Out and about in East Sussex

Though I lived in Tunbridge Wells in nearby Kent for about six months in 1988 I never got around to seeing East Sussex. Most things I was interested in at the time were in London and there was not much time left for exploring the south coast. The closest I got to Sussex was a signpost to East Grinstead and the name of that town did not suggest anything worth finding out more about. However more recently a good friend moved to Eastbourne from Australia and I’m slowly getting to know that part of the world better. I was back there again after a visit to Ireland for Christmas.


The only thing I used to know about Eastbourne was its annual women’s tennis tournament warm-up for Wimbledon and the fact it was full of old people. Eastbourne still has the tennis but is slowly shedding the “God’s Waiting Room” image. The 2011 census shows a population of 100,000 up 10% in 10 years with the average age decreasing as it attracts more students, commuters to London and Brighton and families (like my friend’s). It’s a relatively new town but it has old buildings such as St Mary’s The Virgin Church dating in part to the 12th century. The church is on the slope of the Bourne stream, that gave the town its name. Next door is The Lamb, parts of which also date to the 12th century.  The Lamb is one of the oldest pubs in England, originally built as a clergy house to house monks who gave alms to the poor of Eastbourne.


The night I arrived a gale was blowing in from the Channel bringing heavy rain but the weather improved enough the following day for an outing. I told my friend I’d never been to Brighton so we hopped on the bus to take us there along the coast. We caught glimpses through the window of the choppy sea and parts of Beachy Head, the 100 million year-old white cliffs that look so much like Dover’s, it occasionally stands in for them in movies. Beachy Head is the highest chalk sea cliff in Britain, rising 162 metres above sea level. The name has nothing to do with a beach but a corruption of the original French words “beau chef” meaning beautiful headland.


Another sight from the bus were the oxbow laves of Cuckmere Haven. Oxbow lakes are U-shaped bodies of water that form when a wide meander from the main stem of a river is cut off, creating a free-standing body of water, resembling the pin of the bow that wraps around oxen. The floodplains at the mouth of the Cuckmere leads to the chalky cliffs and its walks are popular with tourists.


After an hour our bus delivered us to Brighton. The city is renowned for its beaches, packed in summer but mostly deserted at the height of winter with big breakers coming in off La Manche (“the sleeve” as the French call the English Channel, linking the Atlantic with the North Sea).  Brighton has 13 km of beach within the city limits with hotels lining the promenade. The beach is renowned for its pebbly surface but east of the Pier, a flat sandy foreshore is exposed at low tide. The city council owns the beaches, divided into named sections by groynes—the first of which was completed in 1724.


From previous visits I had been to Eastbourne pier but never to Brighton Pier, or to give it its proper name Brighton Palace Pier. Brighton Pier is familiar from its role in the films Brighton Rock and Quadrophenia. In the mid 19th century railways permitted mass tourism to seaside resorts but large tidal ranges at many resorts meant that the sea was often not visible from dry land. The pleasure pier was the answer, allowing visitors to promenade alongside the sea at all times. The Brighton Chain Pier was built in 1823 it was decrepit by the end of the century and was planned to be demolished to make way for the new Palace Pier. A storm blew it away in 1896 and the Palace Pier was opened in 1899. The pier attractions were tawdry – at least to this observer in January – but the pier remains incredibly popular and the most visited tourist attraction outside London, with over 4.5 million visitors in 2016.


We took a stroll away towards the town centre. To get there we detoured via The Lanes. Before Brighton was the ancient fishing village of Brighthelmstone. At the heart of Brighthelmstone were The Lanes, with a maze of twisting alleyways. These days they host antiques and jewellery shops nestling alongside specialist contemporary and designer boutique fashion. Its name derives from the Anglo-Saxon “Laine” meaning “fields”.


Brighton has been an important centre for commerce and employment since the 18th century. It is home to several major companies, some of which employ thousands of people in creative, digital and new media businesses. Despite job losses across Britain due to automisation and globalisation, in Brighton jobs growth is high – around 11% of existing jobs are in occupations predicted to increase – the third highest of any British city, according to Cities Outlook 2018.


Our destination was the remarkable Royal Pavilion. Beginning in 1787, it was built in three stages as a seaside retreat for George, Prince of Wales, who became Prince Regent in 1811. George loved Asian architecture and the Pavilion is built in the Indo-Saracenic style. Architect John Nash extended the building from 1815 adding the domes and minarets. Frederick Crace’s amazing interior design is jaw-dropping and the tour is recommended but photos are not allowed inside. The Pavilion was a royal palace until the time of Victoria, who hated the building and the city that housed it. “The people here are very indiscreet and troublesome,” she said. Brighton City Council bought it in 1850 and immediately opened it as a tourist attraction. It had a poignant re-use during the First World War as a hospital for recovering Indian soldiers who must have felt some ironic nostalgia for being placed there.


