This coming September marks the 11th anniversary of the last passenger train to use the SW Wexford railway line and the Barrow Railway Viaduct. The bridge is Irelands longest rail bridge but it would appear that this September may see another regressive step taken on the railway line – plans are afoot to close off the bridge and allow a span for shipping to remain open.
The Barrow Railway Viaduct crosses the river Barrow between Drumdowney in Co Kilkenny and Great Island in Co Wexford, a distance of 2131 feet. The bridge which opened in July 1906 was the final piece that connected the railway lines of the South of Ireland via Waterford to Rosslare Harbour and the cross channel ferry service.
Plans for the bridge were drawn up by Sir Benjamin Barker and work commenced in 1902 after a tender of £109, 347 was won by Sir William Arrol & Co of Glasgow. The initial stages of the work went well. However, the twin pillars onto which the spans were placed had to be laid on a foundation of the river bedrock. As they proceeded out into the Barrow (from the Great Island side) the depths they had to dig to reach bedrock got ever deeper and in some cases workers had to dig to 108 feet below the mean water level. Such extra work added a cost of £12,000 to the bridge
Due to the needs of New Ross Harbour Commissioners, a swivel opening span was created to allow entry and egress to the inland port. This span was constructed on 4 pillars and originally turned with an electric motor (now mains), situated on the pontoon around the pillars. The opening pivots with an 80 foot clearance allowing ships to pass.
On completion, the bridge was 2131 feet long. It consisted 13 fixed spans mounted on twin 8-foot diameter cast iron cylinders filled with concrete. 11 spans are 148 feet long and the two closest to the opening are 144 feet. The bridge is 25 feet above high water on the spring tides. The railway is a single-track steel line, built within the protective casing of a mild steel girder frame with cross trusses to provide stability.
On the 18th of September 2010, a final special event train traveled the line before closure. The end of the sugar beet trade spelled the end, passenger numbers were already low. Many argued at the time that it was the timetable that was the issue. In the intervening years, a plan was put forward to turn the line into a greenway to try to mirror the success of other areas, not least in Waterford. Another group South East On Track has argued that there are compelling reasons to maintain the line for rail.
However recently I read that I read with disappointment an exchange between Wexford TD Verona Murphy and Minister of State Colm Brophy on the Barrow Railway Bridge, and specifically the opening span. It would appear that for pragmatic reasons the span is to be left in the opening position as a means of reducing costs on Iarnród Éireann. Subsequent to an all Island of Ireland rail review, this may be reversed. However, my concern is that this is misguided as a cost-saving measure for the following reasons:
1. The opening apparatus is virtually unchanged from the system first employed in the construction in 1906. To my mind, notwithstanding how clever such engineers were, and how remarkably resilient the turning mechanism is, will the lack of use of this may lead to its decay? If this were to happen the cost would surely be significant, perhaps outweighing any perceived savings.
2. The opening span was never designed to be left open. When closed it is securely fastened or locked into position on either side to the existing bridge, ensuring the optimum position for holding it in place. If allowed open the weight will no longer be displaced but directed downwards onto the foundation, and also leaving it at the mercy of tides and wind. Again, any shift in this swinging arm, will incur a massive cost to repair. Has there been any independent engineering assessment of this? And if it proceeds could not some extra support be provided to each side of the track to hold it in place securely?
Barrow Bridge is still a fully functioning piece of transport infrastructure, an architectural gem, and a heritage feature. But as a country that seems to be awash with money for the right kind of project, have we progressed so little as a state that a building such as this could be threatened with such an act of sheer vandalism because it saves a few quid? The Poolbeg chimneys in Dublin, built in the 1960s, are considered a treasure worth millions to preserve. Surely a unique and functional piece of transport infrastructure deserves more consideration by a state agency and its citizens. “Penny Wise, Pound Foolish” comes to mind.
Concluding our examination of the placename Halfway House today, we showcase another wonderful building on the site, the commercial Ice House- the fridge freezer of the 19th Century. It utilised frozen water as a cooler area and a preservative for foodstuff – and my own theory is that the building was part of an operation in the proliferation of scotch weirs in nearby King’s Channel.
The commercial Ice House is a circular build, approximately 20 ft in diameter on the inside and over 30 feet high. I asked my good pal Andrew Lloyd aka fellow blogger (Bob the scientist) for a back of an envelop calculation on the capacity based on my measurements. Volume = πr2h =π×32×10 =90π = 280 cu.m. 280 tonnes of water or 260 tonnes of ice. That’s a lot of ice. ( I may have overestimated the size, but even half of that is a lot of ice!)
