The Young Mariner

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.


Photo of Willie Bates (age 19) taken on the 1st of October, 1930,  in Franco and Sackville Studio,  Dublin,

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.


Mid-20th Century view of Kilmore Quay lower and harbour.The Bates home at Ballyburn is located several fields behind St Peter’s Church


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.


Census of Ireland, 1911 showing the four members of the Bates family of Ballyburn.


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.


Willie and his brothers fished around the Saltee Islands located south of Kilmore Quay. In summer time they also brought visitors to the Great Saltee. This picture was taken from the southern end of the larger island towards Carnsore point, the south east corner of Ireland. The small island can be seen top left.


Sea Faring

 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..


The three-masted schooner Edith May


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.









An appreciation by Fr Eugene Kennedy

I asked some close friends of my Dad’s to put some words together about their memories of him for the centenary of his birth back in 2010. Despite good intentions, work and the business of settling back to Ireland after 21 years abroad got in the way of publishing these at the beginning of the decade.

The first appreciation comes from Fr Eugene Kennedy, an adopted member of the Kilmore Quay community since 1975. I assured Eugene in 2018, when he was suffering from ill-health, that his fine appreciation of my Dad and his associates would see the light of day soon. Sadly Eugene passed away on 13 March 2019 and I attended the very moving celebration of his life in his former parish church of St Thomas the Apostle, Laurel Lodge, Dublin, two days later. The warmth and kindness of his words are a testament to his deep humanity and care for others. Thanks for being part of this Eugene and thanks for your encouragement. Ar dheis Dé go raibh d’anam dhílis!


Willie Bates on the right with his friend Fr Eugene Kennedy

Dublin, January 2010

A hundred years ago on the 24 January 1910 Willie Bates was born. That day he brought a smile to the faces around him. For the rest of his life Willie Bates’s wide, roguish smile brought a smile to my face and the hundreds of others who were privileged to meet him. The world was a better place the day Willie Bates was born and one felt the better for meeting him whenever.

I first met Willie in 1975 when I and the O’Connor family purchased ‘An Teach Bán’ – a lovely old thatched house – in Kilmore Quay. That house was once the family home of Willie and his family. He was one of the ‘three grand old men’ of the village at that time – Willie Bates, Jack Devereux and John Sutton – three highly respected people – who between them and their more than 250 years of life, living and wisdom and memories made Kilmore Quay what it is. Those lives, those memories, enshrined the ups. the downs, the good lives and the bad since the beginning of the 20th century. Down the years  that trio hugely enhanced the quality of my life with their advice, their knowledge of local history, customs and legends. The colourful confusion of fact and fiction on occasion did and still does add a mystique and magic to my whole experience of ‘the Quay’. Gone to God they may be, but their spirits still live on at every corner of the short journey from Willie’s gate to the end of the harbour wall.

Priority in his, and his wife Maggie’s life was the family. They reared a great family, a family that distinguished itself in academic and business life at home and abroad. I too remember the 40s and the 50s when life was hard. The men and women of that generation were a hardy race of people who worked their socks off to ensure a better quality of life for their children. As long as I knew Willie Bates he was never not working. For decades before it was the same story. I’ve been told that he was courageous and enterprising enough to buy the Mystical Rose immediately post-war. It was the largest fishing boat in the Quay at that time and it was never idle. When he retired (if he ever did) from fishing, it was the ferry to the Saltees. In between times Willie was forever mending, making, inventing in that Aladdin’s cave which was his shed beside the harbour.

What memories I have of those trips to the Islands. Often I would go out and back without going ashore just to site on the stern with him while one of the grandchildren took the helm. He was a great conversationalist over a wide range of topics, stories from the old days, the sailing ships on the east coast of England, local lore, religion – and never a harsh word about anyone.

Willie loved a laugh and a ‘leg pull’. In younger days I occasionally ventured out in early June mornings down the bay with the sea mist creating a vague and nebulous atmosphere. “That old compass won’t work well in this fog” Willie said to me from the slip. Knowing little as I did then (and maybe now too) I listened carefully to his advice. “Catch an earwig and put him in a bottle. At sea an earwig will always be facing the shore”. I believed him. That the earwig might be in need of oxygen in an airtight bottle never crossed my mind. Later that day out of the shed door Willie shouted as I passed, “you can’t beat the earwig to get you home on a foggy day”.

Important to Willie too was his community, especially its seafarers. His association with and work for the RNLI is well recorded. As bowman and mechanic he played a vital role on the lifeboat. His religion and church were very important factors in his life. Many a question, many a debate about the church and its future took place on the stern of the Mystical Rose during island trips.