My friend then whisked me off by bus to Lewes, the ancient market town and country town of East Sussex. It was too late to check out the castle so he took me to the nearby Lewes Arms, whose website claims it is the home to ” pea throwing, poetry and pantomime – not forgetting the famous dwyle flunking match”. The English game of dwyle flunking involves two teams of 12 players each taking a turn to dance around the other while attempting to avoid a beer-soaked dwile (cloth) thrown by the non-dancing team. Ah those mad English!sussex9

The town’s other claim to fame is the home of Harvey’s Real Ale brewery on the banks of the river Ouse. The brewery is an eighth-generation family business, with John Harvey first supplying wine and port to customers in Lewes in 1794. By 1811, his wine and brandy shipping business is well established “at the foot of Cliffe Bridge”. He began brewing as a seasonal sideline activity in 1820 and acquired the Bridge Wharf Site in 1838 where he added coal to his business activities and built an eight-quarter brewhouse. John Harvey’s Best Bitter remains popular around the region and when the aforementioned Lewes Arms was bought out by a rival brewery and stopped selling it in 2006, regulars staged a boycott leading to a humiliating backdown by pub owners. It’s not a bad drop but I preferred it mixed half and half with Harvey’s Old, what locals call “mother-in-law”. Any apprehension I had of asking for two pints of mother-in-law had disappeared by the third pint in the cosy Harvey’s pub next to the brewery. The only hard part was heading out in the cold air and grabbing a late night train back to Eastbourne to end the adventure.

Barnaby Grudge: My experiences with Mr Joyce

Barnaby Joyce and Matt Canavan in Mount Isa in 2016 with LNP federal election candidate Jonathan Pavetto (centre).

The events in Canberra in the past few days have been extraordinary even by the febrile standards of Australian politics. The sight of the Prime Minister and the Deputy Prime Minister at public loggerheads bodes ill for both men, and is likely the end of the current Coalition and an early election – unless both leaders go. Maybe that prospect is what is driving Barnaby Joyce on as he excoriated Malcolm Turnbull for his “overreaction” to Barnaby’s own issues, leaving his wife for a pregnant mistress, while finding a comfortable job for the latter with another Minister, Matt Canavan.

Barnaby needs the salary of Deputy Prime Minister to feed his two families but even he surely knows his press conference on Friday pushed matters past the point of no return. Maybe his strategy is to take Malcolm Turnbull down with him. If so, the Twitter memes showing Labor leaders Bill Shorten and Tanya Plibersek trying to keep the smiles off their faces might rebound as a reborn Coalition under Julie Bishop and Darren Chester manage to look electable again.

But who knows, Barnaby always had the reputation of the maverick, however oversold. Since his election to the Senate in 2004 he crossed the floor 28 times but only three times for legislation and all three times his crossing made no difference – the bill passed each time. But what it did for Barnaby was to add to his growing reputation as an independent voice, and a voice that was heard regularly in the media. They laughed at this Queensland bumpkin who occasionally mangled his sentences Joh-style. But like Joh, Barnaby was a good “retail politician”, the journalists said sagely.

He was always Barnaby. A moniker out of Dickens barely needed a surname but “joy” was hardly it. He was a grumpy bugger. I knew him when he was a senator based in St George, already then an ex-maverick who was more disciplined as he settled in the heir apparent role to then invisible leader Warren Truss. Barnaby had a national focus so wasn’t often available for local interviews but he was a fearsome presence. And when he wasn’t around he was ably represented by his chief of staff Matt Canavan. Canavan was young but a whipsmart operator with an ability to speak matching his boss – and without the mangling.

I had a mostly hands-off relationship when I was editor of the Western Star in Roma. Roma was the territory of Barnaby’s “frenemy”, Bruce Scott, the fellow-LNP federal member for Maranoa. Scott was in his late 60s and in parliament since 1990. A decent and popular man and a former Veterans Affairs minister under John Howard, most people felt Scott’s best days were behind him.

In an editorial in 2011 I advised Scott to retire so Mr Joyce, or rather Barnaby, could run in the lower house. In this I was following the call from the local mayor and others who saw the longer-term ramifications. Barnaby was the favourite to replace Truss as party leader but convention demanded he be in the lower house and Maranoa, with its huge LNP majority, was the obvious seat. With an election due in 2013 that the LNP was likely to win as the Labor government imploded, it was important the matter was sorted quickly.

I spent the first four lines of the editorial outlining my concerns of Barnaby’s shoot from the hip personality but had to conclude it was time for Scott to stand aside we could have a future potential deputy PM representing our seat. I never heard from Barnaby whether he saw the article or not, but Scott did. When I finally got to speak with him afterwards and asked him what he thought of my editorial, he said “well, I liked the first four lines.”

