Doing his duty


At this time the personnel of the coastguard service were being reduced, some stations closed and the divisions rearranged, with more stations to each division. In the case of Kilkee Division, two stations were added on the Kerry side of the River Shannon, namely Tarbert, a station with accommodation for fourteen men, now reduced to six men and a chief officer, the next station, Cashen River, with six men and an officer.

In order to visit these stations it was necessary to cross the Shannon. A steamer service between Limerick and Kilrush calling at Tarbert twice a week (weather permitting) – not by any means dependable – was the route I was expected to take. It was found most convenient to drive to Kilrush – making use of Mc and the jaunting car – a distance of eleven miles, board the steamer and disembark at Tarbert. Then take another jaunting car and drive to Cashen River, a distance of eighteen miles, inspect the station and, if possible, return to Tarbert the same day. The time had to be arranged in order to catch the steamer on her return trip, or otherwise, having to return by way of Limerick, a distance by road and rail of one hundred and twenty miles. In carrying out the visits to these stations one could never be certain that the steamer would run according to the timetable, or even make a call at Tarbert. It depended so much on the weather and during the winter months did not always take the form of a pleasure outing.

Crossing over to Tarbert one afternoon with the intention of driving to Cashen River the following day and return again to Tarbert, during the night torrents of rain had fallen and in the morning when I was setting out on a jaunting car, with no shelter or protection whatever the rain was still descending as it is apt to do in the west of Ireland during the winter without any sign of abatement. After covering a few miles it was evident that every stream was swollen to an unusual flood. About one third of the journey having been covered it was apparent that the floods descending from the hills were converging in the low ground and crossing the road in a swiftly moving torrent. The driver, no doubt thinking that the horse and car might be swept away by the flood, hesitated. Being anxious to carry out the visit, if possible, after a time the attempt was made and the stream crossed, only to find two miles further on that the roads were so flooded that to proceed would be attended with unnecessary risk. It was decided to return on our tracks and postpone the visit to Cashen for another day. The swiftly moving torrent was re-crossed and the return journey to Tarbert completed without mishap. Viewed from this distance of time, one can visualise the folly of attempting to cross such a flood that might well have swept the horse, the car, the driver and me off our feet with dire consequences.

Whenever I left home to visit these stations I could never be certain of where or how I would get back. It required a very good horse, sound in mind and limb, to do the thirty-six miles journey from Tarbert to Cashen and back in one day. Such an animal was not always forthcoming. From one car owner a very good horse was available but oh! the side-car with its rolling swinging motion in this case so pronounced that, by the time the journey was completed, one’s thoughts were apt to run in the direction of “never again”.

One horse engaged for the journey did very well on the outward run but, when returning through being overtired, started striking its hind legs one against the other, just above the hoof, very soon opening up a wound. The driver tried bandaging the legs in sacking which only made the animal kick and knock up generally rough. The only remedy was to proceed at a walking pace, dragging out the journey by an extra couple of hours.

Another horse, when saddled up in the morning for the return journey, positively refused to move. It was apparently having its own back on the driver for attempting such a long trip. The driver tried every dodge that he could think of, even to placing a sack over the horse’s head, without the desired effect. The animal plainly refused duty. There was no alternative but to hire another horse and car, reaching Tarbert just in time to board the steamer and cross the Shannon on my way home.

In a small town such as Kilkee one very soon became known to all and sundry and was usually given the courtesy title of ‘Captain’, to which one was in no way entitled. ‘The Captain’ would frequently be referred to for advice or council on one and a thousand subjects. It was my practice to lend a sympathetic ear and give such help as lay within my power. Having taken up my residence here with the knowledge that it might continue for a few years, from previous experience I was well aware that a civil word, a cheery good morning and ‘God bless you’ would find a response in the kindly Irish nature, more especially from anyone holding any position of authority. This was my attitude from the beginning and there is no doubt that it stood, to me, and helped to carry me though the troublesome times ahead. In connection with my travelling duties by road and train, it was found that an affable demeanour toward those so frequently met created a friendly and respectful feeling.