In design terms, the wall to the South, which would have taken the most sun was six feet wide in the past and was of cavity construction. Most designs have a preference for thatched roof and the entrance to the tower was a door near the roof and accessed from the present garden of the Kenny family home on the Passage Road. This entranceway is north facing and would have had some protecting cover too, and possibly a number of feet back from the door to keep the air out. I’m only speculating on this point having read of the design of other buildings. I examined the area there some years back with Mrs Kenny and I could find nothing of a permanent nature like stone or brick, so if there was protection, it must have been timber. (Mrs Kenny told me that she didn’t know much of the operation, except that the ice came by boat via the Pill)
Ice pits are often referred to in describing such facilities, but I think this may refer to such houses buried into the ground. The Halfway house example is built into the hill which gives a certain amount of insulation. The crucial part of such buildings was drainage, any melted ice had to be free to drain away, as ice sitting in water melted faster. The better compacted the ice was the slower it melted (think of a snowman and how slowly it melts away, even after the snow has gone from the ground) I’ve read that ice properly stored in such chambers could last years.
Dating the tower
No one seems to know the date it was built. I find it interesting that when travel writer and social commentator Arthur Young visited in 1796 and again in 1798 that he failed to mention it, suggesting it is a later build. This is also suggested by the Richard and Scales map, but the building does show up on the later historic maps. I can find no written mention of the building or newspaper reference, so as unsatisfactory as it is we can only speculate that it was between the dates of Youngs visits and the historic maps series. My own personal opinion is that is sometime between 1810-1825. According to the information board at Jack Meades, the only known documentation associated with it was that a J Crawford was leasing the Ice House in 1853 at £2 per annum. Two John Crawfords were listed in Griffiths Valuations as running stores in the city at High St. Possibly relations or one in the same.
Purpose of the Ice House
Some have suggested it served a similar function to its smaller neighbour in Faithlegg, providing for the several big houses in the locality such as Ballycanvan, Mount Druid, Brook Lodge, the Blenheim houses, etc. I find this doubtful because of the quantity of ice that could potentially be stored. If full it would have been many multiples the capacity of the Faithlegg House building. My own theory has always been, that the Ice House was to assist with the Scotch Weir Fishery, in much the same way that the commercial ice houses at Lismore were used to preserve salmon from the Blackwater.
Although Ice as a means of preservation had been in practice for centuries, in the western world it had its limits. This was because if fish was placed on a block of ice it would fuse with it and become damaged and worthless. As a result, the ice was used to cool an area in ice houses, basements, or other areas, and indirectly kept the fish fresh. That was until the 1780s when a hydrographer of the East India Company returned to London with a technique he had “discovered”. Alexander Dalrymple was traveling in China when he spotted a perfectly fresh sea fish hundreds of miles from the coast. Puzzled he asked how this could be. He was introduced to a technique of fish preservation – chopped-up ice which could be used to cover fish, but which did not fuse with the flesh. Harvested in winter, the ice was stored in “snow houses” and had been used throughout China for centuries.
Salmon fishing had a long history, but pressure on stocks was minimal, as it could only be consumed fresh in local areas. This new preserving technique, coupled with the development of rail transport, led to a big demand for fresh salmon particularly in the new urban towns and cities of England’s Industrial Revolution. It created an explosion in salmon fishing in Scotland initially which quickly spread to Ireland. The fishing technique employed became known as the scotch weir method or stake net and it also enhanced (or corrupted) a traditional weir fishing practice allowing for much more fish to be trapped.
Where did the ice come from
Ice was originally sourced from local streams or such streams were diverted into low-lying fields or marshes where it froze on frosty nights and was harvested the following morning. In Waterford, we have two placenames associated with this practice – Ice Fields. I have speculated before that the local marshes with the low-lying level ground would have been ideal.
An ice trade developed from America in the 1840s and from Norway in the 1850s. This Block Ice was cut from natural sources in wintertime and exported directly or stored until summer when prices might be higher.
From newspaper sources, it’s clear that the ice coming into Waterford was imported directly on what was commonly called Norwegian Ice Ships. But it was also transhipped and there are many mentions in the later 19th Century of part cargos of ice aboard many of the steamers operating regularly to Waterford such as the SS Dunbrody and from ports which included Milford, Bristol, London, and Liverpool.
In May of 1875, Mr. Stephen’s monthly engineers report to the Harbour Board mentioned that the progress with the 2nd section of cutting (dredging) from the bridge had been impeded because of large ice ships discharging where the dredger was at work.