It didn’t matter. Scott ignored my editorial and did not retire before the 2013 election. Barnaby was forced to move to New England in NSW, where he originally came from. There he comfortably beat Tony Windsor who paid the price of his support for Labor, among his largely National following (Windsor was an ex-National before going independent.) Joyce was subsequently elected deputy leader of the party and Minister for Agriculture in the incoming Abbott government.

His offsider Matt Canavan soon joined him in parliament. Canavan did not inherit Barnaby’s senate seat – that was Barry O’Sullivan, but he was comfortably elected as the third LNP name on the 2013 Senate ticket so on 1 July 2014 he took his seat on the red benches.  Like Barnaby, Canavan kept himself in the public eye by commenting on most issues of the day.  He was rewarded when Malcolm Turnbull unseated Abbott and Canavan was named minister for Northern Australia, after barely a year in parliament.

Truss resigned before the 2016 election and Barnaby was elected party leader and Deputy Prime Minister of Australia. Canavan took continued his upward trajectory taking a seat in cabinet. It was ironic that both were caught up in the citizenship saga with Canavan winning in court and Barnaby later at a by-election.

I have met Canavan in Mount Isa a few times since election to the ministry. I disagree with him on coal and on most of his social issues, but I respect him as an intelligent and honest performer. Barnaby I was never so sure of. I did meet him once again when he accompanied Canavan on one of his visits to Mount Isa. It was the 2016 federal election in 2016 and they were here to support the LNP candidate Jonathan Pavetto (who ultimately lost comfortably to Bob Katter). The trio doorstopped an announcement of $5 million worth of road improvements to Mount Isa from the NAIF. The choice of the side of the Barkly highway was appropriate but noisy and several times the conference had to be halted when a b-double trundled by.  I was keen to talk to the deputy PM and captured the entire 25 minute interview on Facebook Live for the North West Star. Looking back on it now, I see Barnaby said some things that are poignant on reflection.


The interview began in straightforward fashion as Barnaby justified the $5 million as looking after people in “regional areas”. The low production quality of the video was shown with my finger appearing over the edge of the camera in the early stages but it didn’t matter. Barnaby was keen to fill the frame as the big picture man and Canavan filled in on the details.

They made the announcement and the ABC asked questions about it. At about 7mins I asked my first question about what the government was doing to address youth unemployment, with one in three young people out of a job in the outback. “I’m glad you asked that,” said Barnaby quickly, an answer I realised he would always use for a hard question.  He was quick to point to the money they were spending and rambled into fair trade, tourism, and back to their spending. Then he spoke about how the Labor-Greens were preventing dredging at Karumba Port.

I interjected. “Isn’t the real problem Karumba Century Mine has closed and its owners used to pay for that dredging?” I said.

Barnaby quickly turned it round to agriculture and asked that if he had “a government with vision in Brisbane” they would finance it to encourage the live export trade. When I asked him what he was doing to support Mount Isa’s industry, he passed it to Canavan who batted it away effortlessly. I swung back to Barnaby and asked what he said to local income earners doing it tough when he was giving out big tax cuts to high earners. Almost angrily Barnaby said if you don’t have small business “in the tax brackets where they can employ people, you don’t have jobs going”. He quickly went back to the laundry list, live trade, tax breaks, the works.

But he was more flippant when I asked him why we were suffering a nine week election campaign in 2016 “two months you are campaigning when you should be governing.”

“Alignment of the stars,” he said jokingly, at first. There was an uncomfortable silence and you could almost see the alarm in Canavan’s eyes. Barnaby quickly realised this was a bad answer and starting to squirm his way out on technical grounds over the need to have the election post July 1.

I interrupted him. “But surely you can understand -”

“…the anger of the people” is what I wanted to say next, but he interrupted me in return.

“- It had be approved after the first of July to get that three year term. I understand, believe you me I understand.” It was all about “getting on with the job”.

Getting no satisfaction there I brought up the fact the Nationals and Liberals were one party in Queensland but were in three-cornered contests with Libs and Labor in other states. He dismissed the question, “They are separate parties,” he said. I asked what did that mean and he started talking about “an open seat” when I interrupted him again.

“Have they got separate agendas?” I asked. I waved me off about the need for both parties to campaign and said he was happy to talk about Damien Drum and his other candidates in those contests because “they were doing a great job”. Still unhappy I said “what’s the difference between the Liberal and the National candidate, have they got different agendas?”

“You’ll have to talk to the other candidates,” Barnaby replied.

“I’m glad you asked me about Damien Drum” he pressed on (he had mentioned Drum, not me) and proceeded to tell me how good a candidate he was.

Still unhappy I interrupted again. (This is the best part of the video – exactly 16 minutes in.)

