Waterford Harbour & the Gaultier Coast
Waterford Harbour (Cuan Phort Láirge / Loch Dá Chaoch) is a deep natural harbour between Hook Head at the southern tip of the Hook Peninsula (Co. Wexford) and Dunmore East (Co. Waterford), and effectively the combined estuary of the Three Sisters – the Rivers Barrow, Nore and Suir.
The harbour has been used by shipping since time immemorial, with the Vikings establishing a major base at its head that became Waterford City, later engaged for several centuries in often bitter rivalry with the medieval ports of and New Ross (Co. Wexford) and (to a much lesser extent) Granny (Co. Kilkenny).
Although shipping traffic has declined, the harbour is still commonly used for deep water docking; the facilities available at New Ross are modest compared to those of the modern Port of Waterford at Belview (Co. Kilkenny).
In recent years there has been a revival of traditions reflecting medieval claims. The Mayor of Waterford, dressed in full Regalia as Admiral of Waterford Harbour (a title granted in King Charles I’s Great Charter of 1629) uses a Naval ship to cast a silver arrow into the waters off Creadon Head to ward off Neptune while intoning a ritual chant, while the rather less flamboyant Mayor of New Ross shoots an arrow into the sea from Hook Head.
The Gaultier Coast, maritime fringe of the old Barony of Gaultier, stretches southwards from Cheekpoint outside Waterford City, along the western shore of Waterford Harbour and westwards as far as Tramore Head.
Passage East Car Ferry Company operates a convenient service across Waterford Harbour between the village of Ballyhack (Co. Wexford) and Passage East (Co. Waterford). A third generation family run business, the ferry has played a major role in the area’s development over the decades.
Passage East (Co. Waterford / Southeast)
Passage East is an ancient port closely associated with pivotal times in Irish history. It was here Strongbow came ashore in 1170 to consolidate the Anglo-Norman foothold in Ireland, and King Henry II made his landing in 1171.
Passage East is now a prim fishing village with attractive Georgian architecture and a couple of good pubs and eateries, including an interesting restaurant in a converted church on the hill overlooking the harbour.
The local Power Clan Rally is held here every June, and the Waterford Estuary Mussel Festival every September.
Passage East is not far from the western outskirts of Waterford City.
Crook / Crooke is a tiny village that lies opposite Duncannon on the Hook Peninsula across the mouth of Waterford Harbour.
Hardly anything remains of a late C12th castle built by the Knights Templar, but the runs of the slightly later church of St. John the Baptist are still visible.
“By Hook or by Crook” were the words used by Oliver Cromwell in 1649 when he vowed (but failed) to take Waterford City, thus giving rise to the popular expression. The wreck of his fleet’s flagship, the Great Lewis, sunk by Royalist artillery fire from Duncannon Fort, was identified in 2003.
New Geneva Barracks
New Geneva Barracks was originally intended as the centrepiece of New Geneva, a project devised in 1783 by the newly empowered Irish Parliament to build a town for Swiss refugee artisans and intellectuals fleeing a failed rebellion against French aristocratic oppressors. It was planned to have a university here and establish a European centre for learning.
The then huge amount of fifty thousand pounds was committed, and naturally ended up in various pockets. The Swiss émigrés were very demanding, insisting on governing themselves by their own laws, and the putative colony never got beyond the building stage.
The edifice was first used as a barracks for militia and yeomanry troops recruited from 1793 onwards to guard against a possible French invasion.
During and after the 1798 Rebellion it was utilised as a gaol, earning a notorious reputation for the savage treatment of prisoners within its walls. Most who were not sentenced to death and executed were transported to Australia or pressed into the Royal Navy. However, emissaries of the King of Prussia were first allowed to select the fittest men from among the prisoners to serve in his armed forces in part payment for services rendered by his Hessians in suppressing the rebellion.
Col. Thomas Cloney, one of the rebel leaders at the battles of Three Rocks, New Ross and Foulksmills, endured confinement at New Geneva while under sentence of death, later commuted to exile. He escribed it as “the filthiest, most damp and lothsome prison, devoid of any comfort” and claimed that the scars of the manacles put on him during his time there were visible decades later.
Geneva barracks is commemorated in The Croppy Boy, a famous ballad about the events of 1798.
The buildings fell into disuse after the end of the Napoleonic Wars, and was abandoned in 1824. The ruins can only be viewed from outside, as the structures are unsafe.
Woodstown is dominated by the imposing gateposts of Woodstown House, a private Regency style residence originally built by Robert Shapland-Carew, later Lord Carew, as a gift to his wife. Another former owner, Major C.D. Cholmeley-Harrison of Emo House (Co. Laois) fame, let it during the summer of 1967 to Jacqueline Kennedy, widow of the assassinated President of the United States.
Kilcop House has an interesting history asociated with the Lymbery family.
Woodstown beach is a very protected sandy strand in a beautiful setting of wooded hills, now somewhat denuded.
Knockadirragh is a low but prominent hill with magnificent views. The Harristown Passage Grave, about 600m north of the Fairybush crossroads, is one of several ancient tombs in the region resembling those in the Scilly Isles off Cornwall.
Belle Lake / Ballylough is a secluded inland wildlife habitat, particularly known for Sedge, Willow and Grasshopper Warblers.
Fornaght Bog is also a good place for birdwatching.
Creadan / Craden Head (Ceann Chriodáinn / Chréadáinn), a significant headland jutting out into Waterford Harbour, has fantastic views, making it an excellent place for a stroll.
Just north of the Head is “the bar”, a sand spit limiting access of heavily laden vessels at lowtide to the Port of Waterford at Belview (Co. Kilkenny).
Creadan House at the neck of the Headland overlooks sheltered Creadan Cove, traditionally used by smuglers to land contraband goods.
Forty steps carved into the rocks remain from when the Knights Templar operated a ferry service to Templetown on the Hook Peninsula (Co. Wexford).
Trá na mBan Gorm (“Strand of the Blue Woman”) is a quasi-legendary landing spot in the vicinity of Creadan Head. believed to have been used to import black African women. Some say that this was an off-season recharging point on the notorious C16th – C19th slave trade to Britain, Europe and the American colonies; others point to the Bóthar / Boirín na mBan Gorm (“the [little / bog / secret] Road of the Blue Woman”), a route which ran from Creadan Head to Cork, to suggest hat the sinister traffic had older roots.
Fornaght / Creadan Strand is a secluded beach accessible via a very narrow road; parking is limited. The old tyres that can be seen lying in the mud at low tide are a crafty way of catching crabs.
Killea (Co. Waterford / East)
Killea (Cill Aodh) gets its name from the C5th church established by Aodh, a disciple of Saint Declan of Ardmore.
The ruined church now visible is of medieval origin.
Hayes Pub, aka Agies, has been owned and run by the same family for some 300 years.
The tiny 1890 schoolhouse is typical of many rural schools of the time in Ireland.
Killea is linked by the R84 to Waterford City.