The grand opening of the Barrow Bridge 21st July 1906

We have written previously about the planning and construction of the Barrow Bridge. The bridge started in 1902 by the firm of William Arrol & Co to a design by one of the foremost engineers of the time Sir Benjamin Barker. The purpose of the railway line was to open up the South West of Ireland to exports with England in an efficient and quick manner, and speed the crossing times to England and Wales for passengers.  The lines specific distinction is that it was the last major railway line to be constructed in Ireland.  Barrow bridge is 2131 feet in length and has an opening span to allow shipping through to the port of New Ross.

An excellent video showcasing the magnificent structure of the Barrow Bridge
A promotional poster from the time

Both the bridge and the line, including the new pier at Rosslare, Co Wexford was officially opened on Saturday July 21st 1906.  Five hundred guest traveled on a special event train which started out in Dublin.  The train had twenty one saloon carriages attached including the royal saloon in which was the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland Lord Aberdeen, who was to perform the inauguration.  It is said that it was the longest special event train ever seen in the country.  It stopped off at Carlow, Kilkenny and finally Waterford station to collect further guests including the Marquis of Waterford and then on to Rosslare via the new Barrow Bridge.  According to Susan Jacob, her grandmother Aggie Power (who lived in Daisybank house) was on that first train, a story handed down through the family. I do recall my father saying that there was some connection between the family and some of the engineers working on the project and Pat Murphy has told me in the past that he understood that some men stayed at Daisybank as lodgers during the construction.

Apparently some of the guests fainted with the fear associated with the crossing of the Bridge.  Well they might be in awe, for it was by far the longest rail bridge ever built in the country at the time and would retain that distinction (and possibly still should regarding the expanse of water crossed) until Belfast’s Dargan Bridge and related works were constructed in 1994. It might be hard now to imagine the fear that the travelers might have held in such a crossing, but it should be remembered that the designer and builder had only a few short years before completed a project to replace the largest rail bridge in the British Isles – The Tay Bridge , the predecessor of which had collapsed into the River Tay in 1879 while a train was crossing with the loss of all aboard.

The opening span was also a concern no doubt, but passengers need have had no fear.  The opening span was operated from a control tower atop of the opening, which was manned and operated via an electrical generator below on the protective pontoon.  The operator couldn’t open the centre span unless and until signal men on both the Waterford and Campile sides gave a signal to say there was nothing on the line. 

Ship entering the Barrow spring 2014
The view from the train –
meeting of the three sisters via Emma Sharpe

Indeed initially ships would not proceed through the opening until a signal was also raised from the control tower, a black ball.  This would later include a green light when the bridge opening was extended to nightime.  Many is the time I marvelled at the nerves of these men sitting atop the span as ships passed through, and I’m sure their nerves were well tested as ships struck the bridge on at least two occasions.

Notwithstanding any guests concerns, the special event train proceeded onto the bridge and came to a halt half way across to give everyone a view of the meeting of the three sisters at Cheekpoint.

The scene at Rosslare Pier
via John Power, A Maritime History of Wexford Vol 1
It then continued on its way to Rosslare, where the three masted schooner “Czarina” lay at anchor and the steamship “Pembroke” was at the pier, having sailed earlier from Fishguard with invited guests.  As it crossed into Rosslare a 21 gun salute was fired by the local coastguard.  The new service was inaugurated from the pier by the Lord Lieutenant and this was followed by a party where several toasts were made to the good fortune of the new company.  The freight rail service was the first to start running on the line thereafter, followed by a passenger service which came into operation on August 1st 1906 and the first cross channel ferry left Rosslare on Fri 24th August 1906, sailing on the SS St Patrick.


The significant selling point – shorter sea voyage
via John Power, A Maritime History of Wexford Vol 1

The Barrow Bridge gave over 100 years of loyal service before being closed in 2010.  An event we have also marked.

We would like to acknowledge the following sources:
Jack O’Neill, A Waterford Miscellany. 2004.  Rectory Press
Ernie Shepard – The South Wexford Line.  Journal of the Bannow Historical Society (2013)
John Power – A Maritime History of County Wexford Vol 1(2011)

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The Battle of the Boyne-Waterford harbour role

As a child growing up in a small southern Irish village, I have to say the 12th July “celebrations” in the North of Ireland seemed a long way away and very confusing.  12th July marked the defeat of England’s James II by his Dutch son in law William III (King Billy) at the Battle of the Boyne in 1690 and for many years I struggled to make sense of people in the North who were so passionate about the English monarchy celebrating its upheaval.  Of course history is filled with battles, politics, curious characters and intrigue which gets very confusing when layered with hundreds of years of interpretation or misinterpretation.

