Water Pumps of Blarney and District

 by

Brian Gabriel 

Many of the more senior readers of the ‘Old Blarney’ Journals or the Muskerry News will have memories of the roadside water pumps located about the district where an essential daily supply of water was collected in enamel buckets and other receptacles for household use. They were usually sited at the side of the road, raised on their own concrete platforms, surrounded on three sides by a stone or brick or concrete wall which, sometimes, incorporated a hole in the rear wall to facilitate entry to the field beyond. Some pumps had a stone-cut trough located on the platform beneath the pump to catch any overflow water. This water quenched the thirst of many a pet dog or other animal. In extremely dry weather these troughs were sometimes used by the housewives for the family clothes wash. In normal weather the water barrel which stood at the corner of a cottage, underneath a downpipe, usually retained enough rainwater for general domestic use, but not for drinking.

There were two basic designs of pump in use which were of similar designs and shapes while there were others with variations. The most common one was an upright pump, usually of cylindrical shape, up to about 2 metres in height, surmounted by a spiked lid or cap with a long curved or straight handle, known as a ‘cow-tail’, for working the pumping mechanism. The cap was bolted to the top of the pump and could be removed to service the pumping mechanism inside. It had a water spout, situated about 35 or so centimetres from the top, which had a hook effect on which a bucket could be hung while the water was being pumped into it. Some of these types were lightly decorated while others were quite plain looking. Most of the upright, tall pumps had a 31/2 inch bore pipe through which the water flowed.

There was also a smaller type of pump which was usually about one metre tall. It was of a rather more decorative design than the taller one, often having a decorative casting of a lion’s head and mane with the water flowing out through the animal’s mouth. Other pumps of this style did not have the lion-head feature but a rather ordinary spout. As there was no hook on which to hang the bucket on this type of pump, there was a rest-plate, close to the base, on which to stand the bucket while filling. The water flow was activated by twisting a door-knob like protrusion on the side of the pump. The cap or lid usually had a type of floret design on top.

All of these pumps were the property of the local County Councils and the servicing and upkeep was also their responsibility. The pumps were painted a beautiful rich green colour either annually or once every two years during the summer months when workmen would come and strip the flaking paint and give the pumps a gleaming, fresh new coat. In some places, at the onset of winter, the pumps would be protected from frost and ice by having coarse canvas bags wrapped around them which helped to prevent freezing of the mechanism during the cold winter months. Others had layers of straw tightly tied about them for the same reason. Others were covered by a timber box-type structure, with just the handle and spout exposed. These coverings would be left on until Spring when danger of a severe frost had passed.

The country pump was traditionally a meeting place for women of the locality, just as the local forge was for the men. Many is the tale, true and otherwise, that was told when people gathered to await their turn for water at the pump. They became local land marks and were busy spots for social interaction and news, with local and national gossip high on the agenda, when several neighbours congregated at the same time to collect their daily requirements of water. These were also the places where the phrase ‘village pump politics’, originated as they were a popular meeting point for local politicians wishing to promote their sometime dubious or otherwise schedules.

Usually mounted on a stone platform, hand-pumps were dotted here and there throughout the countryside, often located near forks in the road, at crossroads or near to small clusters of cottages. Some of these public pumps were placed on the site of an open well while others had been placed on hand-dug or drilled shallow wells. In more rural areas, especially before the provision of the local hand-pumps, the ordinary well was often the only source of drinkable water for miles.

A water diviner was a necessary requirement before a domestic water well could be dug or drilled. If he was a good operator, he would find several underground streams using his forked hazel sticks and would then pick a spot where two of these streams intersected. He could then tell with good accuracy how deep

to go for water and if the pressure would be satisfactory.

The installation of a County Council pump was regarded as a Godsend or blessing to those who had to cross fields to reach a well and then draw back home the heavy enamel buckets of water. Collecting water by daily walks to a well or roadside pump in such a manner was not a very likeable chore, especially in inclement weather.

Sometimes, mainly in the hot dry summers of yore, a local well or roadside pump would go dry and this meant the water had to be collected from further away, maybe from a privately owned pump in a farmer’s yard or perhaps from a communal pump in the nearest village. Almost all farmer’s yards had a private pump which was an important and vital asset on any farm. It saved the family many trips to the nearest well, providing water for the preparation of animal food and the cleaning out of farm buildings. Most of ‘the big houses’ also had private pumps.

The following are a few of the places where the Blarney village pumps were once located according to the O.S. Map of 1901: At Mangerton Terrace for ‘Drinking Water’. One located at the lower end of Muskerry and Telephone Terrace at the Quarry Range, Shamrock Terrace, Millstream Row, Hedge Road and one in the middle of St. Helen’s Row. There was a ‘cow-tail’ handle pump located in The Square from whence Pump Street got its name. There was one at the corner of The Square across the road from Corkeran’s Hotel (Muskerry Arms) and one at the Colthurst Blarney National School (Scoil Chroí Íosa) on St. Ann’s Road. There were also a few others at various locations around the locality but outside the general village itself.

These one-time important and vital items fell out of popularity when piped water was introduced to

villages and towns and at a later time when almost every new house built in the rural countryside had their own well bored, ensuring a private water supply instead of having to walk a distance to collect it. A number of different engineering or metal working firms from both Ireland and the United Kingdom were the main suppliers of the pumps, hence the variation in designs. The Cork firm of Merrick Engineering in Warren’s Place (Parnell Place) was one of the Irish companies involved in fitting a tap operated, square-shaped one metre tall version with a pyramid shaped cap or lid, when piped water pumps were replacing the hand operated ones. Many of these once essential pumps survived intact over the generations and are being kept clean and tidy as local heritage items, by Tidy Towns and Residents Associations but others fell into neglect and disuse, becoming memorials to a now largely defunct communal water supply system. Subsequently they became victim to ‘collectors’ in recent years, often vanishing over-night from their plinths and maybe re-appearing at car-boot sales. Some residents’ associations have managed to acquire replicas of the missing pumps and have re-fitted them to their original locations.

These days, most of the roadside pumps still remaining are probably of a more ornamental use but, before the days of piped water, such pumps would have provided water from deep underground which was crystal clear, ice-cold and deeply refreshing to drink. But the few that do currently survive in working order can still manage to quench the human thirst.

Contact: Mr. Brian Gabriel Email: wbriangabriel@gmail.com Tel: 021 4381349 Mob: 087-2153216