St Itas Walk Faithlegg

Distance 2km

Difficulty:  This is an easy going looped walk on grass and public roadway (predominantly bitumen and level but broken ground)

Start: Commencing from Faithlegg Church car park notice board

Welcome to Faithlegg. Nicholas Mahon Power, then landlord of the area, built the current church in 1824.  In 1873 the Spire and Belfry were added.  When repairs were carried out in recent years the following inscription was found on the Bell:  “The gift of Nicholas Power ESQ.  At whose expense the tower was built.  J Murphy Founder Dublin.  Michael Broderick Builder Portlaw. Was built Aug 1872”

The Graveyard has won several awards over the years and is lovingly cared for by a voluntary committee.  It’s so well known that one local wag quipped “people are dying to visit!”

Well, a visit is worthwhile as there are several unique gravestones and wonderful designs.  There are 2 bullaun stones within and has the family plots of the Val Doonican family and Thomas Francis Meagher.  It also contains the remains of a man named Dinn who sailed round the world with Captain Cooke.  The oldest headstone is for a lady named Fortune nee Foure who has the distinction of two dates of death 1745/6 reflecting the two calendars in use at the time; church and civic.   

Another feature is the ruined 13th Century Church.   The site contains ruins of two separate churches.  The older part 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 beside it.  This measures 13m by 6.5m and is in the Venetian Gothic style. Feel free to walk inside and explore.

As you exit the main entrance to the church turn right and on your left come to St Its Well.  St Ita, who founded a monastery in Limerick was actually born in Waterford, gave her name to this well as a mark for the Deise tribe, signifing the extent of their domain.  Many years back a pattern was held here on Jan 15th.  There was reputed to be a rock beside the well which bore the imprint of the baby Jesus’ foot.

If you walk down the chapel road towards Cheekpoint you will come to a T junction, where you turn left and proceed down into the glen. At the bottom of the road you meet another t junction, so turn left.

On your right is an area known in the past as Mount Roberts.  It contained the country mansion of the famous Waterford architect John Roberts, designer of such buildings as the Bishops Palace and uniquely, both the catholic and protestant cathedrals in the city.

As you continue along Waterford Port is visable through the trees on the right. The next landmark is Park Rangers Football club.  If you keep left at the gates you will enter the old drive to Faithlegg House. The remains of a wrought iron fence can still be partially seen between the trees…this was once know as Lady Olivia’s walk.

Faithlegg House was built in 1783 for Cornelius Bolton, then landlord of the area. A progressive businessman he created several enterprises in the area but profits were slow to emerge and by 1818 he was forced to put Faithlegg House and lands up for sale to repay his debts.  Nicholas Mahon Power purchased the house and land in 1819, and at the time was reputed to be the richest commoner in the land.  The Power family sold Faithlegg House to the De La Salle Brothers in 1936 and they in turn sold it on to developers in 1985.  Eventually, the house was refurbished as a hotel and the lands were converted into a golf course.   Nice place for refreshment at this stage should you require it.

Brendan Grogan image of the estate circa 1969
Local hurlers who played on the estate

If you continue passed the House, you will be walking up the driveway through part of the old demesne of the House where cattle roamed and where the Christian Brothers played hurling and Gaelic football.  The grounds were also used for the annual Faithlegg sports day. It’s now part of the golf club.

The hills to your left are the Deerpark and Minaun, but as you walk up you will notice the main gates to the old estate.  The Stags head with the cross in its centre is a reference to St Hubert, patron saint of hunters, (and also mathematicians, opticians and metalworkers).  One of the four “Holy Marshals” he was considered to protect animals, particularly dogs (the Power family were keen huntsmen).  Hubert an avid hunter went out one Good Friday morning into the Ardennes in search of a stag. As he was pursuing his quarry the animal turned with apparently a crucifix standing between its antlers, while he heard a voice saying: “Hubert, unless thou turnest to the Lord, and leadest a holy life, thou shalt quickly go down into hell”.  He converted on the spot!

