Barrow Navigation Company

In recent weeks we’ve looked closely at the Waterford Steam Navigation Company and their river based service.  The feedback has been very positive, many contacting me to remark on how vibrant and busy the rivers were, and how important they were for transportation and trade. Its a theme that I have tried hard to showcase down the years.  This week in a somewhat related post I wanted to complement a previous guest blog by Leslie Dowley featuring the work boats of the Suir but talking about those boats on the River Barrow, the Barrow Navigation Company and a specific incident at Cheekpoint in 1864 highlighting the trade.

The Barrow Navigation Company was founded in 1792 (I did read a newspaper report dated 1790 stating its formation) and it purpose initially was to canalise the river to make it navigable for boats capable of carrying up to 40 tons.  They managed the river and canals which was funded through raising share capital at the outset and afterwards by tolls on lock gates etc.  Their primary focus at the outset appears to have been the river between Athy in Kildare and St Mullins, Carlow, the point at which the Barrow becomes tidal.

A typical craft involved in the early trade

These flat bottomed barge boats worked the tides where appropriate using oar power and poles, but a square sail was also carried and used when conditions were favourable.  I would imagine they could also be hauled by men or beasts or any other means once the freight got through.  The work of these boats and their handlers flourished until the coming of the railways.

The boats themselves would have travelled along the length of the Barrow calling to New Ross and of course carrying freight to Waterford.  As the farm produce of the area had a ready market in both towns, this level of trade was obvious.  Pigs traveled as far away as Tullow in Carlow for the pig buyers of Waterford and there was a ready market for the return journey of imported goods that came to Waterford or New Ross from abroad.  The Irish Waterways History gives a very interesting account of the numbers of boats and horses involved in the business in the late 19th C.

A good sense of the lighters operating above the Redmond Bridge in Waterford

The deeper waters of the lower Barrow and Suir were nothing new to these boatmen so perhaps an incident recorded in 1863 at Cheekpoint, is all the more surprising as a consequence.

The Barrow Navigation Company’s screw steamer tug Louisa of 30 tons with six men aboard departed Waterford on January 15th 1863 with two lighters (effectively barges), one either side.  The lighter on the port bow was laden with wheat, Indian corn and new rope.  The opposite lighter had 35 ton of coal.  The destination was the tidal reach of the barrow, St Mullins.

The Louisa got under way at 3am on a Friday morning in drizzling rain on an ebb tide, an hour from low water.  (An excellent time of tide, ebb to the meeting of the three sisters and a flood tide up the Barrow).  As the tug was expecting a regular steamer service sailing into port from Milford Haven a watch was posted and although she had no mast or rigging, lights were placed on a beam across her cook house for navigation purposes.  The steamer was seen just as they approached Cheekpoint under Snow Hill.

Coming upriver against the Louisa was the SS City of Paris.  Owned by Messrs. Ford and Jackson of Neyland, South Wales, the steamer had a regular sailing between Waterford and Milford Haven.  Rounding Cheekpoint that fateful morning the watch spotted a white light by Snowhill and as no other lights were spotted assumed that it was a ship at anchor and kept of their course which would take them well outside on the Waterford shore.  The Louisa of course was not at anchor but steaming steadily to beat the tide and gain the Barrow.

Both vessels kept their courses and too late the City of Paris realised that it was not a ship at anchor and that her course was bearing down.  It would later be revealed in court that neither vessel ported on time and that there was no effort on the steamer to reverse engines or indeed slow her speed.  In the resulting collision one of the lighters was totally lost, the other partially damaged.  The Louisa limped back to Waterford  with a damaged bow and rudder, her remaining lighter half sunk.  It would appear the City of Waterford was relatively undamaged.

In a time honoured fashion the matter would end up in court, the ruling of which were appealed and counter argued. So much so that I’m not 100% sure how it all transpired but the initial ruling did favour the City of Paris finding the lights of the Louisa to be insufficient for navigation.

Given the competition they were facing, I’m sure the company could ill afford the loss of her cargo.  But they endured.  In 1894 the Barrow Navigation Company merged with the Grand Canal Company, probably as a means of sharing costs and competing against the railways.  Ironically this new company was subsumed into Córas Iompair Éireann in 1950.  CIE at the time was the umbrella for all manner of transport.  However, you will see no mention of the canals or the river freight on their modern website.

Much of the information contained on the Barrow Navigation company is taken from this article featured on the Barrow Cruisers Website:

The detail on the City of Paris / Louisa incident was accessed from various newspaper accounts of the time, but primarily: the Freemans Journal 24.3.1864

Another link which I did not use but reads very well:

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