Tag Archives: Tramore

By The Hill of Carbally: Cockles in Waterford, a social history

With the splendid sunshine in recent times, I spent some time home in Waterford. This past Saturday afternoon was spent on the Back Strand of Tramore, when the tide was lowest, digging in the muddy bed of the strand for cockles. Cockles, along with dillisk and periwinkles are plentiful around the south-east coast during the summertime. I’ve mentioned dillisk before in another post, but going cockle picking made me think about those (more often than not) women who made their living in Waterford picking cockles, boiling them and selling them in Michael Street and Peter Street in the city centre. They may not have songs written for them, these real-life Molly Malones, but this blog post I hope will give some insight into the place of seafood like cockles in Waterford life in the first half of the twentieth century.

A quick look at the online census returns in Ireland reveals that as far back as 1901, there were women who  considered their principle occupation  to be cockle pickers or sellers – a mother and daughter who worked together being just two such women, who lived in the lanes of Waterford. The 1911 census reveals more women, in fact all of them women, who worked as cockle pickers and sellers – in all there were twenty in Waterford county who listed this as their occupation.  Many of these women were either single or widowed, though some were married, doing this work to supplement the income of their husbands incomes.

This was hard, back-breaking, to say nothing of dangerous work, and usually for poor pay. In 1911, a poor relief case was brought before Dungarvan Union of a Mrs. Tobin, a cockle picker, who because she had only one child could not under the strictures of the law, which the guardians weren’t keen to bend, be granted poor relief. This, despite the fact that a Mr Byrne, one of the Poor Law Guardians acknowledging that “it was a very deserving [case].” He said that “she was a very industrious woman…on a winter’s day it was a pity to see her coming from the Cunnigar streaming with water with her bag on her back.”

The lot of cockle pickers around Waterford doesn’t appear to have much improved in Free State Ireland either, if some newspaper reports in the middle of the 1920s are anything to go by. Under the Towns Improvement Act in 1926, the fish market in the city was moved from Michael Street to Peter Street, and several women were brought before the local courts during the transitionary period for, in the phrasing of the courts, “exposing for sale cockles so as to create an impediment or annoyance to free passage”. The case of one particular woman, reported in the Munster Express on 20 August 1926 is instructive enough about the place of these women. A case was brought that a cockle seller, Kathleen Dwyer had created an impediment or annoyance on Peter Street. She described to the court her set up – two porter boxes, one for her cockles, and one she used as a seat. Asked by the prosecution if she thought she caused an obstruction, he also inferred that she was a heavy woman and this would add to her ability to obstruct saying she was “a substantial size of a woman”. She replied baldly that “nobody interferes with me.”

A witness for the defence, a lady by the name of Ellen O’Brien, 64, noted that Peter Street had always been a cockle market, and that she had been doing that work there for 50 years (stretching back to the mid-1870s) and that her parents and grandparents had done likewise. O’Brien argued that they should not be moved  to the fish market on the street since no one would buy cockles in the newly established fish market, they always having traded seperately. The issue didn’t seem to have been resolved since only a fortnight later, Dwyer, O’Brien and twelve others were summonsed to court for sale of cockles on the public street.

These same women would be prosecuted for this same offence again and again right through to November, when they were given a three-month amnesty by the Town Clerk and Judge to see if they would “behave themselves”. In February of 1927, the cases were revived but adjourned again with a different judge in the chair who acknowledged he knew nothing of the cases, and seemed uninterested in hearing them all again in full. The defending solicitor attempted to elicit sympathy for the cockle sellers cause by pointing out their poverty and the hard work of travelling sixteen-mile round trips to Tramore to pick the cockles they would sell.

At the end of the 1930s, when one cockle seller died at the age of 73, Statia Walsh, there was astonishment at the discovery of some £1,700 found in all the nooks and crannies of her house – the woman it was noted made “her living dealing in poultry and in the sale of cockles, which she gathered on the Back Strand, Tramore.” She was apparently also regarded locally “as being of somewhat eccentric habits”. Eccentric habits, perhaps, but thrifty nonetheless.

