Bridging the Old and the New in Co. Waterford

Social Media has its moments and yesterday certainly produced one for me. I was scrolling down my Twitter Timeline trying to avoid all the Christmassy stuff when lo and behold a link to footage of the rail line from Dungarvan to Waterford came into view ~ rather like you’d see a train arriving at a station.

The footage means the world to me because I spend half my life gazing at old railway bridges here in Co. Waterford and wondering what it was like when the train was running in its heyday. Well, I got this glorious glimpse into the past:

I was inspired by this, and the gorgeous crisp day, to make my way to Kilmacthomas which is one of the towns that was on the line which opened in 1878 and was finally closed, closed in 1990.

The Mahon Railway Viaduct in Kilmacthomas, Co. Waterford

This eight-arch viaduct was designed by James Otway (1943-1906) and built by Smith Finlayson and Co. of Glasgow.

While I pine for the sound, smell and wonder of the train, it is brilliant that the old line is in the process of being re-opened as the Deise Greenway and many miles of it are already open. Here’s the view of the Greenway from the Kilmacthomas Viaduct back towards Dungarvan as I witnessed it yesterday evening:

The Diese Greenway ~ View from Kilmacthomas Viaduct

The footage of the old railway from 1966 brought one of my favourite bridges in Waterford City alive ~ old Red Iron ~ and that warmed my heart more than I can describe:

2016-02-04 21.04.30
Old Red Iron ~ Waterford City


Yesterday was one of those days that overwhelmed me. It was overwhelming in a positive sense but I suppose any kind of ‘overwhelm’ takes a bit of processing.

There were all sorts of juxtapositions involved that were to do with time. The whole thing developed out of a visit to the ruins of a church and an old grave site close to Dunhill Castle here in Co. Waterford a while back. I wanted to learn more about the people who were buried there but couldn’t read the inscriptions on the tombstones.

It felt a bit weird to be going to the Internet to find out how I might get the inscriptions to reveal themselves to me. Maybe I should just leave them alone and let the ravages of time take their natural course. But, there on YouTube, I watched a short clip in which a man showed how rubbing plain, ordinary flour on the tombstones worked like magic in enabling one to read the engravings.

It was a bit on the foggy side by the sea in Tramore yesterday so I thought I would head up to the grave yard with my bag of flour and slink into the mists of time.

The Old Church and Grave Yard, Dunhill, Co. Waterford

The only flour that I had was self-raising flour and as I approached the graves I chuckled irreverently about the possible effects of using this as opposed to plain flour. Secretly, I was pleased that I seemed to have risen above the fog on the elevated site.

I only had enough flour to work on one tombstone. It’s the one in the foreground and as you can see I’d already done the deed by the time I took this shot. The flour does work like magic. I was able to read the full inscription apart from one date on the last line:

Erected by Matthias Phelan

in memory of his Father

David Phelan who Departed

this Life August 16 1781

Aged 63 Years.   Also his 

Mother Monica Phelan  who

Departed this Life February 

… 1795  Aged 72

As the words revealed themselves to me, I found myself thinking about all the times I spent as a child with my father in his chemical smelling photographic dark room watching images appear and emerge as clear black and white pictures.

And what of the Phelans?  David was born in 1718 and his wife in 1723. What kind of lives must they have led? The fact of having such an ornate tombstone led me to believe that they probably had more money than most. At a time of large families, was Matthias an only child and how did he cope with with deaths of his parents ~ 14 years apart. Losing parents has been going on forever and will continue as long as the world goes on. Matthias’ parents were elderly by the standards of the 1700s.

Even though I had no intention of climbing up the rocky path to the ruin of Dunhill Castle, I found myself being drawn there by the force of history.

Dunhill Castle, Co. Waterford

For the first time in my life, I climbed up to the top and was peering out through the U that looks towards the church and what I now knew was the Phelan grave. Turning  on the small grassy space up there towards the Anne Valley, I was stunned at the reflection that looked back at me:



The castle appeared whole again, perhaps as it looked way back in the 15th Century. The holes that are so glaringly obvious when one is standing on the ruin were rebuilt for those fleeting moments that I stood watching as the sun went down.

