The Avondhu - By The Fireside
TRANSPORTING COAL & TIMBER
In 1958, the last schooner ship to travel up the River Blackwater did so on May 8 marking the end of an era for large river based transport servicing the catchment, as the newly built Youghal Bridge came into being. The shortened height that resulted following the construction, between the bridge and the river, prevented any large sail vessels from passing under the bridge and up the river.
The De Wadden was a cargo vessel built in the Netherlands in 1917 and was known to frequent the River Blackwater, particularly in the Cappoquin area and was the last merchant schooner to trade in the Irish Sea. On its last voyage, the famous ship travelled the River Blackwater to Killahalla Quay, opposite Dromana House just south of Cappoquin.
PART OF MARITIME
Nowadays drydocked on the River Mersey, Liverpool, the De Wadden is a three-masted auxiliary schooner built in 1917 by Gebr Van Diepen of Waterhuizen, Netherlands, for the Nederlandsche
Stoomvaart Maatschappij (Netherlands Steamship Company).
National Historic Ships UK notes that De Wadden was built at a time when the Dutch were capitalising on their neutral position during the First World War, with Dutch shipping companies making huge profits carrying cargo for both the Germans and Allies.
“Coal and oil were in short supply, and in March 1918 she sailed between Rotterdam and Bergen. Many Dutch ships were lost through torpedoing, mines, gunning and bombarding, and also by confiscation by both Allied and German forces. De Wadden is a rare survivor of these vessels,” the organisation notes.
Following the end of World War I, De Wadden was sold to Richard Hall of Arklow, Co Wicklow where it made a name amongst the long history of trade between Liverpool and Ireland.
Captain Hall was understood to have bought the ship to help modernise his expanding fleet of schooners and carried out some alterations on the ship, mainly consisting of structural changes in the hold where crew quarters were built.
Travelling the Blackwater, the De Wadden was known to transport cargo to and from the stonebuilt quays at Killahalla and Cappoquin, as well as Dromana. Hall, the longest serving captain on the ship, ran it from 1933 until 1954.
According to Niall C.E.J. O’Brien in ‘Rivers Blackwater and Bride: trade and quays’, the few quays on the Blackwater with machinery to load and unload vessels were usually those owned by the landed estates.
Dromana estate quay, was one of those with the machinery to operate a crane and was much concerned in the early 20th Century with reducing labour costs, as were the other west Waterford landed estates.
In ‘Timber exports in the south east’ by Niall C.E.J O’Brien, two local journeys were logged by the ship in 1948.
On June 23, 1948, De Wadden was logged with 240 tons of pitwood, travelling to Dublin, with O’Keeffe sawmills of Tallow noted as the merchant. November 13 that year saw the ship with 210 tons of timber from the Tallow merchants again, travelling to Garston, Liverpool where De Wadden was known to load coal bound for Ireland.
From 1922 to 1961, De Wadden carried mainly coal as well as other bulk cargoes such as grain, pit-props, china clay and mineral ores from the River Mersey to various Irish ports. During the Second World War, the ship played its part with similar vessels, transporting essential supplies to Ireland. The crew aboard reportedly consisted of only five men and a boy, and since she could sail, it is claimed that a qualified marine engineer was not required.
The ship is reportedly the last in a long line of Arklow-owned and manned sail trading vessels that acted as a training ground in seamanship for local boys and men over several centuries, National Historic Ships UK notes.
“She has strong associations to Liverpool being a frequent visitor there between 1922 and 1961 and was the last trading sailing ship to use the port.
“She also has great significance within the maritime history of Ireland, as one of three surviving Irish sea schooners and the only steel auxiliary schooner,” the organisation adds.
Travelling up the River Blackwater for masted vessels, however, was brought to a halt, as low bridges restricted access. After it retired from commercial use in the 1960s, De Wadden continued in use in Scotland as a leisure charter fishing vessel.
Later in life, De Wadden got its claim to fame, featuring in a number of films including the part of a paddle steamer in the BBC production ‘The Onedin Line’, however in 1978, the De Wadden was involved in a collision and was beached.
De Wadden was purchased by the Merseyside Maritime Museum in 1984 and by 1987 was drydocked to allow for a conservation and restoration programme.
It is understood that the museum purchased the ship at a cost of £20,000 at the time.
In the early 1990s, the museum briefly ran some tours of the deck and education sessions, before this was withdrawn to allow further necessary conservation work to take place.
Since then, conservation has been ongoing to stabilise the vessel which has remained drydocked in Canning Graving Docks.
Only three Irish sea merchant schooners have survived into the 21st Century, each the only representative of their particular type; the Kathleen and May, a traditional wooden topsail schooner; the Result, a steel-hulled schooner representing the move from wood to metal hulls and the De Wadden, a steel auxiliary schooner, representing the transition from sail to mechanical propulsion.
In July 2022, an article published in the Liverpool Echo raised concerns regarding the future of the historic vessel, which remained dry-docked in Liverpool as National Museums Liverpool launched a feasibility study on what to do with De Wadden.
“De Wadden is exposed to weather and other factors that will worsen its condition over time. At some point, the discussions we are now having around De Wadden’s future would need to happen, and the development of the historic graving docks and quaysides around the ship is an appropriate point to revisit the long-term plan for the vessel,” National Museums Liverpool said.
Options suggested for the ship’s future include selling the vessel to another museum, and if no expressions of interest are forthcoming, disposing of the ship by deconstruction.
Another option being examined includes moving the ship to another dock and carrying out preservation works with a major investment to allow the public to access it.
Currently, vessels travelling the River Blackwater are primarily small leisure boats, canoes and kayaks and now, the future of the last schooner to travel the Blackwater remains uncertain.