As a child growing up in Cheekpoint the two most obvious built landmarks, in terms of scale and impact were the Great Island Power Station and the Barrow Bridge. The power station was a noisy, dirty and rambling edifice that we knew we had to endure. The bridge however was something different. It was what the station wasn’t; stylish, attractive to the eye and something to boast about.
Built between 1902-06 and first opened in July 1906 it served the railway faithfully, fulfilling its designers vision and only closing when outside forces were brought to bare.
Growing up it was a wish of mine to take the train either to Wexford or Rosslare. My mother often got nostalgic when she spoke about it. As a young emigrant to the bright lights of London she remembered passing onto the bridge on the way to the boat train in Rosslare. Her last outbound trip was in the winter of 1964. Having come home for the few days of Christmas she returned with her uncle, Christy Moran, and several others from the village including (she thought) Pat Murphy and Charlie Hanlon and recalled a bonfire lighting in the village, a farewell signal, a reminder of where the homefire burned. Of course she had the option of New York too, but the distance seemed to vast, the gap between mother and daughter too wide. So when in the fifties her uncles Willie and Johnny headed to the States she opted for service in a home and later factory work. She retuned to Cheekpoint in late 1964 to be married.
I recall a chap who was in school with me in De La Salle who came up from Wexford. I asked him once was there nare a school in his home county. He mentioned that he came on the train to school each day, that he lived beside the train, but would have to get a lift to a bus. So, rather than the hassle of it, came to Waterford and crossed the Barrow Bridge twice a day. I thought he was so lucky, he grumbled that the seats were hard!
Years later I worked with a man originally from Thurles. We got talking about the beet trains and the autumn beet campaign that saw trains arriving daily into the town and the entire area a mass of diesel fumes as anything with a trailer was used to ferry beet from the train to the sugar factory. I related how the same trains passed through our lives. Wexford being the centre of the countries sugar beet growing and the beet trains which loaded at Wellingtonbridge had to cross the Barrow to get on to Carlow, Midelton and Thurles. I recalled one day sitting on the back step and a beet train engine almost to the swing section of the bridge before the last beet truck clattered onto the bridge. I lost count of the trucks but it was almost 2000 feet long in my estimation.
In it’s later years the mainstay of the line was the demands of the Sugar Beet factories that the Wexford farmers supplied so capably. However change in agricultural and food industry practices was in the wind and the last of the factories closed in 2006 and with it the main business of the line. The question remains though, did the beet factories ever need to close?
With the end of the beet industry and the decline in passenger numbers many fears were expressed for the viability of the line. Trends in sea travel had changed with travellers now encouraged to take a “carcation” Commuter passenger numbers were dwindling too. The car was king. The Passage East Car Ferry which started in 1982 may have been a factor?
Finally on Saturday 18th September 2010 the last train crossed over the Barrow Bridge ending the historic link created with the bridges opening in 1906. Another special event train was laid on for the occasion, proving, at least that CIE had some sense of the importance of such a decision. Our neighbour here in the Russianside, Bridgid Power was one of those who made the trip, as this piece from the Irish Times testifies. Curiously, her mother in law, Aggie Power of Daisybank House in Cheekpoint was either on the special event train in 1906 when the bridge was opened, or another not long after.
Although ships still pass through and many is the time we walk it, I never did manage to cross it in a rail car. For now, all I can manage is this virtual roll of the wheels.
Thanks to Susan Jacob for passing on some information via her cousin Deaglan de Paor who also has an interesting blog an example of which; http://deaglandepaor.wordpress.com/2014/06/23/things-we-walk-past-every-day/
Thanks also to Emma Sharpe who shared her memories of the last trip
Postscript; I know we prefer to live with our heads in the sand. But the world is running headlong towards environmental disaster and our reliance of trucks and cars is placing greater stress on the earths capacity to deal with the pollution our generation is causing. Global warming is a fact, uncomfortable, threatening and, apparently, final. A fact we might do well to heed. Perhaps as a consequence the powers that be may have no choice but to reconsider “money saving” decisions of the past and reconsider more of the mass transport options in the future. The railway line between Waterford and Rosslare still exists and will hopefully be used again, if not for mass transport, at least for tourism.