It was my pleasure to pull up and have a word with any of the farming community that one might meet on the road. They were mostly interesting conversationalists and one found how well-informed they were on all matters concerning Ireland’s best interest, the merits of their leaders and the ultimate chances of Home Rule. A friend of ours – a university lecturer from Toronto – spending a holiday with us, found himself highly amused and entertained at my easy manner of conversation with those met on the roadside. He was oft times pleasantly surprised at the general knowledge displayed by the occupants of a humble cabin and charmed with the perfection of their grammar and speech, never missing the opportunity of noting a witty remark or an unfamiliar word.


Lahinch Sports Day

The District Captain, having started on his round of visits, had arranged that I should meet him at Lahinch railway station with a jaunting car in readiness to convey him to Liscannor Coastguard Station. It so happened that on this day it was the date of the annual sports and merrymaking at Lahinch when almost everyone allowed themselves a little more scope than usual and all good friends toasted one another in something stronger than water alone. Lahinch was a small town , with a very broad road forming its main thoroughfare, in which were assembled a circus with its clowns, conjurers, the roulette man – not interfered with by the police – vendors great and small, tricksters and suchlike persons usually met with at a country fair.

Alighting from my train it was observed that Michael, the car driver, all groomed in his holiday attire, was there waiting with the car in readiness for his passengers.
“Good morning Michael”.
“Good morning to yesself yer honour”.
“Holiday-making today, Michael?”
“Yes, yer honour. The bhoys and the girls will be afther traiting thimsilves today sorr”.
It was quite evident that Michael had already been ‘traiting’ himself or drinking to a glass of good luck with the “bhoys”.

On the arrival of the inspecting captain Michael, pulling himself together, mounted the driver’s seat. Our road, leading through the main street, now pretty well crowded by the “bhoys and girls” from far and near. Seeing that he had the honour of driving two uniformed officers, presumably Michael was feeling important and wishing to impress the crowd in the street with an attitude of ‘clear a gangway for the quality’. He very soon had the horse racing along at full speed, the ‘bhoys and girls’ scattering to the right and left for safety, Michael thoroughly enjoying the fun. I could see that the captain was thinking that the driver was rather reckless so I remarked to him that he had better slow down or he would knock someone over. He replied, much to the amusement of the captain, “begorra sorr, it would be no haram, to be afther givin’ one o thim a little poke”, at the same time giving the horse a slash with the whip causing the crowd to move swiftly or be laid low. On returning, Michael repeating his tactics; when spoken to replied “shure it will taich thim sorr, to be afther moving fur a gintliman”.

On being paid his fare and complimented by the captain on his good driving, Michael was doubly paid, expressing his appreciation in “thank you sorr and God bless yir honour. Good luck and God speed sorr”.

The work

In connection with my duties much had to be done by way of correspondence with various government departments. For instance, all the work in connection with the Board of Trade, Board of Customs and Board of Fisheries came under the Coastguard and statistics had to be collected and rendered monthly. The daily correspondence brought questions and queries from all sorts of unthought-of of people. So much so, that the Coastguard appeared to be at the beck and call of every conceivable society in the kingdom; if a whale or any other strange fish landed on the shore the zoo man must be informed; if a strange bird made its appearance, the society for the protection of wild birds desired to be informed and so on without end.

Possibly someone may have written direct to the Secretary of the Admiralty with a petty request. The protestant clergyman may have written noting that a protestant man with children be sent to a station to keep up the numbers in the day school. Another, with a grievance against a coastguard maybe for selling a few cabbages or a bag of potatoes; then an anonymous letter possibly with a general complaint against a station’s crew, would have been sent direct to the District Captain. All and sundry found a place in the Divisional Officer’s mailbag for enquiry and reporting. A rule, that I always observed, was to see and speak to everyone that called at my door for a word with “the Captain”, no matter who, whether high or low, rich or poor, they would be sure of a patient hearing. There is a saying “when in Rome do as Rome does”. Although I may not have gone quite as far as that, having to live among a people governed against their will by a power stronger than their own, with a feeling of distrust and suspicion of those in authority representing such a power, and with a different social and religious outlook to that of one’s own, it behoved one, as far as possible, to become one of themselves. That is to say, for peace-sake to try in all things to see their point of view, and like themselves, try to make use of the pleasant word.

