17 August 2020

A small pier outside
Ballylongford is part
of Shannon heritage

Small boats in the harbour at Saleen Pier … the ruins of Lislaughtin Abbey are above the bank in the distance (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2020)

Patrick Comerford

Sunday was a rain-soaked day, and after the church services in Askeaton and Tarbert on Sunday morning, and the Easter Vestry meeting in Tarbert, two of us decided against going on to Ballybunion in the rain. Instead, we headed west along the old coast road past the church ruins at Kilnaughtin, and we found ourselves for the first time at Saleen Pier, just north of Ballylongford, below the ruins of Lislaughtin Abbey.

Ballylongford (Béal Átha Longphurit) in north Co Kerry is a little inland from the south side of the Shannon Estuary. Among the people born in Ballylongford are the poet Brendan Kennelly, the general Lord Kitchener, and Michael Joseph O’Rahilly (1875-1916), a key figure in the Easter Rising in Dublin in 1916 who called himself ‘The O’Rahilly.’

Ballylongford first developed in the late 18th century as small ports developed as safe havens along the shores of the Shannon Estuary in counties Limerick, Clare and Kerry.

Old Ordnance Survey maps show Saleen Pier and a boat quay, with a Collector’s Office and a Coast Guard station. In some illustrations the name Saleen is spelt ‘Sawline.’

The new pier was part of the work on the ‘First Division’ or ‘Lower Shannon’ undertaken by the Commissioners for the Improvement of the Navigation of the River Shannon. Commander William Mudge RN (1796-1837), the admiralty surveyor, was one of the three members of the Commission for the Improvement of the Navigation of the Shannon, appointed in October 1831. Captain Mudge reported on the Shannon estuary, downstream of Limerick. Thomas Rhodes covered the river upstream from Limerick, while Colonel John Fox Burgoyne co-ordinated their work.

Mudge’s father was General William Mudge (1762-1820), a godson of Samuel Johnson. General Mudge was an artillery officer and the surveyor who was an important figure in the work of the Ordnance Survey and the principle figure in the development of measuring the degrees of longitude and the arc of the meridian.

Many of the harbours and quays along the Shannon Estuary were planned by the admiralty surveyor Commander William Mudge (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2020)

Commander Mudge was appointed to conduct the survey of the coast of Ireland around 1825. He first proposed building or improving piers or quays at Ballylongford and also at Kilrush, Carrigaholt, Tarbert, Querrin, Glin, Foynes, Kilteery, Cahercon (Kildysert), Clare (now Clarecastle), the River Deel to Askeaton and the River Maigue to Adare.

Saleen Pier was planned as the new port for Ballylongford, and the works at Saleeen cost £1,811. Of this, almost half (£891) came as a government grant and the rest came from the three principal landed proprietors in the area: Stephen Edward Colles, £504; the representatives of M Black, £185; and Trinity College Dublin, £230. The amounts omit shillings, so there is a difference of £1 between the total and the sum of the contributions.

When Commander Mudge died in Howth on 20 July 1837, he was buried in the churchyard at Howth. In the decade that followed, Saleen Pier was completed around 1843-1844 at a point where Ballyline River flows into the Shannon Estuary at Ballylongford Creek. The crane at Saleen was built by Clarke of Ringsend, Dublin.

The crane at Saleen Pier was built by Clarke of Ringsend, Dublin (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2020)

Two stones at Saleen are marked S↑C. They hace a slightly different design to stones at other quays built by the Shannon Commissioners, but they show that the Shannon Commissioner built this quay.

Saleen Pier continued to serve commercial traffic on the Shannon for over a century, with boats and trading vessels travelling to and from Scattery Island, Kilrush, Limerick and other points along the river. There are even accounts of emigrant boats leaving Ballylongford for North America.

Saleen Pier was in commercial use at least until 1953. The Limerick Harbour Commissioners maintained a register of vessels trading on the Shannon in 1945-1953. This register shows that the last trading vessel to use Saleen Pier was the St Senan. It left Limerick on 29 September 1953 for Kilrush and Ballylongford, carrying 55 tons of general cargo.

Unlike other piers and harbours, Saleen Pier seems never to have been transferred to the local authorities by the Commissioners of Public Works or Board of Works under the terms of the Shannon Act 1885.

Kerry County Council tried to take over the pier from Waterways Ireland in recent years, but Waterways Ireland found the pier was stilled owned by the Board of Works.

Opposite the pier, the ruins of Lislaughtin Abbey stand above the bank of the Ballyline River, around the riverbend below Saleen Pier. Further downriver, to the north, the ruins of Carrigafoyle Castle can be seen closer to the Shannon Estuary.

Ballylongford Boat Club leases the shed at Saleen Pier, the Crane and Pontoon remain in place, and the Customs Office is still in use.

Carrigafoyle Castle is north of Saleen Pier, closer to the Shannon Estuary (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2020)

From Saleen Pier, we continued on to Lislaughtin Abbey, strolling through the mediaeval ruins and the graves, including the high cross erected to the memory of the family of ‘The O’Rahilly.’