The O’Connor children and their many friends just loved Willie. His big gentle smile made them feel so welcome aboard. They loved listening to him and his stories about the sea, the birds and the fish and the seafaring fairytales invented just for them.

Often after landing tourists on the island he would take the children to the ‘Ring’ of the big island just to make their day with a few shiny mackerel or pollock. One of them, Cliodhna, now 30, still has a photo of herself, her first catch and Willie on her mantlepiece in Mullingar.

On and on I could go. To this day I regret that I was abroad when Willie went to God. And what a photograph of Willie I have. It was taken the night before he died holding in his arms his most recent grandchild (Sam) christened earlier that day. And you guessed it – Willie had that great expansive smile on his lovely old face. Ar dheis Dé go raibh an anam dhílis.

Willie Bates – an introduction

Willie’s 84 years were full of activity connected with the sea and fishing and despite coming from a background where both financial resources and formal education were not abundant, by hard work he managed to make a successful livelihood for himself and his wife and family.  His early years saw the emergence of the new Irish state and the transition from the days of sail to the one of dependence on diesel.

Willie was the eldest of five boys and five girls born to John and Catherine Bates. Home was the thatch cottage on the small farm at Ballyburn, close to Kilmore Quay, County Wexford, Ireland, which is still in family hands.  To supplement the family income John operated a ‘hackney’/jaunting car business.

Willie’s attended primary school locally and went to work at 14.  For most of his life’s work revolved around fishing and he was a pioneer in this field and was involved in the revival of fishing in Kilmore Quay (the Quay) from the late 1930s onwards, helping it to develop from the low ebb it had reached in the early years of the Irish Free State.

Before launching into fishing he worked variously at: selling shoes; as a bakery deliveryman; as a sailor on sailing vessels known as schooners working from the South East of Ireland to and from ports in Great Britain; as a diver and sailor with a company based in Scarborough, Yorkshire, as a labourer on hydroelectric construction near Fort William in the Scottish Highands. Settling back in Wexford in 1937 he combined the first 15 years fishing with being the mechanic for Kilmore Quay lifeboat. At intervals he was contracted by the Commissioners of Irish Lights to attend the Coningbeg Lightvessel south of the Saltees.

The 36-foot fishing vessel, which he had built by Arklow shipwrights John Tyrrell and Sons in 1947, subsequently became the unofficial training vessel for many Kilmore Quay fishermen.  The ‘Mystical’ as she was affectionately known in the village, was totally wrecked in the storm of 16 December 1989, which breached Kilmore Quay harbour and sank several vessels.  In her 42 years of service she was mainly involved in lobster and crab fishing from the Quay but also doubled as the Saltee Island ferry and as a sea-angling vessel in the summer months.

This story is about the life of one man and also about the life of his wife Maggie (Margaret) (1916 -1998) who was his faithful partner for 55 years.  Margaret Alice Walsh was the second of six children born to Richard and Mary Eliza Walsh at Knocktown, Rathangan, in July 1916.  The Walshes were also farmers.  Following their marriage in 1939 Maggie moved to live in Kilmore Quay where she devoted herself to rearing a family of three girls and five boys. For the first 20 years they lived in typical thatched cottages, which the Quay is famous for, but in 1959 moved to Red Gables, one of the village’s finer residences which was built by the Parle family some 150 years earlier.  Maggie was in many ways the silent strength behind Willie, and combined the skills of mother, home manager, decorator and chef de cuisine for a home and dining table which was very open to visitors over the years.

Some information on their wider families and on their children is woven into this narrative, as is the story of the fishing community of Kilmore Quay which looks south towards the Saltee Islands on the low lying coast of South Wexford.  There are contributions from non-family members who knew him well. We hope you enjoy visiting this blog.  We have tried to make it interesting by illustrating it with photograph of people, places and memorabilia associated with Willie and Maggie’s lives.

Willie lived to be 84 and this blog will highlight different stages of his life.  Maggie for her part lived to be 82 and her life as centre of the family will also be covered. This blog will give accounts of the lives of this couple, their neighbours, family and friends the first generation of men and women living on the coast of a newly independent Ireland.  The aim is not to conjure up romantic tales of the sea but to contribute to the memory of real people who worked hard all the days of their lives and contributed significantly to their community.

William Bates – hello and welcome


Welcome to this site, which honours the memory of Willie (William) Bates (1910 – 1994), a mariner and fisherman from Kilmore Quay in the South East corner of Ireland.

A website was developed by his family, to mark the centenary of his birth on 24 January 2010. This blog is a follow up to this former site and will contain more extensive content, including family photographs and aims to provide a memorial  to a life well lived.