Brendan Grogan image of the gates circa 1969

Turn left at the gates and you are now back at your start.  We hope you enjoyed the walk.  Thanks for coming along.  If you want to know any more info about anything we said, just search the blog using a keyword. 

Andrew Doherty; Tides and Tales Maritime Community Project. 2024

Ford Channel -man made gateway to Waterford Port

On last month’s blog which gave the sailing directions to Waterford City in 1790, I mentioned that I was surprised to see the Ford Channel given as an option.  This area was previously a crossing point to Little Island from the Kilkenny shore and this month I want to explore the channel, seen as crucial to the development of the port in the modern era.

Although the sailing directions to Waterford City in 1790 mention the Ford, it also stated its limitations.  The preferred deep water access was via the King’s Channel.  Although longer, winding and with dangerous stretches, it was at least navigable on most tides.  The Ford was accessible only occasionally, and I would imagine probably only really useful to the Lighters and lightermen for several centuries of our maritime history.

A video description I shot of the Ford this year.

Ford Channel is on the northern side of Little Island, separated from Co Kilkenny by the fast-flowing River Suir.   Almost certainly the Suir originally flowed around what is now the Island, when the land was part of the county of Kilkenny.  At some point, the river, as is its wont, breached the land, finding a faster route to the sea, as water always does.  The name suggests that it originates with the practice of “fording” the river or a crossing point.

Although modern charts refer to the area as the Queen’s Channel, we never, ever used this term at home.  I will come back to this.

A personal favourite image of the Ford of mine is the Guide Bank Lighthouse with the Ford on the right, Kings Channel on the left.

When the Waterford Harbour Commissioners were established in 1816 one of their key tasks was to widen and deepen the Ford Channel.  Mary Breen in her wonderful nugget of a book[i] on the establishment of the commissioners, quotes from an 1806 report of earlier work on the Ford costing £1,500 to deepen it by removing soil, mud, and sunken rocks.  However, the channel had filled with silt again.  The Board of Inland Navigation stated at the time that the King’s Channel was longer, but with much deeper water, however “…its winding course made passage difficult, and at times impossible”[ii]

After the Commissioners were formed, a loan of £10,000 was sought to develop the facilities at Waterford including the approach.  No time was lost it seems and on the 19th December 1816, a contract was signed with John Hughes of London to excavate the Ford.  The works were set to commence on May 1st the following year and to cost £14,500.  It seems the final cost was £24,588.[iii]

In 1838 the Commissioners sought a report on issues pertaining to navigation and siltation in the port and harbour from an engineer named William Cubitt.  His detailed report is outlined in the Waterford Chronicle at the time.

An ariel image of the Island and both channels, Kings to the left and the Ford or Queens Channel to the right, Waterford city is at the top of the photo, the house to the bottom left is Woodlands, Ballycanvan Pill is to the upper left and Woodlands/Faithegg Pill to the bottom right. I think this may be from the Britain from above series of the early 1930s

Cubitt states that the Ford is essential to the Port and that it needs to be deepened by at least another three feet to make it open to the largest class of ship of the era.  He also states that it might render the use of the King’s Channel almost redundant.[iv]   I find this fascinating, as it highlights that the King’s Channel was still essential to Waterford Port, and was for at least another 20 years, arguably longer.

The Munster Express of 1863 contained a large article expressing the importance of improving the Ford including the width of the channel, and that port dues should be increased to meet the cost.  Two approaches to the work are suggested, damming the upper and lower Ford and excavating by hand, or using a dredger.[v] A further article in the paper gives some specifications of what the work would look like including that the spoil should be used to create two guide banks at the lower end and reclaim almost 250 acres of land with the spoil deposited on the Kilkenny side [vi]

In Autumn 1864 newspaper advertisements were posted alerting contractors that the plans could be viewed for the Ford works in the WHC offices, and in December that year, it was secured by Patrick Moore of Limerick for the dredging of the riverbed at a cost of £15,700.[vii]

 The late Anthony Brophy gave an insight into the administrative difficulties associated with the work in February 1865, when it seems despite 6 applicants for the post of superintendent engineer to work under the consulting engineer, John Coode of London, difficulties were encountered.[viii]   

