The 1829 River Steamer Eclipse

On Thursday 16th March 2023 I was delighted to give an illustrated talk in Ballyhack on the Paddle Steamers’ service that ran from New Ross and Duncannon to Waterford from 1836/7 to 1917.  The steamers carried passengers and freight, provided day trips on summer Sundays, and were involved in numerous other activities including towage and salvage.  However, in researching the talk I discovered a much earlier steamer on the New Ross run, by almost 10 years, the paddle steamer Eclipse.

The story starts in May of 1829, when the Waterford Mail newspaper carried an article that outlined a public meeting held at the local courthouse in the port of New Ross on Thursday 14th May.  The meeting acknowledged that the new river service to run from the town to Waterford was a “…measure of great public utility…” and those attending resolved to “…pledge ourselves to give all the support and encouragement in our power towards promoting the success of this establishment.”  The service was to commence with daily sailings at 8 am, returning to the town at 4 pm. 

Waterford Mail – Saturday 16 May 1829; page 1

A number of ships and steamers of the era shared this name including a regular on the Belfast to Glasgow run.  The first mention of the Eclipse in this area was reported at Passage East on 10th May 1829 having arrived in ballast from Bristol.  There the master was recorded as Dando, elsewhere as Captain William Dando.  Presumably, this was the arrival of the vessel to service the new route. An internet search strongly suggests that the Eclipse was a newly built ship in 1828 by William Scott shipbuilders, was 31 tons, powered by side paddle wheels, and rigged for sail as a schooner. Any other details post-publication appreciated.

A local advertisement stated that fares were 1 shilling 6d for a cabin one way, and 1 shilling for the deck.  Passengers could apply on board or via the ship’s agent Anthony Jackson.  Interestingly, the ship was also open to responding to signals from the shore to call in and collect passengers from “…any suitable place…”.  Passengers could expect the “…utmost possible accommodation…” aboard.  Jackson was an agent based in Waterford.  Patrick Magee acted on her behalf in New Ross. 

A report in the Waterford Mail of mid-May was effusive in praise for this new venture, seemingly a private enterprise by an Englishman, possibly Captain Dando himself.  The article records perhaps the first sailing of the Eclipse stating that the “…beautiful little steamer…arrived at the quay at ten o’clock…from Ross with between twenty and thirty passengers, performing the voyage which is eighteen miles, in two hours. This vessel is quite new and has been brought over from Bristol to see if she can made to answer on our river.”  The steamer was warmly greeted as apparently “…The present road is quite abominable —rough, and all up and down hill, so much so that the nominal riders per car are very frequently in the predicament of our countryman in the bottomless sedan-chair, who said, if it war’n’t for the honour of the thing, he’d as live walk…”   The scribe states that another benefit is that the steamer is quick in comparison, has “plenty of room for stowage… a snug cabin” and to top it off the  “…scenery up the Nore and Barrow, though little known, is really some of the most picturesque and beautiful in Ireland…”  

An image used in advertisements, however this is most probably a generic image. It would certainly fit the bill in terms of standard design, two side wheels, a belching funnel, and sails in case of breakdown.

I could find no details on the freight types or the costs.  Of interest to me was to find that already what became a crucial financial earner to the later paddle steamers was also a feature of the Eclipse – the Sunday excursions or special events trips.  On Sunday 31st of May 1829, residents of Waterford and the harbour were advised that the Eclipse would depart the city at 10 am en route to Dunmore East for the day, returning at 4 pm. Later in August a four-day regatta at Dunmore East had a daily connection via the Eclipse.   The fare seems rather expensive however, 5 shillings each way from Waterford to Dunmore, and 1 shilling each way to Ross = 12 shillings minimum.  

Worryingly, by late September 1829, a front-page advert in the Waterford Mail was advising the public of route curtailment and a fare increase!  The “…intercourse between Ross and Waterford being more limited than originally intended.”  And although cabin rates stayed as was, the deck passengers now went from 1s to 1s 6d.  Children were half-price – a detail that I had not seen recorded before.  The steamer had an earlier return sailing to Ross at 3.30 pm – the changes to come into effect on Oct 1st.

