We felt right at home in Dunmore East in Ireland
After leaving the Waterford Crystal Factory, Bob and I did some hasty research and selected Dunmore East (Irish: An Dun Mor Thoir) , a small fishing village south of Waterford in Ireland, as a likely destination that seemed of interest. When we pulled into the sleepy community, it immediately had us feeling right at home.
Dunmore East reminded us, for all the world, of Petty Harbour and other similar coastal villages in Newfoundland, Canada. When we visited that charming fishing village, seen above, we were captivated by the cozy community perched at the edge of the Atlantic Ocean.
Dunmore East sits on the west coast of Waterford Harbour, tucked in a valley at the base of red sandstone cliffs. During the Iron Age, people established a promontory fort on the cliff tops overlooking the sea, and henceforth, the habitation was known as Dun Mor (the Great Fort). With headlands jutting into the sea, giving protection to quiet coves, it was indeed very scenic.
As Bob and I roamed the myriad piers and docks of Dunmore East harbour, we were struck by other features common to the two fishing villages.
Gaily painted fishing boats lined the docks of this snug Irish port, not unlike those sidled up to wharfs in coves and harbours along Newfoundland’s shore. In both cases, their quiet presence speaks to the thriving fishing industry that has existed there for hundreds of years.
When Bob and I came upon neatly stacked lobster pots near the end of the massive main quay,
we remarked on the striking similarity to wooden lobster traps tidily arranged atop a weather-worn pier pictured above in Petty Harbour, Newfoundland. In fact, such lobster traps are a common sight in harbour villages all over that Canadian province.
It was mid-afternoon when Bob and I visited Dunmore East, but it wasn’t long before we happened upon a fisherman engrossed in the business of baiting his lobster pots. Although wooden lobster traps have fallen out of favour, the proven design of those traps has been replicated in the modern version, seen here. The fisherman was about to head out to sea where the traps would be lowered and remain set for two days before he would retrieve them from the icy waters of the Celtic Sea.
As we chatted with the fisherman, the harbour literally bustled with activity. Close by, a lifeboat prepared to leave the calm waters of the protected marina, headed out on a routine patrol.
The fisherman was nonplussed by our enthusiastic questions, and soon told us that there are close ties between the Irish people who live in Newfoundland and the residents of County Waterford, Ireland… Dunmore East, in particular. In the mid-eighteenth century, ships called into port in Waterford, looking for local Irishmen keen to work in the Newfoundland fisheries.
Droves of young men from the counties around Waterford made the trip across the ocean to work the summer fishing season, and then returned to southeast Ireland for the winter with their pockets full of money or with cargoes of fish to trade for money in their home port.
By the late 1700’s, however, the Irish migrant workers decided to remain in Canada rather than return to Ireland for the winter. The new immigrants soon established settlements in southeastern Newfoundland, many of them isolated communities, but the Irish presence spread widely over the Avalon Peninsula region, which is where the capital, St. John’s (seen above), is located.
This knowledge helped explain to Bob and me why the overall look of Dunmore East seemed so familiar. The cheerful facades of pastel painted homes dotting the Irish shore…
are strongly reflected in the lively exteriors of homes lining the streets of St. John’s and scattered throughout fishing villages all along the coast of the Avalon peninsula. This carryover by the Irish settlers of all things familiar and well-loved resulted in an Irish culture that seemed simply transplanted from Ireland. In fact, lacking the influence of outsiders, the remote Irish communities in Newfoundland retained their strictly Irish customs and traditions, which are still very much in evidence today.
As Bob and I strolled the long, lonely stretch of the pier that reaches far out into Waterford Harbour, the grey clouds set the tone for serious reflection on all that we had just learned. The unexpected historical connection between southeastern Ireland and southeastern Newfoundland caught us off guard; the significance of that connection touched us and was profoundly meaningful.
At one point along the quiet breakwater, we were roused from our thoughts by raucous squawking from nearby cliffs. Upon investigation, we discovered dozens of gulls minding their nests on the ledges of the sheer walls.
Given that it was late May when we traveled to Eire, it was too soon to see newly-hatched chicks in the nests.
From the end of the protective pier, Bob and I had a great view of the coastline that lies below Dunmore East. Our eye was drawn to a broad sandy beach edging one such cove, and given the quaint pink thatched house sitting on the cliff above, the tranquil setting begged us to come and explore.
As we rounded one corner along Dock Road, the most idyllic scene, complete with whimsical thatch-roofed cottages, popped into view. We were thrilled to find such perfect examples of the iconic structures, long-associated with the idyllic Irish countryside.
Because Dunmore East was a community that depended on fishing for hundreds of years, it was no wonder that it became “a place of resort for fishermen” according to R.H. Ryland. But by the 1800’s, this pretty seaside town became “a delightful and fashionable watering place” for holidaymakers.
As more and more people flocked to the seaside town, the demand for accommodation had locals erecting dozens of cottages for the newly-flourishing tourist trade. As Ryland said, “the houses are built irregularly, without regard to site or uniformity of appearance, except that they all look at the same point”.
Using tried and true techniques, the cottages were built of clay and thatched with straw giving each structure a fanciful and winsome appeal. Having withstood all that nature could throw at them over the past 200 years, these cottages, that used to rent for 1-3 guineas/week during the summer season, now cost substantially more for a quaint room with an ocean view.
Finally we located the pretty-in-pink thatched cottage that first captured our interest. Sitting with unimpeded sea views from its promontory position on the cliffs, this 100-year-old structure has been witness to much history that has unfolded in this quiet corner of County Waterford. And it is just a stone’s throw away from the beautiful, sandy beach!
The cool air of late afternoon did not deter Bob and me from sinking our toes into the soft white sand of the nearby beach, but try as we might, we couldn’t understand the glee and abandon with which children frolicked in the frigid waters of the Celtic Sea. Their mother told us that the air temperature was only 14 Celsius, and yet it felt much warmer because of the humidity.
The early evening sunshine warmed the town of Dunmore East, so we were encouraged to walkabout the pretty streets for another look at the tidy cottages and charming thatched houses. A chance view of the aquamarine waters and white sandy beach through a stand of rustling palm trees brought us up short. For all the world, it looked like a scene from some tropical island.
In fact, the humid air and mild winters that are commonplace on this island country accommodate the growth of palm trees throughout the countryside where the tropical trees grow randomly at roadside and in peoples’ gardens. Taking advantage of a bench strategically placed with a view of the strand seemed like the perfect spot to spend some quiet moments, so Bob and I lingered there for sometime before returning to Waterford. It had been a good day!