New Zealand reads about Ardmore (County Waterford), 1852-1931

Newspapers and magazines thrived in late nineteenth century New Zealand: by 1910, a population of a million people had the remarkably broad choice of 67 daily newspapers, plus a range of weekly publications. To fill their columns, editors printed (indeed, often pirated) news and features about Britain and Ireland, the recent homelands of most of the country's immigrant population. This selection takes Ardmore, County Waterford, as an example to illustrate how New Zealand readers might have been informed about life in an Irish village.

Many of these publications are available for consultation online through the National Library of New Zealand's excellent online PapersPast archive.[1] Some of the stories reported may be distressing to children.

1852: drownings New Zealand's earliest newspapers were little more than bulletin boards, whose reports were as likely to mystify readers as enlighten them. Information travelled very slowly by sailing ship, so that news arrived months after the events. Not until 1876 was New Zealand connected to the international cable network, which provided reports from overseas that were immediate but necessarily very brief.  When a Wellington newspaper reported an Ardmore tragedy in December 1852, it was recycling "news from home to the 12th of August", and even that had been filtered through a newspaper in Melbourne, Australia: "Two fine young men, (sons of Archdeacon Power, Ardmore, county Waterford, Ireland), were drowned on the 10th August, by the upsetting of a boat; the Archdeacon himself owing his preservation to a life-preserver which he put on previous to embarking."[2] Constraints of space and time had not only compressed the story, but distorted its details. Four young men had been drowned. The Venerable Ambrose Power was the Church of Ireland Archdeacon of Lismore. Griffith's Valuation reveals that in 1853 he maintained a holiday home in Ardmore, where an Irish newspaper described him as "respected and beloved by all classes".[3] Thanks to his decision to don a life-jacket, he survived until 1869. He was commemorated in an ornate drinking fountain, no longer functioning, which still forms a traffic island in the middle of Lismore.[4]

1884: the demon drink The first long extract relating to Ardmore comes from the New Zealand Tablet, a weekly magazine founded in 1873 by Patrick Moran, the Catholic bishop of Dunedin. A high quality publication, it was explicitly intended to inform, and sometimes to energise, New Zealand's Catholic population, and consequently featured news from Ireland.  However, there are reasons to suspect that its October 1884 report on "Temperance Work in an Irish Village" gave an exaggerated picture of Ardmore.[5] It is hard to believe that alcohol had such a devastating grip upon the fishing community, and some degree of scepticism is called for in assessing the paradise of sobriety that had suddenly emerged. A cynical view might suggest that the story was an exercise in self-promotion by the parish priest, Fr John Walsh, who had only recently succeeded the Reverend John Shanahan, whom he had served as curate. Fr Walsh lived at Ballyquin House, about three miles (5 kilometres) from Ardmore. He would ride into the village, tethering his horse outside the church. Sad to relate, in 1901 he was killed in a riding accident. The Munster Express called him "a thorough-going, practical Nationalist" and an ardent supporter of the Gaelic League: "being a fluent speaker of Irish, he frequently preached in the old tongue, which is the everyday language of the majority of the people." He was obviously an assertive personality: a local history of 1912 neutrally observed that "his homely but withal forceful exhortations will be long remembered". Indeed, he was nicknamed "Geallaim – se" (I promise you), an emphatic and authoritative phrase which he used to underline his message from the pulpit.[6] In common with other reports in the New Zealand press, the Tablet seems to have taken for granted that Ardmore was an Irish-speaking village, but the rest of its report (abbreviated here to omit repetitions of its exhortations and lamentations) throws some light on life in the village in the 1880s, as well as denouncing the temptations of the local Sodom and Gomorrah, the town of Youghal:

"In the pretty village of Ardmore (Waterford), which lies on the high ground facing the ocean, and enjoying the full rays of the glorious sunlight that seems to smile with special gladness on the clean, white-washed cottages, in that simple homely village, there is a work of regeneration and reformation steadily going on, and quietly spreading itself over the country about and the parishes attached, which are presided over by the Rev. John Walsh, the good pastor of his people. It has caused a marvellous change in the habits of the villagers, who are simple, honest and industrious, but who have been hitherto reckless in spending their hard-earned money, often gained at the risk of their lives. Their daily practical devotion is edifying. The church, a little distance from the shore, is always open for adoration, and they are to be found, at different times in their leisure hours, worshiping at the foot of the altar. These customary devotions have been interfered with, occasionally, by numbers of the villagers succumbing to the great 'snare' of the drink power....

