Waterford Harbour

J. Stirling Coyne & N. P. Willis
c. 1841
Volume I, Chapter IV-15 | Start of chapter

The next opening of the coast displays the noble harbour of Waterford, formed by the estuary of three great rivers—the Suir, the Nore, and the Barrow:—they all derive their sources from the same range of mountains in the central district of Ireland; diverge from each other, and water various parts of the rich campaigne counties of Tipperary and Kilkenny; after which, approximating as they approach the termination of their meandering course, they unite and discharge an immense body of water into the Atlantic. The coasts of this noble bay are studded with the remains of ancient civilization, both religious and military; and the fine city of Waterford, which lies on the southern bank of the river Suir, about sixteen miles from the entrance of the harbour, forms the centre of commercial and manufacturing industry for this part of the kingdom.

The little village of Dunmore East lies in a sheltered bay, inside the great western headland of Waterford harbour. This place was merely an obscure little fishing hamlet twenty-five years ago; but an immense sum having been expended by government in constructing an artificial harbour, and making it the station for the Post-office packets between Milford and Waterford, it has risen rapidly into importance, and aided by the improving care of the Marquis of Waterford and the Earl of Fortescue, to whom the greater portion of the land in this neighbourhood belongs, it is likely to become, before long, a thriving and prosperous town. The shores here are extremely picturesque, and the natural caves formed by the action of the waves in the stupendous cliffs, are numerous and extensive: their principal tenants are marine birds, and occasionally seals; though they are said to have not unfrequently afforded asylums to the bands of smugglers that formerly infested this coast, and secure storehouses for their contraband merchandise, which, on being landed from the smuggling vessels, was generally deposited in these natural caverns, until it could be safely carried inland, and disposed of in various channels.

On the opposite point of the bay stands the Lighthouse of Hook, situated at the extremity of a narrow peninsula, which projects about four miles from the main land, and forms the eastern shore of the harbour. This lighthouse, which is very ancient, is an important feature in the navigation of this coast. It is upwards if one hundred feet in height, and has evidently been erected upon the remains of a still more antique building. It has been conjectured that one of the old Irish Round Towers was converted to this purpose; but there is nothing in its structure to warrant such an opinion: it is more likely that it owes its origin to the Danes, who, it is known, formed a settlement at Waterford under their leader Yvorus, at a very early period, and whose maritime habits would naturally induce them to erect a beacon or lighthouse at the entrance of the principal seaport which had come under their sway.

About four miles from Hook Tower is Bag-en-bon Head, a small promontory, celebrated as the spot where Robert Fitzstephen landed,—"the first of all Englishmen, after the Conquest, that entered Ireland," as Hollingshed quaintly observes. In the summer of 1169, he embarked at Milford Haven in three ships, with thirty knights, sixty men-at-arms, and three hundred archers, and, after a speedy and prosperous voyage, landed at Bag-en-bon, a small creek at the mouth of the river Banna, or Bannow, as it is now written. It is not my intention to follow these brave soldiers through their arduous struggles before they obtained a partial footing in the country; but I may add, that the memorable arrival of Fitzstephen and his followers at this place has given rise to the well-known proverb—

"At the Head of Bag-en-bon

Ireland was lost and won."