Hi, it is the boy from Barrystown. There is no doubt that John C. Tuomy, the chronicler of Bannow, who worked as a schoolmaster at Taghmon, was a gifted writer but on one basic test, alone, he does not seem to be a Bannow native: Mr Tuomy spun out his sentences, coiling clause upon clause, and leavening it all with a tedious and somewhat wit plus a nigh infinite assortment of obscure words—he was to put it succinctly, a braggart, effectively boasting of his intellect and erudition. It is utterly foreign to any native of Carrig-on-Bannow parish to boast of himself or herself—the great Tom Boyse (of glorious memory) would not attend public dinners, organised to express public appreciation of him, lest it would be perceived that he wished to use his reputation as a campaigner for civil and religious liberties to promote himself. St Kevin of Kilkevan wrote in one of his missives to the pagans that humility is innate to the nature of the Bannow people. I sometimes feel that Mr Tuomy assumed that the likes of Tom Boyse, his first cousin Lord Bob Carew and the proprietor and editor of the Wexford Independent Jack Greene would avidly read his missives and articles in the Wexford Independent: it is most unlikely that many of the vast unlettered masses comprehended his writings; a pity in itself as these writings contained a vast amount of otherwise inaccessible detail about local conditions. He was a most logical thinker, ever reasoning. If it had been a trifle edited this letter by John C. Tuomy in The Wexford Independent on October 16th 1850 would be truly a classic of informative and excellent writing (but John C. Tuomy ever itched to show himself off!):–
To The Editor of the Independent
Sir—I said in my last notice of this interesting locality that the present bed of the closed-up eastern channel measures 220 paces from the cliff of slate rock on the old town side, to a cliff of like material, on the side of the island. About some fifty years ago, this space was filled up with sand hillocks to a height of forty feet above the level of the sea, whose summits ran in a line with those lesser ones which then covered the ruins of the cabins before mentioned. A narrow gap or pass through the centre opened a communication between the inner and outer strands, through which on extraordinary high tides, the waters of the bay and harbour commingled with each other. The ocean face and tops of this range were covered with waving bennet, and the sloping banks clad in a thick mantle of herbage—a favourite pasturage—
“All the flocks that feed
On yonder yellow hill.”
At the opening of the present century “high farming” was little thought of in this locality. The iron plough and horse hoe were unknown, or at least very little used. The wooded one and block-wheel car did very well and the people eat and slept and manufactured their own clothing, and paid a rent, something like a poor-rate poundage of the present day, little anticipating to live to behold two millions of the people of Ireland swept away in consequence of a failure of the potato crop; for a dinner of potatoes on Christmas Day was then considered a rarity. Long, circuitous and deep-rutted was the muddy road which led out of the parish into the open country; and tedious and dreary was the pace of the horse, as he pulled the truckle-car throughout the cold, dark nights of winter to Wexford market, with the produce of the farm. But the genius and spirit of one man [Tom Boyse] changed the face of things. Bannow was intersected with public roads and hedge-rows; and the people were taught that a greater treasure than they had yet discovered, lay within a foot of the surface of their farms. A spade was plunged into the hem of the grassy garment which covered the back of the banks and the first car load of sand was thrown into the “dung lough”. This was a move in the right direction; it was a step in advance and a very little experience taught the people that sand and clay, sand, clay and farm-yard manure or sand and sea-weed, as a compost, produced excellent crops and acted as a desirable agent to make loose and friable the stiff clay soil of the parish. The surface of the grass once broken, the winds and storms came quickly to the assistance of the manure-gatherers and scattered the loosened hillocks of drift sand in all directions, so that at ordinary tides, at present, the inner and outer waters rise within a few feet of the highest point of the dried channel and frequently the outer waters rush over all, when impelled by a heavy storm from the south. This is not hearsay evidence. I stood in the midst of a storm¸ upon the bank overlooking the channel and saw the waters communicate with each other. I was pleased; it established a fact, of which I had before been doubtful; and though I could perceive no living thing to take a delight in the storm but myself and the sea-gulls and covered, nearly as I was, and blinded and choked with the whirling clouds of drifting sands, I exclaimed, in great glee—there goes the waters of the ocean, again careering over the bed of the same channel, through which the outlaw Fitzstephen, with his 30 knights, 69 esquires and 300 foot soldiers (Keating) passed on their way to assist the woman-snatcher, Diarmuid, in his war with old Roderic. But, you will say, all this is poor evidence of a former channel. Just so. It goes to prove the contrary—that sand hillocks, forty feet in height, some time past, raised their heads above what I may now call the flat, which separates the bay from the harbour. But I prove the existence of those hillocks, to show that the formation of the burrows of Fethard, and the other burrows mentioned in my former letter, may have been effected in like manner and that prior to their formation, there was a deep water within the harbour of Bannow, and the other loughs, but at a period long antecedent to the building of the towns of Bannow and Clonmines.