The men who earn their bread by fishing are in the habit of going to the nearest market town to sell their fish, which is Youghal. Anyone who has been to see this ancient town, with its relics of bygone architecture, will see that it is not improved, though completely modernized with a plentiful dotting of public houses which help to contrast with its decay and dirt; and the poor fishermen, who may have the strength of mind to pass one or two or three, will probably walk into the fourth house. How many times, in Ardmore, have wives watched anxiously for their husbands' return and expecting them to be the bearers of food for their children, in lieu of the money they have perilled their lives for?"

After a day's boozing in Youghal, many fishermen had "nothing to show for their money but an unsteady gait, an angry temper, and, too surely, the racking headache, and remorse for the treatment of their wives and little ones. ln some instances it was the wife who was entirely in fault, she having adopted the prevailing fashion of the day to spend freely and generously in the public-house the bread money of her children, often the blankets off their beds, the little one's clothes, dissolved in drink."

Sometime in the early 1880s, a philanthropic lady had visited Ardmore on holiday, and "conceived the noble idea of reforming these poor people". She purchased three cottages and converted them into the original St Declan's Hall. "It is tastefully decorated; in winter, there is a good fire, with plenty of books, newspapers, and amusing games for their recreation." Five hundred people had foresworn alcohol: "the fidelity with which they have kept their pledges under trying circumstances, speaks well and promises for their perseverance. Up to their waists standing in the sea, hauling in their nets in the depth of winter they have kept their promises, and it has brought innumerable blessings on themselves and families, those that were the poorest, are now enabled to purchase  many comforts, one of the men saved £10 to buy a jennet. ... A visit to this lovely spot, so beautifully situated, with winding walks high over the rocks against which the sea dashes and frets itself at a fearful depth below, contrasts with the peace which now dwells in the village, whose pastor has set them a noble example of self-denial, making the same promise which he asks of them to make, namely, for example sake, to edify his flock in a spirit of self-sacrifice not to be outdone by them."

1887: the campaign for a fishing harbour Three years after this highly coloured account, the New Zealand Tablet published a briefer report which also highlighted the problems faced by the Ardmore fishing community.[7] In fact, the campaign for a proper harbour had been in progress for about four years, and there would be little progress for almost two decades. "We are a long time waiting for that promised pier", a journalist complained in 1901.[8]  It was eventually constructed in 1906, and some felt that it was too late to save the local fishery. The money had been thrown into the sea, grumbled a member of Waterford County Council five years later: "There was never a fish caught in Ardmore." Another councillor agreed: "Ardmore is more a seaside resort."[9] The slur was unfair: fishing has continued to the present day. Because the boat harbour was completed in days when Irish was still spoken in the village, it bears the name Port na mBád:

"A petition from the fisherman and residents of Ardmore was recently presented to the Lord Lieutenant on the subject of providing a suitable pier or breakwater at that place to enable the fishermen to carry on their calling. It appeared from the petition, which was largely signed that the village of Ardmore is almost exclusively dependent on its fishery. Ardmore is near the centre of the famous fishing coast extending from Tramore to Cork harbour, and known as the 'Nymph' fishing grounds. It is a strange fact that for the staple industry of the place there exist no facilities whatever; no protection is to be found for the numerous boats which are engaged, and in the wild weather which often prevails they must be drawn up on the strand to save them from destruction. This subjects them to injury and moreover, the absence of protection renders it impossible to employ the larger class of boats, which alone can proceed far out to sea for the profitable deep sea fishing. This state of things is a great loss to both the locality and the community, as the mackerel and herring fisheries of the coast are of great value, while the benefits of them are reaped by fishermen from England, Scotland, and France. As a consequence, many young men of the neighbourhood have been compelled to leave their families and to seek a livelihood in America, England, and other countries."

1897: St Declan's Stone without Declan Reporting on Ireland was not always accurate, perhaps because the country's rich folklore tempted journalists to romantic elaboration. There is a touch of Father Ted about "The Holy Stone at Ardmore", which appeared in the New Zealand Graphic in 1897. Had the magazine used the correct name, "St Declan's Stone", it would never have fallen into the solecism of associating the Déise with St Patrick. The story that the Stone had sailed all the way from Rome did occasionally appear during the nineteenth century, but most enthusiasts limited incredulity by reporting that the voyage had begun in Wales. The tale that it had run ashore at Ardmore with a candle ablaze had appeared in a well-known travelogue of the early eighteen-forties by Mr and Mrs S.C. Hall, but was quietly ignored by Canon Patrick Power, one of Waterford's earliest historians:[10]

"Did you ever hear the wonderful legend of the Holy Stone of Ardmore? The stories told of this remarkable stone are the most curious and unaccountable narratives that one could well imagine, yet there are thousands of people in Ireland and in Great Britain who believe them to be true in every particular.

