Walter J. Farrell 1862-1944, Master Mariner and Harbour Master Waterford Port

Today's guest blog, is from one of my earliest supporters and sources of encouragement, Brendan Grogan. Brendan has worked in the background and supplying photos, information and advice on my online mission to celebrate Waterford Harbours maritime tradition. This week he steps into the limelight, so to speak, by sharing the life and times of his grandfather Walter J Farrell; his early life growing up in Waterford, his going to sea at 16 where he rises to Master Mariner and his role as harbour master in the port of Waterford from 1904-1941. Walter's diary entries depict a life of hardship and adventure, that was replicated by thousands, if not tens of thousands of harbour men down the generations.  I'd like to thank Brendan and his family for entrusting us to read it.  

I never knew my grandfather, In fact all four of my grandparents had passed away before I was born. However, my mother's father left a lasting legacy. The account of his many voyages and stories of sea, live on in his diaries, photographs and other paraphernalia of his life on the ocean wave.
Walter Farrell in Harbour Master's uniform c. 1935.
Walter Joseph Farrell was born on 16th July 1862 at 10 Sion Row, Ferrybank. He was the third child and eldest son of thirteen children born to Richard and Mary Farrell. His father, Richard Farrell was a ship broker, married to Mary Monica Downey, daughter of Michael Downey, agent for the Clyde Shipping Company and Great Western Railway Steamers.  He attended school at Mount Sion and later at Father Joe Phelan's School in Stephen's Street.  In 1877 the family moved to 57 High Street where his mother had set up a provision store.
SS Lodestar of London 1890
Walter served as bosun and later 2nd mate
Walter took to sea life in 1878 at the age of 16 when he joined the barque "Queen of the Northof the London firm of Ms. George Lidgett & Sons, under Capt. P. Nolan (from Slieverue).  In May 1878 he sailed to Madras in India, arriving back in London in May 1879 after a 12 month voyage without ever touching dry land.  His second voyage took him to Mauritius and Rangoon, onwards to Conception Bay Newfoundland  and back to Fleetwood after a voyage which had lasted 19 months.  Subsequent voyages as an Able Seaman brought him to Imbatuba in Brazil and home via San Francisco, Bombay, Buenos Aires Argentina, Iquique Northern Chile, and many other ports around the globe.

One of his favourite stories to my mother as a child, was to recount how the sailors slept in their clothes to try and keep warm. In the night while sleeping, rats would gnaw on the buttons of their tunics which were made from bone.

The following are extracts from the log which details his many voyages:-
Extract from his 4th voyage in 1882:
“1882, Oct. 20th. I again joined the brig ‘Lorriane’ as A.B, at Workington and sailed 20th Oct. with Captain Nolan for Bombay where we arrived at the end of January 1883, discharged our cargo and loaded linseed for Amsterdam arriving September 26th after an eleven month voyage. I left ‘Lorriane’ and went to London to study at Captain Maxwells’s Potters Academy in Tower Hill where there was a wild lot of young sea men. I spent a fair share of my money on amusement, Music Halls, Theatres etc. and not enough time on study, failed exam for 1st Mate and came home to Waterford. I had a fancy to do a little coasting”

Extract from his 8th voyage 1886:
“February 11th 1886, I sailed in ‘Lodestar’ again as Bosun heading for San Francisco where we arrived some 17 weeks later having had very bad weather rounding the Horn. The captain’s wife Mrs. Nolan and their two sons John and William were on board making the voyage. This time I met many Waterford people in San Francisco, A Mr. Dillon, Cadogans, Thorntons and an old school mate Eddy Cummins and his brother , both sons of Mr. Cummins the hardware and hotel  business now occupied by Hearne and Co. the Quay. After we discharged our cargo, we took in ballast and lay out in the bay for 2 months. Eventually we got orders to proceed to Portland Oregon. On the return voyage, in bad weather rounding the Horn, we lost an A.B.  off the mizzen topsail yard, too much sea to launch a boat. Coming up for the Equator, little John Nolan died. He was well coffined and carried to Queenstown where we arrived in 1887. John Nolan was buried in the family grave in Ferrybank”

Extract from his 9th voyage 1887:
“August  1887, I joined the Lodestar as 2nd Mate,  Captain Nolan in charge and sailed for Bombay, discharged the cargo, loaded part cargo of salt for Calcutta.  After discharging the salt we loaded wheat for London arriving there 3rd October 1888 after a 14 month voyage. Captain Nolan went home leaving me by the ship”
SS Ardnamult unloading coal at Le Havre 1899

Walter eventually passed his exam for 1st Mate at John Merrifield’s Navigation School in Plymouth in 1889 and subsequently his Master’s ticket for steam in 1891.

In 1892 after eleven  voyages, some lasting as long as 19 months, over a period of 14 years, to all corners of the globe, Walter with his Master's Ticket for steam ships joined Waterford Steamship Company as 2nd Mate on the SS Comeragh which worked Tenby, Bristol and Wexford. He was subsequently, in 1895 placed in charge of the SS Creaden which had the honour of bringing the first cargo of continental sugar to Fenit and Limerick. He was appointed Master of the SS Ardnamult owned by Limerick Steamship Company in 1896 and plied this and other steamships between Hamburg and Ireland for nine years.
At sea on the SS Ardnamult 1899 doing his washing.
Walter was appointed Harbour Master or Pier Master of Waterford Harbour on the 14th January 1904 at the age of 42, by the Southern and Western Railway Company who had taken responsibility for Waterford Port, later to be succeeded by Waterford Harbour Commissioners.  He had sailed the seven seas as boy and man and now it was time to bid farewell to sea life.

Everyday duties included the management of all vessels berthing at Waterford Port and responsibility for the Pilots who guided vessels safely up the Suir Estuary to port. Captain Walter Farrell remained as Harbour Master until his retirement in 1941. He lived a very active life, was married to Bridget Lawlor from Sallypark who bore him three children and later, on her death, married Mary Murphy from Mount Neil with whom he produced a daughter, my mother, Maureen Farrell (Grogan). He passed away aged 82 in 1944. Maureen Grogan passed away in 2014 in her 102nd year.

His successor was his nephew Richard Farrell who took the reins as Harbour Master in 1941. Captain Richard (Dick) Farrell retired in 1975 and passed away in 1993 aged 95. Dick’s widow Maeve passed away this February in her 104th year, she had been living at Havenwood Retirement Home for the past seven years where she was looked after with great care and respect.

© Brendan Grogan

This is our fourth guest blog. The intention is to offer a platform to others who are interested in writing about the maritime heritage of Waterford harbour an opportunity to publish their stories. If you would like to contribute a piece, please email me at The only criteria is that it needs to have a maritime connection to the harbour and a maximum word count of 1200 words. I will format, source the photos if required and add in the hyperlinks. Guest blogs will be published on the last Friday of each month. Our next guest blog is scheduled for Friday 28th April, a story about the lighters that once reigned supreme in the Suir.  The story is brought to us by Leslie Dowley of Carrick On Suir.

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 to receive the blog every week.

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