What revealed itself to me more than anything yesterday is the extent to which life is made up of moments. David, Monica and Matthias Phelan had their moments in the sun and the setting sun; I am in the process of having mine. These are moments to savour, to use wisely, to share with love. They are fleeting and fragile but they have layers of colour that we can have a part in defining.

Dunhill Castle and the Bridge over the River Anne





Yesterday’s Figary

The word figary is part of Irish slang and basically means ‘a whim or a frolic.’ To even put it like that is to formalise it a bit too much.

Anyway, I had started this post by saying that: Yesterday, I took a figary and just had to see a a bridge in Ballyduff in West Waterford.’ I then realised that only people who are Irish would have a clue what I was talking about when it came to the figary bit and also that only Co. Waterford people would fully understand the notion of West Waterford.

Co. Waterford is very much divided in our minds between the East and the West. I guess that one of the reasons for this lies in the fact that East Waterford (where Waterford City and Tramore are) are close to the River Suir, whereas West Waterford is associated with the River Blackwater. West Waterford takes in towns like Dungarvan, Cappoquin and Lismore. It also takes in the little village of Ballyduff which has a bridge that’s a delight to the eye, especially of someone like me who is fanatical about bridges.

It’s about 55 miles from Tramore to Ballyduff and one could stop practically every quarter of a mile to explore fascinating places and objects. But Ballyduff’s bridge was firmly fixed in my mind and I certainly wasn’t disappointed when I got to walk along it, feel its texture, admire its views.

This is how it looked:

Ballyduff Bridge, Co. Waterford

This iron bridge, over the River Blackwater,  was built in 1887. It was designed by W.E. L’Estrange Duffin (1843-1925), who was Waterford County Engineer.

The bridge is very well maintained and here is the view up river towards Lismore:

River Blackwater from Ballyduff Bridge

Ballyduff village itself remains to be explored another day but I couldn’t but be fascinated by an impressive three-storey building which was built on a height in the mist on the left just across the bridge.

Ballyduff Bridge

It transpires that the building was originally a Royal Irish Constabulary barracks which was built in 1869 and later used as the Garda Station in Ballyduff. Rural Garda Stations have been subject to closures over the last few decades and this Garda Station in Ballyduff was closed in 2013.

Ballyduff Garda Station Building; Photo:

It’s sad to see rural Garda Stations like this one closing and I can’t but think of how all the comings and goings over the bridge between 1869 and 2013 were closely observed by various duty officers.

Looking across towards Ballyduff Village, Co. Waterford

Ah yes, so much to explore in historic Co. Waterford!




The Light ~ Brendan Kennelly

There was a big gathering in Dublin today to  honour the Irish poet, Brendan Kennelly, who is now 80 years of age. Watching him on the RTE news, alongside the Irish President, Michael D. Higgins, I was reminded of one of the very first posts I wrote here on my blog. That was back in 2011 and it was highlighting how Brendan Kennelly was a social bridge in my life.

I know that very, very few people read that post which was  written from the heart about a man who had a huge impact on me, especially in my first year in Trinity College where he was Professor of English while I was a struggling Sociology student.

This is what I wrote back then:


Brendan Kennelly in the 1970s

Knowing that Brendan Kennelly celebrated his 75th birthday this week, I am prompted to recall my reaction to his collection Reservoir Voices (2009).  Seeing the book on the shelf in the  Book Centre in Waterford  gave me a sense of comfort and it was almost like he was responding to a poem I had written about him a few months earlier. The poem,  The Smile,  related to my first term in Trinity College in 1975, when I was  just seventeen and  incredibly homesick.  I had the good fortune to be able to attend a lunch time poetry reading of Brendan Kennelly’s early on that term and it was one of those bridges in my life that I have never forgotten. It was to lift my spirits and give me the hope I needed to press on and  gradually come to thoroughly enjoy my College days.