In January 1867 the contractors were looking for an extension of four months on the works.  Three reasons were communicated by Mr Coode as to why the extension should be granted.  Firstly the bottom was harder than appreciated, secondly, the weather was bad and finally, as steamers continued to use the channel, work had to be interrupted at times.  The Commissioners were less than pleased and no decision was reached at the meeting[ix]

There must have been many further twists and turns because it was May 1871 before the next phase of the Ford was completed.  The Waterford Standard[x] reported that the “…Commissioners as a body, accompanied by the members of the Corporation and the Chamber Commerce, proceeded down the river on Wednesday Iast to formally open the works. The river steamer Tintern was chartered for the purpose.”

An image from the 1890s highlighting the proposed works and what was completed. Accessed from Waterford History Group Facebook Page and posted originally by Vinny O’Brien

The piece reported on a portion of the work completed by Messrs Jameson and  McCormack (i think this was most likely the guide bank).  The works cost £12,000, which was to be repaid with interest in annual installments spread over forty years to the treasury.  The works were supposed to take three years but had met with unexplained difficulties.  Mr Coode (Consulting Engineer), certified that the new works had created a depth of 13 feet low water spring tides. This will give a total depth of 20 feet at high water neap tides, and 24 feet at spring tides.  The dignitaries viewed the works, then proceeded downriver on the Tintern to Duncannon and had an open-air lunch at Ballyhack supplied by the Imperial Hotel.

At the opening ceremony, the Mayor made reference to naming the new opening. Having considered the “Golden Gates” – it seems the consensus was the call it the “Queen’s Channel” – after Queen Victoria I guess!  Although this name appears on navigation charts thereafter, we only ever knew it as the Ford, and this was used by the Harbour Board too – including in their Bye-Laws.

Interestingly the same paper had a number of letters expressing concern about the Ford works, with one anonymous letter writer stating that while on the Tintern he spotted the Waterford Steamship Company vessel Lara, using Kings Channel, and referring to a previous letter to the paper from none other than William Malcomson, expressing concern that the Ford was unfinished.

After this phase of development, there was much discussion about the need for a lighthouse to mark the Lower Ford, on what we call the Guide bank – a man-made wall that helps contain the river as it meets the King’s Channel off Faithlegg.  My good blogging buddy Pete Goulding has dated the erection of the light to 1878 and he gives a detailed description of the process in his blog of the same name.[xi]

In November 1929 the Harbour Board heard a plea from their chairman on the need to enhance the Ford further.   The position was outlined as follows:  “. Thirty years ago overseas steamers with maize for the port were 2,500 tons of cargo; today 5,000 tons is a small cargo, and the average size is about 7,000 tons. Coastwise tramp steamers were 200 to 500 tons of cargo: today 400 tons is a small steamer, and many coastwise steamers constantly trading with the ports are 700 tons, while some of the Clyde Shipping Company’s steamers are about 1,800 tons capacity.” [xii]

Making use of a company already on hand to deepen the North Wharf, particularly at Halls, the time was considered perfect for offering a tender for the work.  “The Committee considers this golden opportunity to carry out this essential work the Tilbury Contracting and Dredging Co. have their rock breaker, bucket- dredger, hopper, and floating workshop in Waterford, and who have given the Commissioners an enticing offer to do the work for a lump sum price of £20,500, which, they assure us, could not be done for less than £25,500 if it was not for the fact that this work if undertaken will follow immediately their other contract with the Commissioners.”[xiii]

The proposal was accepted and although I don’t know when the work commenced, it was proceeding at a pace in April but by June there was an issue.  In the Upper Ford area, Tilbury workers had found 2,400 cubic yards of rock, that an extensive survey that they completed found previously to be mud!…, it slowed the work down, and added cost.  Meanwhile, more work was required in the Lower Ford, which was not part of the original tender apparently.  It was estimated by Captain Grover that they would need to dredge 12,000 cubic yards of material to provide 17 feet of water to shipping.[xiv] 

The Tilbury vessel Queens Channel – no, I’m not making it up…Working on the Upper Ford 1930- Poole image originally posted to the Waterford Maritime History Facebook page by Michael Butch Power . You can view the original at the NLI here. The vessel above is the rock breaker Thor W6. A third vessel, the bucket dredger Beaufort was also employed on the works.