In November an article praised the work of the Eclipse both in terms of the connection with passengers and freight but also in towage.  A large brig the 400-ton Agenoria had been towed up to the city from the harbour that week and another, the brig Drake had been towed from “…Ross to Waterford against wind and tide, at a rate of 5 miles an hour.” You can’t fault the editor and staff of the Waterford Mail for not trying to give assistance to the venture in fairness.

 Alas it was not to last, and I would think at the rates charged, it was proving very difficult for the ship.  In mid-November, an advert stated the ship was for sale, including all her machinery and stores.  Elsewhere an appeal was made for a local buyer to sustain the service which was considered crucial to the area.  The appeal was that the loss might not be easily replaced.   I’m open to correction but those words seem apt, as I am not aware of any other regular steamer on the route until the coming of the PS Shamrock.  Again as part of my research for the recent talk I found information that the Shamrock commenced in the summer of 1836, and not 1837 as I had believed for several years now. That service would run uninterrupted up to the last sailing of the Ida in July 1905.  A story we have delved into previously.    

Its been a busy time of events, and I look forward to my first talk in Dublin next week as a guest of Cormac Lowth and the Dublin Bay Old Gaffers Assoc. The talk will also be available live on Zoom at 8 p.m at
Meeting ID: 819 2821 0833
Passcode: 062219

I have a number of events planned for the coming year, please visit the Talks & Walks section of my website for details and booking. Our next event is fully booked up, this coming Sunday – a gentle stroll through the Faithlegg estate. However other dates are available. If you would like to subscribe to my monthly maritime blog, please complete the details below

New Ross Pilot Boat James Stevens

In December 2022 Walter Foley retired as pilot officer for New Ross. Walter had provided the service since my uncle Sonny retired at Cheekpoint in 1995. Walter actually mentioned to me that he took over the role on the first tide of January 1996, Sonny retiring on the last tide of 1995. In recent years Walter was based at Ballyhack using his pilot cutter Crofter, but originally had based himself at Great Island, until the wooden jetty became unusable, and it was later sold, I believe for a €1

Great Island Quay (with the wooden jetty on the left), Sonny used to collect a number of pilots from the jetty in order to drop them alongside a New Ross bound vessel, he also dropped them back to the quay if the ships were outbound. All locked up now, but the old quay remains accessible
Morning Star II, Sonny’s pilot boat at Cheekpoint in the 1990s. Photo courtesy of Catherine Heffernan White
Walter returning in the Crofter to Ballyhack after a pilot exchange in 2019.

Tomás Sullivan of Cheekpoint took over the Pilot Officer role and although the Crofter was available, the new management of the port in New Ross ( Wexford Co Council) decided on getting a different boat, which they called the James Stevens presumably after the lifeboat of the same name which was based at the then Rosslare Fort and assisted in the rescue of the SS Mexico in February 1914.

James Stevens

According to the Marine Traffic website, JAMES STEVENS (MMSI: 250013635) is a Pilot Vessel and is sailing under the flag of Ireland. Her length overall (LOA) is 12 meters and her width is 4 meters. Originally built as a Mersey class lifeboat, (the first model was built in 1988). The site describes her as being “Designed to be launched and recovered from a beach via a launch and recovery tractor and carriage, she can also be launched from a slipway or lie afloat.The Mersey was introduced into the RNLI fleet in 1988 and the last Mersey class lifeboat was built in 1993”

James Stevens is based in New Ross and travels down and up the river to make the pilot exchanges. The Port of Waterford had a similar arrangement many years back but it was discontinued. So we will watch that practice to see how viable it is.

Obviously there is a lack of detail with this post, including photos, but I plan to add to it as and when I can. I’d particularly like to get more detail on the history of the craft.