To show how this method worked, when plodding along a country road, I was accosted by a countryman, desiring a favour at my hand.
“Beg ye’r pardon ye’r honour. May I spake to ye alone?”
“Yes certainly”
“No-one is afraid to spake to yourself sorr”, said he, “for ye are the same to a child as to a man”.

I put him at his ease with a cheery remark so he was able to state his case freely and naturally, thus creating a friendly and trustful feeling as between man and man.

Getting around

Setting out on one of my duty visits to Tarbert and Cashen River, it was arranged that my wife and a lady friend – spending a few weeks with us – should accompany me. Arriving at Tarbert, having crossed the Shannon in the steam from Kilrush, the horse and side-car was awaiting us for the eighteen mile drive to Cashen and back, a journey that always tried the metal of the horse. In this case it was the good horse and the rolling side-car. The usual driver, apparently not available for the journey, had been substituted by another man. It was a fine day and the horse jogged along at a comfortable pace. The country folk, some busy haymaking, others busy cutting out the turf in the bog pits, were placing it to dry in readiness to be carted to the homestead and stacked in ricks for use during the long winter months.

The countryside was in its most cheerful mood and my wife and her friend from London were thoroughly enjoying their day in the open. Arriving at Cashen River, if the tide was not too high, in order to save a detour of three miles, the driver usually took his car along by the water’s edge, thus reaching the coastguard station by the nearest approach. This time I was not quite certain whether the tide would permit of using the half mile of beach by the river’s edge. The driver was very assuring that it would be all right and away we started. After covering about half the distance, it being spring tides, the water flowing, the river was rising rapidly and the horse getting into deeper water every minute. The water was soon up to the axle of the wheels and, through keeping so close to the embankment, the car was leaning over at an alarming angle, threatening to slip the ladies from their seat into the water, a rather awkward predicament, causing my wife and her friend a little distress. It was certainly looking risky and threatening an involuntary bath.

Arriving at a spot where the embankment happened to be a bit low, I bade the driver pull in close to the bank in order that we might alight. In so doing it was near enough that he did not upset the car. After a little manoeuvring, to my great relief, we were enabled to alight onto the solid ground, the driver pushing his way along to the coastguard station just in time with the water quite deep enough.

After inspecting the station and giving the horse a few hours rest the day being now far spent, we set out on the return journey taking the high road. The temporary driver was to all appearances unaccustomed to horses. The horse was quite a good animal with excellent staying powers and easily handled. After covering a few miles the horse commenced to kick furiously to the embarrassment of the driver and – knowing the horse – to my surprise. It was something unusual and I wondered at the cause. Resuming the journey, all went well for a couple of miles or so when the kicking was repeated. This, I thought, is a nice game and still many miles from Tarbert. Continuing our journey, I discovered that this inexperienced driver was allowing the reins to hang down over the horse’s hind legs. This most naturally was resented by the horse in the manner described above.

As the night advanced and darkness came on, the driver, being unfamiliar with the road, did not appear to be very sure of himself judging from his remarks: “shure and the night is black ye’re honour”. A pause, “begorra sorr and this is a bad road. There is not a soul on the road. God save us”. All this indicating that his nerves were a little shaky.

The journey was certainly long and dreary with here and there a lonely cottage and now and again an unprotected bog pit skirting the roadside, in some cases cut down to the last sods of turf and now full of water. These bog pits of a dark night were blackness itself and small wonder that the unfamiliar driver did not sit easily in his seat. Our return journey was indeed proving quite the reverse of the pleasant outward journey. One part of the road led through a dense plantation of trees under which we had to pass and stretching for a considerable distance.