The Smile

That first day on Trinity’s cobbles

confirmed the hard-hitting prognosis

that my dreams of professional tennis

were shattered like my throbbing wrist.

Economic and Social Studies, what a prospect!


Brendan Kennelly dissolved my pain

for a fleeting hour, in a packed, steamy

room in Front Square. His voice,

his smile, his dimples inviting

me into his past, his solitude, his heart.


Economics was waiting to trip me up.

Tried to drill it in ‘til dawn

with mugs of  black Bewley’s Java.  

Saw familiar words on the dreaded paper;

momentary hope, head too heavy, faltered.


I scrambled through the September repeats;

got into my running with Sociology

and tennis. How many times did I

dash past Brendan Kennelly on the cobbles?

He’d smile; but why did I never slow down?

I must confess that I always hoped that I would inspire Brendan Kennelly to write a poem as I ran past him in my short tennis skirt towards the courts in Botany Bay.  And if I am really honest, I hoped that I could be his muse like John Betjeman’s, Joan Hunter Dunn, and that he would  immortalise me forever in lines like:

Love-thirty-love forty, oh weakness of joy,

The speed of a swallow, the grace  of a boy

With carefullest, carelessness, gaily you won,

I am weak with your loveliness, Joan Hunter Dunn.

I still regret that I didn’t seize a golden moment to speak to Brendan Kennelly which was presented to me in Ballybunion one hot Summer’s day in the mid-1980s.  I was swimming in the sea at the main beach in the town when suddenly I caught sight of a familiar figure jogging along by the water’s edge. Yes, it was the man himself, in his native Co. Kerry, and there I was paralysed in the water just watching him run with the carelessness of Joan Hunter Dunn. I waited ‘til his back was turned and then sprinted up the beach to retrieve my clothes and disappear into the crowds.

No one was more delighted than I, when Toyota  brought Brendan’s  Kennelly’s voice back into my life with its massive advertising campaign and then, just a few years back, I  heard a haunting programme in which  he was speaking  of his love of walking around Dublin just before dawn.  Suddenly, I was catapulted back to the Dublin of my late teens and early twenties. Yes, I had walked those deserted streets on my way home to my bedsit in Ranelagh.  I had known the peace he spoke of – a city with no traffic and the sound of birdsong at dawn. I also knew the comfort and coffee aroma of  Bewley’s  in Westmoreland Street,  at breakfast time, with Brendan Kennelly sitting within my sights  and reading with such concentration that I couldn’t possibly disturb him.

Plunging into Reservoir Voices, I was stunned to find that it was inspired by an Autumn sojourn in America where he experienced a period of intense loneliness which he tried to cope with by contemplating a reservoir near Boston College.  The very idea of Brendan Kennelly ‘sitting alone … feeling abject emptiness’ stretched my emotions to their absolute limits. How could this be possible?  Here was the man who had dissolved my angst in a mere hour and who I had assumed to be beyond the hand of darkness and dislocation readily admitting to his experience of it over a  period of weeks.  He makes the point that sometimes dark loneliness can lead to light.  If I had happened to come upon him sitting alone at that reservoir, I hope I would have had the nerve to tell him how his presence was once that crucial light in my young life.



The Crooked Stile



Every single stile is crooked to me, even this one on the Coastal Walk in Dunmore East, because of the nursery rhyme we all grew up with here:

There was a crooked man, and he walked a crooked mile,
He found a crooked sixpence against a crooked stile;
He bought a crooked cat which caught a crooked mouse,
And they all lived together in a little crooked house.
It never dawned on me until today that nursery rhymes have origins other than those big coloured books that are part of baby and toddlerhood.
When I went looking for the exact words of the rhyme, I discovered that there are layers and layers of ‘adult’ history and stories behind it.
I mean who would have thought that the ‘crooked stile’ in the nursery rhyme may relate back to political affairs between England and Scotland in the 17th Century and be a metaphor for the border between these two parts of the United Kingdom?
 So now I’m wondering if nursery rhymes vary greatly across the globe and, of course, I’m also intrigued to know which nursery rhymes play over and over in your mind and down your generations.