My first bit of video of the James Stevens passing Morans Poles, following a pilot transfer with the inbound Wilson Thames, Tuesday 21st March 2023. A stormy evening on a spring high tide

I occasionally write small pieces for my own record that I publish on the blog. These are a way of keeping a record for myself and a very different style to my monthly heritage blogs. So if you came across this and wondered what the heck…please look at my normal stuff before rushing to judgement

The Gladiator Mystery

In April 1898 some of the people of New Ross were disturbed to see what they understood to be a Royal Navy gunship, moored in the town with an intention to suppress the commemoration of the 1798 uprising.  But was this the real purpose of this ship, and where had it come from?  That’s what I had hoped to uncover with this story.

After a sick house over Christmas it was early January before we could get out and about and our first trip was to New Ross.  My wife had a message to conclude with Forrestal’s Jewellers, and while Deena joined a large queue inside the door, in an effort to maintain the male stereotype, I chose to have a jaunt around the town.  Using Myles Courtney’s walking guide – New Ross Street Focus of course.

Gladiator at New Ross 1898. Cavanagh Collection, J Fitzgibbon

Although there is always something to catch the eye in the town, (indeed I caused a bit of a twitter sensation with a crows foot post from the Quay which I hope to blog about soon) this time I dwelled on an old photo on a wall in Quay Street. 

The photo showed a paddle steamer tied up to a landing stage on the quay, and came via Jimmy Fitzgibbon from his wonderful collection of plate glass negatives from the Cavanagh Collection. Named the Gladiator, and in obvious immaculate condition, I could not help but wonder at the purpose of the vessel and the year in which it was taken.

A search online yielded a puzzling story from April 1898.  The New Ross Standard reported that the town of New Ross (or certain sections) was in turmoil over the vessel Gladiator.  Here’s the account:

A Survey Boat causes a sensation

The arrival at New Ross on Saturday of the HMS Gladiator, for the purpose of surveying the harbour appeared to give rise to an interesting misconception. Indeed, a good many queer folk jumped to the conclusion that it was in an armed cruiser bent on an unfriendly mission that had entered the port and this view of the situation they endeavoured to force down other people’s throats. Furthermore, the queer folk went so far as to conjecture that the invasion was planned in order to overawe, and if necessary, supress the ’98 celebrations in the town. Well, the mists have been cleared by this time, and the unnecessary anxiety has passed away, for New Ross will not be shelled after all. The officers and men of the Gladiator number thirty-six all told. It is understood that the process of surveying the harbour in its entirety will take about three months

New Ross Standard – Saturday 23 April 1898; page 4
Another image of the vessel, the Gladiator at the Fish House New Ross 1898. Cavanagh Collection, J Fitzgibbon

I fully expected to find out more about the proposed survey, especially if it was to take 3 months, but alas I was to be disappointed.  For no other mention could I find in the local papers, and I had never come across the name before or covered it in a blog.  I did find that the HMS was incorrect, the Gladiator was listed as both a tug and a HMSV (Her Majesty’s Survey Vessel) at different times in accounts online.  The ship was built of iron by Brassey & Co of Birkenhead in 1874. At the time of the survey work she was owned by E Griffiths Brothers & Co of Wallsea, at the mouth of the River Mersey and she seems to have had been contracted out.

April 1905 as the work nears completion

Now my only real guess as to the survey work at the time in the Barrow was in connection with the building of the SW Wexford Railway Line.  In 1898 there were many mentions of disputes between the New Ross Harbour Commissioners and the Waterford Harbour Commissioners into the building of two bridges that would later be known as the Barrow Bridge and the Suir Bridge- topic of my next blog!

Around this time, the plan for the Barrow Bridge was to construct the railway line away from Drumdowney on the Kilkenny side, along by the riverfront, and to construct a bridge towards Kents Point on Great Island, and hence along the riverfront towards Campile where the Power Stations now lie.  Not long after the route was moved slightly inland and the crossing upriver, adding to the cost because of the tunneling of Drumdowney and cutting through part of Great Island.  All of this is just speculation, but the timing fits, and the area had to be surveyed, not just on land but on the river too.

If I come across any other details that will either confirm or clarify the intentions of the Gladiator, I will happily update the blog.  But at least the New Ross Standard confirmed over the summer that the commemorations took place and were widely attended – One event was helped considerably by the services of another paddle steamer, the PS Ida, which brought over 500 from the city and Glenmore for a hurling match in August.   