“Barnaby what are you, a Liberal or a National?”

“A National,” he replied.

“But you are called Liberal National Party in Queensland.”

“No, no, I’m a National, called a National.”

“I’m Barnaby, called Barnaby, I’m Joyce called Joyce, I’m a national called a national.”

Barnaby, called Barnaby, ploughed on saying the party was called the CLP in the Northern Territory and in New South Wales where he was it was the Nationals and then there was “poor Tasmania” which didn’t have a National Party at all.

It was at this point my colleagues from the ABC lost patience with the way the interview was going and wanted Barnaby to talk about the announcement again. Which he was more than happy to do.

He ranted for another five to eight minutes batting off an ABC question about the dairy industry recovery loan system, “we’re looking after Australians first”.

He lost his train of thought talking about citizenship and he smiled as he remembered his Dad was a Kiwi, “I was always a bit suspect of him,” he laughed. (This was a good 12 months before his dad’s birthplace would come back to haunt him).

Then ABC mentioned Johnny Depp’s “inbred tomato” comment and sheepishly asked him did he have any tomatoes in his family.

“He would know, very wise man,” Barnaby retorted.

“I’m very happy with the family I’ve got.”

No one had any idea how those words would sound in 2018 but prim and proper “serious journalist” me interrupted again.

“On a more serious note”, I said sniffily, “the Internet is appalling in our region. The NBN is a ‘poor man’s NBN’, how was the government going to rectify this?”

Barnaby retorted in vague specifics. There was  “1000 megabits” there were people “happy with the 25 megabit package, at Fibre to the Node we are getting 100 Megabits down I think and 40 megabits up, with cable we are getting 100 Megabits down and 40 megabits up, with wireless we are getting 50 down and 25 to 20 up and with satellite that’s 25 down and 5 up.”

He said Netflix used 5 down “which goes to show you how powerful what you deliver back up”. He said their concern was cutting the cost and Labor were never going to implement a full FTTP, not out in the bush anyway, and it would have taken and extra six to eight years to implement and they were winding it back. Again he reiterated most people wanted 25 down and FTTN can provide that.

He finished with a flourish they (the government) were “not a suggestion box, not a complaints box” but were out there “fighting and delivering”. Thank you, he said, and walked away from the cameras, taking no further questions.

Senator Matt Canavan rushed in to have the last word saying the Turnbull government had opened more slots on the sattelite by buying more bandwidth.

The interview petered out and looking back on the comments on the video, I saw I copped some criticism from my live audience for interrupting. “Calm down, Derek” said one viewer.

But I couldn’t calm down. Here was the deputy prime minister in town and talking twaddle. I was angry and determined not let him get away with that. That’s what journalists do.

The sad thing was I neglected most of the content in that interview. In the rush to get stories out I missed out reporting on most of the issues and Barnaby escaped to his next assignment. I never replayed the video in full again until this week.

In the last few days I’ve been editorialising again about Barnaby and my opinion gone full swing from 2011. “Barnaby Joyce must resign“, I said, for once giving him his full name. The master bullshitter has been caught out once too often and unlike what he told me in 2016 it turns out he wasn’t happy with his family after all.  It is the probity side of the scandal that bothers me not the sex, and to that end Canavan is not smelling of roses either. But he survive, though his former boss is toast.

It’s time for Barnaby to go. But I will say this much for him. At least he has had the balls to come to Mount Isa and answer my questions. The gutless wonder Malcolm Turnbull has steered well clear. It’s a shame he will likely be out of a job before he gets here. I would have liked the opportunity to ask him questions too.





Nearby Waterford

Being in Waterford for Christmas is fun but not the best time of year for outdoor activities. The weather was occasionally pleasant enough to get out of town for social activities including a run on New Year’s Eve. I’m somewhere among the runners hurtling down Tramore’s long beach on the North Atlantic coast 10km outside Waterford.  Tramore comes from the Irish Trá Mhór, “big strand” and it felt big enough when you have to run all the way down to the pebbly beach to the end at Saleens, then around the back of the sandhills and home via the back strand. The race used to have the colourful name of the Baldy Man for one of the sandhills which resembled the pilgarlic in question. The name was changed this year for reasons unclear but it was still an attractive course. The weather was good too. It proved tough but I was happy to do the 8km course in just under 43 minutes.


The race starts from the Promenade and in summer this area is packed with visitors. It’s not so busy on December 31 even with the attraction of the Baldy Man. The view of Tramore is dominated by the two churches on the hill, the smaller Church of Ireland on the left and the bigger Gothic revival Catholic Church of the Holy Cross centre-right. The Building News said of that church in 1861, “standing as it does on the highest ground in Tramore, is naturally a remarkable object for miles along the east coast of Ireland, and attracts a great deal of attention. On the 14th of September 1857, the Bishop of Waterford laid the foundation-stone of the new edifice, and the works having been steadily and carefully proceeded with, in July last the church was opened for divine service.”


