Old Faithlegg Church

With the
coming of the Normans to Ireland  a man named Aylward was granted the lands of Faithlegg in 1177 and this led to the establishment of a parish.  At the heart of this parish system was an early church close by to which was a Motte and Baily castle.  This would have been the centre of administration and control associated with governing the area. 

Faithlegg Churches 1928

According to Julian Walton there is a written record
of this church in the 12th century, however what we know as Old Faithlegg Church has been dated as 13th or possibly 14th Century.  An older church on the site may have been a timber construction, the remains of which would have
quickly disappeared.  It is also a matter of local speculation that the site of the old church is in fact the ruins of two seperate

The older part, it is speculated, is located
furthest from the road.  This measures
6.8m by 5.2m and has been referred to as the “Chancel” or “Sanctuary”.  The entrance to this is via a Romanesque
style arch which dates it earlier than the main church and belfry  gable beside
it.  The other features that would suggest this are; a different roof pitch, a different wall size and when the building became undermined in the 1990’s it was the chancel that was most seriously damaged. (The very obvious difference in roof pitch is still visible in the inside gable to the left of the Romanesque arched doorway)

On the western side, facing the road is the “Church”.  This measures 13m by 6.5m and is in
the Venetian Gothic style which is a later style.  The windows are also of a different design, although some have speculated that these may have been added at a later stage.  The roof would have been of thatch.

Faithlegg 1888 – Lapham Collection
Sourced from Tomás Sullivan

It is probably that the church would have given a couple of hundred years of service to Catholics despite the upheavals in the country with the Reformation in England and the uncertainty this would have brought.  It was most certainly closed when in 1649 the Aylwards were finally removed as landlords of the parish and replaced by Captain WIlliam Bolton.  Bolton was described as a “stern old puritan” and the likelihood of a church surviving under his stewardship would be unthinkable.  Locally there is a story that before the Cromwellian Army marched on Faithlegg the Priest of the Church buried his vestments with the church silver vowing that they would be recovered once the invaders had been vanquished.  Alas, the Cromwellian’s won out, and the Faithlegg treasure remains hidden.

The Down Survey of 1658 stated that the church at Faithlegg
was “out of repair” and down through the years it has remained as such, although this did not prevent the Bolton family of Faithlegg and some of their relations being interred in the chapel of the church.  At one point it also held a bell in the eastern gable, as depicted in a drawing by Charles Newport Bolton in 1843, presumably this was the church bell up until the new Spire and Belfry was added to the New Faithlegg Church in 1873.

Sketch by Charles Newport Bolton 1843
(Who is interred in the church with his Bolton relatives)
Sourced from Tomás Sullivan

As a child I remember the graveyard men – at the time Martin Nugent and my mothers Uncle, Paddy Moran- used to store their tools in the old church behind a padlocked gate.  Once the graveyard committee was established and work proceeded on developing and enhancing the graveyard, the old church became a focus of attention and numerous letters were written to seek state support in  preserving the building.  However, this met with no success and by the mid 1990’s part of the chancel wall collapsed and it
became increasingly hazardous.  There was a genuine fear that the whole building could collapse.

Photo copied from Kevin Ryan original 1999 of collapsed wall
Photo copied from Kevin Ryan original 1999 of the collapse

In 1999 Kevin Ryan began a survey of the
building with a view to determine how best
to structurally secure it. Kevin’s survey work combined with others enthusiasm formed the
basis of a successful application for funding.  £10,000 was granted by the Heritage Council
of Ireland and a further £15,000 raised locally to carry out the necessary
works.   The resulting work has served to protect the building and make it safe and accessible to the present and future generations.
A hope of the scheme at the time was that an archaeological survey might be carried out.  However, the powers that be determined that there was little to be learned from the site and were of the opinion that such a survey would never be warranted.  Such a pity, as the Church silver may have been unearthed, although more likely some evidence of an earlier church might have been proved or disproved. 