On our way back to Tarbert, a brown road sign pointed to Kilcolgan Strand. But the narrow road ended in a cul de sac, with a gate blocking any further journey and no apparent path to shoreline below.

We stopped for coffee at the museum in Foynes before returning to Askeaton late on Sunday afternoon.

Ballylongford Boat Club is based at the shed at Saleen Pier (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2020)

Behold how good it is
to be reminded of those
who share our priesthood

The memorial in Holy Trinity Church, Rathkeale, to Canon Samuel Richard Wills (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2020)

Patrick Comerford

The psalm yesterday (Psalm 133) recalled who ‘good and pleasant’ it is when we dwell in unity. The psalm evokes imagery of Moses anointing his brother Aaron as High Priest.

It is good for priests to remember those who go before us as in our ministry as brothers or sisters, sharing in the same priesthood. As I was wandering around Holy Trinity Church, Rathkeale, last week – before Sunday’s service of Morning Prayer and in quiet time before Tuesday’s meeting of the Easter Vestry – I found myself being reminded of the ministry of two priests who have gone before me in priestly ministry in this parish.

High on the north side of the east wall, in the corner just to the left of the altar and behind the pulpit, two brass plaques commemorate two former Rectors of Rathkeale, Canon Samuel Wills and Canon William Nicholson. Although separated in age by almost a century, these two men died in office, while they were still Rectors of Rathkeale.

Canon Samuel Richard Wills (1826/27-1905) was the Rector of Rathkeale for over 30 years, from 1872-1905, and died in office. For most of the time he was in Rathkeale, he was also Prebendary of Kilpeacon in the chapter of Saint Mary’s Cathedral, Limerick (1872-1905).

Samuel Wills was born in Co Leitrim ca 1826 or 1827, the son of Robert Wills of Carrick-on-Shannon. A younger brother, Archdeacon Robert Cooper Wills (1836/37-1916), was also a priest in the Church of Ireland, serving briefly in the Diocese of Limerick as Vicar of Kilfentinan (1867-1871), a parish near Sixmilebridge and Bunratty, Co Clare.

The parish was on the north banks of the River Shannon and contained the two small islands of Grass and Grague.

The two Wills brother, Robert and Samuel, served in the parish as rector and curate. But it was no longer viable as a parish after disestablishment. Samuel moved to Kilfinaghty in 1871 and Robert moved to the Diocese of Cork, Cloyne and Ross, where he was Rector of Mallow (1873-1909), Archdeacon of Cloyne (1889-1909), and a prebendary in both Cloyne Cathedral (1877-1889) and Saint Fin Barre’s Cathedral, Cork (1893-1909).

After ordination, Samuel Wills was a curate in Birr, Co Offaly (1855-1867), in the Diocese of Killaloe, before moving to the Diocese of Limerick as a curate in Kilfentinan (1867-1871), near Sixmielbridge, where his younger brother Robert was rector.

After the parish was discontinued in 1871, Samuel Wills returned briefly to the Diocese of Killaloe as Rector of Kilfinaghty until 1872. But he spent the rest of his ministry back in the Diocese of Limerick, as Rector of Rathkeale (1872-1905) and Prebendary of Kilpeacon (1881-1905). He was the author of some poems, including one on Kilkee and one on Saint Mary’s Cathedral, Limerick, and some of his sermons were published.

He died in office on 4 May 1905, at the age of 78. Wills and his wife Margaret (Buchanan) were the parents of a large family, including a son who was ordained (Revd Thomas William Wills), and one who was army surgeon and colonel; his father-in-law and his son-in-law were also clerics in the Church of Ireland.

Below the plaque to Samuel Wills, a second, smaller recalls Canon William Howard Nicholson (1925-1981), who was twice Rector of Rathkeale. He was first in the parish in 1968-1972 as Rector of Rathkeale, Nantenan, Ballingarry and Rathronan, and then again in 1978-1981 as Rector of the Rathkeale Group of Parishes.

Nicholson was born in 1925 Dublin, the son of AH Nicholson of Terenure, and after taking what was known as the ‘short divinity course’ and the General Ordination Examination (GOE), he was ordained deacon and priest, both in the same year, 1962.

Nicholson was a curate in Holy Trinity Church, Rathmines, for two years (1962-1964) before being appointed Rector of Modreeny, Cloughjordan and Ballingarry, Co Tipperary (1964-1968). He then moved to Rathkeale for the first time. After his first four years in Rathkeale, he moved to Portarlington (1972-1978), in the Diocese of Kildare. While he was there, he was appointed a canon of Saint Brigid’s Cathedral, Kildare (1974-1976), and then became Precentor of Kildare (1976-1978).

Nicholson returned to Rathkeale in 1978, and while he was in Rathkeale he was also an honorary chaplain to the Missions to Seamen (now the Mission to Seafarers) in Foynes.

Like Samuel Wills before him, William Nicholson died while he was still Rector of the Rathkeale Group on 2 April 1981; he was 55. He was buried in Stratford-on-Slaney, Co Wicklow. He and his wife Jacqueline Frances (Keeble) were the parents of two daughters.

The memorial in Holy Trinity Church, Rathkeale, to Canon William Howard Nicholson (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2020)