As is often the case, sometimes a blog post can shed some light on other queries, and so it was that post publication, marine artist Brian Cleare contacted me to say that the blog had helped to identify an unknown PS in Wexford – turns out the Gladiatior was alongside on the Wexford Town Quay around the same era! A conundrum that had Brian and Jack scratching their heads for some time, I had seen their queries myself but never made the connection

Barrow Railway Bridge Pinned open Dec 2022

In late November 2022, disappointing news started to filter out that the Barrow Railway Bridge opening span was to be pinned open because of an operational issue. It came following an earlier threat to pin it open because of the cost of the operation- a decision that was postponed following negative community, media, and political reactions. But the rationale for the move seemed plausible to many (the timing close to Christmas was excellent I must say from the company perspective), and the opening span has been pinned open since December. But is this the end of the Barrow Bridge?

The Barrow Railway Bridge was opened as part of the works to connect the South of Ireland via Waterford to the new port of Rosslare in 1906. The last commercial train to use the line was in September 2010. The line’s viability is now being examined as part of an All Island Strategic Rail Review. The review might potentially reinstate the railway, but there were also plans to create a greenway along the route. The opening span allows ships to access and egress from the inland port of New Ross via the River Barrow.

A screengrab of the vessel (one of the Arklow Shipping craft) that collided with Pier 3 of the Barrow Bridge on February 26. Photo: Iarnród Éireann

On February 26th, 2022, a ship maneuvering inwards through the span struck the central protective dolphin. In November Iarnród Éireann (IÉ) put out a press release covered by the Waterford News & Star. The subsequent article explained that “the span will need to be held open for marine traffic as there’s an increased risk of it becoming inoperable, thus preventing vessels from traversing through it.”

Because of the collision, IÉ stated that there was a “… real risk that in the course of movements of the swing span, the span could move and strike a passing vessel” It sounds nasty, although a bit far-fetched surely! Other points were raised, although it made no more sense to me. But please read the New & Star article yourself to make your own decision.

A forelorn sight over Christmas of the bridge pinned open, the glowing lights to illuminate the channel and the red and green flashing navigation lights showing the access point. The new bridge at the Pink Rock is seen in the background.

According to IÉ the repairs could cost between €5 million and €10 million. The funds will need to be sought from the ship’s insurers…So that probably won’t be any time soon, given that almost 11 months have now passed? The South East on Track campaign group called on Iarnród Éireann to carry out the repairs in advance of monies it’s hoping to receive from insurers, but to date, this call has fallen on deaf ears.

From Cheekpoint this January 2023. A forlorn sight to see it

The opening span of the bridge was a crucial factor in alleviating the concerns of the New Ross Harbour commissioners when the bridge was originally constructed. It’s kind of ironic that the potential death knell of this magnificent piece of Edwardian industrial heritage should be sundered by IÉ on the pretext of maintaining access to the port.

To see the skill required in transiting the bridge here’s a short video I shot in 2021

Edit March 2023 – although there is still talk of the bridge reopening to cater for, initially, freight to and from Rosslare, there is no sign of work commencing on the bridge. In fact a local chap who knew the workmen who were involved in the recent pinning opening says that all papers etc have been removed and the sense given was that this was the end as far as they knew. I got excited on the 12th of March when I saw a Belgian ship called the Pompei coming in. Obviously a work boat, I hoped that it might be in relation to some repairs. Alas, it seems not, and worse, it actually struck the bridge on the way up too.

I occasionally write small pieces for my own record that I publish on the blog. These are a way of keeping a record for myself and a very different style to my monthly heritage blogs. So if you came across this and wondered what the heck…please look at my normal stuff before rushing to judgement

Freighting the Suir: Clonmel to Carrick 1906

In 1906 the River Suir was vibrant if weakening commercial thoroughfare transporting goods up and down from Clonmel to the sea on a daily basis, just like our motorways today. The boats used were flat-bottomed lighters (also called yawls above Carrick and barges) and they worked with the tides using poles, oars (sweeps), rudimentary sail or in the case of one company a steam tug. All used the tow-path above Carrick. This article explores the era, teetering as it was on the edge of fundamental change. 