Apart from my own knowledge of the icebox on the Barrow and a similar-sized Ice House in New Ross (Kelly’s Wood), the newspapers also mention one on the Manor in the city and two associated with pig production. One at Williams St and the other in Upper Morgan St, where the Hyper Market is now located. Both of these latter sites were of a different design and were built above the pig curing facility in the plants. The ice was placed on iron-clad floors above these subterranean chambers and the cold penetrated the floor. It was only required in summer but kept the meat cool as it hung for several weeks.
A description of the Queens Bacon Factory in Upper Morgan St is given here in brief “a huge assemblage of buildings, perched on an airy height where cabbages grew until two enterprising northerners – the late Messers Richardson- covered it eleven years ago with their killing and curing houses…2000 swine bask in the disused sawdust in pens in the yard, the sawdust is used to insulate the ice in the ice house from the heat of the roof slates…700 tons of Norweigan block ice is housed in a loft over the curing floors of the factory. They are laid out on a floor of iron and insulated by sawdust from the heat of the slates. The ice diffuses through the floor to the cooling houses below an even temperature of about 40 degrees. The pigs are there cooled and pickled from 10 to 20 days, according to the temperature of the season. The final stage of the process is that the meat is packed before being exported either by the GWR Co to Milford or via the Waterford Companys Liverpool trade…” Waterford Standard – Wednesday 24 January 1877; page 3
I also found an account of one accident associated with the ice ships – “On Tuesday morning a man named Lannigan, employed board the Seagull, ice ship, unloading at the Market House Quay, fell into the hold and sustained injuries. It appears Lannigan, assisted by another man, was carrying a large block of ice, weighing over 400 pounds, when, as he was about laying it down catch a better grip, he toppled from the plank into the hold. His left temple is much cut, and one of his thighs broken. He was immediately taken to the Workhouse Hospital, where now lies in a precarious condition.” The Munster Express – Saturday 29 April 1871; page 2
End of the ice Trade
The Ice Trade as it was known lasted up to the first world war when the dangers associated with ships crossing the North Sea brought it to a close. Already plant ice (artificially manufactured ice) was replacing the natural cut block ice from about the 1870’s and eventually we would have fridges and freezers in our own homes. Exactly when the ice house at Halfway House ceased operation I cannot say, but it is likely to have been in the early 20th Century. Whenever it ended the building stands as a reminder of a very interesting and unique period of trade in our maritime history.
I have set up a dedicated page for Water Heritage Day this year. I will gather all the elements of the Halfway House story there and any links etc to the day. I also have a link to this event on the Heritage Week website which includes a link for a walk on Water Heritage Day on Sunday 22nd. Booking through eventbrite is essential.
I’m indebted to David Carroll for this On This Day contribution to the blog today August 19th 2021. In it, David, who has written several guest features, explores the near-tragedy that occurred this day in 1988. Thankfully the keen eyes of a child playing at Dunmore East led to a quick response and ensured that four lives were saved.
While researching and writing ‘Dauntless Courage’ – the history of the Dunmore East RNLI lifeboats, I came upon the official service report from the Dunmore East lifeboat station and subsequent newspaper reports of the rescue of four sailors from a Galway Hooker that sank in Waterford Harbour on Friday, August 19th, 1988.
Knowing that the ‘Galway Hooker’ holds iconic status in Ireland’s maritime heritage, culture, and identity, I was keen to obtain additional information to make an interesting inclusion for the book. What was the name of the hooker? What type of hooker was it? Was it a restored hooker from Connemara or maybe one built in the revival of these iconic vessels that was taking place on the East Coast of Ireland? Due to time constraints, and with some reluctance, I had to omit the story from the book but vowed to return to it at a later stage to obtain the missing details.
The Galway Hooker was the traditional boat of Galway built of strong and hardy oak to withstand the rough seas of the Atlantic. The boats were easily recognised by their strong sharp bow and sides that curve outwards. They have one mainsail and two foresails all on a single mast. It is a gaff-rigged sailing boat meaning the sail is four-cornered, fore-and-aft rigged, controlled at its peak by a pole called the gaff. Traditionally painted black with eye-catching red sails these beautiful boats are something to behold.
There are four types of Galway Hooker: Bád Mór (35–44 ft.) and the Leath Bhád or “half-boat” (28 ft.) These two larger vessels were used to transport turf across Galway Bay. Two smaller vessels are known as Gleoiteog and Púcán. Both are usually 24–28 ft. but are differently rigged. The gleoiteog has the same lines and rig as the larger hookers. These boats were used more commonly for transporting people and fishing.