This is the view of the Metal Man, Newtown Cove and Guillamene (Irish for “little fish”) west of Tramore Bay. The Metal Man statue and his two sentries are older than the church, dating to 1823, thanks to Lloyds of London. On a stormy night hazardous Tramore Bay can look deceptively like nearby safer Waterford Harbour, as many ships found to their cost. In January 1816 three ships were caught in a gale off these waters. The Sea Horse was in a convoy was carrying members of the 2nd Battalion of the 59th Regiment of Foot and their families from Ramsgate home to Cork at the end of the Napoleonic War. The two other ships, Boadicea and Lord Melville carried the rest of the battalion and members of the 82nd Regiment of Foot.  The weather deteriorated as they approached Ireland and the Sea Horse’s mate, John Sullivan, the only officer familiar with the south Irish coast fell from the foremast and died. Captain Gibbs could not locate the Kinsale lights and attempted to reach Waterford harbour, but the ship ran aground in Tramore Bay. Only 30 men, including the captain and two seamen, survived from the 394 people on board. The other two ships also foundered near Cork with great loss of life. As a result of the tragedy Lloyds installed the Metal Man and two towers across the bay on Brownstown Head as a warning for shipping to stay out.


Some shipping still managed to ignore the warning and I remember teenage trips to Tramore to look at the rusting wreck of the MV Michael which ran aground in 1975. The wreck has long been removed and nowadays Tramore has a reputation for surfing and windsurfing and kiting, and other watery sports. In this photo the low New Year’s Eve sun in the southern sky blazes over over Brownstown Head and a solo windsurfer.


On the other side of Brownstown Head is Dunmore East and the real entrance to Waterford Harbour.  Dunmore is a beautiful town with resemblances to Brittany.  It is full of smuggler’s coves, dangerous cliffs, and thatched cottages and is a haven for seabirds. Dunmore East is in the barony of Gaultier, which means “foreigner’s land”. In this case the foreigners were Danes or Ostmen (Norse Gaels) expelled by the English from the city of Waterford in 11th century ethnic cleansing.


Dunmore East is also one of Ireland’s most important fishing ports serving the Celtic Sea. There is a home fleet of five vessels and 30 half-deckers catching crab, lobster and shrimp as well as mackerel. Boats from Cork, Greencastle, Kilmore Quay and Castletownbere also use Dunmore East as do French vessels. The harbour is crowded during the autumn herring and spring fishing seasons, and also busy during the summer when the harbour is visited by leisure crafts, and increasingly cruise ships, which hover off shore in warmer months.


In 1814 the Post Office chose Dunmore as the Irish terminal of a new Mail Packet route from Milford Haven. Scottish engineer Alexander Nimmo designed and built the new harbour using local old red sandstone. His design included a magnificent lighthouse which took the form of a fluted Doric column with the lantern on top of the capital. The lighthouse was operational by 1825 though an early report said the keeper and his family were living in remote lodgings as the lighthouse accommodation was not habitable due to dampness. The Milford mail service ran to 1835 when it was moved to Waterford. The lighthouse ran initially on oil lamps, was converted to acetylene in 1922 and finally electricity in 1964.


This beach is Councillor’s Strand, a safe and popular beach in summer, but it disappears entirely at high tide. The view from the beach shows the other lighthouse at the entry to Waterford harbour, Hook Head in Co Wexford. Much bigger than Dunmore’s it is usually easily visible from across the harbour.


To get to Hook Head via the Suir bridge at Waterford and the Barrow bridge at New Ross is a journey of 100km. But it is much shorter by car ferry 14km up the harbour from Dunmore at the appropriately named “Passage”. Passage East is its proper name to distinguish it from Passage West in Cork, though few in Waterford use that distinction. Passage is near St John the Baptist church at Crooke, which may or may not have inspired Cromwell to say he planned to conquer Waterford in 1649 “by Hook or by Crook” indicating he was willing to attack either via county Wexford or Waterford. Nearby is Geneva Barracks, built to house a colony of Swiss Huguenot artisans and when that didn’t happen it housed the British military who played an important role in defeating the 1798 rebellion in Wexford.


The car ferry takes only a few minutes to get to Ballyhack on the Wexford side. My late grand-aunt had a lexicon of bizarre non sequiturs and one famous one was “Ballyhack Dirty Butter” which she would exclaim apropos of nothing. It seems there was always something unsavoury attached to the name of Ballyhack in the popular imagination of the surrounding district; and Ballyhack “dirty butter” was a derisive epithet often used against those who came from the village. I can’t comment on the cleanliness of the butter, but Ballyhack has a 15th-century Norman castle which belonged to the Knights Hospitallers and a nice pub to wait for the ferry.