According to the legend, this uncanny stone, which is owned by the County of Waterford, Ireland, floated all of the way from Rome to the British Isles, bringing with it the sacred priestly vestments of St. Patrick. Besides the above, it also brought a bell for his first church and some candles for mass, one of the latter being lighted when the curious craft arrived on the Irish coast. Since the days of St. Patrick this wonderful stone has been held sacred to the memory of that saint. It is a large boulder, weighing, perhaps, four or five tons, and lies at the water’s edge. It is even now daily visited by scores of people. A great many of these are tourists, but there is also a goodly sprinkling of those who believe all that is claimed for the stone. These devotees, in time of low tide, creep several times around the stone on bare knees, and if conditions are favourable crawl through a hollow in the sand which the water has worn under it."

1907: coastal erosion In 1907, the Gisborne Times reported on a more practical issue.  It was not that the Waterford coastline was in the habit of welcoming floating rocks, but rather that it was being washed away altogether. Three years later, members of a United Kingdom Royal Commission on coastal erosion visited the area. Their chairman, the novelist H. Rider Haggard, regarded the loss of land along the Waterford coast as "one of the worst cases they had seen" anywhere in Ireland or Britain. In 1911, the commissioners recommended remedial measures, but administrative inertia, the First World War and Ireland's War of Independence intervened:

"Ireland is also being rapidly dissolved into the ocean. In the southeast corner of Waterford County the coast is ground away at the rate of eight feet a year, on the average, but sometimes a single storm comes along which takes away a slice one hundred feet wide at once. At Ardmore the sea kept taking the public highway as fast as it was laid out until at last all attempts to keep a road open along the shore was [sic] abandoned."[11]

1911: Father O'Shea to the rescue Four years later, New Zealand newspapers published a thrilling story of heroism from Ardmore. In March 1911, the local curate, Fr John O'Shea, led courageous locals in trying to rescue the three-man crew of a schooner that had been driven on to the rocks. This report, "A Wreck Tragedy: Plucky Rescuers Find Crew Dead", from the Christchurch Press, strongly hints that the stricken vessel, the Teaser, should never have been permitted to brave the ocean.[12]  Other reports add that Father O'Shea performed the Last Rites on the victims in the pitching boat. One hundred local men had dragged a boat more than a mile overland so that it could be launched close to the wreck. This time, there was no suggestion that the inhabitants of Ardmore were permanently intoxicated.[13] Interestingly, the 1911 census reported that Fr O'Shea had been born in Australia, although, since he spoke Irish, he had probably grown up locally. He was the driving force behind the project to replace the Temperance Hall with a second Halla Deuglán in 1912 (a third was constructed in the 1970s). No doubt it was difficult to say 'no' to a clerical hero who had been decorated for bravery by King George V at Buckingham Palace. Fr O'Shea was 41 at the time of the rescue attempt:

"Strenuous efforts were made by the priest and people of Ardmore Bay, County Waterford, on March 23rd to rescue the crew of a schooner which had gone ashore on the Black Rocks, but when eventually a boat reached the vessel two of the sailors were dead and the third dying. The ill-fated schooner, which was thought to be the Teaser (Montrose) – a name which does not appear in Lloyd's Register – was driven on to the Curragh strand at six in the morning by a fierce easterly gale. The Ardmore coastguards were soon on the scene, and willingly assisted by the people of the neighbourhood the rocket brigade fired nine rockets, five of which passed over the vessel. One man was observed in the rigging, apparently in such a state of exhaustion as to be unable to descend.

Father O'Shea, the Catholic curate, made an effort to reach the wreck, but the heavy sea running prevented him from launching the only available boat. Mr Harris, of the Ardmore Hotel, who managed to get on board, found two men dead and one only just alive. By this time a boat had been brought a mile and a-half overland, and this, manned by Father O'Shea, Constable Lawton, Coastguards Barry and O'Neill, and two Curragh fishermen, put off to the wreck, and brought the members of the crew ashore. Artificial respiration was tried for an hour, but failed to revive the one man who had a spark of life in him.

The vessel was a small schooner of the type usually carrying four hands, but three men only are so far accounted for. The schooner was laden with coal. Two of the bodies are those of the captain, T. Hughes, of Connah's Quay, Flintshire, and the mate Fox, also a Flintshire man. The third body, which is that of the cook, has not yet been identified."