Introduction and context

This article is drawn from a Royal Commission report on canals and waterways and it gives a very clear if a biased picture of the river of this era.  The evidence presented by J Ernest Grubb and James Phelan is from a river-centric perspective and there are two points I would like to make 1.) Both men were part of the fabric of the river trade and no doubt their evidence was slanted towards making the case to preserve their business and a fast-eroding way of life.  2.) This is based on my reading of their evidence and I homed in on points that interested me.  As regulars will know I am fundamentally biased when it comes to river matters.    

Lighters at Carrick on Suir, Robert French photo courtesy of Maurice Power. These are located on the northern bank on the lower side of what was then the Dillon or Red Bridge, the present road bridge

Royal Commission

In 1907 a Royal Commission reported on the canals and waterways of the British Isles – which obviously included Ireland at the time.  The purpose of the Commission was to travel around the country and take evidence from interested parties.  However, rather than just a bitching and moaning session, the Commission also challenged evidence and put the onus on the parties to be solution focused.  A number gave evidence about the River Suir, particularly above the City with a specific focus on the towns of Carrick On Suir and Clonmel.  This blog will explore the evidence of just two of these; J Ernest Grubb of Carrick and James Phelan of Clonmel, both of whom operated lighters on the route.

J Ernest Grubb (1843-1927) in 1925 sourced from J Ernest Grubb of Carrick on Suir (1928) by Isabel Grubb. Image courtesy of Maurice Power

J Ernest Grubb was managing owner of the Suir Steam Navigation Co (Est 1877) and director of John Grubb & Son Corn Merchant of Carrick & Clonmel.  He was also a member of the Tipperary SR Council.  James Phelan was from William Phelan & Sons Clonmel (New Quay & Parnell St) and he stated that they owned 8 boats working on the river and operated to Waterford.  Phelans employed about 16 horses to drag the boats up from Carrick, normally 12 sufficed for the one run but more horses were required if the river was in flood.  Phelan stated that 2/3 of the transported goods were inwards to Clonmel.

The Phelans on Clonmel from Slaters Commercial Directory of 1894. I can’t say they are all the one family of course.
The current view of what Phelans of 25 Parnel St, and the lane (Dowd’s Lane) leading down to the quays

River Suir Navigation Co

Grubb clarified early on that Suir Steam Navigation Co (SSNCo) was a separate entity to the River Suir Navigation Co (RSNCo) which was established as an incorporated company in 1836 by an act of parliament. This company was charged with “improving and maintaining the navigation of the River Suir…” and for the construction of a “ship canal” at Carrick On Suir.  It was funded from a levy of 1d per ton on seagoing craft above Grannagh.  This canal was made by cutting a channel through limestone rock on the south side of the river just below Carrick On Suir allowing “ocean-going craft drawing 10 or 11 feet of water” to reach the town (Only possible on spring high tides it seems and in another section of evidence Grubb stated that to that date the largest vessel seen in Carrick was 300 ton).  The extent of influence was from Grannagh Ferry upriver to Carrick Old Bridge.  The RSNCo had no influence above Carrick – this fell to the council and it seems only to Tipperary (because of the tow path) and the river was left to the rivermen and boatowners to maintain. 

Carrick to Clonmel towpath

Above Carrick, a towpath was constructed many years since (1750-ish it seems with further work in 1793 including the path, walls, and quays) and repaired occasionally along which lighters were towed upriver by horses against the flowing river.  Previous to the construction of the towpath men and women had physically dragged the boats against the tide by hand along the riverbank, stumbling and falling over rocks, ditches, and stumps no doubt. 