The hooker that sank in Waterford Harbour in 1988 was a ‘gleoiteog’, one of the smaller hookers. From newspaper reports at the time, I knew that the owner of the vessel was Professor Ivan Cosby, a lecturer in International Affairs at a Japanese University but originally from Stradbally, Co. Laois.
For many people and especially music lovers, Stradbally is best known as the site that has hosted the award-winning ‘Electric Picnic’ arts and music festival held each year at the end of the summer since it began in 2004. Stradbally Hall has been the seat of the Cosby family since the reign of Edward VI.
My connection with Stradbally would be through my interest in cricket as the village is the home of Laois Cricket Club, where the members have laid out a new ground in a beautiful setting. To establish a ‘Stradbally link’, I contacted a great friend of the entire cricket community, Roland Bradley, the doyen of the Laois club and former President of Cricket Leinster. It just so happens that Tom Cosby, owner of Stradbally Hall, is also President of the cricket club and Roland very kindly put me in touch with him. This was the breakthrough that I was looking for! Tom, in turn, very kindly put me in touch with his Uncle Ivan, who now lives in retirement in the UK.
When I spoke to him by telephone, Professor Cosby could still vividly recall in detail, the unfortunate events of August 19th, 1988. He was also able to tell me about the gleoiteog, called ‘Mona ΙΙ’ and its brief history. Professor Cosby, told me, that he bought the gleoiteog in 1985 from Dennis Aylmer of Dún Laoghaire.
Mona ΙΙ had been built by Charlie Featherstone in Dún Laoghaire in 1979 for Dennis Aylmer, who was a Tea Buying Director of Lyons Tea. He also had a long involvement in the revival and restoration of Galway Hookers, stretching back to 1965. The Morning Star was a bád mór – the largest type of Galway Hooker – built circa 1890, and Dennis was one of the first people to restore a boat of this type and size. He still recalls the extraordinary tale of how he located and obtained the Morning Star in 1965, and managed the extensive restoration works involved. This story is even more remarkable because Dennis lived and worked in Dublin at the time, the Morning Star was in Connemara, and he had no means of transport other than his bicycle!
Mona ΙΙ was not a full hooker but a 22-foot gleoiteog, built on the scaled-down lines of the full hooker Morning Star. Being about two tons in weight, she could be trailed by road and over the next few summers, Dennis would bring her over to the West and take on the local boats at the races in Connemara including the famous Kinvara Festival. Dennis told me: “The best I could do in the races was second. I could never beat the legendary master hooker skipper Pat Jennings of Galway. By the time we got to Athlone, the message would get through to the West that “the Dublin boat is coming!”, and this all added to the fun”.
Dennis Aylmer told me that he was very saddened when he heard of Mona ΙΙ being lost in Waterford Harbour in 1988 in deep water with all sails set and was never recovered. He had a lot of knowledge about the event. His recollection was that the gleoiteog was hit by a considerable gust which laid her over, and Professor Cosby was unable to react quickly enough to let fly the main. Perhaps he did do so, but it may not have been sufficient. Being an open boat, as soon as the water came over the beam the chances of recovery would have been minimal. Very wisely, Professor Cosby had a life-raft aboard, which floated clear, and they were able to get into it, otherwise, there could have been a serious tragedy. Dennis also has a recollection that a little girl was playing in her garden in a house at Dunmore East, and was watching MonaII, and ran in to tell her parents about it. Having gone out again, she saw the boat had disappeared and said there was a little orange boat floating nearby (which was the life-raft). Her parents then came out into the garden and realised there could have been a problem and raised the alarm.
From the official Service Report for the ‘shout’ recorded by Dr Brendan O’Farrell, Honorary Secretary of Dunmore East RNLI, it looks as if the girl may have been in the house next to his own one. The girl would now be an adult and one is left wondering if she can still recall the events of that day in August 1988, thirty-three years ago?
Dr O’Farrell in his report states that the lifeboat cleared the harbour mouth within four and a half minutes of the first maroon being launched. Coxswain John Walsh was away on pilot duty, so John Murphy, hearing the maroons dashed to the Waveney class relief lifeboat Arthur and Blanche Harris 44-006, to take the helm. Crewmembers onboard were Mechanic Seán Kearns, his son Hugh and Frances Glody. The lifeboat left her moorings at 12.05hrs in a fresh SW wind that was described as force 6-7 by the lighthouse keepers at Hook Head. Conditions were moderately choppy. High water had been at 10.15hrs. Speed was of the essence. One of the oars of the raft was lost in the capsize, so the survivors were not able to make much progress with one oar. This is not a situation that you would wish for when you are remarkably close to the rugged shoreline near Hook Head.