When the shifting sands in the bay formed a complete bar across the mouth of the channel, and the drift sand filled up its bed above high water mark, then the sand hillocks increased in size and height and in the course of time attained the shape and magnitude, as noticed in the opening of this letter. A bold, high front being presented to the sea, the drift sand did not blow over them so frequently, nor in such quantities, as to prevent their banks in time becoming covered with a kind of herbage; and the long roots of the bennet, on their summits and face kept the sand more or less together, and in this state, I have no doubt, they would be found to-day but for the shovel and manure cart of the farmer. The other burrows named are of great length and magnitude, compared with the banks thrown across this channel and not being interfered with, will remain as natural breakwaters to those loughs, possible for ever. I have now shown how a burrow was formed, and again carried away within the tradition period; and I can therefore readily concede to the Rev. Mr Graves, the supposition, that prior to the formation of the burrow of Fethard, there was deeper water, within the harbour of Bannow, than at present; but the Rev. gentleman seems to think, that this burrow arose from the deep, within the tradition period, and here, I must tell him—
“Our faiths don’t agree”
Yet I may be in error and would feel thankful for any light which the Rev. Gentleman can throw upon this moot point between us.
As the Rev. Mr Graves passed over the road or causeway which connects the mainland to the Island (and apropos)—this road at every spring is flooded by the waters of the inner harbour, and when I tell him so, he will say that the inner and outer waters come very closely towards each other every fortnight; he observed an embankment immediately to his right hand enclosing a portion of the mud-lands. A small but high island forms a portion of this dyke. The island, I think, is marked in the ordnance map and is called Clare’s Island. The lost channel, tradition says, ran between Clare’s Island and the island of Bannow, close in under the shadow of the latter, whose side is here very high and steep. The embankment running from Clare’s Island in a north-west direction must, therefore, cut obliquely through the bed of this channel before it strikes the Island of Bannow. And that it did cut through the identical channel here is my evidence.
The workmen when engaged upon his portion of the dyke could with difficulty, raise any embankment. The mud was soft and the depth of it they could not fathom. An immense quantity of faggots were laid down to form a a sort of foundation and every succeeding tide washed away some portions of the soft mud which had been raised to form the ditch. At length by drawing to it the hard shingle and clay of the Island, the ditch was raised above the high water mark. This was in the autumn of 1848. This was the work of no public company or landlord, but the hard earned savings of a poor man, named Roche, who rents a section of the Island of Bannow. But, alas, for the speculation of the enterprising islander, a heavy storm during the winter effected a breach in the embankment, and the waters again covered the reclaimed acres. Here again I had the opportunity of testing the truth of the traditionary channel. The breach was but a perch in breadth and the receding waters as the tides rushed outwards through this opening with great velocity and cut a channel for themselves 20 feet deep. The soft mud was first swept away and beneath that the gravel of the lost channel. Though this breach affected the pocket of poor Roche to the amount of £5 to stop it up, yet it served me in the same light as a post mortem examination does a medical man. I saw into the heart of the defunct channel just as Mr Sawbones would see the ulcerated lungs of his deceased patient.