By the end of June, there was an extensive account of the works, when a large deputation went down to the Ford to inspect the rock-breaking spear and the ongoing dredging.  Speeches were made, toasts were toasted and the progress of the Port was generally felt to be secured because of the developments.[xv]  The works were completed by the end of 1930. 

SS Rathlin (#2 of that name 1905-1933) of Clyde Shipping after steering failure grounded her at the Guide Bank. The incident happened on Monday 14th July 1913 when leaving port for Glasgow. A news report states that she was undamaged and expected to float on the next high tide. AH Poole photo, posted originally by Tomás Sullivan. WMH page

Speaking on the deck of the harbour launch that June the Chairman of the Harbour Board, M Cassin, expressed his thanks to the Tilbury dredging Co for the works, and also explained how such developments were essential to meet the growth and sophistication of modern shipping.  He gave credit to the Commissioners who had come before and for their foresight in opening the Ford and keeping it a pace with the shipping of their era.  He expressed a desire that bodies such as theirs look ahead 50 or 60 years to anticipate the needs and make plans accordingly.[xvi]

I guess in that sense, his words rang true.  The works gave access to the city for shipping up until the decision to move from the historic port in the city to the present site at Belview (Bellevue – the beautiful view).  Whether the people who made that decision were looking far enough ahead is still to be seen.

Interested in talk of rivers and rivermen, join me on Nov 4th to explore the Lightmen’s trade on the St Johns River. You can book on Eventbrite or email me to say you are coming please – in case of cancellation.
I’m speaking at the annual Booze, Blaas n Banter gig in Jordans on Saturday 28th Oct

My thanks to David Carroll for providing assistance with this article.

[i] Breen. Mary.  Waterford Port and Harbour 1815-42.  2019.  Four Courts Press.  Dublin

Sailing directions to Waterford Harbour 1790

Recently I chanced upon the 1790 sailing directions into Waterford and although it’s for a different era, it offers some fascinating insights into the practicalities, the difficulties, and the practices of navigation at a time when all sailors had was their wits and intelligence. Oh, and a fair bit of good luck too.

The new and complete Channel Pilot; or Sailing Directions for navigating the British Channel on the English and French Coasts as well as on the South West and West Coasts of Ireland – Adapted to the Sayers Charts of the Channel – Oh I will stop there – that’s just part of the title of this booklet I chanced upon recently. It dates from 1790 and two details excited me about the find. Firstly I have been doing research into the practicalities of accessing Waterford in this era and the detail contained was so illuminating. Secondly, I have the Sayers chart in my files – and the details below tally perfectly with the information provided in the map.

WATERFORD HARBOUR – is spacious and safe, having a light house on the Point of Hook, on the east side of the entrance; and after dark Two Lights more, which are put up in Duncannon Fort, 6 miles up the harbour; there is a Perch besides on the point of sand near Passage. A ridge of sand stretches quite across the Channel about 1/2 mile above Credenhead [sic], which at low spring tide has 10 feet of water, at high water, spring tide, 20 feet, and at high water, neap tide, 18 feet water. The usual place to anchor is about a quarter mile above Passage nearest the W. side in 5 or 6 fathoms water.

To fall in with Waterford Harbour, coming from the Southward of the Eastward, keep Sleanaman [Slievenamon I think?] Mountain N.E.12 N. or the Great Saltee island S.S.E> till you see Hook Light House, and stand at least a cables length or two, from the E. Point, to avoid the irregular streams of tide there.

