Ice - Waterford's forgotten trade

There's nothing as fickle as a market I guess. Products that go from boom to bust in a few short years, or less today when we think of technology.  In the past Waterford, along with many other ports traded in a commodity that was considered an essential for the food industry, Ice.  It was a market that reigned for less that sixty years but there are echoes of it in the harbour still.

My interest in Ice stemmed from finding the Faithlegg Ice House  as a child. This old structure was probably built at the same time as Faithlegg House, 1783, and used by the Boltons for impressing party guests during the summer with cooled drinks, sorbets and ices at a time when it was impossible for most people except in winter. It could also store meat, poultry and fish. Such Ice House designs dated from the 16th C at least and were based on the reality that Ice, once gathered into a cool, dry spot, compacted together and allowing for the run off to drain away below, would keep for months or even years.
Entrance chamber to Faithlegg Ice house
Ice House on Golf Course of Faithlegg House
The other Ice House in the area, was about a mile away, via an old roadway that ran through Faithlegg to Ballycanvan.  You crossed the now removed bridge at Faithlegg Pill into Ballycanvan and down to Jack Meades via the woodlands road. This is a commercially sized Ice House and even today is an impressive structure.


No one seems to know the date it was built. I find it interesting that when travel writer and social commentator Arthur Young visited in 1796 and again in 1798 that he failed to mention it, suggesting it is a later build. Its location is to protect it from the sun, and it has a double wall to the south west which would have further insulated it,  The original entry point was nearer the roof, the current access point is a more modern feature,  Some have suggested it served a similar function to its smaller neighbour, providing for the several big houses in the locality such as Ballycanvan, Mount Druid, Brook Lodge, Blenheim etc.

A third example is an "Ice Box" which Pat Murphy from Cheekpoint helped me locate recently.  The box is a stone and mortar circular structure about 15ft diameter.  Access was via the roof and it is built into the western bank of the river Barrow on the Wexford side, above Great Island. Pat could remember the name clearly and also stories of the paddle steamer stopping in the river below it, and boxes of iced salmon being removed to the ship for transport to New Ross and, he presumed, export.
Ceiling doorway to the Icebox
Icebox, hidden away in the bank of the River Barrow
The Ice used in such structures was originally gathered from frozen streams, but at the time that Faithlegg was built a new technique had emerged.  Due to the enormous resources, particularly man power, such houses had, it was a practice to flood a flat area of land close to a stream during a cold snap. I've found what I imagine to be the Faithlegg ice field below the current Park Rangers ground only recently. Unfortunately none of the older residents can confirm the theory however. Such streams and flat fields are features of the other sites too.

In America a new business emerged in the early 1800's which became known as the Ice trade and the commodity had extended to Norway by the 1850's.  American Ice had made its way to Britain but was not considered commercially viable, the merchants preferring the locally sourced material, despite its poorer quality. However a rise in temperatures seems to have impacted the home grown trade, and initially speculator merchants travelled northwards to source ice, but it really picked up once the Norwegians saw the potential. Ice was cut into blocks in Norway and transported to Ireland and throughout Europe. The blocks were put aboard ships, insulated with saw dust, to prevent fusing together, and then transported to ports. Merchants tended to store the ice in purpose built buildings or basements and then disperse it as required.


I had speculated as such some years back at a Barony of Gaultier Historical Society talk that I gave in the fishing industry of the harbour.  It came as a relief to me thereafter when Tommy Deegan on the Waterford History Group facebook page posted the following:
"In Jan. 1864 Messrs. O'Meara and Brennan owners of a large warehouse in Bridge St. purchased 100 tons of ice from a Scandinavian ship and reloaded the ship with cattle fodder. They covered the ice with a large quantity of sawdust in the warehouse, which preserved the ice until summer when it could be sold at a large profit."

Subsequently I have discovered that newspapers of the time are full of ads and other coverage of the trade by merchants and fish mongers in cities such as Dublin, Belfast and Cork. Their businesses were forced to close at the start of WWI when the sea trade was curtailed.  After the war the new technology of refrigeration was the issue and soon the trade would be consigned to history.  Only echos now remain in the harbour, but the echoes are significant, especially to the curious.

Postscript:  The Barony Echo, newsletter of the Barony of Gaultier Historical Society carries a brief mention of ships arriving to Passage East from Nova Scotia carrying Ice for the cellars of Waterford in their most recent edition.

Since publication a new initiative in Lismore Co Waterford has come to my attention.  I was aware of the big house Ice House at Lismore  but not two commercial sized houses under one roof on the Fermoy road, Two pieces here:  A blog from Waterford in Your Pocket: http://www.waterfordinyourpocket.com/lismore-ice-houses-to-be-preserved/ And a press piece from the Examiner: http://www.irishexaminer.com/ireland/19th-century-ice-houses-to-be-preserved-390925.html

I publish a blog each Friday.  If you like this piece or have an interest in the local history or maritime heritage of Waterford harbour and environs you can email me at russianside@gmail.com to receive the blog every week.

My Facebook and Twitter pages are more contemporary and reflect not just heritage 
and history but the daily happenings in our beautiful harbour:  
F https://www.facebook.com/whtidesntales  T https://twitter.com/tidesntales

Thanks to Pat Murphy and Liam Hartley for their help with this piece.  Also Tommy Deegan on the Waterford History Group.
Ref: Buxham. T.   Icehouses.  2008.  Shire Publications.  Buckinghamshire. 

Comments

  1. Another interesting read Andrew!I'm diverting here, but those old icehouses are important roosts for bats. I'm not sure if those two are ocuppued, but many others around the country are used by different species.

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  2. Hi Denise, I'm not sure, but would have plents of crevices etc in which to hide, lots of ivy and and dark spaces on the Faithlegg House one, and the doorway of locked so no disturbances either. I could gain access via Hotel I'm sure if any of the guys wanted to check it out for survey purposes

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