AN OLD-TIME SHIPYARD.
One of the first iron boats was built in England as early as 1777, but it was not until 1845 that the first naval frigates were constructed from that metal.
The year 1859 marked the end of “the wooden walls of England, “though merchant vessels still continued to be made out of timber.
Admiral Collingwood, thinking of the future, used to carry a pocketful of acorns to plant on his country walks lest the supply of oaks should fail his great-grandchildren. Other admirals followed his example.
BARQUES FOR THE WESTERN OCEAN.
A little northward of the Quay in Warrenpoint is a patent slip, laid down in1846. On it, vessels were formerly repaired and one schooner, at least, was launched here, the ‘Robert Brown,’ off 200tons, afterwards wrecked on the coat of Dublin.
Greenisland was once a pretty little hamlet situated midway between Warrenpoint and Newry, and consisted of a dozen of houses principally occupied by shipwrights. Here on a natural slip were built “tall” barques that proudly crossed the Western Ocean.
The old shipyard in Warrenpoint was a busy spot in 1846.
‘Covering many a yard of ground,
Lay the timber piled around,
Timber of chestnut and elm and oak,
And scattered here and there were these,
The knarred and crooked cedar knees.’
There was the healthy, fragrant smell of pitch-pine and oak in the sea-salt sea breeze. Pitch was bubbling in a in a cauldron, and mingling its characteristic odour with the aromatic breath of the spruce. Dignum vitae and iron wood lay about on the green sward. The pitch-pine spars dripped with resin in the warm sunshine.
AN EARLY MEMORY
One of the earliest sounds I recall from my childhood was the clatter of the long caulking mallets, breaking the stillness of the beautiful little town that contentedly droused away in the summer afternoon. That was in the 1890’s. A shipwright seldom carried his tools in a bass. He had a small wooden chest with a flap lid on it instead. This box served as a seat when caulking near the keel of the vessel. It was fascinating to watch the old grey bearded shipwrights caulking the deck seams with oakum. They used a long wooden-headed hammer bound at the ends with iron, and also required a peculiar chisel for packing in the shredded oakum. Which was rolled with almost the same technique as that employed in the making of cigarettes?
HACKED OFF WITH A KNIFE.
Many an hour I spent watching them and listening, in a dream, to their stories about Archangel, Riga and Newfoundland. The deck seams were made water-tight with boiling pitch. A story is told of a young apprentice whose garments were so saturated with tar that he once stuck to a chair and had to be hacked off with a knife.
Pitch-pine spars were first fashioned with an adze.
The employment was a lucrative one too, for Norwegian barques, battered by the Northern gales, often required new gear. A favourite saying in those days was: ‘A carpenter’s wife has her bread baked at any rate.’ And when purchasing butter for that same bread she was even known to have tasted some of it on the edge of a golden sovereign!
Riggers and sail makers also made a good living.
A hand-crank operated by a number of men often took half a day to haul up the ‘carriage,’ bearing a ketch, schooner or brigantine.
The London north Western paddle boats, ‘Severn,’ ‘Mersey’ and ‘Greenore,’ were often overhauled and painted in winter time, and then one heard Welsh freely spoken at night throughout the town.
During the war ferro-concrete barques were built and over 400 people obtained well paid employment. I saw two of these barges, the ‘Creteforge’ and the ’Cretefarm,’ being launched broadside. They were a wartime experiment and had to be towed. The ship-building yard is idle now. A few summers ago I wandered through the machine shop and here, amid costly lathes and other machinery, I saw a white horse eating the grass. It recalled to my mind Omar’s word:-
“They say the lion and the lizard keep
The courts were Jamshyd gloried and drank deep;
And Bahram, that great hunter, the Wild Ass
Stamps oe’r his Head and he lies fast asleep.”
A few of the old shipwrights still survive, but like Lothario, their ‘occupation is gone.”
One sighs regretfully for the return of those days when father taught son one of the most picturesque and romantic crafts, that of shipbuilding. Greenisland, Grinan and Aughnamoira were little colonies of shipwrights once upon a time. Skilled and industrious workers, they took a real pride in their trade. Some of their descendants still keep up the tradition in America, whose poet, Longfellow, has written
“Then the Master,
With a gesture of command,
Waved his hand,
And at his word
Loud and sudden there was heard
All around them and below
The sound of hammers, blow by blow,
Knocking away the shores and spurs;
And see! She moves; she seems to feel
The thrill of life along her keel,
And spurning with her feet the ground
With one exulting, joyous bound,
She leaps into the ocean’s arms.”
(SEAN CRAWFORD IN THE IRISH NEWS.)
THE NEWRY REPORTER SEPTEMBER 22ND 1936.