Passage Perch – and Ballyhack Church – note Arthurstown was not yet built

To sail to the anchorage at Passage; after you are past the Hook, take flood tide or a brisk leading wind, steering for Creden [sic] Head, and keeping near a cable’s length from it [ a nautical unit of measure equal to one tenth of a nautical mile or approximately 100 fathoms] from thence steer N. by N. for Duncannon Fort, keeping half a cable’s length from it; after which steer N. on the church of Ballihake [sic] which stands on an Eminence, till you see the Perch near Passage bearing on the Town of Passage; then steer past the Town for anchorage.

In steering for Duncannon Fort, avoid the sandbanks that extend from both Shores: that on the starboard side begins at Bluff Head, and extends more than half a mile from the shore, terminating at Duncannon Fort. Between the Fort and Bluff Head is Ballystraw Bay. The opposite Sand is Drumroe Bank, which extends more than a mile from the shore, narrowing the passage abreast Duncannon Fort to about a cable’s length. The thwart mark for knowing when you are in the narrowest part of the channel is when Newtown Trees and Hogan’s House are in one; the Two Lights in a line are the leading mark through it.

Here’s the thwart mark line from Sayers Chart

Three-quarters of a mile Nortward of Creden House is a Bar which runs across E.N.E. and W.S.W. a little more than a ships length over; there are only 13 feet of water on it when Northerly winds prevail, but 26 when Southerly winds. The deepest water is nearly abreast of the lights; on the bar you have from 2 1/2 to 9 fathoms water.

There is a very good anchorage two or three miles above Passage, where the stream is much weaker than at Passage. In sailing to this place, avoid a shallow spit of Sand which extends S.W. from the Point at Buttermilk Castle, about half over to the opposite side, with 9 feet of water on it. Avoid also a small bank, which lies on the S side of Cheek Point [sic] two cables lengths from the shore {Carters Patch} with only 9 feet of water on it, the least water, and half at tide 14 feet. If it is about low water keep the middle between the Points, or rather nearer Buttermilk Point, or keep in the rough stream of tide.

Such vessels as draw not above 10 or 11 feet of water may go up to the town of Waterford, where there are about two fathoms about a ship’s length from the quay. In sailing to or from the town of Waterford the safest channel is on the N. side of the Little Island {the Ford}, the other side {Kings Channel} has the deepest water, but the channel is narrow and winding and subject to eddy winds and tides.

Join me on a guided walk around Dunmore this Sunday. €10 pp pre-booking here!
I’m leading a walk along the Johns River to remember the Lightermen and their struggles on Sat Oct 7th. Cost €10pp pre-booking here!

There it concludes, but there is a few points to make for the modern reader.

One point to make clearly – The details provided are primarily for day time navigation. Day marks are the main navigation prompts for sea captains and the modern era of lighthouses, radar, and sat nav are many years in the future.

The two lights mentioned at Duncannon refer to a system for keeping to the narrow channel leading past it. Pete Goulding – our blogging buddy with a passion for Irish Lighthouses will guest blog on the system in weeks to come. Stay tuned

The thwart mark is an intriguing phrase, something I cannot find in a dictionary or any of my nautical phrasebooks. However, the image from the chart shows it clearly above. Any further clarity on this is appreciated. Update Post publication. Blog regular, D. Peter Boucher, Kt. SMOM, International Master Mariner had this update. Thwart in Old English means “from one side to another” hence our use of it for boat benches and thus I guess “thwart mark”.

The perch at Passage was a day mark, shown clearly in the chart. It did not have a light atop, so when the Spit Light was added in 1867 this radically improved navigation after darkness or in poor visibility.

The Church at Ballyhack was a perfect landmark for sailing vessels, alas, nothing of it now remains except perhaps the altar in the current graveyard on the hill.

Passage was the preferred anchorage, but Buttermilk and Cheekpoint are shown too

No mention of pilots which only became a requirement after 1816. Still disappointed that there was no mention of hobblers.

Finally, very interesting to read that the Ford Channel (sometimes referred to as the Queen’s Channel on charts) was recommended over the Kings Channel at this point. However the depth of water is an issue, as is obvious from the associated chart with a foot of water in places at low water. The need for dredging was essential to the development of the port, something only achieved once the Harbour Commissioners were established in 1816. More to come on that story next month, all going well.