The cockle selling, picking and eating habits in Waterford took a dive in this period as there were many public health warnings issued about contamination of the shellfish, linked to typhoid outbreaks, caused by the poor sanitary conditions of the water around the Back Strand due to run off from houses in the Riverstown area. The Munster Express wanted to know what it would take before the Health Board would insist on improving the sanitary conditions of many of the wooden Riverstown houses that were thought to be the cause of the issue. In the summer of 1939, an official warning from the Town Clerk was printed in the local press to warn people to boil the cockles sufficiently so as to ensure that they would not suffer any infections or disease.

By 1940, guidelines were issued on the subject by the Corporation and the Minsister for Local Government and Public Health, effective May 1st of that year. Under the new Public Health (Waterford Shellfish Laying) Regulations, 1940, people were liable to prosecution and a fine of £100 if they wilfully sold or distributed cockles and other shellfish which had not been either

(a) relayed and thoroughly washed in sterilised sea water by a method for a period and in an apparatus approved by the County Medical Officer of Health, or;

(b) relayed during a continuous period of not less than ten days in clean water of a suitable salinity in a site approved by the County Medical Officer of Health

The measures also put an end, for a while at least, to public harvesting of cockles from the Back Strand. Even after the introduction of these measures the bad name gained by Tramore cockles during this period still extended to those who gathered theirs in the Passage and Woodstown area of the county, and notice was made in the local press that those sellers from that end got their cockles from elsewhere and public needn’t have any worries.

Despite these changes, the introduction of such regulations and rules, the local press continued to abound in the 40s and 50s with stories  of cockle picking: of near fatalities as inexperienced cockle pickers on holiday spent too much time at the Back Strand and narrowly averted the rising currents; of women, casual street traders, prosecuted for selling their wares after hours of picking; of casual pickers making a few bob on the sly during the summer months. More than just warming the cockles of your heart, it brings to life again a world depicted in this short poem about Carbally Hill, in the pages of the Munster Express on 6 February 1959, where:

…flows the Saleen tide

On whose banks  I have oft cockles picked

With boyish heart and glee

And played quare pranks and carefree tricks

On the Hill of Carbally


Filed under Irish History, Landscape, Social History, Twentieth Century, Uncategorized

Teddy Boy “Terrorists” & Mod Invasions: Youth sub-culture in Waterford, 1950-1985

One of the most remarkable books of Irish social history to appear in the past twelve months is Where Were You? by Garry O’Neill, a superb photographic record of youth culture and street style in our capital, Dublin, from 1950 to 2000. The various subcultures the book represents from Teddy Boys through to mods, rockers, punks and skinheads and beyond weren’t exclusively Dublin-centric developments. Although largely imports and imitations of both American and English youth subcultures, all of these were adopted by Irish teenagers and twenty-somethings, as a means of collective and individual expression of difference from their parents. These subcultures were very often also linked to violent and social criminal behaviour. Here, I’m going to take a brief look at some of those in Waterford from the 1950s to the middle of the 1980s.

The Teddy Boy, and Girl, emerged in post-war Britain, a subculture that appropriated Edwardian dress  (hence the shortening to Ted/Teddy) and subverted it through their associations with American Rock ‘n’ Roll and cemented their mythical status as troublemakers through the Blackboard Jungle and Notting Hill riots of respectively, 1956 and 1958. The style of the Teds was imported into Ireland in the same period, and caused panic akin to that in the British press.