“Would you not fix the lamps?” I enquired.
“The sorra a lamp is there in it” he replied.
“You mean to say that Mr Clancy sent you out without lamps or candle?”
“The divil a lamp was himself afther giving me sorr”.
“All right drive on, the horse will find the road”.

The car proprietor had neglected to place the lamps and candles in the car with the consequence that under these trees we were without any means of lighting the gloom. It was something more than gloom, rather pitch black darkness, and the driver certainly did not appear to be at all at his ease. His remarks indicated that his mind was obsessed with the thought of fairies and pixies making their appearance. “Bedad sorr, this is a dark sphot entoirely. The trees are afther making it very black sorr. The divil a thing can we see now sorr”.

I did my best to keep him cheerful by assuring him that the road was straight and there were no dangerous spots under the trees, that the horse if left to himself would follow the road alright and it was not likely there would be anything threatening about on such a night as this. I am afraid that did not help him very much as his superstitious fears had overcome his common sense.

For certain, my wife and her friend were not in the least enjoying this part of their outing. Having got clear of the trees the darkness was somewhat less pronounced and the driver relieved of his anxiety of being accosted by fairies appeared to be rather more cheerful. “Thank God we are afther passing the trees sorr”, he said, “that is a queer sort of a sphot entoirely sorr”.

About midnight the dreary journey completed, we arrived back at the hotel in which we had arranged to put up for the night. After partaking of a little refreshment and the hour for retirement come around, the ladies were shown to their rooms. They were first taken to the apartment set apart for myself and my wife – a spacious room with a heavy brass frame bedstead, a feather mattress, the bedding clean and inviting, so far so good. Then followed the inspection of the room set apart for our lady friend – a small room with a single bed, not by any means as inviting as the large room. She noticed a second door in this room and questioned the chambermaid as to what was on the other side. The girl quite innocently replied “another room mam, a bedroom mam”.
“Is it occupied?”
“Yes mam, a gintleman sleeps there mam”.
“How does he enter?”
“Through this room mam”.
“Will he be there tonight?”
“Yes mam”.

This arrangement, presumably the best that the proprietor could offer, appeared to the ladies to be somewhat incongruous and amusing. The proposal being quite impossible and there being no other vacant room, I am called on as to what can be done. There was only one solution to the difficulty. The ladies must occupy the large room. I must occupy the room through which the gentleman must pass to the inner chamber. This amusing suggestion of the innocent Irish country girl gave our friend a little laughable story to relate to her friends of her visit to Ireland and was the cause for a little mirth for a long time after.


The station officer at Kilkee, being the deputy receiver of wreck, under the customs officer in Limerick, received a report from the salver of a large marine mark buoy that had been cast up on the shore eight miles from Kilkee. Instead of proceeding by road to take particulars of this flotsam he decided to launch the station boat and make the journey by sea. There was living near the station an elderly gentleman of independent means who professed to know every creek and landing place within a distance of twenty miles and persuaded the officer that it would be quite all right, that he would go with them in the boat, and that when returning if it was found necessary, they could secure the boat in either of the two little boat coves that were available.

After the necessary preparations and launching of the boat, away they started, in all probability without making any calculation whatever of the set of the tide along the shore but feeling quite confident with this experienced gentleman as the pilot.

Thinking of it as a little pleasure trip combined with duty he took his wife with him. It was a fine afternoon and all went well sailing pleasantly along the shore.

The distance proved greater and occupied more time that that anticipated. Some further delay was experienced in locating the landing place where the mark buoy was reported to be. Eventually the cove was located, the salver interviewed, and particulars noted. It was a navigation mark buoy of an American pattern which had broken from its moorings and drifted across the Atlantic. The day was now far spent and it was quite time to start on the return journey; the officer’s mind quite at ease and the gentleman pilot confident that he knew the boat coves where they could put in if benighted.

After the men had been rowing a long time and still several miles from home, the sun having dipped below the western horizon, the officer realising that darkness would overtake them before reaching Kilkee Bay, decided that if he could secure the boat in one of the coves he would do so. They could then leave the boat until the next day and walk back to the station that had been left with the women only.