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Tides and Tales Heritage Week 2023 events

It’s been a hectic Heritage Week 2023, in fact, my busiest yet with three seperate events.

We kicked off on Sunday 13th August with a presentation in Byrnes of Ballyhack, Co Wexford which focused on the history of Salmon fishing here in the harbour area, the boats, nets and what the fishery meant to the communities. I was invited to provide this on behalf of the Ballyhack & Arthurstown Residents Association.

A busy Arthurstown during the Salmon fishing season, photo courtesy of Liam Ryan. While below some images of Passage and Ballyhack via Brian and Eoghan Cleare

My second event was in the county library in Dungarvan on Thursday 17th August at 6.30pm. The evening was in memory of the late John Young. John was a hero of mine, one of these passionate local history champions who did so much to promote the maritime history of Dungarvan and my 40-minute talk concentrated on the book that he wrote on the subject. This was the largest audience I ever had, estimated at over 100, with standing room only.

I knew that the audience was not there to hear me as such, but rather to support the family of Johns. However, somehow I managed to rise above the nerves that threatened to choke me and, from the feedback I received after, managed to connect with the crowd. Johns’s family had decided to donate a large number of Johns books to the library to support others’ research, and among them are many titles that are now collectibles and crucial to the maritime history of Waterford including titles by the late Bill Irish, Niall O’Brien’s book on the Blackwater, the works of Eddie Bourke etc. A terrific collection, now freely available.

Me, trying to look confident, I did warm to the task though, photo courtesy of Damien Geoghegan

My final event was on home turf – a really personal project of mine – Time and Tide wait for no one. This event focused on the role of the tides in Cheekpoint in the days of the commercial fishery. I thought this fitted nicely into Water Heritage Day. A wonderful group of very enthusiastic and questioning participants came along and it made for a terrific engagement. We explored the tides and how they work, spring and neaps and how you can read the signs of these on the strand, the various fishing practices and how these harnessed the tides, the salmon drifts and how these were governed by state laws, but also laws that were more important – rules handed down within the community. Tomás Sullivan came along with his boat and took groups of four away to experience the tides from the river, and we were fortunate to have not one, but two ships pass up. Time for a well earned break now

Explaining the workings of a fishing weir – thanks to Deena for the photo
Talking neap tides but I needed to stop and discuss the roles of shipping and pilots as the MV Eemslift Ellen came up. Something I take for granted was a real wow factor for the group. An Arklow ship came up later. Photo via Alison
Tomás provided a very popular element to the talk, we’re hoping to do more like this if the weather improves, stay tuned for more info
Fish sales and my father’s conch shell, used to signal the fish buyer to stop.

Thanks to all who came along to the events this year, looking forward to next years already

Red Iron Recalled

Waterford Greenway has brought many benefits to the City & County, and one of them for me was the first views it gave of the Suir Railway Bridge or known in more recent times as the Red Iron located at Grannagh.  Although it might have been new to me, several generations of Waterford youth grew up around the bridge. In choosing it as the title for one of his most popular plays, Jim Nolan captured to many the essence of the bridge, a gathering point, a hangout, a safe space for teens who wanted to just be, and how can you just be, unless you are away from the eyes of adults.  But did you realise that the Red Iron was originally planned to be located much closer to the city?

The Red Iron, or Suir Railway Bridge in its heyday. Note the buoys in position below the bridge opening span in the River Suir for warping. What looks like a lighter is moving with the tide on the Waterford bank to the left. The Kilkenny bank is to the right.

Suir Railway Bridge was opened in 1906 as a means of connecting the railway line which had just opened to Rosslare and via the crossing to travel on to Cork, via Kilmacthomas, Dungarvan, Lismore, Fermoy and Mallow. Once completed the Waterford South Station became redundant to rail, and the North Station then became the city’s sole terminal.  The bridge was in regular use up to March 1967 when the last passenger train left Dungarvan for Rosslare. The line was reopened again to facilitate a magnesite ore processing plant at Ballinacourty but this closed in 1982. CIE would have run occasional maintenance locomotives on the line up to the 90s. A span was removed over the weekend of May 27-28th 1995 and dumped on the Kilkenny bank. I guess the hope of its owners was that the rest of the bridge would rust away into the river.