Writing in the Cork Examiner on the following day, Saturday, August 20th, 1988, journalist Richard Dowling (later of RTE) described how the skipper of the gleoiteog Professor Cosby, and three unnamed English companions scrambled aboard their life-raft as the hooker foundered in rough seas off Dunmore East. The gleoiteog had been taken down the River Barrow from Stradbally to Waterford Harbour and had sailed for about two miles across to Hook Head where they capsized.
The lifeboat reached the survivors at 12.25hrs and arrived back to Dunmore East at 12.40hrs. By 12.50hrs, the lifeboat had been re-fuelled and was back on station. The entire rescue operation had taken less than one hour.
Dr O’Farrell, Dunmore East RNLI Honorary Secretary was fulsome in his praise for the lifeboat crew. In his report, he noted: “Very quick efficient work on the part of crew and Acting Coxswain.” The newspaper reports also tell us that Professor Cosby praised the lifeboat crew for their efficient rescue. He described the whole incident as a “tremendous disappointment.” The records at the Dunmore East lifeboat station show that a very generous donation was made to the RNLI in recognition of the rescue.
It is always sad when a boat that has given so much pleasure to its owners and was also very much representative of Ireland’s maritime heritage is lost at sea. However, we continue to be truly grateful to the RNLI that no loss of life took place in August 1988 as is the case in countless other occasions around the coasts of Great Britain and Ireland.
I wish to thank Brendan Dunne and Dunmore East RNLI for allowing me to access their archives to view the service report from August 1988. Over a long period, a number of other persons showed great courtesy to me when I contacted them in connection with this story and I would like to acknowledge their kind assistance: Brian Ellis and Padraic Ó Brolchain of the Irish National Maritime Museum, Cormac Lowth, Dennis Aylmer, Dr Mick Brogan of Kinvara, Roland Bradley of Laois Cricket Club, Brian Kenrick, Tom Cosby, Ivan Cosby, Nicholas Leach (‘ Lifeboats Past and Present’), Michael Kennedy (Dunmore East shipwright).
As always I am most grateful to Andrew Doherty for inviting me to share my stories on ‘Waterford Harbour Tides and Tales’.
Halfway House has one of the most densely populated sites of Lime Kilns that I know of. Its location on the tidal Pill was crucial. Kilns were built to produce quicklime which had a variety of uses in agriculture and rural living in the 18th & 19th centuries. The operation of the kilns was a tough, physical task, but it could also be deadly as one young woman found to her cost at Halfway House.
What is a Lime Kiln?
A lime kiln is a structure used to break down limestone rock using heat, to create quicklime powder. Or for the calcination of limestone (calcium carbonate) to produce calcium oxide. The chemical equation for this reaction is CaCO3 + heat → CaO + CO2. The kilns sites we have remaining in the harbour are based on a similar design and probably date from the mid 18th century. Each kiln is of a relatively uniform size 25-30 ton capacity. The type we have can be described as “Draw Kilns”. There are a number of single burning kilns, but at Half Way House double kilns are in evidence, ie two separate fire chambers, which assisted the burning process, as the heat from the first burn was retained by the brick and stone, which aided a more efficient burn in the next chamber. There is also a triple nearby that I am aware of.
Why site them close to water?
The kilns are sited close to water, as the limestone which was burned, was generally ferried by the river. The lime was quarried from Grannagh in South Kilkenny and from there it would journey around the harbour and along the rivers and tributaries on the Suir and Barrow. The boats used to carry the stone were termed Lighters. These had a three-man crew; one held the tiller and two pushed the flat bottomed craft along using poles or used large oars called sweeps. The crew also loaded and unloaded the craft and were paid by the ton load, back-breaking work it must be said.
As we saw previously, the Pill is tidal up to the Bridge and could also be dammed by the sluice gate on the old salt water mill. Once above the sluice, the Lighters would have been able to navigate with their loads (30 tons was an average load from what I have read) beaching them as close to the kilns as possible.
Dating the kilns
One of the earliest maps I have of the area, the Richards & Scales map of 1764 shows the Salt Mill but very little else on the Pill or stream. I can’t say that it is 100% accurate, but with such a large number of kilns, it is perhaps strange that they were omitted if they were then on the Pill. I also reread the account of the visit of Arthur Young. A Tour in Ireland, with general observations on the present state of that kingdom in 1776–78. Young only mentions kilns in an offhand manner, and then to say the Waterford is producing slat in pans placed over the lime kilns. What it suggests to me is that the kilns were commonplace, but frustratingly there is no clue of where these kilns are located.