1914: rallying to the colours Fr O'Shea did not know whether he violated Buckingham Palace protocol, but he had felt moved to assure George V that his "kind words" would be "appreciated throughout Ireland, and would be highly conducive to feelings of loyalty and friendship in the Irish people". In the early twentieth century, Irish Nationalist opinion was united in its demand for Home Rule – devolution with the United Kingdom – but only a few visionaries dreamed of breaking with Britain altogether. Catholic Ireland not only shared the general international revulsion against German aggression in 1914, but felt a particular sympathy with Belgium, a deeply Catholic country invaded without warning or cause. The Home Rule party leader, John Redmond, a Waterford MP at Westminster, publicly encouraged young Irishmen to join the new mass Army that was being raised by Britain's War Minister, General Lord Kitchener. Yet, outside Ulster, recruits were slow to come forward. There were good reasons for this. For decades, there had been a disproportionately high level of Irish soldiers in Britain's Army. Small farms dominated rural Ireland: many families relied upon the labour of grown-up sons. In any case, emigration had sliced through the available age group, as for decades there had been an outflow of young men from the country. A correspondent of the Christchurch Press was keen to defend the honour of Ardmore, where many of the fishermen were members of Britain's Naval Reserve, and thus unavailable to join the Army.[14] The writer of the letter was probably John Donnell, a 24 year-old fisherman at the time of the 1901 census. He shared a cottage with his 19 year-old sister Norah in the townland of Ardoginna, which stretches along the coast west of Ardmore. He may have fished from nearby Whiting Bay, but evidently thought of himself as an Ardmore man. He cannot be traced in the 1911 Irish census, and had probably left for New Zealand by then. Emigration to the other end of the globe had not extinguished his Ardmore patriotism. A coastal town north of Christchurch, Kaiapoi functioned in the early twentieth century as a small-scale fishing port:

"Sir, I read a few days ago a cable message in the paper stating that the call for volunteers in the South of Ireland for Kitchener's Army was not receiving the response expected. Coming from Ardmore, Waterford, myself, and late of the Royal Naval Reserve, I have some idea of the number of men available as volunteers, and am not surprised that the numbers do not compare with other parts. Considering that most of the men in those parts are Royal Naval Reserve men, or belong to the militia, and will already be among the thick of it, I should be glad if you could give this publicity, in order to remove any wrong impressions the news has given. Yours, etc., J. Donnell, Kaiapoi, November 21st [1914]."

1920: the War of Independence The First World War sharply changed Irish attitudes to England's king and Britain's Army: peace in Europe was followed in 1919-21 by Ireland's War of Independence. The attack on the Ardmore police barracks in January 1920 was an unusually large engagement in what was essentially a campaign of guerrilla warfare. Even now, a century later, there are conflicting accounts of how many men were involved, how long the fighting continued and whether there were casualties.[15] Within a few days of the episode, New Zealand newspapers such as the Wanganui Chronicle carried brief cable reports.[16] International telegrams were charged by the word, which explains the use of the unusual term "scath[e]less" (although the more familiar "unscathed" would have been equally cheap):

"The Irish Problem. Another Attack on Police. London, January 30. Fifty men besieged seven police for two hours during the early morning in the barracks at Ardmore, Waterford, where the inhabitants of the town were terror-stricken. The besiegers, as a preliminary measure, cut the telegraph and telephone wires. The steel shutters at the barrack windows enabled the police to emerge from the fight scathless."

Two months later, when the mail finally brought Irish newspapers, the Hokitika Guardian published a more detailed account. Hokitika is located on the west coast of the South Island, where a gold rush in the 1860s had left a concentration of Irish Catholic families, who, the editor no doubt assumed, would be interested in a full account:[17]

"Police Siege. Two Hours’ Fusilade By Irish Raiders. London, Jan. 29. The police barracks at Ardmore, County Waterford, were attacked early yesterday morning. The raid lasted two hours, the attack being made from three points. A public house opposite the barracks was broken into and from a loft over the shop shots were poured into the barracks. A second party attacked from the corner of Foley's Lane, while a third fired at the back of the building. All the windows above the ground floor were smashed and the walls inside and out were peppered with shot. Sergt. Scanlon and seven policemen defended from behind sandbags in the windows, replying vigorously to the firing. They believe that they shot dead two men, whose bodies were carried away. The raiders, who numbered 60 or 70, finally retired. All the telephone wires to Youghal, Dungarvan, and Clashmore were cut, and trees cut down and placed across the Youghal road. Some time after the raid a policeman, despatched to Youghal by cycle, was attacked on the way by three men and knocked off his machine. They ran off when he drew his revolver. He fired after them wounding one."

