Holidays at Tramore in Verse (1894) and Prose (1910)

A lively poem of 1894 and an affectionate piece of journalism from 1910 provide glimpses of seaside life at Tramore, County Waterford.  

 

Tramore functioned as a small-scale tourist resort. A local representative in 1911 estimated that it had a year-round population of 1,700, rising to 4,000 in summer.[1]

Nearing the close of the 1894 holiday season, the Waterford Mirror published a poem about the joys of Tramore. Although not traced, it was reportedly sentimental, and provoked this jaunty rejoinder from a bard who signed "Brownstown Harp". It appeared in Munster Express, 29 September 1894, and was dated 22 September.

Oh ! the season's all but ended, and the Strand Road all but mended,

And the peasantry are flying from the town they make their own,

Whilst the bathing men are thinking of the glorious Summer's drinking

That their swimming-pants and boxes used provide for them alone.[2]

Oh ! the Metal-Man looks jaded, and his pantaloons are faded,

And the tower that he occupies is pencilled everywhere

With the the names of folk bucolic, of the gay and melancholic,

Who in 'Ninety-four went thither to deoxydize the air.[3]

Oh, the racecourse looks so dreary (it almost rivals " New Tip'_rary");

And the moaning of the ocean sounds so plaintive to the ear

That no wonder they are skipping—like commanders of our shipping

From the bay and all its terrors to more tolerable cheer.[4]

Where's the cyclist with his knickers, and the counter crammed with liquors,

That used to greet us two short moons ago in Clancy's by the sea;

And the "roundabouts" whose motion once impressed me with the notion

It were safer to keep aloof from them for some time after tea.[5]

Where, oh! where is all the singing and the cars designed for swinging,

In which "Tommy Atkins" never failed to sink his "blooming" pay;

And the organs so infernal, stuffed with ditties hodiernal –

Even "Who did that" and "Comrades!". Who can tell me where are they?[6]

And oh? where's the "importation" whose headquarters were "the station,"

Those who daily blocked the premises from noon to ten at night;

Folks who called a biscuit cracker, smoked the vilest twist "tobacker,"

And were constantly imploring, " Can you 'blige me wid a light?"[7]

Ah! perchance that some are dying, whilst a quota may be flying

With bright angels in that happy land where gladness runs amuck.

Yet my private predilection with regard to the collection

Is – the major portion of it has gone home to Coolnagluck.[8]

Yes, the season's nearly ended, but the Strand Road won't be mended

Ere the peasantry come back next year to take the town in hand;

And the bathing men are thinking they must moderate their drinking

Till their asses, pants, and boxes will again be in demand.[9]

This September 1910 account of Tramore appeared in a Dublin newspaper, the Daily Telegraph, in September 1910. It was widely reprinted, this transcription coming from Nationalist and Leinster Times, 17 September 1910. The article provides a charming glimpse of a day in Tramore, starting with an early morning bathe and Mass before breakfast, and ending with routlette after supper.

TRAMORE

The sound of hearty laughter outside my bedroom window woke me from a sound slumber at 6 a.m. on my first morning in Tramore. About a half-dozen frieze-clad and flat-hatted gigantic farmers from Tipperary bearing a. strong resemblance to the pictures we see of the sturdy Boers, discussed in the fresh morning air the various phases of the recent races, while a laughing boy's treble occasionally broke through the deep basses of the men.[10] They were, awaiting an ancient crony, and then to an early swim. Away over the sea the brilliant sunshine is converting its surface into a heavy molten floor, and presently, joining some hastily attired fellow-guests, we advance down the steep road past the elevated Grand Hotel [11]and numerous boarding houses, past the pavilion and to the famous Strand, where already a score of bathing boxes are anxiously sentinelled by various proprietors awaiting the swimmers. Presently a shuddering shock, and then ecstasy! On both sides of the swimmers stretch bold headlands; on the right, on a gentle rising ascent, is the famous Doneraile Walk, whilst on the left at the end of strand expanse the rabbit burrow rises above the race course and the golfing links.[12]

The bathers are composed of both sexes, separated only by a short distance. Around me I see the farmers gravely bobbing up and down, and vigorously dashing the salt spray over themselves. Bolder spirits breast the waves, and rise to meet the rollers that come majestically towards the land. The ladies, clad in a bewildering variety of costumes, catch hands, three or four together, and shriek with delight as they are temporarily engulphed in a miniature wave. A hasty run on the beach, a vigorous rub down, and then – not to breakfast yet – to the fine church on the hill, where Mass is celebrated several times daily.[13]

Even at this early hour a large congregation is engaged in devout prayer. Down the hill again. A more careful toilet, and then in the hospitable Ossory Hotel, with its genial host, Mr Martin Murphy, and his amiable spouse, we enjoy an excellent breakfast.[14] The greatest bonhommie [sic] prevails, and an atmosphere, peculiarly pleasant and altogether suggestive of Knocknagow, strikes the mere "cit." as he notices the familiar intercourse of the guests.[15] Jokes of the raciest description and peasant banter pass swiftly around.

