Monday, September 15, 2008
On Friday 22nd of August Cumann Stair agus Oidhreachta Gaeltacht na nDéise unveiled a plaque in remembrance of the people who helped the Ring population in the time of The Great Famine. A large crowd of all ages gathered in the glorious sunshine on the picturesque pier of Baile na nGall. The evening was chaired by Máirtín Ó Cathbhuadhaigh, chairman of Cumann Stair agus Oidhreachta Gaeltacht na nDéise. Máirtín opened the proceedings with a brief talk on the Famine, and the potato blight which was first reported in the Dublin Evening Post and the Waterford Freeman on the 6th of September 1845. He also spoke of the food riots in Dungarvan in 1846. Michael Flemming of Kilmacthomas, was shot and later died in the workhouse and Patrick Power of Killongford, another of the ring leaders was arrested. He also spoke as how 16 people has been arrested in the Dromana/Villerstown area for intimidating the farmers and others to pay back con-acre rent received by them this year. Those who were committed reached here (Dungarvan) at 7 o’clock this night, escorted by 40 cavalry and about 100 infantry.
After speaking briefly on the Coffin Ships, he called on Mairead Ní Chathbhuadhaigh to sing “A Choilín Phadraic Sheamuis” a song about immigration and the coffin ships. After the song, local historian Nioclás Ó Griofáin spoke on the history of Ring, particularly Baile na nGall, during the Famine and the affect that it had on the people and the people who were not from the area but came in and helped. He also spoke on the how people like Rev Alcock, Dr Graves and Joshua William Strangman came and helped and without people like these we would not have the pier and possibly not even Gaeilge in the area without them. Nioclás mentioned how all the stone in the pier in Baile na nGall is local stone from Cnocán na Paoraigh. All the stone was cut there and transferred down to Baile na nGall, where the pier was built, to a high standard, which is still evident today as the structure of the pier remains strong.
Máirtín, then took over the proceedings from Nioclás. Máirtín spoke about the graveyard in Kilrush in Dungarvan, how in 1846/7 was full and a 2 acre site on the boundary of Gaeltacht na nDéise was purchased and used as a famine graveyard. It is known as Reilig an tSléibhe. ’Amhrán na bPrátaí Dubha’ was composed by Máire Ní Dhroma, who lived in Ring, near Dungarvan, during the Great Famine (1845 – 1849). Now widely known and sung it was driven underground for many years because the writer dared to challenge the convenient contemporary view that the famine was God’s will, an act of Providence. On the 20th of August,1995, a commemorative mass was celebrated at Reilig an tSléibhe by Dr. William Lee, Bishop of Waterford and Lismore. A moving recital of Na Prátaí Dubha was given by Peig, Bn. Uí Reagáin. On Friday night, Áine Uí Fhoghlú recited Na Prátaí Dubha for the crowd as a mark of remembrance of those who died.
The main speaker of the night was Joan Johnson of the Waterford Quakers. She spoke in detail of Joshua William Strangman, a Waterford Quaker and his connection with Ring Fisherman. She gave a history of Joshua William Strangman and his relationship with Rev. James Alcock. Below is some of the information Joan shared with us on the night.
In the Autumn of 1846 Alcock wrote to Waterford Quakers seeking assistance for the Ring Fishermen, who were in extreme difficulty. He described the appalling situation of the fishermen…. Boats had been pawned or sold to buy food and oars and lining of the boats had been used for fuel. About 100 boats had been reduced to only 6 or 8.
He observed ‘the fishermen wandering along the cliffs in idleness, with apathy or despair fixed on their countenance … Famine was raging at its height, while fever and dysentery was hurrying many to a premature grave’. Strangman visited the area and thus began an intensive collaboration between these 2 men. They were in contact regularly by letter and also Strangman, along with other Waterford Quakers, visited Ring at regular intervals to view progress.
Through Alcock, aid was given by Waterford Quakers in a well-monitored scheme. Small loans were arranged and food for the boat crews given. By the summer of 1847 Alcock reported that 49 boats were helped, totalling 150 crew. Through these ongoing small grants and loans to individuals, the fishermen’s activities increased. Loans for new and better boats and nets enabled more fish to be caught.
A further 6 months on, Alcock wrote in his report to Strangman ‘We have had, thank God, no destitution up to the present time, all are beginning once more to look cheerfully robust and comfortable. They are provided with sufficient supply of fishing gear for their immediate wants, and therefore constantly employed whenever weather permits’. He praised the Ring fishermen for their hard work and perseverance and remarked that the living conditions and their houses showed a great improvement. A shop for fishing gear was opened, with items such as hemp, nets and lines being sold there; later nets for herring fishing and lobster pots were added.
Most urgent, once the fishing at Ring had improved, was the need for a safe harbour. Activity had increased and according to reports the coast was ‘teaming with fish’. Alcock, along with the local fishermen and others, had been campaigning for a pier to be built at Ballinagoul for some time. In late 1847 he wrote to Strangman stating that the Board of Works had sent down an engineer to survey the coast for a suitable site, but at that stage it was not certain where the pier would be located. However a decision was made in favour of Ballinagoul and when Strangman, who supported this venture, visited there in December 1848, he was very pleased to see work in progress, with 60 men employed.
Early 1849 saw the pier rapidly advancing, with stone from a local quarry. Heavy gales tested the stability of the work and Alcock was very happy to say that the local boats, already taking shelter, were safe - even with unusually high stormy tides and ‘not a stone was shaken or displaced’. And so, the fishermen’s and Alcock’s dream of a pier at Ballinagoul was realised and larger boats were planned with Waterford Quaker support.
While Waterford Quakers ceased their support in 1849. Strangman had kept up his interest in developments at Ring and quietly, through Alcock, gave some personal aid. These 2 men, over a relatively short time, worked together at a critical period for Ring. The fruits of their endeavours, along with Dr. Graves, are rightly acknowledged by the erection of this plaque today. We now salute those 3 unsung heroes, who cared to make a difference. Thank you, Rev James Alcock, Dr Richard Graves and Joshua William Strangman.
The plaque was then unveiled by Joan Johnson and Nioclás Ó Griofáin presented Joan with a piece of Criostal na Rinne as a thank you on behalf of Cumann Stair agus Oidhreachta Gaeltacht na nDéise. Before finishing Máirtín said thank you to the following:
Willie Fraher and Julian Walton of Waterford County Museum, who carried out necessary research.
The Heritage Council who part funded the event.
James and Tom Drohan who carried out the stone work.
Údarás na Gaeltachta
Joan Johnson, Máiread Ní Chathbhuadhaigh and Áine Uí Fhoghlú.
The evening drew to a close with Máiread Ní Chathbhuadhaigh singing Amhráin na BhFiann.