James II
accessed from

The events that surrounded the Battle of the Boyne were more to do with politics in relation to the English throne and Catholic and Protestant tensions that were widespread throughout Europe at the time.  Catholic, James II was created king in 1685 only to be deposed by parliament and replaced with his daughter Mary and her husband William III (both protestant) in 1688.  James II fled to France and from there found willing allies in the Irish, who for religious and political reasons thought their interests would be best served with a Catholic monarch.

King Billy (William III)
Accessed from

With the support of the French, James II came to Ireland to try build a base from which to regain his throne.  His first real engagement was Derry where the apprentice boys overruled the cities leaders and locked his army out, thus creating a siege that would last for several weeks in 1689 but would end in defeat for James who retreated to Dublin.  His son in law then entered the scene and the opposing armies met in the Boyne valley.

The Battle was a disaster from the start for James and his army of Irish/French and English amongst other nationalities.  Sensing defeat James II (who was watching from a safe distance with a protective entourage) turned south and fled.  His journey took him via Dublin and Wicklow and finally to Waterford.  It was here that James stayed overnight in Ballinakill with the Dobbyn family.

The following morning, in the early hours James II rode on horseback out the Dunmore road and along through Faithlegg down to Passage East.  There a small boat was waiting – probably a local punt- and into this James prepared to step.  As he did so, his hat flew off his head with a gust of wind and was quickly swept away on a strong ebb tide.  An aid rushed forward and with a flourish offered his own cavaliers hat to his king, causing James II to utter the immortal phrase “come, I have lost a crown in Ireland, but gained a hat”

A French ship was waiting at Duncannon and as soon as the defeated monarch was abord it slipped out on the ebb tide and sailed away to France where James would later die.  King Billy followed him south a few weeks later and he too left via the estuary, apparently waiting aboard ship off Passage East for a few days for good weather.

King James departs
accessed from

Now I wholly admit that this is my own interpretation, or telling of the story, which I was told as a teenager and is probably filled with my own biases.  I realise there are others and two that I have read in the last year that I can at least point the curious reader to include Jim Hegartys short history of Passage – Time and Tide, see page 11.  Also Julian Walton’s On this Day Vol 1 Stories of Waterford’s 11,000 years pp 114-5.

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The construction of the Barrow Bridge

Anyone growing up in Cheekpoint, or anyone that visits can’t but be impressed with the Barrow Railway Viaduct.  Stretching from Co Kilkenny to Co Wexford across the Rivers Barrow and Nore (which join above New Ross) it’s 2131Feet in length and up to the 1990’s was the longest railway viaduct in the country.

looking from Great Island, Co Wexford
c/o Waterford Co Museum

The bridge, which was many years in the planning, was part of an initiative to link Waterford with Rosslare Port and thus speed the journey times between the South of Ireland and England/Wales.  As a concept, the railway line originated in 1864 and elements of the project were advanced in stages but it was not until the turn of the century that the project to span the river became realisable. 

New Ross Harbour Board had many concerns for the proposal of a bridge, as they wanted to ensure access to the port at all times.  At one point it appears that the plan was to bring the railway line to Passage East and that passengers would be ferried across the river.  If you think that’s bizarre consider this, designs existed from 1833.  Of course there are many unique solutions available to the engineering mind.

It was also conceived that the line would run along by the river at Snow hill (instead of through Drumdowney Hill) and cross to Great Island over the site where the Power Station now stands.  This would have certainly been an obstacle to the ESB in 1965.  However one of the formost engineers of his time, Sir Benjamin Baker, was employed to draw up plans that would suite the needs of both the railway and the Harbour Board. 

before the bridge was built
Photo courtesy of Tomás Sullivan

The plan that was accepted necessitated the tunnelling of Drundowney, and the provision of a opening section that allowed ships access and egress from New Ross port.  Both elements causing significant cost and engineering challenges. 

As said the Bridge would be 2131 feet in length and consist of 13 fixed spans mounted on twin 8 foot diameter cast iron cylinders filled with concrete.  11 spans would be 148 feet long and the two closest the opening would be 144 feet.  The opening had to be in the deepest part of the river channel, thus the Kilkenny side.  The bridge had to be 25feet above high water on the spring tides.

The railway would be a single track steel line. This would be built within the protective casing of a mild steel girder frame with cross trusses to provide stability.

One of the more detailed and trickiest engineering elements was the opening.  The opening span would be constructed on 4 pillars and would turn with an electric motor, situated on the pontoon around the pillars.  The opening had to pivot with an 80 Foot clearance allowing ships through. Inbound ships took the Wexford side of the opening, outbound, the Kilkenny side.