I had a bit to say to the camera about the Suir Bridge and its opening span to filmmaker Ben Rowland back in 2021. The program was C5’s World’s Most Scenic River Journeys. Disappointingly for me, most of what had to say went on the cutting room floor

The underused, and later abandoned bridge became a mecca for young people in Waterford City from the 1970s onwards.  And my good pal Mark Power recently shared his own personal memory of the bridge which gives a sense of its attraction and danger!

My memories of growing up in the 80s in Waterford were of adventure, curiosity, wonder, and endless fun during the long hot summers. Without a care in the world, a group of us from the same street would head off out to the Red Iron Bridge, during much simpler times, with no phones and gone for the day. We would walk or BMX our way there. It was around the time of the film “Stand by Me” 1986 and we would walk and recite the dialogue from the film on our way there. One could start a line from the film and the rest of us would finish it off.  We’d cut up left just past the dog pound where the track ran over the road. We would run, throw stones into the mud, play tig, and climb the ladder to the top of the tower in the middle to get the best views. Some even walked along the top, but only the brave would dare follow.

Although dangerous as it seems now, we did not see the danger, we just saw it as a day of having a laugh with our friends. The centre span was still intact at that point, and you could walk all the way across to the “lemonade factory”, I think it was some soft drinks store. I remember cycling across the flat part next to the track on my BMX, you needed to pay attention for that one, as you’re looking down and can see through the gaps down to the water. One of my friends tried it and ended up flying over the handlebars. He was fine after a few minutes, as we were made of rubber and invincible then, but he knew better than to try it again.

 Then there was always the threat of the infamous “Yellow Cab” coming across the bridge and catching you. I was told it was a small carriage that was used to police the track. I still don’t know if there was ever any truth to it because as many times I had been over there, I always avoided “getting caught”. I personally had never laid eyes on it, so it was most probably a made-up story, but it was real for me back then and the fear was always there. It’s funny really that “The Yellow Cab” was the only thing we were scared of, with a million and one other thing that should have killed us. In the end, we made it out alive, and it gave me and my friends memories that will last forever (you know who you are). I still bring my girls out there and tell them the stories and fun we had back in the 80s. It was our “Stand by Me”, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

I really appreciate Mark sharing his memories with me. It reminded me of our own gallivanting around Cheekpoint, away for the day on the strand, the rivers, the Minaun, Hurthill or to the Barrow Railway Bridge- long wonder-filled days, adventure, some danger, and lots of laughs. But we were a long walk from the Red Iron!

Mark Power AKA the amazing videographer that is Waterford Epic Locations
Mark highlights the damage to the Red Iron at the start of his video, following a train crash on the 24th July 1945, miraculously no one died as far as I am aware

As I mentioned in the introduction, the Suir Bridge was not originally planned for Grannagh at all.  The siting and construction were actually a tortured affair. Initially, in 1890 a plan was proposed to cross a mere 1300 ft above the then road bridge in the city, Timbertoes.  However as ships would have to transit through the rail bridge also, the Commissioners, raised serious concerns about the merit of the proposal.

Effectively at the time ships had to “warp” through such bridges.  Many ships of this era still did not have engine power and so were at the mercy of wind and tide when underway.  Warping involved a sailing ship approaching a bridge at the correct time of tide – either side of high or low water was used, depending on the direction the ship was traveling.  The vessel heaved to at the opening span, and ropes were run through buoys on either side of the bridge by hobblers (local skilled boatmen).  When ready the ship manoeuvred through using the tides and the ropes to safely negotiate the bridge.