Let There be Dignity

Yesterday was a beautiful day in Ireland ~ one of the best of the year ~ but I’m haunted by the extent of the darkness which it showed me.

I travelled to Dublin, which is about 2 hours by train from Waterford. I hadn’t been there in a good while but it’s a city that was home to me for the best part of twenty years from the early 1970s to the early 1990s.

It felt so good to be back, and the bus ride along by the River Liffey was full of nostalgia as we passed by all the elegant bridges that are like commas in my life.

It was when I was walking up towards Trinity College, my alma mater, that everything changed. Westmoreland Street was buzzing and there on the pavement lay a big huddle of a man sleeping in an overcoat on bits of a torn up cardboard box. The crowds were going about their business; people were chatting and pretty much having to step over the man. I wondered if he was dead; no he was breathing but surely this was social death I was witnessing.

There is a very serious problem with homelessness in Ireland and we hear everyday about ‘rough sleepers.’ Hearing is one thing, seeing is quite another.

I was meeting my brother, who lives in Dublin, and we decided to have an ambulatory chat out by one of our favourite parks near the National Art Gallery. Dublin is a relatively small city still and it didn’t surprise me when I heard someone shouting a friendly ‘hello’ to Big Bro. Just as we stopped to exchange pleasantries with this cheery guy, I realised that there was a young man dozing at our feet. His eyes flickered open for a tiny second. They told no story but there has to be a life story; a nightmarish horror story.

Broken Dreams

Yes, there is an awareness of homelessness in Ireland and there are some wonderful people, like Father Peter McVerry, and organisations like the Simon Community and Focus Ireland, that are trying their very best to fight the heaving tide of complex problems that give rise to, and are exacerbated by it. But, the situation is clearly out of control and needs to be prioritised in our social and economic policy and practice before it somehow becomes accepted as being just part of the way things are in this country of ours.

Nobody should ever be reduced to sleeping on the street in Summer or Winter. We need to wake up as a society, open our eyes and see what we are doing to people who have needs and feelings just like us. There are no excuses for inaction and blame games.

Memories and Laughing Doors

Here’s a couple of thoughts for the day or for the rest of your life:

Everyone needs his memories. They keep the wolf of insignificance from the door.’ (Saul Bellow)

The Red Door

And how about this:

If you are going to be able to look back on something and laugh about it, you might as well laugh about it now. (Marie Osmond)

Go on, make a few memories TODAY!


Tame and Wild


There’s a tameness and a wildness in us all ~ whether we like to, or can, live these out or not.

I was very taken at the hairdressers the other day by a woman in her late sixties or early seventies who had long grey hair. She wanted lots of pink and purple tints put into it.

She has stayed in my mind and I  wonder if she is an extreme Jenny Joseph follower:


When I am an old woman I shall wear purple
With a red hat which doesn’t go, and doesn’t suit me.
And I shall spend my pension on brandy and summer gloves
And satin sandals, and say we’ve no money for butter.
I shall sit down on the pavement when I’m tired
And gobble up samples in shops and press alarm bells
And run my stick along the public railings
And make up for the sobriety of my youth.
I shall go out in my slippers in the rain
And pick flowers in other people’s gardens
And learn to spit.

You can wear terrible shirts and grow more fat
And eat three pounds of sausages at a go
Or only bread and pickle for a week
And hoard pens and pencils and beermats and things in boxes.

But now we must have clothes that keep us dry
And pay our rent and not swear in the street
And set a good example for the children.
We must have friends to dinner and read the papers.

But maybe I ought to practice a little now?
So people who know me are not too shocked and surprised
When suddenly I am old, and start to wear purple.