Tendering for the bridge commenced in late 1901 and was won by a Glaswegian firm – William Arrol & Co.  The winning bid was £109, 347 and work had commenced by June of 1902.  The main yard for supplies was based in Wellington Bridge Co Wexford and apparently the work was carried out from the Wexford side. 

work progresses circa 1903
sourced – John Power’s book (see ref below)

As it happens, one of the biggest issues was unforeseen in the tendering process.  The twin pillars onto which the spans were placed had to be laid on a foundation of the river bedrock.  However, as they proceeded out into the Barrow the depths got ever deeper and in some cases the workers had to dig to 108 feet below the mean water level. Such extra work added a cost of £12,000 to the bridge.

nearing completion April 1905

Not all costs were financial however.  My wife’s great grandfather John Bible who resided in the Waterside fell during the construction and damaged his spine.  He was listed in the 1901 census as an Iron Moulder and he recovered to an extent that he could move around without the use of his legs and went on to use his skills in the repair of musical instruments in Waterford city.  John was also a gifted  accordion player,  and according to family tradition went on to cut the first, or one of the first, records in the country.

Despite the challenges, construction went smoothly enough and as the photo above shows it was well advanced by April 1905.  Despite this, the bridge did not finally open until July 1906.  Closer to the date we will do a piece on the grand opening.

Thanks to
Ernie Shepard – The South Wexford Line.  Journal of the Bannow Historical Society (2013)
John Power – A Maritime History of County Wexford Vol 1(2011)
Julian Walton – a piece from WLR FM – On this day
Vic Bible, Faithlegg for his family recollection

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The Faithlegg Ice House

I’m not sure how many know of the Faithlegg Ice House.  Like Limekilns, the purpose of them appear to have been forgotten.  As a teen I remember walking in what we called locally the Oak Wood (although at the time all that remained were stumps under a pine wood forest). The entrance to the wood was via Park Rangers playing fields, and you emerged at Faithlegg Pill and crossed a bridge into Ballycanavan and Woodlands.  Alas both the wood and bridge are no more.

It was while walking this shortcut that I first came across the Ice house.  It was lost amongst the trees and it created an eerie feeling.  The chilly damp of it was forbidding, and the dark chamber at the end of the passage-way allowed teenage imaginations run riot.  We often challenged each other to enter, but none dared, at least not once we had dropped a lighting piece of paper in and realised just how deep the chamber was.

Faithlegg Ice House looking east this morning

Ice houses were a fashion of their time and the Ice House in Faithlegg was most probably built when Cornelius Bolton had Faithlegg House constructed, 1783.  It may have been later, perhaps when the Powers remodelled and extended in 1875, but I would doubt it.

The purpose of the Ice House was to store perishable food and to have ice available in the presentation of food and chilling wines.  In effect if the larder was the fridge of the time, the ice house was the freezer.  Items such as fish, poultry and game could be suspended from the ceiling.  These would not freeze as such, but be chilled to prolong their freshness.

sketch of a typical ice house design

Records show that the first Ice house constructed in Britain or Ireland was 1619, and the design and concept was imported from Italy or France.  Their construction reached their height between 1750-1875, after which new technologies replaced them.  It’s thought that somewhere in the region of 3000 were built in all between Ireland and Britain.  I’ve personally seen three in Ireland, Birr Castle, Scout Irelands headquarters at Larch Hill and Faithlegg and have heard of several more including Lismore and Stradbally in Waterford.

The basic design was a free standing masonry structure with a vaulted roof covered by soil or thatch.  It had four essential pieces; entrance door, passage way, chamber with associated drain and a vault.   The design was to ensure that ice placed inside was preserved and was based on the reality that ice tightly packed together self-insulates.  There is obviously some degree of melt and consequently the drain in the chamber was essential to allow for runoff. 

entrance way (now gated and locked!)
the passage way and the chamber door at the rear

In siting the Icehouse the essential criteria was based on the ability of the meltwater to drain away from the chamber rather than proximity to the house.  Easy enough when you had a legion of servants to go grab you a snack!

Ice was initially gathered from the freshwater streams during winter.  In some cases artificial ponds were made.  These were filled by diverting freshwater springs into them (spring water being colder than rainwater and thus quicker to freeze), and allowing a freezing night to do its work.  I don’t know if such existed at Faithlegg, but I have heard of one at Kinsalebeg in west Waterford and another called the Ice Field was situated around Dromina House again in the west of the county .  The ice was broken up in the morning and transported to the Ice house. The filling would take several days and it was the duty of the Head Gardner to oversee it.

Today the Ice House is a feature on Faithlegg Golf Course.  At least this should ensure its preservation.  Mind you, I would dearly love to see it’s social history acknowledged in some way.