Time and perseverance are sovereign remedies for all misfortunes and with the aid of both these agents Roche again shut out the waters of the harbour and every succeeding day saw his embankment rise higher and broader above high water mark. £200 was now expended upon the speculation and the spring of 1850 saw a portion of the mud-lands planted with beans and oats. I watched their progress with much interest—they did grow. The oats had a sickly appearance—the leaves of a yellow, rusty colour. I believe the plants would never have been sufficiently strong to shoot into ear. But before that period arrived, storms from the south sent the drift sands sweeping over the waste lying between it and the outer waters and these swift messengers of destruction bounded over the southern portion of the embankment and over-spread the already dying oat crop. The beans came up few and far between and every few weeks saw those few grow beautifully less. The lower leaves would first crisp up and sink into the ground, a few did blossom and pod but such pods would never make one of Lord Clarendon’s Practical Instructions forswear agriculture for ever. However I had the satisfaction of eating a bean grown upon a soil that I suppose had never before grown a blade of grass, since the Lord commanded the earth to bring forth fruits. But you will ask me, what has this to with the extinct channel?—Simply this. Beneath this bean and oat land, lies the bed of the channel, filled with yet soft mud to a great depth and so soft and deep in this mud-land that when the tide rises outside the embankment, the salt water forces its way through the pores of the soft mud and rising to the roots of the plants, destroys their vitality. I have stood on this reclaimed slob, when the meridian sun of July had parched up the surface and cut it into innumerable small fissures; the tide at the moment was two feet above the level upon which I stood; little or no water oozed inward through the ditch, still I saw the clear pure water rise up through the fissures around me, precisely, as if a spring of pure water were to rise up through the ground floor of your kitchen. But when the tide outside the embankment had fallen below the surface upon which I stood, the water in the little fissures descended likewise until it was lost….Roche, I dare say, before he attempted to “make two blades of grass grow” where never one blade grew before, did not calculate upon this flux and re-flux of the tides oozing up and down through his mud field. I am not adept enough in the science of arterial drainage to advise the poor man how to remedy this draw back upon his praiseworthy enterprise, still the fact of its necessity is good evidence that beneath this field is the bed of the old channel. The solidification of the mud by-and-bye, aided by drainage, may convert this quagmire like piece of mud-land into yellow fields of waving corn and smiling meadows for the worthy Islander, whose enterprising spirit afforded me an opportunity of investigating the existence of the lost channel. But certainly those notes of mine would have slept in oblivion, were it not for the observations of Mr Graves. When I read his paper, I saw at the instant that it was the only common sense description of the “Irish Herculaneum” I had ever read and I resolved at once to give him through the columns of the Independent what assistance was in my power; and I am happy to perceive by your journal of last Saturday that the Rev. Gentleman read my notes in the same spirit in which they were written.
Clare’s Island, on the eastern verge of the old channel, forms a portion of the embankment. This Island contains at present less than a rood of land, but it was larger.—Some thirty years since, a portion of it was cut off and carried off to make the road which connects the Island of Bannow with the mainland. Again in the years of 1848 and 1849 another slice was taken off to assist in raising the embankment. I may here remark that this dyke will probably be considered in future the boundary between the two properties, as Clare’s Island is the property of Mr T. Boyse, Esq., and the Island of Bannow, with Roche’s reclaimed field is the property of Mrs Colclough Boyse, in right of her late husband, Caesar Colclough, Esq., of Tintern Abbey—Here again is good evidence of the eastern channel. An imaginary line winding from Clare’s Island trough the bed of the extinct channel until it is lost in the waters of the bay divides the Boyse and Colclough estates—a fact which goes far to prove that the channel under notice formerly divided these two properties, and that in its present state, the line of demarcation is not easily pointed out. I will give you a ludicrous instance of the existence of this boundary line.