Captain Nicholas Parle of the Harbour Commissioners was to the fore in pointing out the very obvious issues with transiting sailing vessels, then without any auxiliary engine power, not through one but two opening spans.  Even with the very capable assistance of the Hobbler crews, such a manoeuvre was hardly feasible through two bridges. Moving several ships both upriver and downriver at the correct time of tide would have been impractical and probably caused bottlenecks, and most possibly involve ships having to wait for an entire tide (6hrs or 12 hrs, depending on the direction of travel) between the two bridges. 

An image of a sailing vessel being warped through Timbertoes. I realise this is an anorak special, many readers may not really care, but the skill and timing required for this were admirable, and I find it fascinating. Such a procedure is rarely photographed, but you may notice that below the bridge one of the buoys used can be seen in the river. Above the bridge a hobbler craft is at one of the upper buoys whilst another hawser is off to the right outside of the shot. Onboard the sailors were probably singing a chanty as the hauled the hawsers aboard. Another two hawsers were paid out from astern keeping the ship on course. This protected the bridge and the ships rigging and spars, yards and masts.
A close-up of the above image shows both hawsers leading away from the bow of the vessel. Hopefully, this might give some appreciation of the space required to warp just one vessel through. Perhaps it might help the reader appreciate the Harbour Commissioners concerns. Also note the yards on the three masts have been moved to assist the transit.

In 1898 the plan was revived and it seems that not one but two different rail companies had plans to cross the Suir, at much the same point as the 1890 plan.  William Friel as Engineer of the Commissioners raised similar objections about the position, but as the plan included a solid base or abutment reaching some 50 feet into the river from the Kilkenny side, Friel also raised the issue of silt deposits along the railway wharf and beyond if such an impediment were placed into the river.  If the modern reader has any doubts about this point, take a drive out to Cheekpoint at low water!  He proposed, and it was accepted, that an extra span of the bridge to reach the shore would alleviate the issue.

Another concern of the railway was the requirement of a 6ft wide footbridge to allow citizens to cross the Suir without the cost of the Timbertoes toll, it seems the rail companies avoided this expense by agreeing to a payment of £5,000 to the Corporation, which went into a fund towards the cost of buying out the toll, something which was later achieved and the end of 1907.

The Toll Gates on Timbertoes. The Bridge was finally made toll-free on the last day of December 1907

It seems that the bridge was still to go ahead in the proposed location up to 1899 when a contractor was employed to survey the area, and they realised that the ground was too soft and they would have to bore to a significant depth to reach the hard ground.  It was 1902 before an alternative location was sought, which eventually led to the siting and construction at Grannagh.  The Suir Bridge was commenced in 1904 and was ready by 1906. 

A notice published in the local papers giving notice of the new bridge

As stated previously, the last passenger train left Dungarvan in March 1967 and in March 2017 the greenway opened along the original railway line.  The opening span was removed from the Suir Bridge in 1995, and I have seen comments on social media saying it should be replaced and the bridge incorporated into the greenway infrastructure.  Watch this space, I guess. 

The removed span resting on the margains of the CIE goods yard rusting away

Two parting thoughts on the location.  Would CIE, now Iarnród Éireann have ever got away with simply removing a span out of the Suir Bridge and letting it rust into the River Suir if it was located in the town?  I hope not, it certainly would have been a much more controversial decision at the time, than it seems to have been.

But really what I am left with about the Red Iron is how fortunate that move of the location to Grannagh.  Would the Red Iron have been as nearly as relevant to so many of the youth of Waterford if it had been located as originally planned in the town?   Would Jim Nolans classic play have ever come to be? The Red Iron was a mecca because it was out of the way, removed from the glare of disapproving adults, a spot where young people could just be themselves, take risks, imagine themselves as they yearned to be, and laugh out loud without judgment.  Mark Power and his pals might be judged harshly by this generation’s more safety conscious parents, but were they at any more risk in relative terms, than a child today alone in their room glued to a smartphone? 

I drew on newspaper reportage of the era for its article, but mostly I referred to Ernie Shepherd’s excellent work on the railway line – Fishguard & Rosslare Railways & Harbour Company.

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 this coming Sunday – a gentle stroll through the Faithlegg estate. If you would like to subscribe to my monthly maritime blog, please complete the details below