The 2nd May 2019 marks the 25th Anniversary of the the death of Willie Bates. This account of his early years is posted in his memory.
The Formative Years 1910-1931
Historically Wexford was the stepping-stone to Ireland and particularly in the southern end, the people of Bargy and Forth Baronies are a blend of Irish, Norse, Norman, Flemish, Welsh and English stock. The Normans from South Wales and surrounding areas arrived at Bannow Bay, a short distance west of Kilmore Quay 850 years ago this month in 1169 and on account of the new arrivals a dialect known as Yola survived in the area until the mid nineteenth century.
Willie was born on 24 January, 1910, the first child of John Bates and Catherine (Kate) Bates, neé Boggan, on the family homestead at Ballyburn, Newtown, Kilmore Quay at the south end of Bargy.
His grandfather, also William Bates, had been born in the same house in 1846 and in 1885 is recorded as having operated a post cart/daycar. The transport business was handed on to William’s son John who combined the ‘hackney’ business with his small farm. His great-grandfather, John Bates, born in 1812 had moved to live there with his wife Mary (neé Delaney). His great-great-grandfather, on the Bates side, was James Bates of Grange, Kilmore, born in 1782 to his mother Mary (neé White). James’ younger brother Mark was born in 1785 and emigrated to Atlantic Canada in 1810. James married Mary Busher in 1806. All the Bates families in this area of South Wexford are descended from James’ father John Bates of Grange, who died in 1801. John’s first wife Mary died in 1784 and he subsequently married Mary Sinnott who became mother to Mark, Margaret, Martin and Paul Bates.
Willie was baptised by Fr John Rowe early in 1910 at St. Peter’s Church, Kilmore Quay and his sponsors were Joseph Moore and Anne Bates. He was recorded in the 1911 Census as a one year old. The entry for Ballyburn also records John Bates aged 28 (in his own handwriting), Kate Bates aged 24 and his grandmother, Elizabeth (Ester) Bates, neé Goff, aged 62.
In the years to 1920 the couple had a further son Mark (Marks) and four daughters, Mary (Molly Keating), Esther (Ettie Rawlins), Anne (Nan Haycock) and Catherine (Kit Bailey). From 1920 onwards they had another daughter Ellen (Nellie Hayes) followed by three sons, James (Jimmy), John (Lack) and Christopher (Christy). Willie was predeceased by Mark; his brother John who recently celebrated his 94th birthday is the sole surviving member of the family. His sister Nan died in Birmingham, UK, in October 2018 shortly before her 103rd birthday.
All the boys went on to become fishermen expect Christy who remained on the farm. Three of the girls remained in Ireland while two emigrated to England. Willie first attended Chapel National School and then Kilturk National School for the senior primary years. There was no secondary school in the locality at the time and travelling the 14 miles to Wexford to secondary school was not an option. During his school years, the country was in a disturbed state due to the 1916 rebellion and the government clamp-down which followed. Civil war broke out following the establishment of the Free State in 1921. Irrespective of such events, the life of work began early for Willie and his brothers and sisters.
The chapter on Kilmore Quay in Rita Edwards’ book in Irish Villages: Studies in local history (Holton et al editors, 2004, Four Courts Press) recounts that a small pier was built in the village by the residents in 1795 and that during the famine years of the 1840s, with the failure of the potato crop, there was a movement of population to the coast from inland regions of the parish.
Lewis’ Wexford (Brown & Wickham, 1983, C&R Print), based on an account of the area in 1837, records ‘a small pier, where coal is occasionally landed; and more than 100 boats, averaging four men each, all of which rendezvous here, are engaged in herring, lobster and cod fisheries off this coast.’
Ballyburn is located beside low-lying land, which was drained in a post-famine scheme. This land is criss-crossed by drainage canals to this day. The Rosslare to Waterford railway line passes north of their home. This line was completed in 1908 but unfortunately is currently out of use, for freight since 2006 and for passengers since 2010. In addition to journeys to Wexford and to the court sessions in Duncormick, John’s transport service would have included the new railway station at Bridgetown about four miles away.
Willie, as a boy, spent most of his spare time around the few remaining active fishing boats in Kilmore Quay. At 16, he joined the three-masted schooner Edith May, carrying coal from Newport, South Wales, to Kilmore Quay and agricultural produce on the return journey. The Edith May, owned locally by the Rochford family was built in Lancaster in 1877. A schooner of 300 tons, she was equipped with an auxiliary engine and was previously owned by J.J. Stafford of Wexford. His father and brothers were among the men who transported the coal by horse and cart from the quayside to the coal yard near the top of the pier belonging to the vessel’s owner John Rochford. Willie often spoke of the sea-sickness he experienced on his first voyage.
Rochford’s other smaller schooner, the Clara, broke from her mooring during a violent storm at Kilmore Quay in October 1927 and was washed ashore and became a total loss. Willie remembered being forced to remain in port in Wales on the Edith May on the same night. He often recounted how one journey in winter from the Bristol Channel to Kilmore Quay took six weeks, with frequent sheltering in the lee of islands off the British coast and of being blown aw from the Irish coast..
Willie left the Edith May after two years and joined John Tyrell and Son’s schooner JT&S based at Arklow on the east coast. This motor-schooner, was the 12th vessel built by Michael and John Tyrrell at their yard in Arklow while the First World War raged and was launched in 1919. Her design is said to have marked a new stage in ship evolution and she had some of the attributes of the motor fishing vessel Ovoca, which Tyrrells had designed and built ten years earlier, such as cruise stern and no bowsprit. A sister ship the Invermore, was built in 1921 and spent her early years transporting oats from Ireland to ports in the south of England.
Among the Bates family papers is a letter written by Willie on 16 October 1930 to his mother while on board the JT&S at Irvine Harbour in Ayrshire, Scotland, headed by a drawing of the JT&S. He reported that when the weather eventually eased off they would be bound to Skerries, Co Dublin and most likely from there to Dublin to load manure for New Ross, Co Wexford. He enquires about his younger brothers and sister and the neighbours and promises to forward some money soon – having about £5 coming to him. He reported that he had some good books to fill his leisure hours and that he also got to the pictures. The letter ended by reporting that he was ‘right well’, weighed 12.5 stone and was hoping to be around home for Christmas.
In the early 1930s, trade between the Free State and the UK suffered greatly following the Irish government’s decision to withhold payment of land annuities to London. As a counter measure, tariffs were imposed on Irish imports and these were countered by tariffs on UK imports into Ireland. In any case, life aboard a schooner had become too routine for Willie and he decided to take his chances elsewhere in 1931. He would continue to have links with the Tyrrel family later on in his life.