Much of statistics included in this post were gleamed from Buxham. T.   Icehouses.  2008.  Shire Publications.  Buckinghamshire.

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“Taking the boat”

I’ve spoken before about my maternal grandmothers feelings about emigration which put simply was a matter of great pain and loss.  Last week got me to thinking about it more, as I met with cousin Ed and his family at a gathering in Crooke.  Ed had travelled from southern Florida to connect with members of his extended family following the emigration of his grandfather in the early 20th century.  His grandfathers sister, Margaret Hanlon of Coolbunnia was my fathers mother, someone I never knew as she died a young woman.

Meeting with Ed and his family and of course our own extended family was one of those rare happy occasions, as it seems we mostly gather at funerals these days.  I’ve met the returning emigrants and their descendants before, but at an age where it had little meaning to me.  However time moves on and with it your perception of the world and yourself.

On Sunday last there was plenty of music and song and at one stage I was called on for a story, and to be honest, nothing would come to mind.  Fear does that of course.  I’m much more relaxed hidden behind a computer screen.

Once I had thought on it though, the story I could have told was a story of emigration that my grandmother passed on to me about her brother “taking the boat” to America.  She was born in Feb 1919.  She was the youngest and had six brothers.  Ritchie was the eldest and I’m not 100% sure of the correct running order of the other lads but they included Mikey, Christy, Paddy, Johnny and Willie. 

the Moran siblings less eldest brother

They were born in the Russianside in a small three roomed house.  It was a fisherman’s cottage, close to the river, where as soon as the boys could pull an oar or haul a net they would have been out fishing.  But times were tough, fishing was a poor livelihood and one of the realities of most families at the time was emigration.

Nanny was never sure how the money was raised to send Ritchie to America but she suspected that some of her uncles on the Moran side were already living in New York and that they organised the fare and a job at the other side.  Whatever the arrangements, she was unaware of it all until the night of the American Wake which probably took place in the mid 1920’s.

She related how different the house was leading up to the event, the extra scrubbing and cleaning, the setting of the table back and the extra food that was prepared or dropped into the house.  She didn’t remember drink but she did recall music, singing and dancing which started in the evening and which to her young eyes must have been magical.  At some point she remembered being carried into a bedroom by a brother, which she thought was Christy, having fallen asleep where she sat.  Next morning she woke early to find the music and dancing over, but many of the neighbours still around.

Her parents didn’t seem to have gone to bed and her mother looked drained and tired.  Very soon after rising a pony and trap came down the road.  It was driven by Paud and John Burkes father if I remember correctly, who Nanny said was a relation of ours.  Into this was put a case belonging to Ritchie and after he lifted her up and gave her a hug he hopped aboard and went off up the Russianside Road, his brothers strolling beside the trap until it reached the top of the hill..  Her father turned away to walk towards the strand and her mother turned towards the house and she remembered her wailing behind the closed door.

Even as a child there was work to be done, but sometime later in the afternoon, Ritchie strolled down the Russianside Road.  Nanny who was throwing the remains of a teapot over the ditch ran to him and he lifted her up again and she innocently asked him “how was America?”  She remembered being confused, after all he was often away longer when he was at the fishing, and there was never a party then, and her mother and father never acted as they had done that day.

It transpired that having travelled to Waterford to catch the train to Cork and ultimately Cobh, the station master had turned him back as the ship wasn’t yet ready to sail.  He took Ritchie’s case for safe keeping, told him to return on the morro and Ritchie turned on his heels and strolled home. The next day Ritchie was gone again but this time Nanny didn’t see her big brother again for over thirty years.

gathering to celebrate the emigrants return,
Ryan’s Quay July 1956

Ritchie eventually died in America as did Johnny.  Mikey died on the buildings in England.  Willie who spent half his life in New York, retired home to the Russianside only to die not long after.  As I said the relations did visit, but I was of an age where it meant little to me.  But I guess now that Nanny is dead (the last of her family to go to her rest) and my father too, I have a greater sense of my own mortality and an enhanced interest in those belonging to me. 

A few years back we were on a short holiday in Cork and took a trip down to Cobh.  Visiting the heritage centre there, I became overwhelmed as I walked through what would have been the departures gate for emigrants.  Reflecting back, I realised it was probably because I had seen emigration from my grandmothers perspective; a sundering of the family.  However, maybe Ritchie saw it as an adventure, an escape or a great opportunity. 

Talking to Ed last Sunday evening made me wonder about it some more.  Although I will never know, I suppose emigration like anything in life is a personal journey.  But it also impacts on all those it touches, and in Nanny’s case that was very negatively.  Maybe if she had been older when Ritchie left, she would have seen it with different eyes.   

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