In 1848 a poor labouring man here built himself a wooden house, or as brother Jonathan, I believe, would call it, a shantee. It measured 14 feet by 10, with the interior divided into two compartments. He had paid £2 a year for a portion of a cabin, to a man equally as poor as himself, for a series of years and he now chuckled at the idea that for the future he would be independent of all landlords and further the forty shillings a year would go far to clothe the “woman and Childre.” The shantee was built with doors and windows cut in it, and well tarred to preserve it from the timber-splitting influence of the sun. But still a difficulty persisted and how to surmount it was the rub. Though Jem might have said it to himself the air and waters belong to the ALMIGHTY, he should, also, know that the earth in Ireland, at least, belongs to man and that it would be more satisfactory to find a resting place for his ark upon terra firma than to hang it out of the moon, or to set it afloat upon the waters of the harbour, as the Chinese do on their rivers. The advance guard of the crow-bar brigade had not, nor indeed yet, passed the boundaries of this district, still people did not like in those heavy poor-rate days to encourage the growth of wooden villages among them. Not any objection to poor Jem, for he was a native, if not of the peninsula of Bannow, at least the Island of the same name, prevented the neighbours from permitting him to put down his wooden castle on their premises; but it would establish a precedent and others to avoid the pressures of cabin landlordism would shortly follow Jem’s example and build shantees for themselves. Necessity, they say, is the mother of invention and in this dilemma a bright thought flashed across Jem’s brain. “Mary” said he, addressing his better half, “there is the sandy waste between the church and the Island. Andy knows where the boundary runs through it. I will lay down house upon the bounds, half on each side, and let the owners go to law, if they like.” The wife assented and Jem’s ark was conveyed by the neighbours and set down, as well as they could judge, upon the line which separated the two estates. A bleak site this, “for the poor childre”. The house was placed upon the highest point in the centre of the dried up channel. From north and south it was threatened by the waters and from every point the drift sands swept over the little shantee. Even here poor Jem was not at ease for it was whispered that the agent was seen surveying with his keen eye Jem’s box and that he would be expelled as a trespasser in the midst of the sands and waters. However this may be, Jem was not disturbed and before the winter storms set in he removed his wooden house to a sheltered spot, under the lee of the Island, and where Mr Graves must have noticed it, as he passed from the old church to the Island. You must pardon this digression, for as I am turned antiquarian at the instance of the Rev. gentleman, I hope it is not against the rules of his society to mix a little of the present along with the past, particularly where the present can elucidate the past, as in this instance—Jem’s search for the boundary line over the raised bed of the supposed channel proves clearly that such a channel had an existence and that it here separated the estates of different proprietors. But to return to Clare’s Island. The recent perpendicular cutting away of a portion of this Island gives you a fine view of its formation. First slate rock, second clay and uppermost a stratum of black clay, studded with the bones of fish, fowl and beast and, for aught I know, of man, for I am not an anatomist; this layer of black mould is about 18 inches in thickness and is evidently formed of the dissolution of the bones, &, into their original elements—dust. The bones abound in surprising abundance and from among them I selected a large tusk of a boar. It measured nearly three inches around the curve of it; it was in a fine state or preservation—the enamel or ivory pure and clear. Now I have said before this Island was on the eastern verge of the channel, and tradition has it, that the vessels and fishing craft in passing in or out of the harbour stopped by the side of this Island, probably awaiting winds or tides, and that the bones are those of fish and animals, among other refuse thrown upon it by the sailors and fishermen.
This little islet is rich in legendary lore—it was a favourite haunt with the “good people” and often and often upon a calm summer’s evening, when the placid waters of the harbour began to reflect the images of the moon and her sister stars, have the joyous laugh and merry song, the sprightly dance and entrancing music of these aerial beings been heard upon Clare’s Island and then in an instant, thousands of these light footed gentry would be seen to skim the surface of the clear blue waters in uproarious confusion of sweet sounds on their journey to some other favourite resting place. I have neither seen not heard them, neither have I seen those who did, but I saw some who knew others that have seen them and you know this is confirmation strong with those who still hold the doctrine of fairyism.
