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.

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