We didn’t hang around in Ballyhack or nearby Arthurstown along the river (where you can see how far you are from your ferry when returning). We went to Duncannon Beach where we looked back across the harbour to Woodstown beach and Creadan Head – the most easterly point in Waterford – just upstream of Dunmore. Duncannon was strategically vital as its fort commanded the bay and was centrally involved in wars and sieges in the 17th and 18th centuries. In the Irish Confederate Wars (1641–1652), the fort was occupied by English soldiers and used as a base to attack nearby Redmond Hall.


Redmond Hall was our next stop, now known as Loftus Hall. Raymond (or Redmond) FitzGerald, nicknamed Le Gros (“the Fat”), was a Cambro-Norman commander in the Norman invasion of Ireland, and Strongbow’s second-in-command. He built the first house here in 1170. A second castle built in 1350 was attacked in the Confederate Wars in 1642 by English soldiers loyal to Charles I. Irish Confederates routed the English but Duncannon forces attacked the hall defended by 68-year-old Alexander Redmond, and his sons and workers. The attackers were delayed by fog and Irish Confederates returned to save the day. The Redmonds were eventually evicted in Cromwell’s invasion in 1650 and ownership passed to the Loftus family of English planters. In 1666 Charles Tottenham came look after the mansion with his wife and daughter Anne while the Loftuses were away on business. During a storm, a ship arrived at Hook. A young man came to the mansion and became romantically entangled with Anne. One night, the family and mystery man were playing cards. The man dealt each three cards apart from Anne who he only dealt two. Anne bent down to pick a card from the floor which she thought she dropped. When she looked under the table the man had a cloven foot. She challenged him and he went up through the roof, leaving behind a large hole in the ceiling. Anne became mentally ill and was locked away until she died in 1675. Her ghost still haunts the building. The Redmonds disputed the claim of the Loftus family in court without success but in 1864 were compensated with lands at Ballaghkeene, Co Wexford. They became a wealthy banking family whose most famous member was Irish Political Party leader John Redmond.


Hook Lighthouse is a few kilometres south of Loftus Hall at the end of Hook Head. It is “the great granddaddy of lighthouses”, the second oldest working lighthouse in the world after the Roman-era Tower of Hercules at La Coruna in northern Spain. Hook Lighthouse dates from the 12th century, though tradition says the missionary Dubhán established a beacon there in the fifth century.  In Irish the headland is Rinn Dubháin (St Dubhán’s Head) but the Irish word ‘duán’ also means a fish hook, hence the English name. Strongbow’s son-in-law William Marshall, Earl of Pembroke, built the tower to safeguard his upstream port of New Ross. The first lighthouse keepers were monks who lit warning fires and beacons to warn sailors of the dangerous rocks on the peninsula. The limestone tower is four stories high with walls 4m thick and a stairway of 115 steps. In the 17th century lighthouse keepers replaced the monks. They used coal burning lanterns, then whale oil, then paraffin oil and finally electricity in 1972. Hook became automatic in 1996 and opened as a tourist attraction five years later.


The car ferry to Hook is not the only boat crossing over Waterford harbour. The second is further upstream on the Suir before it joins the Barrow and Nore. It links Waterford with Little Island (or simply The Island) using the ferry Mary Fitzgerald which used to ply the Passage-Ballyhack route. The Island divides the Suir into two channels, with shipping taking the main shorter channel to the north. The free ferry is on the longer Kings Channel detour that shapes the island into a rough heart.


Pride of place on The Island is Waterford Castle. The island was home of a monastic settlement but was given to the Fitzgerald family for their role in the Norman invasion of Waterford in 1170. In 1865 descendant Gerald Purcell-Fitzgerald commissioned architect Romayne Walker to give the old run-down building a new Gothic-style facade using unrefined rubble stone in great Irish style. In 1980 developers bought the building and turned into a hotel.


The 19-bedroom luxury hotel is for guests only, but other visitors can enjoy a lovely hour-long walk looping around the island with great views of the Castle and the Suir from many angles. It also has important sloblands for bird habitats. This photo is of the eastern end of the Kings Channel looking downstream to the 150m Minaun Hill near Cheekpoint where the Three Sisters meet.


Out and about in Waterford


Waterford’s history is predicated on its position in the south-east of the island and its proximity to the sea and to Britain. Like Dublin and Limerick it was one of many Irish ports founded by the Vikings who saw similarities between the great entrance of Waterford Harbour and the fjords of their own coastline. About 20km upstream they founded a port at what the Irish called Port Láirge (Lárac is an Irish word meaning limb or thigh). The Vikings gave it an old Norse name Veðrafjǫrðr (Vedrafjordr) meaning windy fjord or ram-fjord.