1916: remembering the Cleary family By the early twentieth century, New Zealand's pioneer days were starting to fade into memory. Even so, there were still people who remembered the early days. In 1916, the New Zealand Tablet noted the death of Minnie O'Sullivan, who had arrived from Ardmore in 1864:[18]

"The death of Mrs. Minnie O’Sullivan occurred on August 14 at her residence, 209 Aro Street, Wellington, after a prolonged illness. The late Mrs. O’Sullivan, who was of a retiring though kindly disposition, was well known and highly respected, and the family have received numerous messages of sympathy in their sad bereavement. She was a native of Ardmore, Co. Waterford, Ireland, and arrived in the Dominion with her mother, who was coming to rejoin her husband, Mr. F. M. Cleary, some fifty-two years ago, in the sailing ship Asterope, and landed in Wellington, but later took up her residence with the rest of the family in Marlborough, where they are numbered among the pioneers of that province."

In 1924, the New Zealand Tablet virtually duplicated this obituary in reporting the death of Mrs O'Sullivan's sister.[19] Their father, usually known as Michael Cleary, was described in 1886 as "a very old and much respected settler ... a native of Waterford. He emigrated to Otago about 23 years ago, but came to the Wairau almost immediately upon his arrival in the Colony."[20] Having arrived in New Zealand in his mid-fifties, he farmed at Renwick, not far from the town of Blenheim and close to the Wairau River, which had a bad habit of flooding. (It's now in the heart of the wine-producing country of Marlborough.) There were four men called Michael Cleary living at Ardmore in Griffith's Valuation, which was completed in 1863, each of whom occupied a very small holding: whichever of them went to New Zealand did well for himself and his family. The similarity between the sisters' obituaries suggests that they often spoke of their Ardmore origins, and recalled their journey to New Zealand. The Asterope was a tiny vessel, not much over 600 tons. In 1864, she managed to cram 46 people into what her owners claimed was "unrivalled accommodation for first and second cabin passengers" – and she also carried a prize bull and a cow, destined as breeding stock for the farmers of Hawke's Bay. Her 103-day voyage, from Gravesend on the Thames direct to Wellington, was uneventful, except for a severe storm near the Kerguelen Islands in the southern Indian Ocean.[21]

1929: the missing Mansfield million In the late nineteen-twenties, an even older echo of local life seemed to surface in the strange tale of the fabulous Mansfield estate. In 1798, so the story related, John or William Mansfield had emigrated from Ardmore in County Waterford to Liverpool, where he had presumably mastered the craft of shipbuilding. He had then moved to Germany, where he had married, established his own shipyard and made a fortune. At his death in 1825, he left his estate to his wife for her lifetime, with the provision that it was then to be inherited by his relatives. Objecting to this arrangement, Frau Mansfield had used a provision in German law to freeze the proceeds for one hundred years. That time had now expired, and lawyers were searching for claimants to the estate, which had accumulated interest in the Bank of England and now stood at over one million pounds (worth about €90 million in 2023).

There should have been good reason to suspect that this strange tale was a hoax, perhaps a scam intended to con hopeful descendants into paying some kind of registration fee. The lack of information about the location of the shipyard was noteworthy. The imprecision of the shipbuilder's forename also suggested an attempt to broaden the range of potential victims. Nor was it explained how an estate in Germany came into the hands of the Bank of England. (The Bank had certainly not advertised for heirs.) Nonetheless, there was considerable excitement in west Waterford, where Mansfield was (and is) a common surname.[22] The net was quickly spread more widely by the Dublin correspondent of the Melbourne Advocate, the official organ of the Catholic archdiocese. "We know that district well, and we know when a man emigrates from that side of Waterford he makes for New Zealand or Australia."[23] Australian claimants were not slow to come forward, asserting that their grandfather, who had settled in Tasmania, was the shipbuilder's brother. The mysterious story was pursued by at least five law firms in Ireland, Britain and Australia, with interest also expressed from the United States, but a halt was called to the search at the end of 1929.[24] One hopeful, Mrs Hedderwick of Moonee Ponds, had been a little too quick to boast about her chances: New Zealand newspapers ran the story under headlines such as "Melbourne Woman’s Claim to Fortune. Money tied up for 100 Years £1,000,000 from shipbuilding In Germany":[25]