A Dublin man is much puzzled by all this, and laughingly inquires if they are all relatives. At our table we have at least five visitors bearing the name of Phelan, whilst Butlers, Purcells, Brophys, Nolans, Powers, Ryans and other Southern names abound. After breakfast the ladies retire to their correspondence, whilst the men lounge about outside on the seats and offer sacrifice to Lady Nicotine.[16] A chat with Mr Murphy reveals the fact that a record crowd attended the recent races, that there are over 3,000 visitors in the town, and that a Public Health Committee is busily at work to avail of the now Act relating to Irish watering places. Tramore scarcely needs the accessories we associate with the Isle of Man or Blackpool, nor do the vast bulk of the visitors seem to care much, their chief object being to get as much bathing as possible. Nevertheless, each year marks a steady advance to increase the comfort of the visitors. Good pathways through the town, additional seating accommodation on the Strand, and the improvement in the promenade have already resulted from the labours of the Committee. Further schemes are in view, but there is yet a greater amount of co-ordination in effort wanted amongst the townspeople. Public lavatories and fresh water tanks are yet a need.[17] Warm, reclining and shower baths of sea water, brought up all day in cars from the strand, may, however, be had very cheaply.

Plans are now made by the younger spirits for spending the few hours before dinner. Some elect to go to Waterford, easily attainable, several times daily by an excellent railway;[18] some to the rabbit burrow; more to the bathing again, and others to the Metal Man, who, on lofty column, points to the passing mariner a monitory finger to the rocks below. This great column, with two other silent sentinels, are at the extremity of one end of the bay, and around its base, may be seen merry young ladies striving to hop round it the requisite three times, which, faithfully accomplished, will – so the local tradition has it – gain a husband within the year. Up and down through the streets all day pass the dark eyed daughters of the South, laden with towels, while their parents gravely promenade by the storm wall.

The numerous shops are thronged with postcards, and curio purchasers, and the post office officials are, I fear, very much worried.

Dinner is generally disposed of early in the afternoon, whilst the interregnum between it and tea is generally filled in with the same round of sober amusements as in the morning.

It is in the evening, however, that the onlooker gets a fair idea of the numerous visitors. At the pavilion—a modest structure enough—may be seen votaries of the torpsichorean art dancing to a string band. Outside, the harvest moon flings a glittering silver sword across the- sea, and pales the well-lighted studio of Mr Stickyback hard by the beach.[19] The fragrant air is filled with the murmur of many voices, an occasional laugh and merry "Ah, don't!'' in soft Southern blas[20], pleasantly indicating the progress of the tender passion. Here and there a stately matron, clothed in the uniform  black and silk and gold chain and cameo, inquires anxiously about Eileen or Ida, or Dympna, the said young ladies meanwhile enjoying themselves in secluded nooks with swains from the Marble City or the slopes of Knockmealdown.[21] The town, twinkling with numerous lights, stretches terrace on terrace, in the moonlight, and looks almost fairy-like. The motor cars and hobby horses do a brisk trade, to the strains of "Tannhauser", or "Norma", sometimes out of tune.[22] Yonder come the strains of a banjo and "Lanigan" from the Pierrots.[23] Greatly daring gamblers venture a modest throw on the roulette table, whilst grey-beards join heartily in the laughter evoked by their failure to hit Aunt Sally or ring the bottles. At ten o'clock, a general retreat is made for supper, and, to the city man, a comparatively early bed. But he must not be surprised if during the midnight hour his slumbers are broken by an occasional jovial shout from the card players, who often prolong their amusement beyond the witching hour.

Altogether the place is pleasant and delightful in its visitors, its scenery, its daily round of simple pleasures, its bland climate, and its great waves, which often at eve dash over the storm wall and drench some unwary onlooker.[24] May Tramore be long spared from the feverish activity of the resorts of the cheap tripper and preserve its mellow Irish character.

ENDNOTES  

[1] Munster Express, 9 September 1911.

[2] The Strand Road, alongside the beach, was covered with shingle and seaweed by winter storms, and repaired for tourists each summer. In March 1892, it was in "a disgraceful state". As this comment of September 1894 indicates, the official maintenance cycle was not always followed. Men generally swam from bathing machines. They did not always hire costumes from the bathing men who operated these facilities. Munster Express, 5 March 1892; Freeman's Journal, 14 August 1885.

[3] The Metal Man is a cast-iron statue on top of one of a pillar at Great Newtown Head, west of Tramore. It was erected in 1823 to warn shipping to keep away from Tramore Bay. Visitors inscribed their names on the column.

[4] In 1886, an advanced section of the Irish Party launched The Plan of Campaign. This targeted individual landlords, those believed to lack financial resources, using rent strikes to force them to sell to their tenants. Those who were evicted were supported by a central fund. In 1889, shopkeepers evicted from Tipperary town established a New Tipperary on the outskirts. A project that devoured scarce funds, New Tipperary has been called "probably the single greatest error of the whole Plan of Campaign agitation".  The project was abandoned from 1891, and its largest building demolished. The Tramore poet throws sardonic light on the failure of the project. L. Geary, The Plan of Campaign... (Cork, 1986), 129. We should obviously pronounce "dreary" to rhyme with "airy".