The film in particular, so emblematic now of the Teds, was indeed popular in Waterford – being showed at regular intervals in The Coliseum (originally opened as a skating rink in 1910) cinema on Adelphi Quay from 1956-1958, but there seemed to be no desire to imitate the famed riots of their British counterparts among the youth of the south-east. One group of self-styled Teddy Boys in Waterford though in 1956 found themselves up in court for breaking and entering into various city premises and generally terrorising people on the streets; despite pleas of clemency from one of their mothers, one boy, McCarthy, was sentenced to two months in jail. The headline of the report was sensational, calling them Teddy Boy Terrorists:

teddy boys

Teddy Boys were most often referred to in Waterford in relation to more positive stories of youths – with local dignitaries and the clergy happy to be able to provide examples contrary to the behaviour of the Teddy Boys. But soon the Teddy Boys gave way to other emerging youth sub cultures in the early 1960s. Again taking their lead from their British counterparts, the mods and rockers of Ireland attracted the opprobrium of Ireland’s clerical class, as this stern warning from the Bishop of Ossory indicates:

Ossory Warning

Such fear-mongering was largely misplaced and indicative of a failure to understand that even in Ireland, now in the televisual age, would be open to much wider and disparate cultural influences, especially among the young. An article in the Munster Express of June 26, 1965 readily acknowledges this, if lamenting its impact on the fortunes of Irish language and culture by saying that ‘now we have more than Anglicisation: we now have world-wide Americanisation.” The journalist goes on to write, half-aghast, that “we hear so much about ‘Mods’ and ‘Squares’ that one cannot help wondering how certain sections of the community will be described next.” An article in the same newspaper in 1967 reporting a talk given by Frank Hall suggests that the Irish youth are becoming increasingly odd, and worse, unmanly, suggesting we institute mandatory military service in order to inculcate “general manliness and normal behaviour”, after all, he notes “there are no Beatniks or Mods in the defence forces.” But mods were such a part of Irish life by this time that Jacobs biscuits even did an ad for their Club Milk that saw bankers, mums, and Gardai, as well as too-cool-for-school mods doing the “Club Milk Kick!”

The mods gave way to various other youth subcultures in the 1970s, notably skinheads and a little later punks. There was a strong skinhead contingent in Waterford who became associated with the Waterford Football Club and who along with their Shamrock Rovers counter-parts caused serious trouble at games throughout the period:

A clipping from a Waterford FC match in 1973 that ended in a nil all draw.

A clipping from a Waterford FC match in 1973 that ended in a nil all draw poking fun at its skinhead following.

But it was in the wake of the post-punk new wave and the Mod revival led by bands like The Jam, that Waterford would see panic on the scale of the early Teddy Boy scares in the 1950s. Indeed, it was in the 1980s that what was a Mod revival for the UK, was probably the real flowering of Mod culture in Ireland, and this was strong in Dublin, Cork and Waterford especially. Tramore, the seaside town in County Waterford that we’ve seen in the past play host to motor car races, was in the early 1980s a popular rallying point for mods and scooter enthusiasts. Perhaps fearing that this would lead to an Irish version of the battle of Brighton beach, captured evocatively in the 1979 film Quadrophenia the local newspapers led with a bold headline. The Munster Express was certainly raising the alarm with this notice in June of 1983:

Mod Invasion

There appears to have been little enough to have worried about, and tellingly, the paper the following week steadfastly insisted that it was not whipping up a storm of controversy, but their ‘Invasion’ headline was based upon a reliable local Garda source. There had been a major rally in 1982, and there was certainly a crowd in 1983, but whatever the Munster Express had been expecting to happen that Whit weekend didn’t seem to!

Issue 3 of Mod revival fanzine 'Who Are You' featuring Tramore

Issue 3 of Mod revival fanzine ‘Who Are You’ featuring Tramore. Source: irishjack80s.web.com

A girl looks on at Mod revivalists in Tramore in 1982. Source: irishjacks80s.web.com

A girl looks on at Mod revivalists in Tramore in 1982. Source: irishjacks80s.web.com

Mod revivalists line up along the Prom in Tramore in 1982. Source: irishjacks80s.web.com

Mod revivalists line up along the Prom in Tramore in 1982. Source: irishjacks80s.web.com



Filed under British History, Irish History, Social History, Twentieth Century