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Wexford Port

– a history

By Nicky Rossiter

First published in June 1989.

Updated for the Internet in April 2002.

Wexford Council of Trade Unions as part of a Fas sponsored scheme

published the print edition.

The researchers included S Cleary, T Coughlan, J Doyle, P Burke, J

Furlong, S Furlong, C Long, K McGrath, S Prouse, J Roche, T O’Connor, L

Whitty, J Murphy, T Nolan, I Beary, M Whelan, A Hore, J Hendrick, T

O’Leary, W Rogan, J Fortune, N Rossiter.

The Port in Earlier Times

"Tis of ten I dream of the old Wexford fleet, those schooners of canvas brown; Those beautiful models of cleanliness that sailed from Wexford Town.

With robust crews of the finest type, as valiant and smart as could be; We had excellent sailors in Wexford Town who ploughed o'er the wide blue sea"

From 'Maritime Memories of Wexford.'

The story of the Port of Wexford stretches back to the foundation of the first settlement in the area. In those days travel was mainly by sea as the entire country was covered in dense forest. The first Wexfordmen may have travelled across from Wales and landed on a tree-lined shore near the mouths of the Bishopswater and Peter rivers. With ample fishing in the harbour, fresh water from the rivers and wild game in the forest, this sheltered harbour was an ideal location for settlement. With settlement came trade and the beginnings of the Port of Wexford.

The first major developers of the port were the Vikings or

Norsemen. These maritime adventurers probably settled

here in the tenth century. Philip Herbert Hore, the county

historian states that around the middle of the eleventh

century the fishing settlement of Loch Garman began to be

known by the name of Weysford and that ships were built

there and trade flourished. Even then the Bar in the

harbour mouth may have caused problems for boats of 9 or

10-foot draught, but not to a local coasting fleet.

In an article in the third Journal of the Old Wexford

Society, John De Courcey Ireland states that from these

early days, the shallow draught at the harbour entrance

caused problems, but the Wexford people were quick to

turn it to their own advantage. They achieved this by

designing and building their own ships capable of

operating in the prevailing conditions and thus obtained a

virtual monopoly on trade into the ancient port.

It is clear that the town had a fleet of ships by 1169 as

Giraldis Cambrensis records the Normans burning some

boats when they attacked Wexford in May of that year.

Also there are records of the fleets of towns including Wexford assisting Henry II in his battles with the Welsh. There is a record in Hore dated 1255 of one Roger De Evesham, Clerk to the Dean of St. Martin's, London arriving safely at Wexford after enduring several tempests and being 3 nights at sea, from the Welsh coast.

Trade through Wexford port was being officially recorded at this time and the Customs Dues collected in the town between May 4th 1275 and April 14th 1277 amounted to £ 10 - 4 - P/4. This sum was collected on exports only, as native merchants of the time could import goods free of duty. In 1275, Lucca one of the independent Italian Merchant Republics was appointed as receiver of customs at 10 ports. The fact that Wexford was one of those ports suggests that it already had a flourishing trade. Thirty five years later, in 1310, Wexford still rated as a principal port.

Agents of Italian merchant bankers often oversaw the collection of customs dues at the time. This was because many of the wars and skirmishes of the time were financed on credit from these banks and the revenue collected went to repay the debt.

In about 1353 the port took another step forward in the regulation of trade, a gild (or guild) of Staplers was established. This guild of merchants was given a monopoly on the export of raw goods such as wool, hides etc., from the realm, and anyone wishing to sell such goods had to present them for sale in the so-called staple towns. Such goods were heaped on the quays of towns like Wexford and there the staplers purchased them. It is probable that the staplers' guild was formed so that the king's customs collector could superintend all exports and so collect the relevant duties.

In 1375 Walter Pierce and Richard Hassan, Wexford merchants, were busy at this time importing grain by sea from Dublin as a commercial, profit-making exercise. Fishing also flourished in the 14th century.

When the Earl of Ormond spent Christmas in Wexford in 1393, the seneschal had an arrangement to supply him with fish. An interesting feature of this contract was a clause whereby he was fined £100 if the supply failed. Fishing was important in that era as there were over 100 days of fast and abstinence each year and fish was the only food permitted by church law.

Wars also affected the trade of ports like Wexford. On July 16th, 1423 a writ was issued to the Sovereign and Provosts of Wexford ordering them to arrest all ships entering or in port, along with their masters, sailors and gear. These were to be sent to Beaumarys in Wales to provide transport for the Earl of March, Deputy of Ireland, and his army. Wexford is clearly shown on maps drawn by continental cartographers of the time such as Baptista Boazio. The inclusion of the town on these charts indicates that its trade was international. There is evidence of a substantial trade in wine between Wexford and Gascony and Spain.

By 1560-1, 75% of the value of Irish hides entering Bridgeport in Somerset travelled on

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