The lighters (or more accurately called yawls on this stretch – but I can see no discernible difference in design and build, except the loads carried were less) could drop down with the tides, but needed to use a breaking system of chains and other means to slow the run.  Clonmel to Carrick was a distance of 14 miles and could take 5 to 6 hours upwards, but much longer if the river was in flood. Here the river falls all the time, only becoming tidal at Carrick.  It was a further 16 miles to Waterford.  In evidence, Grubb stated that apart from the Tipperary council maintaining the towpath, no one took responsibility for the river, only the rivermen. The council also maintained the quays in Carrick, but the Clonmel Corporation took charge of the town quays or “river quay”. 

Grubb was of the opinion that barges (or lighters – the phrase was interchangeable but I will use the latter from here on) could carry up to 60 tons between Carrick and Waterford or beyond.  45 was the average.  The lighters transhipped at Carrick to go on to Clonmel.  This involved breaking the loads down between two or three craft depending on the level of water on the route.  They also navigated the smaller rivers or pills such as Pilltown, Portlaw Pill (R Clodiagh), the Pouldrew Mill Pill, Kilmacow Pill (named Black River by Grubb – but generally known on maps today as the Blackwater). Grubb considered 35 tons to be the maximum limit on these.


The main freight downriver included oats, condensed milk, wool, eggs, fruit, honey, willows, and native timber.  Freight inland included coal, grain, flour, feedstuffs, foreign timber, shop goods, agricultural implements, and machinery.  Grubb estimated that 19 out of every 20 tons carried to Carrick was by water at the time – however, we might say at this remove, he would!  Once the goods landed along the riverside quays, they penetrated inland by up to 20 miles, and they covered an area that included the counties of Waterford, Kilkenny, Tipperary, and Limerick.

Timber export from Clonmel as photographed from off the Gashouse Bridge. (The gas works which would have depended on significant coal imports by yawl were on the right hand side of the road that led off the bridge (on the town side)
How it looks today


They competed with the railway for some freight – particularly perishables like butter, poultry, and milk.  Also, some English firms had contracts with the railways which included carriage in Ireland as part of the overall cost which worked against the rivermen. 

Phelan was of the opinion that the river helped to keep the railway freight charges in check.  He gave a specific example of corn costing 4s 10d per ton to ship by rail from Waterford to Kilkenny.  Yet the same distance to Clonmel was costing 2s 6d because the railway had to compete with the river.  In another saving, he explained that the rivermen allowed freight to avoid the toll on Waterford City’s only bridge at the time (Timbertoes).

Number of Boats

As regards the craft employed Mr. Grubb stated that 14 persons in Waterford were working lighters employing about 32 barges at the time. All these boats were carrying at least 40-45 tons per trip and generally work within a 10-mile radius of the city.      There was also craft from all the villages and rivers on the river including as far as New Ross. The Grand Canal Co was also involved and linked the area to Dublin and Limerick via the canals and the Shannon.  6 parties owned lighters between Carrick and Waterford City, there were then 26 barges owned at Carrick by 10 individuals or firms.  14 businesses traded from Waterford to Clonmel, and 12 operate only between Waterford and Carrick.  He estimated that a total of 70 craft were then employed on the river.  He estimated that at the time there were 19 boats operating between Carrick and Clonmel – in contrast, he claimed that in 1835 there were 93.

An image of the Fr Matthew steam tug with two lighters in tow (and it seems a third is being poled either in or out into the tidal stream) at Carrick they are proceeding downriver from what is now the road bridge – a Sonny Cash image. Courtesy of Maurice Power

Grubb employed the steam tug Fr Matthew to tow up to four lighters on the Waterford to Carrick route, although many operators still used the tides, oars, poles, and sail.  It seems Phelans preferred the traditional methods below Carrick, but as mentioned previously transhipped and broke the loads down at Carrick to be towed on by horses to Clonmel.  Many issues were presented however, floods in winter, shallow in the summer during drought, and the ongoing deterioration of the towpath – which was washed away or undermined during floods.  The cost of maintaining the horses was a drain on the viability of the Phelan enterprise and was the cause, he claimed, of others leaving the business.