Waterford is situated mostly on the south bank of the river Suir. You get a good view of the river as you arrive by train. The station is one of the few places on the northern side of the river in Co Waterford, along with Ferrybank to the east and Sallypark to the west. The Port of Waterford further downstream and even Waterford Golf Club high above Mount Misery which guards the station are both in Co Kilkenny. The cliffs with the power lines across the river are at Bilberry, the original home of the Bilberry goat, a species now close to extinction. Downstream of the cliffs is the beginning of the Quay, the mile-long river front main street. Waterford may mostly be south of the Suir but it could never be accused of turning its back on the river.


The Suir is one of the Three Sisters, and when it joins the Nore and the Barrow downstream they empty out into Waterford Harbour. The river is tidal past Carrick-on-Suir and Waterford’s prominent position made it an attractive proposition for invaders through the centuries. The Viking Age in Ireland lasted from the first recorded raids in 795 until the Angevin English invasion of 1171. During this period the major Irish ports were formed bringing Ireland into closer contact with Viking colonies across Europe. Waterford Vikings launched attacks on other parts of Ireland but the upheaval hampered trade and Waterford transformed from a “parasitic entrepôt” into part of a supply-network dependent on inland trade, raw materials and exotic imported goods.


I was in Waterford for Christmas and Winterval had just ended, a Christmas festival complete with its own Waterford Eye Ferris wheel on the Quay.  It adds colour to what was once “the noblest quay in Europe” now looking a little drab, especially since the port moved downstream. The bus station under the Eye is particularly soulless. There are plans to house the bus and rail station together further downstream with city access via a footbridge and I hope this comes to pass.


Just back from the Quay is the pedestrianised Bailey’s New St. It is home to the front of the Back o’ the Munster (which if you walk through becomes the Munster Bar on the Mall) and now has an amazing 23-metre-long tree carved into a sword installed days before I arrived. Carved by local men John Hayes and James Doyle, the sword has 18 panels telling the story of Waterford from Viking days.


City walls are a big part of that story. Waterford is 1100 years old and was fortified from an early date. Around the start of the 13th century King John extended the city west with three new gates as Anglo-Norman settlers created a suburb. The Watch Tower at Manor St dates to the 13th century and guarded the southern exit to the town. By the end of the middle ages a complete circuit of stone walls and towers existed. By 1705 the Quay walls were demolished but six towers and large sections of city wall still survive in one of the largest remaining walled cities in Ireland.


The most famous part of the walls is Reginald’s Tower on the strategic corner of the Quay and the Mall, commanding the view downstream. Reginald is from the Irish name Raghnall, derived from the Old Norse Røgnvaldr. Ragnall mac Gillemaire was the last Hiberno-Norse ruler of Waterford and the tower dates between 1253 and 1280. But there have been towers on the site since the 10th century. A little upstream at Woodstown, excavations of a Viking site have yielded remarkable finds showing the importance of Waterford as a busy port a millennium ago. Archaeologists found ship-nails, locks, and balance-weights decorated with Irish ecclesiastical metalwork, a pagan warrior-burial and hacksilver. Waterford was a centre of world trade. At Woodstown they found a Kufic dirham (a silver Arab coin) and a fragment of a Hiberno-Scandinavian arm-ring both from the 9th century.


Most of the Viking relics are in the Waterford Museum of Treasures but I wanted to visit the new Medieval Museum which charts Waterford’s 14th-15th century growth. Most of its stories are from the Great Charter Roll of Waterford, a historic legal document created by 14th Century Anglo-Norman rulers. Its story show the power of English kings in Ireland. Henry II made Waterford a Royal Port which meant it could levy tolls but with nearby New Ross wooing Edward III for favouritism, Waterford hit back with the Roll, drawn up in a pictorial and colourful style showing the city’s relationships with Edward’s ancestor kings for centuries. The flattery worked and the king reinstated Waterford’s monopoly as a royal port.


In the basement of the Chorister’s Hall inside the Museum is the Mayor’s Wine Vault. It is the oldest wine vault in Ireland, dating to 1440, built by Peter Rice, a wealthy wine merchant and mayor of Waterford. His son James followed his father as a wine merchant and as mayor – an astonishing eleven times – so there was plenty of celebrations to drink to. James Rice gave this wine vault and the house above it to Dean John Collyn in 1468 who transformed it into a priest’s hostel.


By then Waterford was solidly Catholic. It built churches like this Franciscan priory also known as Greyfriars Abbey, or the French Church. It is the oldest church in Waterford, built in 1241 on the corner of Greyfriars and Bailey’s New Street. The friary was one of the first in Ireland, founded by Anglo-Norman Sir Hugh Purcell.