Another mystery of course is what happened to the bell that hung in the gable of the old church.  The new belfry got a new bell so where is the old one, and how old was it?…but that’s another story for another time

in 2001 there were some concerns that the sum of €25,000 was a high price to pay to preserve such an ancient piece of our built heritage.  Personally, I’m very glad that the Graveyard committee had the foresight to work so hard to preserve the building, and that we were so lucky to have someone like Kevin Ryan in our midst that gave so freely of his time and expertise.  The building is an historic landmark of Norman times, not just of Faithlegg, but of Gaultier, Waterford and indeed, in my own view, of Ireland. 

Visitors can now access the old church in safety and with ease
Photo credit: Hannah Doherty

 I publish a blog each Friday.  If you like this piece or have an interest in the local history or maritime heritage of Waterford harbour and environs you can email me at russianside@gmail.com to receive the blog every week.

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The Battle of the Boyne-Waterford harbour role

As a child growing up in a small southern Irish village, I have to say the 12th July “celebrations” in the North of Ireland seemed a long way away and very confusing.  12th July marked the defeat of England’s James II by his Dutch son in law William III (King Billy) at the Battle of the Boyne in 1690 and for many years I struggled to make sense of people in the North who were so passionate about the English monarchy celebrating its upheaval.  Of course history is filled with battles, politics, curious characters and intrigue which gets very confusing when layered with hundreds of years of interpretation or misinterpretation.

James II
accessed from https://faculty.history.wisc.edu/sommerville/

The events that surrounded the Battle of the Boyne were more to do with politics in relation to the English throne and Catholic and Protestant tensions that were widespread throughout Europe at the time.  Catholic, James II was created king in 1685 only to be deposed by parliament and replaced with his daughter Mary and her husband William III (both protestant) in 1688.  James II fled to France and from there found willing allies in the Irish, who for religious and political reasons thought their interests would be best served with a Catholic monarch.

King Billy (William III)
Accessed from http://resources.huygens.knaw.nl/

With the support of the French, James II came to Ireland to try build a base from which to regain his throne.  His first real engagement was Derry where the apprentice boys overruled the cities leaders and locked his army out, thus creating a siege that would last for several weeks in 1689 but would end in defeat for James who retreated to Dublin.  His son in law then entered the scene and the opposing armies met in the Boyne valley.

The Battle was a disaster from the start for James and his army of Irish/French and English amongst other nationalities.  Sensing defeat James II (who was watching from a safe distance with a protective entourage) turned south and fled.  His journey took him via Dublin and Wicklow and finally to Waterford.  It was here that James stayed overnight in Ballinakill with the Dobbyn family.

The following morning, in the early hours James II rode on horseback out the Dunmore road and along through Faithlegg down to Passage East.  There a small boat was waiting – probably a local punt- and into this James prepared to step.  As he did so, his hat flew off his head with a gust of wind and was quickly swept away on a strong ebb tide.  An aid rushed forward and with a flourish offered his own cavaliers hat to his king, causing James II to utter the immortal phrase “come, I have lost a crown in Ireland, but gained a hat”

A French ship was waiting at Duncannon and as soon as the defeated monarch was aboard it slipped out on the ebb tide and sailed away, initially to Cork, but next to France where James would later die.  King Billy followed him south a few weeks later and he too left via the estuary, apparently waiting aboard ship off Passage East for a few days for good weather.

King James departs
accessed from http://oracleireland.com/

Now I wholly admit that this is my own interpretation, or telling of the story, which I was told as a teenager and is probably filled with my own biases.  I realise there are others and two that I have read in the last year that I can at least point the curious reader to include Jim Hegartys short history of Passage – Time and Tide, see page 11.  Also Julian Walton’s On this Day Vol 1 Stories of Waterford’s 11,000 years pp 114-5.