"Mrs. Edith Rebecca Hedderwick, of Moonee Ponds, who is 75 years of age, and who is claiming portion of a shipbuilder’s fortune of £1,000,000, says that she was confident that her claim cannot be refuted. She explained that the fortune, which had been amassed about 120 years ago, was now in the Bank of England, where it was earning interest. William or John Mansfield, the shipbuilder referred to, who was born about 140 years ago, married twice, and died in Germany, where he had a large shipbuilding yard. Mrs Hedderwick explained that his second wife had no children, but the will provided that she should use the interest accruing on the fortune, and that at her death the money should go to the Mansfield family, of which the Moonee Ponds resident was a member. The second wife, who evidently was not pleased with the will, tied up the money for 100 years, as she was entitled, to do under the German law. The time has now, expired, and as Mrs Hedderwick’s grandfather was a brother of the shipbuilder, and her father was dead, she claims that she was entitled, with other members of the Mansfield family, to a share in the fortune. She said she understood that the shipbuilder’s first wife also died childless. Explaining how she had come to hear that heirs to the fortune were being sought, Mrs Hedderwick said that she had been informed in April last year of an article which had appeared in an Irish paper. This article, which was headed 'Is Your Name Mansfield?' related that somewhere about 1798 a young man named Mansfield, from Ardmore, County Waterford, had emigrated to Liverpool to seek his fortune. He made a little money, and then went to Germany, where he established a shipbuilding yard, which later developed into a big undertaking."

1931: the death of a shark The final story, "Killing a Shark", dates from 1931, and closes the selection by returning to the theme of Ardmore and the sea.[26] Surrounded by the Pacific Ocean, New Zealanders were aware of the potential threat from sharks, even though fatal attacks have been much less common than in Australia. Hence a violent encounter with this feared marine predator off the Waterford coast would strike a chord with Kiwi readers. (In reality, Irish waters are visited mostly by basking sharks, which are entirely harmless until filled with shotgun pellets.) It is difficult to read the account of the slow death of the captured creature, thrashing in agony as it destroyed timber piling in Ardmore harbour. By that stage there was probably no alternative but to put it out of its misery, but the account of mass butchery by the mobilised villagers is harrowing. The New Zealand account does not reveal that it was local fishermen who attacked the shark, which was 35 feet (10.67 metres) in length and weighed over five tons. This sounds cruel, but schools of sharks off the Waterford coast ("these undesirable pests" the Cork Examiner called them) damaged expensive fishing nets: the previous year, four young men had survived a titanic struggle with a much smaller, fifteen-foot (4.6 metres) shark in Youghal harbour after it became entangled and threatened to capsize their boat. Fishermen lacked sophisticated equipment capable of the humane capture and subsequent liberation of so huge a creature. Once a shark was caught up in nets, they had little choice but to try to drag it ashore and kill it:[27]

"An enormous shark which attacked fishing boats off Ardmore Bay, County Waterford, Ireland, a few weeks ago, was only killed after a fierce fight in which the crews of six boats were engaged for two hours, using rifles, axes and hatchets. When the great fish was surrounded by the boats two miles from shore rifle bullets were fired into it, with no effect but to make it mad with fury. It made ferocious and repeated attacks on the boats until it became entangled in the nets. The struggling monster was then towed to Ardmore pier and made fast to the structure. It lashed out with its tail, smashing many of the timber supports of the pier and doing other damage. Rifle fire was again opened, but the sea monster’s hide seemed to be bullet proof, and it was not until the tide receded and the shark lay high and dry, but still struggling, that it was possible to end its career. Axes and hatchets were brought from the village, the entire population assisted at the 'kill'."

New Zealand reads about Ardmore: some reflections It may seem remarkable that newspapers in distant New Zealand should have published any reports at all about a small village on the Waterford coast, but it is also obvious that their readers would not have learned very much about life in Ardmore from what did appear. In the early years of the colony's press, publications were little more than bulletin boards. Hence the report of the drowning of the sons of Archdeacon Ambrose Powers omitted all the drama of the tragedy to give simply the bare news of their deaths. Later, editors sought to harness a broad range of reader interest through a scattergun approach of snippets, which mentioned local problems such as coast erosion and harbour facilities but supplied little detail. Reliance on the very expensive cable reports from international news agencies meant that most accounts of the 1920 attack on the Ardmore police barracks appeared in a few compressed sentences: by the time more detailed accounts arrived by ship, interest had waned.  While Australia's much larger Irish Catholic community supported explicitly Nationalist newspapers, especially in Sydney and Melbourne, across the Tasman, there was only the weekly magazine, the New Zealand Tablet. Its priorities were essentially religious, as it showed in its 1884 feature on temperance in Ardmore – an account that reflected more than a hint of stereotype in its assumptions about the villagers' alcoholic tendencies. Most of all, of course, we should remember that life in west Waterford, although tough, was generally also quiet: the Teaser rescue attempt in 1911 and the gunfight of 1920 were the only hold-the-front-page episodes to emerge from Ardmore in the years under review. Perhaps this helps to explain why there was much about the village that New Zealanders never read about. Strangely, there was no account of Pattern Day, the festival of bacchanalian piety that brought massive crowds to honour St Declan every 24th of June – perhaps hardly surprising given that the only Kiwi journalist to write about local religious tradition was fixated on St Patrick. Taking assumptions for granted may explain why no New Zealand report mentioned the very basic point that Ardmore remained a predominantly Irish-speaking community well into the twentieth century. Nor was there any discussion of the problem of emigration which drained Ardmore of human talent: the initial failure of the fishermen to secure a pier in 1887 led "thirty of the youngest and best of them ... to seek a livelihood in America, being unable to maintain themselves by utilizing the fisheries of their native place".[28] A country that needed new settlers might have taken a closer look at west Waterford and its people.