Grubb submitted the following example of one week’s freight in the Spring of 1903:

  • 108 cargos of 2,695 tons
  • To and from places east of Carrick 33 cargos = 920 tons
  • To and from Carrick 25 cargos = 1,125 tons
  • To and from Clonmel 50 cargos = 650 tons
A faint photo of the yawls working the Clonmel run, note the horses inside on the towpath – from LM McCraiths The Suir: From its source to the sea (1912) p.60. McCraith says nothing about the photo just captions it thus: “Like a long sabre at a warriors hip” a bit too flouncy a description for my liking
Although now part of the blueway, the towpath (seen here at Kilsheelan) is still there for all to see

Solutions to the rivermen’s woes

As regards solutions, three major points were raised.  The first two were a canal to link the Suir with the Shannon via Cahir to enhance trade and viability.  The second was a mechanical towage system along the towpath – (I will elaborate below, but just to clarify – neither came to pass. The third point was the need to enhance the weirs in the river to avoid shallows and deepen the river in parts.  These solutions were based on pre-existing reports one by John Killaly on behalf of the directors of Inland Navigation, and another, more recent report, by Mr. Oliver in 1902. 

The canal was seen as a possible solution to the distance that had to be negotiated between Clonmel and Limerick.  The proposal might be costly but it would benefit trade because it would act as a deterrent to the railways from charging what they wanted in the absence of competition. Killaly suggested a canal via Cahir and Tipperary onto the Shannon which would include 5 lock gates.  However, the concern was the cost associated which would have to be recouped from the rivermen through tariffs.  

The mechanical towing system was more plausible and was wholeheartedly supported by both men.  Two options were considered feasible a steam-driven chain system or a similar concept using ropes).  This system was employed in Europe on both the Elbe and the Seine and it was seen as a plausible and cost-effective means of tackling the issues on the Suir between Carrick and Clonmel: the eroding towpath and associated maintenance costs, the cost of horses and the fast flowing nature of the river, particularly in floods. There was a drop of 51 feet between the towns along the 14 miles of river. 

Another issue was the changing water levels. Weirs had previously been constructed and were maintained to some extent by boat owners.  This would require resolve and investment from central funds through the council.  I’m unclear if this happened or if the boatmen continued to maintain them for the next few years.

The weir above Carrick old bridge and the navigation cut can be seen here on the left, although looking in need to repair at this point.
A distant view of the old bridge – the boatmens navigation arch is on the left of the bridge

According to a previous guest blog by Leslie Dowley by the end of the nineteenth century, the route to Waterford was dominated by J. Ernest Grubb with the steam tug the Fr. Matthew while the others using the route included Thomas Butler, the Healy’s, T. G. Howell & Co., Richard Walsh of New St. and Edward Dowley of New St. In 1912 J. Ernest Grubb retired and his grain business was sold to Edward Dowley & Sons Ltd. while the Suir Steam Navigation Company was sold to Richard Walsh of New St, Carrick On Suir. In the same year, Dowleys bought a tug of their own, the Knocknagow I, for service between Carrick and Waterford. The Knocknagow II was added soon afterward and both were used to tow lighters also. Elsewhere it is noted that by 1919 nothing remained of the Carrick to Clonmel route, although there may have been a short revival during the Civil War period.


In reading the evidence of these men it is not difficult for me to imagine how deeply committed they were to a dying way of life.  The railways were competing for all the same freight, and in a few short years, trucks would make an inroad, pardon the pun, into the business too.  The calls of the boatmen are now silent, and evidence of their trade is scarce.  But they existed, thrived, and survived for generations on the Suir, a noble breed of hardy individuals, who worked with, rather than against, the river.

My thanks to Maurice Power who passed this report on to me last year and for assistance with details since including many of the photos.  You can browse the report yourself here. This should provide you with the relevant evidence and you can navigate between the pages. The membership and Terms of Reference are on page 3. Other related evidence can be found on pp 349-352

Subscribe to never miss a blog

Previous Feedburner email subscribers have lost email deliveries as the service is no longer operational. I have now set up a Mailchimp subscription service which can be accessed below. To subscribe add your name and email address.  This is a two-step process, therefore once you subscribe you will get an email in your inbox (don’t forget to check spam) and with two clicks you are done