Last week we were down by the riverside in our consideration of matters fluvial. We looked forward once again to the early implementation of the much repeated City Plans’ intentions of the riverside walk out from town to ‘under Blenheim’. We traced the course of the river Suir from its source in the Devil Bit Mountain to the confluence of the Three Sisters in Waterford Harbour – all this in the esteemed company of Declan McGrath’s excellent book -Wildlife in Waterford.

No, I wasn’t talking about ‘The Strip’! We left our story with the promise to focus today on the Habitat of the King’s Channel Saltmarsh – an important area of special designation and lying within the City area.

Environmental designations are special and we are fortunate enough to have such within a stone’s throw from us here. These designations apply to areas or features that have a natural, landscape or cultural, significance and such areas are normally either different to or they stand out from the other areas that surround them. Nationally responsibility for designated areas lies with the Government (mainly through the National Parks and Wildlife Service) and local responsibility rests with local authorities, while the EU has responsibility for the EU directives, which apply to all member states.

There are also international designations and conventions, which are overseen by agencies such as the UN (through UNESCO) and the Ramsar Secretariat. So we are talking serious stuff here folks – a world of natural wonder at our very feet, hereabouts.

To the Waters and the Wild

The River Suir overflows its banks, particularly in winter, along the stretch of waterway west of the Island, and this flooding, while never severe, introduces marine conditions which have allowed a saltmarsh with a distinctly marine vegetation to establish and flourish at the edge of what is now a highly developed area. Fortunately a river walk fringes some of this saltmarsh allowing for uninterrupted views of the river and beyond. DMcG advises for the more dedicated explorer, suitably equipped (wellies essential!) the entire saltmarsh maybe walked over. As we alluded to earlier, if/when the aspiration of all recent City Development Plans are realized, a proper walkway all the way from Waterpark to Blenheim may/will be opened to all.

The most important stretch of saltmarsh is between the housing development known as King’s Channel and the creek not far from Beckett’s (formerly Orpens) pub. There are various points of access though access east of Ballinakill Downs is more difficult. I personally would urge caution unless one was familiar with the area and so know where exactly they were going!! Another good and valid argument, I would posit for a properly developed walkway in order to give safe access to this natural wonderland.

A Range of Species

At King’s Channel an interesting range of species may be found: common saltmarsh-grass, long bracted sedge, sea milkwort, sea couch, saltmarsh rush, common scurvygrass, sea aster, sea plantain and wild celery (to name but a few from a more extensive list). Of interest too is the single marsh-mallow plant, which is probably the most eastern record in Ireland (there are few records for Ireland and only one other recent record for Waterford). The presence of an alder tree growing in moderately saline conditions is also noteworthy. Strawberry clover and meadow barley have been recorded from the saltmarsh here, though neither of these plants has been seen recently, probably because of infilling or path construction associated with nearby development work.

The rare long-stalked Orache, particularly the Taschereau has been noted in this area – a new plant for Waterford and for Ireland. And what about the birds? Well to begin with there’s snipe, lapwings and stonechats but so much more. For greater detail delve into Declan’s delicous book and wonder even more at the wild world of nature all about. Maybe that’s what attracted people to dwell hereabouts as far back as 800 years ago. And have folk not been flocking to these parts of the great DMR ever since?!

Nearby Ballinakill

So, let’s now change tack and look at the history of one of the great Houses of the area who enjoyed this area from early times. One of the more significant was at Ballinakill alongside King’s Channel. Ballinakill was occupied by the Normans and in 1210 King John, on his trip to Ireland is said to have stopped at the “land of the Thomas Fitzanthony” at Ballinakill (or Ballymackylle). After the Norman Invasion the powerful Dobbyn (or Dobbin) family settled in Waterford

Ballinakill House 

Ballinakill House, which overlooks the river Suir and Little Island became the seat of the Dobbyn family until it was sold in 1788 to Nicholas Power, his son, Nicholas Mahon-Power lived in Ballinakill until he acquired the nearby Faithlegg House in 1819. The house was bought by another branch of the Dobbyns and was inherited by Mrs Patrica Gossip. I was acquainted with 3 of her sons, John, George and Randal and daughter Priscilla (who sadly died as a young mother).

George ran a restaurant at the house for a couple of years. The house was eventually sold a few years later and remains a private residence. Interestingly George and his wife Susie re-emerged some years ago as the owners of a wonderful period house in Galway and when I first came across it – it seemed a most unique place, it’s up around Ballinasloe – do check it out if you want to enjoy something special and different. Here’ a little of what I learned about it. Ballinderry Park is a small, beautiful Georgian house, like a perfect Palladian doll’s house, built on a small hill in the open pasture of east County Galway. Five years ago Susie and George Gossip found it, lonely and abandoned, and rescued it from advanced dereliction. In the intervening period they have slowly restored it, authentically and lovingly, and now their guests can sample and appreciate the fruits of their labours. Brother John played a key role in its masterful restoration

Susie and George are both delighted with their house and invite guests to enjoy it too. Ballinderry Park is a wonderful, historic private family house, where guests are all made very welcome and no effort is spared to make them feel at home. This is different – look up their website – or just google the name. Think of this discovery as an example of serendipity!

But back here to the house itself – Ballinakill is a two storey late 17th or early 18th century house and incorporated an old tower house not visible from the outside – the house has spectacular views of the Waterford Harbour. It is described in Egan’s 1894 Directory as “close to the Water’s edge rising as if from the rock, its quaint appearance enshrouded in trees denoting a romantic home”.

Royal Visitors

It is said that after his defeat at the Battle of the Boyne in 1690 James II stayed in Ballinakill house for a night before making his way to France. King’s Channel – the deep water separating Little Island from the mainland of Co. Waterford is supposed to be named after him. When I first heard of Ballinakill House, years ago I heard this version of events but subsequently I heard that King James had left via Duncannon. Later I was told by George Gossip as we looked at a great portrait of what he said was William of Orange that in fact he was the king who stayed there following the Battle of the Boyne. Maybe Julian Walton could give us the decision on this one! But the house did have other royal visitors.

In June of 1858 H.R.H. Prince Albert on the last day of his visit to Waterford called in to Ballinakill House on his way back from Duncannon, which was then the residence of Captain Power. The rank of the visitor was unknown to the family although they entertained him and his party well and the Prince thanked them and entered their addresses in his tablet (Waterford News 26 June 1908). Yes, indeed the wonderful wonders.

Go seachtain eile, slán.