(Jenny Joseph)

 I loved her cavalier attitude to the hairdo. She said it didn’t really matter if it worked out or not; that it was an experiment.
Those of us who live on the wild side maybe need to experiment a little with tameness and I’d like to see the tame experiment with the wild.
What fun to meet on a purple bridge in the middle!
Which side would you be coming from? 



Hands Touching Hands

I’ve been gathering pebbles from all the coves and beaches around me over the last few weeks with a view to trying some ‘pebble art.’

I poured my loot out onto the table in front of the fire this afternoon and waited for inspiration.

Before I knew it, I was tracing my hand and thinking of the power of the sense of touch. Touch can be so electric and sensuous. What kept coming to mine was the way in which touch is so central to our relationships with other people.


Recently, I was getting my hair done and found tears streaming down my cheeks as the hairdresser was towel drying my locks. I simply don’t like when strangers touch my hair. It feels all wrong to me and I crave the gentle touch of my mother running her fingers through it when I was a child.

The towel drying tears quickly turned to a watery smile as I thought of how we’d all run from Father’s offers to dry our hair after swims as he had such thing about making sure that we didn’t get colds and almost tore the heads off us with his vigorous towelling.

The first touch in a romantic relationship can be so special with fingers meeting fingers. What can be so bittersweet about the ending of a relationship is that even one little finger touching another that was so familiar becomes off limits.

How easy it is to take the sense of touch for granted and it’s often only when it’s gone for whatever reason that we appreciate it.

What song or poem do YOU associate with Touch?




February 6th has a strong echo in my life as it was the day in 1967 that our family moved from Castleblayney in Co. Monaghan to Drogheda in Co. Louth. I was nine then and that was one of five moves that we made from when I was 3 to 18 years old. ( I also moved away from home when I was seventeen to go to College but that’s a different kind of moving.)

These moves were all within Ireland and were part of father’s job in the bank. Both he and mother had been in the bank from the early 1940s and had moved numerous times in their single days ~ their paths crossing when they were both based in Kilkenny City for a while.

As a kid, I found moving from place to place rather exciting and remember being full of excitement as I bade everyone in Castleblayney goodbye and watched all our belongings, which were packed in tea chests, being loaded into a huge big removal van.

Bank House, Castleblayney, Co. Monaghan
Bank House, Castleblayney, Co. Monaghan

There’s no doubt that all the moves brought us very close together as a family ~ we only had each other until we made new friends. Going to new schools was daunting, especially landing there in the middle of term and having to get to grips with new teachers, new sets of rules and and, of course, all the existing pupils who tended to be curious about any newcomer.

Apart from family, tennis was the other anchor that made moving manageable. Tennis courts are the same size no matter where you go and the rules of the game are the same. It was always such a relief to get sorted in a tennis club and be able to feel at home hitting forehands and backhands like always!

We never knew how long we’d be staying in any one place ~ it ranged from 10 months to 8 years ~ but it was pretty certain that a transfer was never too far off. This never stopped me from putting down roots and getting incredibly attached to places but there was always that feeling of being a little bit on the sidelines.

St. Patrick’s Day always made me feel this ‘outsidedness’ more than any other. I can vividly remember watching St. Patrick’s Days Parades from our Bank House window in the middle of Drogheda and feeling that I simply didn’t belong in the town. To this day, I’ve never be a part of a St. Patrick’s Day Parade! Perhaps, this year I’ll get stuck into our local one here in Tramore, which is the place I was born and the place to which I eventually returned full-time in 1991.

More than anything, all the moving as a child, brought it home to me how every single place has lots and lots to offer; new people, new landscape, a depth of local history. Much of this can be taken for granted by people who have always lived in the same place but through new eyes it can be a whole new adventure.

The Viaduct, Drogheda, Co. Louth.
The Viaduct, Drogheda, Co. Louth.

It certainly doesn’t surprise me, after all this, that it is very often people who are ‘blow ins’ who blog or write about the wonders of places.

Are you a person who moved around as a child or did you spend your childhood in the one place?