My hunch is that the kilns date from this era. Young stayed with the Boltons at Ballycanvan during his stay, landlords of the area. Cornelius Bolton Jnr showed him around the estate and Young is complimentary of their tenure seeing them as progressive landlords, open to scientific methods and productive land management. The lands are mixed with cattle, dairy, and arable including barley, corn, and oats. Cornelius would later go on to build a new house at Faithlegg (now the hotel) and use his influence as MP to draw further investment to the area. What I can say for certain is that the kilns were shown on the first of our historic map series, and elsewhere in this account you will see an advert highlighting that the kilns were in operation (or at least some of them were) in 1824.
Operation of the Kilns
A kiln to all intents and purposes is an oven. The oven is within the overall structure and is called a chamber, basically egg shaped, with the top cut off. The chamber was loaded with a charge initially – something flammable such as furze or very dry timber which would get the fire going. Onto this, the layers of limestone were added (generally fist-sized to allow the fire and heat to rise, but not so big that it would not be heated through) with an extra layer of firing material to keep the chamber burning (three to five layers of stone to one layer of firing material). The fuel could be more timber but coal or coal slack (Calum) was also used – another material transported by water.
The fire was lit from the base through an eye or draw hole. The draw holes also allowed more air in if required or could be blocked to slow the burning down. Once lit the fire had to be monitored and controlled, A burn could take two or three days and the lime had to cool before being drawn off.
The burnt lime was drawn out of the chamber and if required some stone could be broken up before being barrelled or loaded into carts to be delivered to farms or homes.
Although there are several single kilns in the area the visible kilns at Halfway House are double Kilns. Doubles were more efficient as the heat from one burn, stayed in the stone building, A second chamber was thus already heated up which meant that the process was more efficient. As one burned a second could be prepared. There is also a triple kiln on the Pill, more efficient again.
Uses of Lime
Although quick lime has a variety of uses, I think we can assume that the principal use of the kilns at Halfway House was as an agricultural fertiliser. It was(is) used for acidic soils and can improve the root system of grass and plants. It has a good benefit in milk production and also allows arable crops to absorb more nutrients.
That said, lime had a variety of other uses in the past, and growing up the use of limewash on buildings gave Irish dwelling houses, outbuildings, and walls their traditional white appearance. Lime has been used in buildings since the time of the Egyptians, and lime mortar and lime plastering were used up to relatively modern times in the building trade. Indeed it still is used in traditional building renovations and enhancements and apparently is making a comeback for example in eco-building and sustainable construction, along with the advent of new materials such as hempcrete walling
I remember my grandmother’s brother Paddy Moran using lime to clean a well on the strand close to Moran’s Poles. Whenever it got tainted by saltwater Paddy would clean it out (usually it happened on high tides and leaves, seaweed, etc would get into it) and then put lime atop the water which was left until it had settled into the bottom and the water was crystal clear again.
My grandmother used it as a way of neutralising the smell when she emptied the dry toilet in the dung heap. I also heard of it being spread of corpses after mass burials – for example as a way of controlling plague. Although I was surprised to read, that the quicklime doesn’t actually help in the decaying process, rather it neutralises the smell, which is obviously a plus when you consider the smell of rotting and decomposing bodies!
Dangers associated with the kilns
Now speaking of bodies, Lime Kilns were decidedly dangerous to be around. While burning, the structures emitted noxious fumes which were prone to overcoming the inattentive. Another issue was that the sides of the chamber were of necessity smooth, in order that the burned lime would drop down to the base. If you were unfortunate to fall in, there was no way to extricate yourself.
A casual look at the local newspapers of the early 19th Century reveals a catalogue of countrywide accidents associated with them. For example in May 1824 a stranger was found dead beside a burning kiln at Carlow, having been drawn to the heat at night. While asleep he inhaled the fumes and was suffocated. Three children were burnt to a cinder when they fell into a kiln in Kilgarvan Co Kerry in September 1829. Earlier that year two Tipperary farmers (a father and son) died in a kiln after they tried to rescue a pig that had fallen in. The father tried and became overcome, his son leaped into his aid. The incidents were so common it was chilling. Tramps tried to heat themselves at night, others tried to cook potatoes beside them, while for others it was just an attempt to dry themselves or find shelter. And unfortunately, the kilns at Jack Meades proved fatal too.