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The construction of the Barrow Bridge

Anyone growing up in Cheekpoint, or anyone that visits can’t but be impressed with the Barrow Railway Viaduct.  Stretching from Co Kilkenny to Co Wexford across the Rivers Barrow and Nore (which join above New Ross) it’s 2131Feet in length and up to the 1990’s was the longest railway viaduct in the country.

looking from Great Island, Co Wexford
c/o Waterford Co Museum

The bridge, which was many years in the planning, was part of an initiative to link Waterford with Rosslare Port and thus speed the journey times between the South of Ireland and England/Wales.  As a concept, the railway line originated in 1864 and elements of the project were advanced in stages but it was not until the turn of the century that the project to span the river became realisable. 

New Ross Harbour Board had many concerns for the proposal of a bridge, as they wanted to ensure access to the port at all times.  At one point it appears that the plan was to bring the railway line to Passage East and that passengers would be ferried across the river.  If you think that’s bizarre consider this, designs existed from 1833.  Of course there are many unique solutions available to the engineering mind.

It was also conceived that the line would run along by the river at Snow hill (instead of through Drumdowney Hill) and cross to Great Island over the site where the Power Station now stands.  This would have certainly been an obstacle to the ESB in 1965.  However one of the formost engineers of his time, Sir Benjamin Baker, was employed to draw up plans that would suite the needs of both the railway and the Harbour Board. 

before the bridge was built
Photo courtesy of Tomás Sullivan

The plan that was accepted necessitated the tunnelling of Drundowney, and the provision of a opening section that allowed ships access and egress from New Ross port.  Both elements causing significant cost and engineering challenges. 

As said the Bridge would be 2131 feet in length and consist of 13 fixed spans mounted on twin 8 foot diameter cast iron cylinders filled with concrete.  11 spans would be 148 feet long and the two closest the opening would be 144 feet.  The opening had to be in the deepest part of the river channel, thus the Kilkenny side.  The bridge had to be 25feet above high water on the spring tides.

The railway would be a single track steel line. This would be built within the protective casing of a mild steel girder frame with cross trusses to provide stability.

One of the more detailed and trickiest engineering elements was the opening.  The opening span would be constructed on 4 pillars and would turn with an electric motor, situated on the pontoon around the pillars.  The opening had to pivot with an 80 Foot clearance allowing ships through. Inbound ships took the Wexford side of the opening, outbound, the Kilkenny side.

Tendering for the bridge commenced in late 1901 and was won by a Glaswegian firm – William Arrol & Co.  The winning bid was £109, 347 and work had commenced by June of 1902.  The main yard for supplies was based in Wellington Bridge Co Wexford and apparently the work was carried out from the Wexford side. 

work progresses circa 1903
sourced – John Power’s book (see ref below)

As it happens, one of the biggest issues was unforeseen in the tendering process.  The twin pillars onto which the spans were placed had to be laid on a foundation of the river bedrock.  However, as they proceeded out into the Barrow the depths got ever deeper and in some cases the workers had to dig to 108 feet below the mean water level. Such extra work added a cost of £12,000 to the bridge.

nearing completion April 1905

Not all costs were financial however.  My wife’s great grandfather John Bible who resided in the Waterside fell during the construction and damaged his spine.  He was listed in the 1901 census as an Iron Moulder and he recovered to an extent that he could move around without the use of his legs and went on to use his skills in the repair of musical instruments in Waterford city.  John was also a gifted  accordion player,  and according to family tradition went on to cut the first, or one of the first, records in the country.

Despite the challenges, construction went smoothly enough and as the photo above shows it was well advanced by April 1905.  Despite this, the bridge did not finally open until July 1906.  Closer to the date we will do a piece on the grand opening.

Thanks to
Ernie Shepard – The South Wexford Line.  Journal of the Bannow Historical Society (2013)
John Power – A Maritime History of County Wexford Vol 1(2011)
Julian Walton – a piece from WLR FM – On this day
Vic Bible, Faithlegg for his family recollection

I publish a blog each Friday.  If you like this piece or have an interest in the local history or maritime heritage of Waterford harbour and environs you can email me at russianside@gmail.com to receive the blog every week.
My Facebook and Twitter pages are more contemporary and reflect not just heritage 
and history but the daily happenings in our beautiful harbour:  

F https://www.facebook.com/whtidesntales  T https://twitter.com/tidesntales