three vessels docked up the River Bride in west County Waterford, namely; the Kate of Barrow (previously noted), along with the Oliver of Gloucester and the Anne of Gloucester.[29]

On Christmas Day 1920 the Kate of Barrow was up the River Bride (arrived 12th December, left 28th December) and she was joined by the Kate Farrell of Bideford. The Kate Farrell arrived on the River Bride on 23rd December 1920 and sailed on 12th January 1921.[30] Christmas time in Ireland of 1920 was far from peaceful. The War of Independence was ongoing since January 1919 and would only end in July 1921 with a truce.

On 1st November 1920 a major military engagement between the British army and the Irish rebel army took place at Piltown near the eastern side of Youghal Harbour. The Irish had attacked the police barracks at Ardmore and the nearby marine coast guard station to draw the army out of Youghal and into an ambush. Their plan worked and the British army of 35 soldiers drove straight into the ambush. The driver of the army truck was one of the first casualties and a general engagement began. At a lull in the British fire, the Irish charged their positions and the British surrendered. The Irish took all the military hardware and sent the soldiers walking back to Youghal.[31]

It is not known if other vessels spent Christmas on the River Bride after December 1920 as the surviving records stop on 7th December 1922 and do not resume until May 1929.


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[1] Bride Bridge Log Book, 1902-1915, folio 3 verso

[2] accessed on 23 December 2014

[3] Cork City and County Archives, Youghal Port Records, U138 exports 1904

[4] Bride Bridge Log Book, 1902-1915, folio 4

[5] Bride Bridge Log Book, 1902-1915, folio 3 verso

[6] Lloyd’s Register, 1883

[7] Michael Bouquet, Westcountry Sail: Merchant Shipping 1840-1960 (David & Charles, Newton Abbot, 1971), p. 55

[8] Richard J. Scott, Irish Sea Schooner Twilight: The Last Years of the Western Seas Traders (Black Dwarf Publications, Lydney, 2012), p. 157

[9] Bride Bridge Log Book, 1902-1915, folio 4

[10] Bride Bridge Log Book, 1902-1915, folio 19 and f19 verso

[11] Bride Bridge Log Book, 1902-1915, folio 9

[12] Niall O’Brien, Blackwater and Bride: Navigation and Trade, 7000 BC to 2007 (Niall O’Brien Publishing, Ballyduff, 2008), p. 412

[13] Lloyd’s Register, 1883

[14] Bride Bridge Log Book, 1902-1915, folio 10

[15] Bride Bridge Log Book, 1902-1915, folio 19

[16] Bride Bridge Log Book, 1902-1915, folio 20

[17] Bride Bridge Log Book, 1902-1915, folio 22 and f22 verso

[18] Bride Bridge Log Book, 1902-1915, folio 23

[19] Bride Bridge Log Book, 1902-1915, folio 36

[20] Niall O’Brien, Blackwater and Bride: Navigation and Trade, 7000 BC to 2007 (Niall O’Brien Publishing, Ballyduff, 2008), pp. 273, 420

[21] Bride Bridge Log Book, 1902-1915, folio 36; Bride Bridge Log Book, 1915-1922, folio 1 & f13

[22] Niall O’Brien, Blackwater and Bride: Navigation and Trade, 7000 BC to 2007, pp. 274, 275

[23] Bride Bridge Log Book, 1902-1915, folio 36

[24] Niall O’Brien, Blackwater and Bride: Navigation and Trade, 7000 BC to 2007, p. 270, 283, 397

[25] Lloyd’s Register, 1893

[26] Bride Bridge Log Book, 1902-1915, folio 40

[27] accessed 23 December 2014

[28] accessed 23 December 2014

[29] Bride Bridge Log Book, 1915-1922, folio 4 & f5

[30] Bride Bridge Log Book, 1915-1922, folio 13

[31] Sean and Sile Murphy, The Comeraghs: “Gunfire & Civil War”: The Story of the Deise Brigade IRA 1914-24 (Comeragh Publications, Kilmacthomas, 2003), p. 181