The cliffs along this stretch of coast were very high, rugged and of a forbidding character and after the sun had set, without a perfect knowledge of the contour of the land, the openings to these boat coves were not easily distinguishable and the professed knowledge of the gentleman pilot was found wanting. Not being able to find the entrance to either of the coves there was no alternative but to keep paddling along in hope of reaching Kilkee. This was not easy to locate after the lights in the houses were extinguished.

There they were, benighted, in an open boat on the broad Atlantic without a light of any description to guide them through the hours of darkness and without food or water to help pass the dreary hours. Consequently there was nothing to be done but to dodge about and wait for daylight, the officer no doubt in an agony of mind at leaving his station unguarded without my permission and expecting a reprimand for his folly. Fortunately the wind continued moderate throughout the night and, with the rising of the sun, they were enabled to find their way back to the station. Had I been consulted, most certainly permission would not have been given to launch the boat for this purpose.

The officer, very dejected, came to report on his night out, and it was quite evident it had not proved to be the picnic that he had anticipated. Seeing that the boat, the officer, his wife, the crew and the gentleman pilot had returned without mishap and, thinking that they had gone through enough, without scolding I allowed it to pass with a smile and a jesting remark.

Of course there is nothing in being out in a boat overnight. At the same time, under such circumstances, the officer, when he realised that the was benighted on that rock bound coast to which he was a stranger, I feel sure, was very sorry for himself, that he had trusted the word of the pilot that had failed.

Wetting a baby’s head

In different countries we meet with different customs and often a town or village will follow a custom handed down from the dim and distant days that have long since passed

I set out one winter evening for a night visit to Seafield Station, a distance of sixteen miles by road, employing me and using the jaunting car for the long distance, this car being much easier for the horse than the Victoria carriage which was more comfortable and protected and used as mentioned earlier for shorter journeys and on special occasions. With the side car one has no protection whatever but is fully exposed to the best of wind or rain. For this I was always fully prepared with protective waterproof clothing.

After being about an hour or so on the journey the wind commenced to freshen from our rear. As it was a following wind and several miles had been covered, it was decided to go on in hope that it would not become too boisterous for us to complete the journey out and back. The horse, with a following breeze, completed the outward journey easily and in good time.

The watch at the station being found correct, the journal examined and signed, I then settled down for a couple of hours in the watch room in order to give the horse a rest before starting on the road back.

At midnight it was now blowing a gale. Mc – who, with constant exposure to wind and rain, protected only by a frieze coat, frequently soaked through and as wet as a swab, and himself as hard as mahogany with a face tanned like a piece of hide, was consulted as to the advisability of starting for home.
“Arrah, phwat is there to be stopping us sorr?” he replied.
“The wind will be right in our face now and put a strain on the horse”.
“Indade sorr. There is nothing that will be afther stopping that horse” he said.

So, after Mc giving the last word that it would be all right, away we started. We had not gone many miles when the wind burst on us – right in our teeth – with storm force, increasing by my estimation to a hurricane with over fifty-two pounds pressure to the square foot.

Mc, perched up in the driver’s seat, was urging on the horse. How he was able to look ahead or direct the horse was a puzzle to me seeing that I had to double myself – as near as possible – into a ball, for fear of being blown off the car. It was simply impossible to face the violence of the wind which was slowing down the pace of the horse considerably. Passing along an open stretch of road, skirting a bog, with no hedges to break the wind, the exposure was trying enough for anyone, expecting every minute that the horse, car and all, would be blown over into the bog.

Struggling on against the storm, we eventually arrived at the village of Doonbeg, when I bade Mc to pull up under the shelter of a house for a breather both for ourselves and the horse. Noticing several people on the move, I wondered what could be the reason at such an unusual hour. After a short time Mc discovered that a few doors below there was a house open, and a licenced house at that, with a great number of people hovering about. Mc secured the horse, covering it and making it comfortable, then we moved along to the house toward which a great number of villagers had already wended their way, on my part attracted by curiosity to see what it was all about.