[5] "Miss Clancy, Refreshment Rooms" was the Tramore agent for the Waterford News (e.g. 16 December 1893). Kate Clancy of Strand Street described herself as a shopkeeper in the 1901 census, and a publican in 1911.

[6] A journalist in 1893 noted the presence at Tramore of "German bands, merry-go-rounds, barrel organs, piano organs, and peregrinating vocalists". Irish Times, 29 August 1893. As at most seaside resorts, entertainers aimed at the lowest common cultural denominator: "Comrades!", for instance, was a sentimental music-hall song of 1887 about male friendship.  Chosen to fit a rhyme, "hodiernal" is a pretentious term for "present-day" (literally, "pertaining to today").  This verse illustrates the popularity of Rudyard Kipling's poem of 1890, about "Tommy Atkins", the archetypal British soldier, treated with contempt in everyday life but suddenly elevated to hero status in time of national emergency. Written in doggerel, the last line hits hard with its statement that "Tommy ain't a blooming fool" – "blooming" being a mildly shocking euphemism in Victorian times for less polite adjectives.  Army privates were not well paid (around 7 to 8 shillings a week in 1914, depending upon their units), but with accommodation, food and clothing supplied, they could afford to indulge in recreation. Waterford City had both infantry and cavalry barracks, and it is no surprise that off-duty 'Tommies'  relaxed by the sea.

[7] The meaning of this verse is not altogether clear. It seems to refer to working-class visitors who arrived at the railway station, and promptly headed for the nearest public house. Presumably, it mocks the vocabulary and accents of Waterford City. Ireland's leading biscuit manufacturers, Jacobs, originally a Waterford enterprise, were noted for their crackers.

[8] The poet goes into a flight of fancy here, imagining the vanished holiday-makers in a blissful afterlife, before concluding that they had returned to their homes. Although Coolnagluck is an entirely plausible place name, it does not appear to exist. It is obviously intended to suggest "up the country", and may be redolent of Tipperary.  

[9] American readers may be reassured to know that donkey rides on the strand were a feature of seaside resorts. This is the meaning of "asses" here.

[10] In Knocknagow (1863), Charles Kickham described Tramore as "a household word in very many Tipperary homes." The novel is specifically mentioned in a later paragraph. Between 1899 and 1902, Britain (using Irish troops) had fought a war of conquest in South Africa against two Afrikaner republics, the Transvaal and the Orange Free State. Their white inhabitants were known as "Boers", a Dutch word for farmers. Boers were generally burly, bearded men, who wore wide-brimmed hats. 

[11] The leading establishment in Tramore, the Grand Hotel belonged to the local entrepreneur, Martin J. Murphy, who should not be confused with Martin P. Murphy of the Ossory Hotel mentioned below. .

[12] The  Doneraile Walk is a clifftop path, taking its name from the landlord family who had owned much of the town's freehold. (Many ground rents had been sold in 1908.) In 1910, the racecourse and golf course (both also Martin J. Murphy projects) were located on reclaimed ground at the town end of the Back Strand. The location was abandoned in December 1911 after the collapse part of the protecting embankment.

[13] The monumental Church of the Holy Cross dominated Tramore. It was built between 1855 and 1871. In 1910, the parish priest was Canon Pierce Coffey. At his death in 1919, he was called "a popular figure with visitors from all parts of Ireland." Freeman's Journal, 11 August 1919. 

[14] This was Martin P. Murphy, of the Ossory Hotel, which catered for cyclists. "Dissatisfied Clients are as rare as Halley's Comet" was his 1910 advertising slogan. Independent, 31 August 1910.

[15] The "cit[izen]" is the Dubliner referred to in the next paragraph.

[16] i.e. they are smoking.

[17] Martin P. Murphy had recently raised money for public benches at the Strand, and urged the need for additional public lavatories in a letter to the Waterford News, 2 September 1910.

[18] There were usually 8 daily trains in each direction between Tramore and Waterford. The 7-mile journey took about a quarter of an hour.

[19] "Mr Stickyback" was a photographer called Power whose studio was in Strand Street. The name refers to adhesive photographs designed for a family album. 

[20] "Blas" (rhymes with "gloss") is a word borrowed from the Irish language, meaning "tone" or "accent".

[21] The Marble City is Kilkenny, the Knockmealdowns a mountain range in the north-west of County Waterford.

[22] Hobby horses formed part of merry-go-rounds. The use of Grand Opera as fairground music is interesting: Wagner's Tannhäuser, and Bellini's Norma.  

[23] Pierrots were concert parties who operated as seaside entertainers. "Lanigan's Ball" was a traditional Irish ballad.

[24] In 1912, the promise of a £5,000 grant from the British Treasury opened the way for construction work to convert the existing sea wall into a broader promenade.

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