Carrick-on-Suir, a beautiful south east of Ireland medieval town is set in the ancient Golden Vale (Gleann an Oir) and surrounded to the south by the Comeragh Mountains of Co. Waterford. Legendary Sliabh na mBan keeps a watchful eye from high upon the 800 years old town nestling in the Suir Valley. Downstream on the Suir to the southeast region we can view the Walsh Mountains from where it is thought by historians that the first inhabitants of the town originated.
Carrick-on-Suir or Carrick Mac Griffin so called by association with the Anglo Norman landowner family of Fitzgriffin, was, from its foundation up to the early 19th Century, an island settlement. The waters of tributaries namely Lingaun, Pil,Glasha and Glen encircled to enter the Suir from east to west. The habitat can only be envisaged as a collection of mud huts, thatched or grass roofed in a most basic scenario of habitation. Most probably a collection of animals provided some self-sufficiency by way of meat and the raw materials for clothing. The swampland and greenery would in itself sustain such agricultural stock with grazing etc.
The granting of a charter to hold a Fair (An T-Aonach) in the year 1247 provides us with enough evidence that suggests a population was building up in the place. This event would be held in a vast area commonage known as The Fair Green. Though now a small version of the original acreage, it is, along with Coolnamuck and Oven Lane, one of the most durable place names of the town.
From the early 14th Century, the governmental affairs of the town were overseen by the overlords “The Butlers of Ormond”, who had been granted the lands of Carrick by virtue of being declared the Chief Butlers of Ireland. This family provided the religious order of Franciscans with its foundation church in Carrick Beg (1336). The most notable members of the clan were Thomas (Black Tom) Butler, the 10th Earl of Ormond (1531-1614) who built the Tudor Manor House extension to the Castle and James 12th Earl and 1st Duke of Ormond (1652) who founded the woollen industry of the mid 17th Century.
From an era of commerce and trade, of employment and prosperity amongst a 1799 population census of nearly 11,000 persons, the town’s economy went into freefall as a result of British taxes and levies imposed on imports to protect its own industry at home. Deprivation, hunger, illness and disease with resultant multiple deaths saw the town in the throes of an early famine. Carrick-on-Suir would not experience any semblance of mass employment until the arrival of the Malcolmson Cotton Factory (1863-1877) which was relatively short lived and later in the first third of the 20th Century with the opening of Plunder and Pollack Leather Factory.
Throughout pages in this presentation we will further inform the readers of the many facets of historical fact, industry, employment, people and places who are and have been synonymous with this town of Carraig-na-Siuire.
When the 1st Duke of Ormond, Earl James Butler commenced the woollen industry in Carrick-on-Suir in the mid 17th Century it became obvious that the success of the venture with its ensuing rewards guaranteed his town of Carrick and its people prosperity hitherto unbeknown. The town would enjoy prominence comparable to its neighbours Clonmel and Waterford and this newly acquired commercial viability was not lost on one Capt. J.A. Archer. This gentleman would forward a plan to improve the river’s capability to handle ships of large tonnage by making it more navigable and creating a major avenue of trade bringing such ships laden with cargo, by-passing the port of Waterford and sailing to “His Grace’s Quay of Carrick”. Archer was a man of great vision and ambition, though not for himself as his letters of 1668 distinctly profess his loyalty to His Grace The Duke of Ormond. He foresaw sailing ships from Britain, France and other countries dropping anchor at the Suirside docks before progression of its cargo to other provincial destinations by horse drawn boats upstream and the roadway network created by the building of the Ormond Bridge.
In 1756, a sum of £1500 was sought from Parliament to build a towpath suitable for horsepower rather than manpower to assist in transporting goods upriver. In 1830, the quaysides were made to their present state by the creation of a new quay named after its financiers , the Sausse family after whom the berthing place would be referred to in the future as Sausse’s Quay.
In 1836, the Suir Navigation Company was founded replacing all other commercial traffic on the Suir. Fees were set to carry goods by tonnage and shares in the new company were £20 fully paid up. A contract was drawn up with one Edgar Clements to cut a channel through the rocks and build a new quay for £3250. This project was never completed although one section under the Ormond Castle known as the Navigation Cut was part of the unfinished work.
In 1877, Ernest Grubb, son of John Grubb who came to Carrick in 1843 to extend his coal, grain and goods business, founded the Suir Steam Navigation Company, thus improving the commercial usage of the river. Boats carried extensively to Waterford and returned with coal and other accessories of the age. The stores on the quayside were a hive of activity and employment. Although working relations were strained as employer and employee were constantly at loggerheads, mainly over wage restrictions.
The “Fr. Mathew” was possibly one of the most famous of the cargo boats of the time and is still referred to up to the present time. The advent of the steam train as a source of transporting goods did irreparable damage to the river trade. The new station at Carrick, with a track from Limerick to Waterford, fulfilled such an objective as was hitherto considered the preserve of the boats of the Suir. The Grubb family sold out their S.S.N. Company to Thomas Walsh of New Street in 1912 and in 1927 the Waterford section was sold to Edward Dowley & Sons.
The golden age of the river trade was over. The vast stores of Dowleys’, once filled to the rafters with grain, corn, fertilisers and other agricultural necessities and with the sounds of hard working labourers was now empty and silent.
The river Suir’s more recent association with such household boat names as “Knocknagow” I and II and the “Rocksand” would no longer ripple under the weight of the heavy burden. The O’Callaghan family would for some years more continue the arduous business of providing sand and gravel from the beds down river. Alas, the scenes, sounds, and chugging boats are gone but not forgotten. Hard laborious river work is replaced by our town’s spanking new marina as a source of recreational pleasure for the 21st Century and the towering stores are now state of the art apartment accommodation.
THE CARRICK KNOT OR BEND
The Carrick Knot or Bend is without doubt the symbol of the tradition and history of the town’s association with the tidal waters of the River Suir. Imprinted in stone on the huge fireplace of the main Banqueting Hall of the Ormond Castle since the 16th Century, the open ended loops as used by the great boatmen, fishermen and “Sailors of the Realm” is clear for all to see. The modernity of this simplistic rope entwinement is further emphasized in framed copybook versions of nautical knots! Its title is as above.
Recent enquiries by the author when presented with a lapel pin as a gift, brought into play a coincidence of huge proportions. The logo was none other than the “Carrick Knot”; the place a seaside town in Cornwall; its name: Carrick! It was also the official logo of the Carrick District Council. Enquiries revealed that its origin was late 18th Century leading to the conclusion that Carrick-on-Suir had stolen a march by approx. 200 years.
NORMAN CARRICK MAGRIFFIN
The town of Carrick is often referred to as of Norman origin by virtue of its early name of Carrick-na-Griffin relating to a major Norman landowner Matthew Fitzgriffin of Knocktopher otherwise called “Lord of the Manor” (circa early 13th century). Other such names include Fitz Anthony, De Valle (Wall), Lundy (Landy), De Brett (Brett), Maydewell (Mandeville) all of which are mentioned in early town history.
The Normans had great battling qualities, great fighters and prominent military personnel. In Carrick-on-Suir, one such Norman family, De Cantillon, Thomas and his wife Dionysia founded an Augustinian Church along the Suir side, going towards what we now know as upper Castle Street. Many of the old Norman names after many derivations still remain in this area. The Hearth Tax Records 1665-1667 for “Villa De Carricke” which can be viewed at the Heritage Centre, provide us with the most interesting sequences of the remnants of the old “names” which are easily decipherable and constitute many of the surnames we recognise amongst present day inhabitants.
My Lord Duke
Phillippe Walsh Smith