It being as it was the early hours of the morning; of course the bar was closed so we joined the happy throng in the kitchen. The master of the house with his native hospitality and politeness, spotting a stranger, saluted me with the usual greeting: “Ye are welcome sorr”. “A thousand thanks” said I “and God bless all here”. That naturally bridged any distance there might be between strangers and set everyone at ease. All the villagers that had assembled in the kitchen appeared to be in a genial mood and quite a free and easy general conversation was going on. I was at a loss to know the reason for this midnight assembly. At first I thought that it might possibly be a wake but soon discovered that there was no evidence of such being the case.

Both Mc and myself were glad of the shelter and warmth from the blazing turf on the hearth. Thinking that Mc would appreciate a glass of something warm, I remarked to him that if the master would oblige, he had better partake of a freshener and, to be sociable, I would have something not quite so strong. The master, naturally willing to oblige, produced the glasses and Mc, rising to the occasion, raised this glass “in good luck to yerself sorr, God bless us, and good luck to the mistress”. Mc’s “good luck to the mistress” set me wondering. I whispered to him to tell me what it was all about. “The mistress is afther having a baby sorr” he replied. That was the last thing one would expect to hear under such circumstances.

Apparently, many of the villagers – both men and women – according to custom – assembled around the house, whenever an addition to the family was expected, presumably in order to give it a real Irish welcome and with the idea of drinking in a ‘glass of the nature’ to the good health and good luck of the new arrival.

Outside it was still blowing ‘great guns’ and neither Mc nor myself was anxious to resume the last few miles of the journey, so we hung on for a while like the other visitors waiting for the development of events.

At last the Kilkee doctor in attendance appeared and announced that a fine baby boy had arrived and mother doing well. The master, who must have had a bottle or two ready, passed around the glasses and “good health to the baby, good luck and God bless the master and mistress” was toasted by all present who were most devout and sincere in their utterances: “Thanks be to God”
“God protect and save the child”
“May the blessed virgin protect the mistress” and so on.
Mc and I, having heard the result as announced to the visitors, and having toasted the baby’s health, took our departure in a pleasant frame of mind with many blessings and wishes of good luck and a safe journey.

This, certainly, was a strange and unusual proceeding and the doctor, reminding me of the incident sometime after, could only say that it was an old and foolish custom in that village and was sometimes most embarrassing, both for the mother and those in attendance.


A Kindly People

My appointment as D.O. had extended over four years so I was known to the officers and men of my division. This with the good natured, good tempered and comfort loving people, with whom it was our good fortune to meet every day, added to the joy and satisfaction of living. Those around us appeared to use the kindly and pleasing word, always desirous of putting others at their ease, and in a pleasant and hopeful frame of mind.

Presuming you, as a stranger, desired to do a little trout fishing and that you made enquiry of your car driver, or any other person that you thought might be able to inform you, where you would be likely to find a good trout stream. In all probability, those from whom you sought information would assure you that trout could be caught in hundreds, no better stream in the country than the small river just at the back of the hill beyond. Your informant would have no intention of deceiving you, or to mean that trout could be caught as rapidly as the bait could be cast, but rather that his information should set your mind at ease and fill you with hope and expectation of a good day’s sport with your rod and line, knowing there would be some trout there and by sending you out in an expectant and happy mood, you would be more likely to make a success of your day’s fishing.

The early months of the year had been very stormy with continuous rain and with the sea spray from the everlasting lashing of the waves against the cliffs coming over the town. Everything was unusually wet and consequently more than the average amount of sickness.

Our young son, a perfectly healthy boy of twelve years, unfortunately contracted pneumonia and within barely four hours passed away. Naturally this was a great blow and as I happened to be sick and in my bed the shock prostrated me for many weeks. I mention this merely to show that at this time we discovered the good feeling and kindliness of heart of all our neighbours in this little west of Ireland town. No greater respect, kindness, consideration and sympathy could possibly be shown to anyone, even by one’s nearest and dearest friends, that was shown to us on this occasion by these kind-hearted and sympathetic people.

Read on …