S.S. Macuto: The Dunmore East connections. A recollection from the summer of 1960

I offer a platform for anyone who wants to write about Waterford harbour on the last Friday of each month.  This month David Carroll joins us with a tale of ships and people from the port in 1960 and his experience of the impounded vessel the SS Macuto and how it featured in his life at the time.  I hope you enjoy it.

An image spotted while recently looking through Michael Power’s interesting book ‘Tales from the River Suir’, brought back memories of the S.S. Macuto, a ship that became famous, or maybe that should read ‘infamous’, in the Port of Waterford during my summer school holidays in 1960.

For the months of July and August in that year, the S.S. Macuto became a big news story in Waterford and further afield. For most of that time, the ship was under arrest, with a writ nailed to her mast. Port and pilot dues were owing to Waterford Harbour Commissioners. The crew had not received payment for several weeks and a cargo of maize for R. & H. Hall Ltd., Ferrybank was in dispute due to damage from a leaking oil or water pipe on its voyage from Chicago, through the Great Lakes and arriving in Waterford on July 2nd 1960.

In Dunmore East, we listened for the gossip emanating from the city and we read the local papers avidly each week to update ourselves on the progress of the various legal difficulties being resolved. The ship was later to play a part in the enjoyment of my summer holidays and the operation of one of Dunmore’s leading hotels but to learn about these stories; you will need to continue reading.

Meanwhile, the S.S. Macuto became almost a tourist attraction, as the old-fashioned steamer remained moored on her berth in Waterford. Many people wondered as to how this ‘old rust bucket’ had successfully got through the Great Lakes and crossed the Atlantic let alone sailed up the River Suir to Waterford Port. The S.S. Macuto was built in 1918 in Oakland, California. Governor John Lind was the original name and was 3,431 tons. The ship had a succession of different names and changes of ownership until finally sold in 1960 to the Seaforth Navigation Corporation and renamed S.S. Macuto.

The voyage to Waterford was her first voyage under this name and new owners and the first-time sailing under the flag of Panama. This was very much a ‘flag of convenience’ as a small number of countries such as Panama did not adhere to normal shipping regulations with abuses very prevalent. The aged and decrepit S.S. Macuto was therefore ‘always and accident waiting to happen’. The crew of 23 were all Greek nationals and despite being owed wages by the owners, managed the have a good time during their stay in Waterford. The Munster Express later described the members of the crew as ‘becoming more Irish than the Irish themselves’.

On arrival, following the initial arrest and legal wrangles, Captain Trimis seemed puzzled and was reported to have said, “I do not know how this happened, it my first visit to Ireland”. Interestingly, the Munster Express reported later in the middle of August that the same Captain Trimis, driving a hired-car, was involved in a minor road accident in Tramore where luckily no one was injured, only a small amount of damage caused to the two cars.

S.S. Macuto at Waterford port, 8th August 1960: Shortall Collection © A.Kelly
Wednesday August 24th 1960, the night that the ship finally left port, has become the stuff of legends. At this stage, the legal matters had been more or less determined. The outcome was an order that the ship be sold and to set sail for Cork, where it was to be fitted with a new compass before final departure to La Speiza in Italy to be scrapped. Even in 1971, eleven years after her final voyage from Waterford, the Munster Express shipping correspondent recalled the scene: He reported: “The night of her departure was one of the most exciting ever witnessed in the port. After much delay and lofty voluntaries on the steam siren the crew were shepherded aboard – one finally made it at Dunmore or did he have to go by car to Cobh where she sailed to have her compass adjusted? At one point, Pilot Tom Furlong left the bridge to consult ashore with Captain Farrell on the advisability of sailing – time, tide and the pilot’s patience had all been running out.”

I've written previously about Dunmore East being a wonderful place to grow up in the 1950s and early 1960s. There were endless games of tennis, cricket and soccer in the park apart from the brilliant natural facilities that the harbour and all the small coves and beaches provided for swimming, sailing, rowing and fishing. Summer school holidays were a brilliant time and the best day of all, in my opinion, was the annual Regatta Day. Regatta Day was a day on which visiting families to Dunmore, who came each year to stay and enjoy the facilities that the village offered, and local fishermen who made their living from the sea came together with the entire community for a day of competition and fun. A large gathering of spectators would take place on the ‘Island’, a rocky outcrop that was part of the harbour in those days, which was accessed by an archway from the end of Island Lane.

The regatta was a very traditional event, like ones held in other coastal communities. Bob Desmond of the Barony of Gaultier Historical Society kindly gave me a press cutting from 1962, which was the centenary celebration of the Dunmore East Regatta. That would make 1960 to be the 98th one held. Apart from sailing, swimming, rowing and outboard motor races, there was also a series of novelty events such as ‘the duck hunt’, ‘greasy-pole’, model yacht race and the one that I always liked the best, the fancy dress parade. On Regatta Day, the national flag was flown on the flagpole in our garden at the harbour and all yachts in the harbour would be dressed with flags for the occasion.