I cannot trace the further windings of the bed of the extinct channel in its course up the harbour but, from what I have written, I am satisfied that such a channel did exist and I have no reason to doubt the tradition of the people which says that between Clare’s Island and the Island of Bannow it was more than 30 feet deep—My conviction is that the decay of Bannow town is to be attributed more to the blocking up of this channel than the overwhelming influence of the drift sands; for I have already pretty clearly demonstrated that no portion of the town was buried beneath the sands, but the cabins before mentioned; and I am inclined to think that they had been abandoned, and partially pulled down, before the sands covered them.
There is one curious fact touching those sands. They came within twelve paces of the Church, and there stood still, as if the Almighty had stretched forth his hand to protect the sacred ruins from the impending destruction—it will be for the future antiquary to record whether or not the old church of Bannow may not be overwhelmed, for the influence of the drifting sands is felt in its immediate vicinity. And whilst again on the subject of the church, I may notice an unpretending grave-stone, near the doorway leading into the nave, with the following inscription on it:–
“Erected by Peter French to the memory of his parents [in] 1781. Here lieth the body of Walter French who died January 14th, 1701, aged 140 years.”
I have made many and strict inquiries among the descendants of this man as to the truth of his having lived one hundred and forty years. His family are among the class of intelligent farmers, and the oldest representative of the family, a man over 70 years of age, assures me that the grave stone represents a fact. If this old Walter were alive he could tell us something about the old town, as he was born in the third year of the reign of Elizabeth and lived through a stirring time of Anglo-Irish history. He is not; and all I have heard of him—that Oliver Cromwell robbed him of his property and packed him off, not to hell, but to Galway, and that poor Watt, not finding the shores of the north-west as agreeable to him as the sunny south, made his way back to Bannow, probably after the restoration of King Charles and lived to have his bones laid in the old church of Bannow, in the last year of the reign of William and Mary. With one or two remarks more, I will be done with the old Church of Bannow and probably for ever. Within the doorway of the nave at the left hand side as you enter is just peeping up among the rubbish a “holy water pot”, in which the faithful of past generations dipped their fingers, and made the sign of salvation upon their foreheads, when about to assist at the holy sacrifice of the Mass. Years ago another and larger and more beautiful “pot” was taken away from this ruin and placed in the Chapel of Rathangan but the good pastor of Bannow at the period had it brought back and placed in the Chapel of Carrig and it is at present used in the new Church of Carrig as a Font and a very fine one it is. Posterity will do Mr Boyse justice for his donations towards the erection of this splendid Church—in May 1836 his father the late Samuel Boyse Esq., laid the foundation stone of this Church and the son has, at various times, since contributed over £1,100 towards its erection. His last act was a gift of £100 to purchase stained glass windows over the Altars, but I am sorry to say that his generosity appears to be badly seconded, for the stained glass windows are in sad keeping with the rough, unplaistered walls, the broken up floor and the roofless magnificent bell-tower. It may be the badness of the times, but if a fault rests any place it should for the honour of religion and a mark of respect to the noble minded philanthropist, who contributed so much he corrected, and immediately. But the church of Bannow did not stand alone in the good old times; there were three others in the same locality—the ivy clad walls of a portion of one are yet to be seen in a field adjoining Dickey Kane’s dwelling, called the “old town”—another fact to prove that the ancient Bannow stretched away in this direction. The vestiges of a second are to be seen in the Island of Bannow, in a field known as “the chapel field”. And a third stood at about one half mile distant, at a place called Oversands, but I believe all traces of this are at present removed. One evening last summer, as I stood at Wellington Quay, watching the ferry boat, bringing the people over from the fair of Tintern, “the tide being in” and the estuary presenting a beautiful sheet of placid water, I asked a man who was awaiting the arrival of the boat with some of his family, how it happened that the extensive corn stores, kiln, lime works, salt works, quay, &, built