[2] New Zealand Spectator and Cook's Strait Guardian, 4 December 1852.

[3] Cork Examiner, 6 August 1852. On 2 August 1852, Archdeacon Power, accompanied by his two sons and a nephew, had boarded a vessel called The Rover to sail from Youghal to Ardmore. They were presumably on holiday, and would have travelled from Lismore (or Cappoquin) by boat down the Blackwater. The Rover was loaded with deals (sawn timber). With a crew of just two, young men called Foley and McGrath, she was obviously a small craft. They ran into rough weather off Whiting Bay, at which point the Archdeacon prudently donned a life-jacket. Within a mile of Ardmore, The Rover was "suddenly struck with a squall, which here frequently sweeps down the gorges of the headlands". McGrath managed to get ashore and raise the alarm; Archdeacon Power was found on a rock at the foot of the cliffs, initially too exhausted to tell rescuers what had happened. Despite heavy rain, the entire Ardmore community seems to have turned out: four boats attempted to locate the wreck, and women and men searched the cliffs in the hope of finding survivors. The Cork Examiner published an evocative account of flickering lights on the headlands and vividly described "the cries and lamentations of the women, and the pathetic entreaties of the boatmen for more boats and more assistance, spoken in the Irish language". None of this appeared in the staccato news item reported in New Zealand. There were four deaths in the loss of the Rover, not just the two reported. The Archdeacon's two sons and his nephew are commemorated by a plaque in Lismore Cathedral: "Sacred to the memory of John Annesley Power / Born the 25 of February 1835 / Son of Major Henry Power 32nd Madras Infantry / Ambrose Power / Born the month of October 1839 and Joseph Newman Power / Born the 25 of December 1840 / Sons of the Venble Ambrose Power Archdeacon of Lismore / Who were drowned by the upsetting of a boat off Ardmore / The 2nd of August 1852 / 'They were lovely and pleasant in their lives / And in their death they were not divided'." ( It was not until 1901 that a local company operated an omnibus service, three days a week in summer, from Youghal to Ardmore. Evening Herald, 7 September 1901.

[4] Similarly, reports in several New Zealand newspapers of "the discovery of a crannog, or old lake dwelling, in the submarine peat of Ardmore" in 1880 were of little value to readers, since they were not told anything about the significance of the discovery. Otago Witness, 24 January 1880;

[5] New Zealand Tablet, 10 October 1884.

[6] Munster Express, 23 February 1901;, quoting Parochial History of Waterford and Lismore ... (Waterford, 1912), 16; Siobhán Lincoln, " St. Declan's Church, Ardmore", The philanthropic lady was apparently Mrs George Barry. The Skibbereen Eagle (14 March 1885) described her as "[a] worthy Ardmore lady ... long and favourably known for her exertions to crush the demon drink". See also Cork Examiner, 5 August 1884 and 3 January 1885, the latter mentioning that the hall had been "built by an excellent Catholic lady, Mrs Barry, who has laboured successfully to banish everything like intemperance from that hard-working population." The meeting place, opened in 1883, was usually known as the League of the Cross Hall, or the Temperance Hall, but it did contain an image of the local patron saint. Now known as Halla Deuglán, it was rebuilt in 1912, and again in the 1970s. Fr John Walsh presumably lived in some style, since Ballyquin House is a substantial mansion: By contrast, his predecessor, Fr John Shanahan, had died "possessed of only two or three shillings": Parochial History of Waterford and Lismore during the 18th and 19th Centuries (Waterford, 1912), 16. The 1901 census counted 1,340 people in the Ardmore District Electoral Division, of whom 755 were aged 21 or over.

[7] New Zealand Tablet, 11 February 1887.