The Waterford Mail of Saturday 10 April 1830; page 4 had this account: “Wednesday evening, an inquest was held at Halfway-house (midway between this city and Passage) Mr. Sherin, coroner. The body of Catherine Colbert which was found on the preceding morning in a lime kiln, a verdict returned of ‘ died by suffocation’ It supposed that she was intoxicated on Monday and had fallen into a small river adjoining and that she went on the kiln for the purpose of drying her clothes (her petticoat being found on the top of the kiln) and by some accident fell in, and the kiln being only partly filled and partially lighted, she was suffocated by the noxious steam. No marks of violence were found on the body” A very sad account, and I have not heard of the surname in the area.
Kilns caused death in other ways too. The Waterford Mail of 1825 for example related that at the Carlow Azzies Michael Forrester was found guilty of murder and sentenced to execution after he had thrown John Carey into a burning lime kiln.
Perhaps not surprisingly people were cautious about the location of kilns. For example at the Waterford City Sessions in July 1828 a case was taken by several inhabitants of William Street and surrounding neighbourhoods against a newly erected lime kiln worked by Nicholas Devereux. They argued that it should be removed because it was within 100 feet of the centre of the road, contrary to the express words of and act governing such buildings (71st section of the 31st Geo. HI. chap. 71) The court found that their case was just, but judgement was held over. I don’t know their exact concerns but the court later ruled that the act was not a deterrent to these particular lime kilns.
And of course, for others, the kilns were a positive as this ad for the Halfway House area highlights.
We will conclude our online tour of Halfway House this coming Friday. It will showcase my favorite heritage building in the area; the commercial Ice House.
I have set up a dedicated page for Water Heritage Day this year. I will gather all the elements of the Halfway House story there and any links etc to the day. I also have a link to this event on the Heritage Week website which includes a link for a walk on Water Heritage Day on Sunday 22nd. Booking through eventbrite is essential.
Last week we looked at the operation of a saltwater mill, which harnessed the tides to power a mill wheel to grind local corn. This week, we will look at another innovative water-powered wheel, but this time it was freshwater, harnessed by man.
Just off the main Waterford to Cheekpoint road is a derelict building that is often mistaken as a castle. It’s actually a water-driven corn mill. I have no information on the date of the building, although I speculated before that it may be mid 19th century, really that is only a guesstimate. Looking at the old historic maps gives a bit more of an insight.
One of the earliest (6 inch map drawn between 1829-1841) gives us the name Newport corn mill, presumably of the banking and political family. At the time of the Griffiths Valuation (1847-64), Thomas and William Manning were leasing a house and extensive mill property from Simon Newport valued at £31. A later map (25″ drawn between 1897-1913) gives us Brook Lodge Mill, after the nearby house. I also read accounts in the contemporary newspapers of the late 19th and early 20th Century called it Halfway House Mill. When I was growing up, I only heard it referred to as Delahunty’s, the last operator of the mill.
It always seems to evoke the quintessential image of a mill site in the era of the horse-drawn carriage, bringing crops to be milled on the site via the small country lanes. The walled boundary, gates, the related buildings which included living accommodation, a piggery and one of the maps shows the Post Office on the site.
I mentioned already that some think the ruins are of an old castle. Another common misconception is that the stream that flows between the mill and the Ballyvoreen Road is the water source of the mills power. Strictly speaking, it is not. You see the mill was built at a time when greater engineering enhancements were being employed in the design and construction. In order to maximise the productivity of the mill, a water source was drawn from a man-made pond about 300 yards upstream on the Brook Lodge estate.
To get the water to the mill a “leat” or “headrace” was constructed by embanking stone and clay in a winding channel. Builders preferred to cut into an existing incline which automatically created one boundary, the other constructed out of the clay and stone that was excavated. The present stream we see is fed by a spillway of the dam, to release the excess water.
Once ahead of water was built up, and there was corn to be milled, the water was released into the headrace and it coursed down to the mill and was directed over the wheel (overshot)to drive the gears and belts that milled the corn. Wheels which were fed by water from atop were much more economical to run, perhaps 3 times more efficient than undershot wheels. Another particular feature of the mill was that the mill wheel was actually contained within the Mill, not on the side. The water then ebbed away down the tailrace where it disappears under the main road through a second arch in the bridge. Despite searching and asking locally I could find very little about the actual operation at the site.