at this points some thirty years past, by a Mr Carpenter, and now going to ruin, had never succeeded? “Oh, Mr” said he, “they could not succeed, nor will ever succeed, for the workmen drew away the stones of the old chapel which stood there above in the field, and built them up in work of that store.” This was a poser for me and, of course, I did not contradict the good man, whatever faith I might have in the cause he assigned. But if the chapel stones did not mar the good luck of the stores, neither, in my opinion did the want of water at Wellington Quay injure their prosperity, so that we must look for the cause somewhere else. The Rev. Mr Graves seems to doubt my assertion, that vessels, drawing 10 and 11 feet of water, pass over the bar of Bannow, &, because the successors of old Paddy Cahill unshipped his reverence upon the sand and sludge at low tide. But first let me tell the Rev. gentleman that I was present at the funeral of the veritable “Bannow Boatman”, Paddy Cahill, (whose father rented all the Island of Bannow from the Colclough family) and not the imaginative Larry Moore, of Mrs Hall’s creation; and that I saw him quietely laid in his grave in the old churchyard in the opening of the year 1848; and that I wrote and you were kind enough to publish his obituary in the columns of the Independent. And now for the depth of water. I have it from good authority, that at the springs the water rises from 12 to 14 feet at the ferry. The tide then sweeps round in the channel, in a north-west direction, until it reaches Salt Mills. It then takes an easterly course, passing close by Lynn’s quay, where vessels with the above named draft of water can and have discharged their cargoes. After passing this point, it branches off onto two parts, one making for Wellington quay, at which I have seen schooners, with a less draft of water, come in laden with coal.–From Lynn’s quay the other branch pursues its devious course until it reaches Clonmines, where the estuary narrows into a river, and the tide still flows onto Wellingtonbridge and two or three miles further up the river to a place called Corogue, up to which point gabbards of twelve and fourteen tons burden, and drawing four or more feet of water daily, ply in the summer months, freighted with sand, and sludge and lime stone for manure. Those gabbards always go up the river with the flood and return with the ebb. Lynn and Wellington quays are private property; and the vessels not belonging to these quays come to anchor in the harbour, under the shelter of a large bank, called the “hurl”, the top of which is scarcely covered at high water and discharge their cargoes into the gabbards, which convey them up to the coal yards at WellingtonBridge.
I do not know what Clonmines may have been; but I do know that, at this day, it has a better water communication with the sea than Enniscorthy has with Wexford. I trust, with the publication of the Rev. Mr Graves letters and mine, that we will not hear much of the buried “Herculaneum” and that the productions of the literary manufacturers of light reading will not induce any other gentleman to visit the old church of Bannow to have the pleasure of a peep down the “massive chimney of the town house” at the buried city.
As there were several typographical errors in my former letter, the correction of which the Rev. Mr Graves may not have seen and as one or two of them alter facts, I will here notice them. For tower was situate, read town was situate; for number nominated, read member nominated; and I think the word tower was substituted for town in some other part of it.
I perfectly agree with the Rev. Mr Graves that Wexford of the Danes should have its Archaeological Society. For though I am a pure Celt (if Keating and Mac Geoghegan speak truth) still I take a warm interest in whatever memorials we have still remaining of the works and deeds of the first hardy, fearless Anglo-Norman adventurers who visited our shores in pursuit of fame and fortune. And in what part of Ireland are there to be seen so many memorials of them in the CountyWexford, from Fitzstephen’s watch-tower at Ferry-Carrig to any other you may name. And there is one man intimately connected with the literature of Wexford, whom I have ever esteemed since a boy, though I am generally unknown to him; and if that truly- philanthropic gentleman take up the question, I have no doubt of its success. Do you anticipate me? I mean the worthy Sir Francis Le Hunte. The Mechanics Institute—of which I may say he is the father—will afford materials for a commencement and leave the rest to the spirit and generosity of Wexford men.
I have again far exceeded the limits which I had prescribed for this letter; but the subject afforded so many materials, that I culled a little from all.
John C. Tuomy
Bannow, October 8,