Behind the imposing Bishop’s Palace is Waterford’s Protestant cathedral, Christ Church Cathedral. The Vikings built the first cathedral on this site in 1096 and in 1170 it hosted the marriage of English knight Strongbow to Irish princess Aoife fatally bringing Ireland and England closer. The Normans built a new Gothic cathedral in 1210 which was demolished in 1773 to make way for the current structure. It was designed in neo-Classical Georgian style by John Roberts who also designed Waterford’s Catholic Cathedral.


The Clock Tower, halfway up the Quays is another famous Waterford landmark. It was built in the 1860s in Gothic revival fashion. In the mid-1800s Waterford was Ireland’s busiest industrial port with the largest shipbuilding yards in the country (before Belfast surpassed it). To reflect civic pride, Charles Tarrant designed the clocktower and public water fountain, with water troughs for horses. Built by public subscription, it was completed in 1861 with a clock costing £78-10s, donated by the Corporation and installed in 1864. Because of the horse troughs, it was originally known as the Fountain Clock.


A few steps further along the Quay is the Granville Hotel. This elegant hotel is one of Ireland’s oldest, dating from the early 1700s. The Newport merchant and banking family built the hotel and sold it to another prominent merchant, Thomas Meagher, who traded between Waterford and Newfoundland. His son Thomas Francis Meagher was born in the hotel in 1823. Meagher (junior) designed the Irish flag in 1847 but was transported to Tasmania a year later for his role in the failed Young Ireland rebellion. He escaped to the US and became a Brigadier General in the Fighting 69th and The Irish Brigade in the American Civil War. He went on to become secretary to the territory and Governor of Montana before disappearing in the Missouri River. The Granville was also the headquarters of Charles Bianconi’s coaches, the first public transport system in Ireland.


There is another link to Meagher and the American civil war in the graveyard attached to Ballybricken church on the hill overlooking the river. Captain Patrick Clooney was a native of Waterford and a military adventurer. In 1860 he fought at the Battle of Castelfidardo with the battalion of St Patrick in aid of the Papal States against Italian reunification. He travelled to the US a year later as the Civil War broke out. He enlisted as a private in “Meagher’s Zouaves”, Company K of the 69th New York State Militia, and fought at First Bull Run. He raised a company for the 88th New York Volunteers which became part of the Irish Brigade. Captain Clooney and the Brigade fought through the the Maryland Campaign in 1862 until they reached the bloody slaughter of Antietam. There Clooney received a severe gunshot wound in the knee and refusing to leave the field he was killed by a rifle bullet, aged 27. A year later Waterford locals erected this memorial to him.


There are stark memorials to a later conflict closer to home on the walls of the old Barracks on Green St. The 1921 Irish War of Independence mostly passed Waterford by apart from a failed ambush at Pickardstown near Tramore. Waterford was besieged in the subsequent civil war in July 1922, something I’ve written about. Three months later, the Dáil passed a resolution providing for the death penalty for terrorist offences, following trial by military tribunal. The government executed 75 rebels in six months from November 1922 to April 1923, all by firing squad at various locations including Waterford in January 1923. According to Terence O’Reilly’s book Rebel Heart, Patrick O’Reilly and Michael Fitzgerald from the Anti-Treaty 1st Cork Brigade were captured in Waterford a month earlier. They “went to their deaths bravely” singing as they were marched from Ballybricken prison to the Barracks parade square, “even sharing their cigarettes with the firing squad”.


It is likely the military tribunal sat at the old courthouse which dates to 1849. The grand courthouse recently had significant restoration works including the demolition of the vacant fire station next door and further restoration to the original building designed in classical style by John B Keane. The building was disused in 1977, and partly derelict but was extensively renovated and extended in the early 1980s and resumed work as a courthouse.


Another sign of recent rejuvenation was the mirrored roof over the Apple Market at the end of Michael St. The large-scale triangular canopy, designed by locals dhb Architects, is made up of stainless steel, glazed edges and a reflective underbelly. The square is the beating heart of Waterford, packed when the big screens were showing Waterford’s run to the All Ireland hurling final in 2017. Another superb addition to the landscape is the Deise Greenway on the old Waterford-Dungarvan rail line, now the longest rail trail in Ireland. I did take a look when out for a run but did not have my camera with me. Which was a shame as a fox ran past me, heading down to the river for a drink.


With so much new stuff around Waterford, it is heartening to see old shopfronts like An Siopa (Irish for “the shop”) survive in the Apple Market. An Siopa is deals in gold and antique jewellery. There must remain room for old and new in Waterford. I remember walking home from school in the 1970s down Castle St past its medieval towers. The city walls were neglected, the street was decrepit and the area smelt of urine. It was as if Waterford was ashamed of its past. Hopefully those days are gone. The old Viking city should wear its history with pride while embracing whatever excitement the future brings.