Previously when conducting a guided tour, a gentleman related a sad account of the loss of a relative who was drowned in the pond at Brook Lodge. If I recollect it accurately it was the son of the mill operator at the time, Delahunty, and two other teenage boys from the locality. I found a few accounts in the local papers subsequently. The three young men were Edward Delahunty (18) of Brook Lodge and brothers David (20) and Thomas (18) Murphy of Brook Lodge. They had gone swimming at 7.30 pm on Wednesday 13th June 1900 and from the accounts, it would appear that Edward got into difficulties, and each of the Murphy brothers who tried to assist suffered a similar fate. Their bodies were recovered at 1 am on Thursday after the pond was drained. A public fund was later set up for the widow Murphy whose “means of support have now been taken from her”
I found a very interesting piece on the mills of Waterford in 1903, which records that Delahuntys Mill was still in operation then, although milling oats only. (I am including the whole piece at the end to the curious reader, of which I know there will be many ). At about the time that the article was written a new grain silo had been built on Waterford’s North Quays, harnessing water again; this time a deep water location allowing for the importation of grain. The large industrial mill (Waterford Flour Mills) at RH Halls on Waterford North Quays came into operation in the 1930s and I would imagine that Delahunty’s became commercially non-viable not long after. Again for the curious reader, an excerpt from David Carroll is included below on this operation.
The late Eddie Delahunty of Kilcullen told me previously that he could recall as a youngster being at the mill and remembered the clanking of the machinery and the hauling away of bags of milled oats by horse and cart. Eddie thought at the time, that this was during the “Emergency Era” or Second World War and that the mill had been closed but reactivated. The reality of almost all technology is that it has a finite lifespan. The salt mill became redundant due as much to silt as the slowness and unproductive nature of tidal power on the Pill. Delahunty’s despite its advancements was outstripped by newer designs and enhancements and a need for economies of scale.
We will have two blogs next week. On Thursday David Carroll will guest blog on a rescue off the Waterford coast by the Dunmore East RNLI in an On This Day slot. On Friday I will complete the Halfway House segment with some new research on the Ice House and the Limekilns on the site.
The following article from the Waterford Standard – Wednesday 14 October 1903; page 4 is included here in full for the interest of readers who would like to know more detail on the mills in operation in the area at the time. “A number of mills, which at one time ground flour, now only work in maize or Indian corn and oats, which are ground into meal. My return is based on information derived from the best possible sources, and I have done all I could to ensure its accuracy. There are besides those mentioned number of ruined mills scattered through district. White Brothers’ mill was one of the largest flour mills in Ireland, and the premises which are dismantled and used as stores are now the possession of Messer’s R and H Hall, Limited. Brown’s, Farrell’s, and Pouldrew Mills do a very extensive trade, and are fitted with the most up-to-date machinery. The following is a detailed list Waterford City—White Bros.’ Mill, O’Connell street, closed about 15 years ago; Finn’s Mill, O’Connell-street, closed ; Finn’s Mill, Johnstown, at present meal only. Waterford County Delahunty’s Mill, Brook Lodge, Cowes Mill, Old Tramore Road ; Cowes Mill, New Tramore Road; Walshe’s Mill, Kilmacthomas; Flahavan’s Mill, Kilmacthomas—these five at present grind oats only. Corrig Castle Mills, closed; Pouldrew Mill, Kilmeaden, extensive steam and water power, flour and meal. Kilkenny County—Kelly’s, Copeland’s, Strange’s, Loughrea’s, Freeman’s, and Duggan’s, all Kilmacow, the first three closed, remainder grinding oats only ; Kennedy’s, Glasshouse, grinding oats only; Brown’s. Kilmacow, extensive flour and meal. Farrell’s. Kilmacow, flour and meal; Cronin’s, Kilmacow, flour and meal; Gaul’s Mills, flour and meal”
I’m indebted to David Carroll for the following details on Halls. One of the final remnants of Waterford’s proud shipping heritage was the R & H Hall grain store on the city’s North Quays. Built in 1905, the building was built by William Friel, the Waterford Harbour Commissioners engineer, whose remarkable career extended from the 1890s to the 1960s. The building was designed by French engineer Francois Hennebique, using steel-reinforced concrete. R & H Hall was founded in Cork as far back as 1839 and quickly became one of the leading suppliers of animal feed in the country. In 1935 Waterford Flour Mills (WFM) was built. Government policy at the time was crucial. They wanted imports of flour eliminated and huge incentives were given to grow the native milling industry which consisted mainly of small rural units. WFM was part of this regeneration and was a fine modern complex completely new and fitted out with latest technology. Being next to R& H Hall was crucial as foreign wheat could be drawn across on a conveyor system. No road transport required. This was a major advantage. The inclusion of Canadian wheat ( from the Manitoba Province) was essential to mill flour for breadmaking as the protein content of native wheat was insufficient. Native wheat, on its own, was fine for flour for cakes and biscuits but not for bread so a blended mix of imported / native wheats were used, known as the ‘grist’. IAWS, who at this stage were the owners of R & H Hall sold the property in 2005, the final piece was sadly demolished in 2018.
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