[8] Evening Herald, 7 September 1901.

[9] Cork Examiner, 18 August 1911.

[10] The Ordnance Survey Letters are quoted by S. Ó Cadhla, The Holy Well Tradition...  (Dublin, 2002), 15; M. Scott, ed., Hall's Ireland (2 vols, London 1984), i, 104-5.  An 1898 account by pioneer Waterford historian Canon Power is at

[11] Gisborne Times, 14 September 1907.

[12] Press (Christchurch), 9 May 1911.

[13] For a good account, with photographs of the Teaser: There is a more detailed account, extensively quoting Fr O'Shea, in the Catholic Press (Sydney), 8 June 1911, which may be consulted via the National Library of Australia's online newspaper archive, Trove.  The sobriety of the brave inhabitants was all the more creditable since the wreck occurred within 24 hours of St Patrick's Day.

[14] Christchurch Press, 25 November 1914. In 2023, one of the five units of Ireland's Naval Service Reserve is based in Waterford.

[15] In 2012, Joanne Rothwell noted that the attack "lasted between one and four hours with local houses being caught in the crossfire": In a statement to the Bureau of Military History in 1955, the local IRA commander James Mansfield recalled that the attack had been abandoned after half an hour. 40 men had been mobilised to block roads into the village to block any British reinforcements; a further 30 took part in the attack. The barracks occupied a building on the Main Street, on the site of the Whitehorses Restaurant. The plan was to detonate explosives at a gable end, creating a breach through which the attackers would rush the small RIC contingent. The police were alerted by the accidental discharge of a Volunteer's gun, and the attempt to plant the bomb failed when the police knocked bricks out of the gable end to create a firing point. ( It seems that there were no casualties on either side.

[16] Wanganui Chronicle, 2 February 1920.

[17] Hokitika Guardian, 8 April 1920. I have not identified Foley's Lane, referred to in the report.

[18] New Zealand Tablet, 24 August 1916. The colony had formally adopted the style "Dominion of New Zealand" in 1907.

[19] Manawatu Times, quoting New Zealand Tablet, 27 June 1924.

[20] Marlborough Daily Times, 26 October 1886. Aged 78, Michael Cleary was thrown from a horse and killed.

[21] Wanganui Chronicle, 12 October; Wellington Independent, 1 November; Hawke's Bay Herald, 18 October 1864. Kerguelen is one of the most remote and inhospitable island groups on the planet.

[22] Cork Examiner, 12 March 1928.

[23] Melbourne Advocate, 26 April 1928. An online search the British government's official publication, the London Gazette, produced no evidence of the Mansfield estate. Any such search in 1929 would have required page-by-page inspection.

[24] Munster Express, 4 January; Port Pirie (South Australia) Recorder, 6 February 1930. A Tasmanian connection might have lent some credence to the story of Frau Mansfield's reluctance to see her husband's wealth pass to his family, since early Tasmanian (Van Diemen's Land) settlers were mostly ex-convicts. Michael Mansfield acquired celebrity (and a land grant) for capturing two dangerous bushrangers: one he shot dead, and the other was forced to decapitate his comrade and carry the head in a bag 36 miles back to Hobart. H.W. Parker, The Rise, Progress, and Present State of Van Dieman's Land... (London, 1833), 105-10 gives a highly coloured account, with much dramatic dialogue in demotic Oirish. Parker's inability correctly to spell the colony's name may throw some doubt upon his accuracy: I have not established Michael Mansfield's Irish origins, but he was an ex-convict.

[25] This version comes from Manawatu Times, 15 April 1929. There was at least one New Zealand claimant, Mrs E. Spall of Te Matai Road, Palmerston North: Manawatu Times, 30 April 1929. Moonee Ponds, where Mrs Hedderwick lived, later acquired legendary cultural status in Australia as the home suburb of the Barry Humphries character, Dame Edna Everidge.

[26] Inangahua Times, 21 August 1931.

[27] Cork Examiner, 21 May 1931; 4 January 1930. It seems unlikely that Ardmore fishermen routinely went to sea armed with shotguns. Siobhán Lincoln recalled "a memorable invasion of sharks" in May 1947. "Everywhere one looked there seemed to be eight or nine fins, and of course they played havoc with the nets." S. Lincoln (ed. M. Fahey, M. Walsh, W. Whelan), Ardmore Memory and Story ... (Dungarvan: Waterford County Museum, 2021), 51-2.  There is a useful note on basking sharks in D. McGrath, A Guide to the Waterford Coast (Waterford, 2011), 134. 

[28] Cork Examiner, 31 August 1887.