For the 1960 regatta, it was real ‘no-brainer’ as far as I was concerned, I would enter the fancy dress parade as ‘S.S. Macuto’. A fair bit of imagination was required to make my small yellow-painted rowing boat ‘Turmoil’ resemble anything like the decrepit old steamer that was in Waterford all summer. However, with help from John Murphy, we set about the task. Fish boxes, painted brown, were a great source of material to make the upper hull and bridge. The flag of Panama was made from cardboard, red and blue paint. I still await, all these years later for this flag to come up in a Table Quiz! Paint tin lids were used to make the portholes and an empty paint tin formed the top of the funnel, where there would be real smoke. We found that old fishing net burned really well and gave off lots of smoke, which we believed would give us an edge on the day over other competitors. Dress rehearsals went very well, with plenty of smoke coming from practice sessions on dry land. Unfortunately, on the day, things did go quite as well. The old netting probably got a bit damp and not too much smoke was seen around the harbour, much to our disappointment. However, as they say, the taking part matters. We certainly had lots of fun dressing up as Greek sailors and pretending to be the S.S. Macuto.

Incidentally, August 1960 must have had some nasty bad weather as the regatta was finally held on Thursday August 25th, (the day after the S.S. Macuto set sail from Waterford) after three earlier cancellations. Thursday was the traditional half-day in Waterford and holding the regatta on that day would have been the best alternative to a Sunday. After that, there were just a few short days remaining for me before it was time to pack my school bag and start my secondary school education in Waterford.
The Haven Hotel in the 1960s with thanks to Waterford Co Museum
The Dunmore East Regatta was not the only Dunmore connection to the S.S. Macuto. Dick Ballintine and his wife Honor were still owners and successfully managing The Haven Hotel in Dunmore in 1960. The Kelly family did not arrive until a few years later. The Haven had originally been called Villa Marina (that name can still be seen on the wall at the entrance with steps opposite the park) and was one time the summer residence of the Malcolmson family of the Portlaw Cotton Industry and Shipbuilding fame in Waterford. The Ballintines had bought the property in the late 1940’s and turned it into a thriving and popular hotel. Dick Ballintine was an innovative person, a man before his time and saw a terrific opportunity in pre-twitter times to publicise his hotel.

He managed, somehow, to get a painter, or maybe a group of them to paint “Drop anchor at the Haven Hotel” in large white letters on the side of the ship when it was finally berthed near the Mall. Unfortunately, someone rumbled the plan and the Customs Officers stepped in and disallowed the project. For a brief period, the words “Anchor a…” appeared on the side of the ship before being blanked out by black paint and being another chapter in the story of the S.S. Macuto on her stay of notoriety in Waterford.

Finally, returning to the Dunmore East Regatta of 1960, there is a lovely connection with the events of last August (2017) when Dunmore East celebrated Friend or Foe in brilliant fashion. This event commemorated the brave rescue by three young fishermen, Jack McGrath and the brothers Tom and Patsy Power of Kapitan Kurt Tebbenjohanns, commander and only survivor from German mine-laying submarine UC44 that sank in Waterford Harbour in August 1917.
A flavor of the scene; Regatta day Dunmore East 25th August 1938, © Brendan Grogan
The record of winners from the Regatta of the various events as listed in the Munster Express of August 26th1960, show that Thomas McGrath won the Model Yacht Race. Thomas was a nephew of Jack McGrath and John Martin, a nephew of the Power Brothers, won the Open Pair-Oar Rowing Race, rowing with Billy Power. Another successful contestant in the various rowing races was John Aylward, who later went on to become a well-known figure in the Waterford licenced trade.


I would like to thank Andrew for his invitation to me to contribute to Waterford Harbour Tide ‘n’ Tales again. It is a privilege to be a small part of Andrew’s mission to celebrate and preserve the rich maritime heritage of Waterford Harbour. Gratitude is also due to Andy Kelly for his kind permission to use the image of the S.S. Macuto and to the library staff at the Central Library, Lady Lane in Waterford for allowing access to old copies of the Munster Express on-line. I also received valuable assistance form Brian Ellis, Honorary Librarian at National Maritime Museum of Ireland, Dun Laoghaire.



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Comments

  1. Comment via L Cahill on Facebook : Very interesting. I remember her well. Because she was registered in Panama, as kids we thought the crew spoke Spanish. In that mistaken view we learned off the phrase 'Bueno Suerte Hombres!', ('Good evening, Men!) and we used to shout it to them from the dockside. No wonder they didn't understand. I just discovered from the blog that the crew were Greek. We should've been shouting 'Καλησπέρα, άνδρες!' - 'Kalespéra, ándres!'

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