Closure of the Barrow Railway Bridge

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.

Another family who made the effort to take the trip was Alice Duffin in the Mount Ave, her Daughter Una Sharpe and her Grand Daughters Emma and Fiona.  Emma remembered the trip and took some footage.  They got off in Wexford and her Dad Brian drove down to bring them home.  He drew the short straw!  So did my brother in law Maurice, he collected my sister Eileen, his Mother Florence RIP and his young family after taking the trip too

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;

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. 

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1970’s Altar boy

It must have been at around the start of 4th class that we were first began learning our trade as it were on the altar in Faithlegg. It was a big affair.  As youngsters we were up at the front of the Church for Sunday mass and any and all religious services and days of obligation.  We watched in awe as the bigger boys marched out ahead of the priest and took their positions and I guess it was considered an honour and a phase of growing up, that we would one day take their places as Altar boys.

I can’t say I can remember my first morning, but I imagine it would have started like so many others on a Saturday night…bath night; a smell of soap, shoe polish and tripe and onions boiling in milk and early to bed so we’d be bright eyed in the morning.  Sunday would be hustle and bustle, clean clothes, shinning shoes and away up to the top of the Mount Ave to catch the Sunday morning service Suirway bus, driven by our neighbour Willie Elliott.  Mammy had relented on the notion of a black fast before mass at that stage, but the most we would have in our bellies was a cup of tea, and it ensured the tripe pot would get a deathing on our return.  The bus would be packed, having started collecting at the Cross Roads, which we often left early to catch.  It would stop in the village, then the Mount and again at the Cross Roads.

accessed from

The bus would drop outside Faithlegg Church gates and we would have walked up the side of the church and in the back door of the sacristy.  In those days there was a cupboard opposite the back door where the altar garments hung and I remember they were just like a priests; a black soutanne with a white surplice.  There were black plimsoles in the cupboard also, which we didn’t have to wear, a throwback to an earlier time or maybe a hint of change in the air.

1965 blessing of a boat with altar boys in attendance

Once geared up, always done in silence if the chaple woman, Joan Dwyer, was there, we went about getting the altar ready and I think there was always a pride in getting asked to light the candles, which took a certain amount of skill when it came to the candles on the tabernacle.  The other jobs included putting out the cruets of water and wine, setting out the altar table, putting out the bells and at some stage during my tenure putting out the newly installed microphones.  Perhaps the best of all, except it was raining, was to head off up to the Belfry to ring the congregation into Church.  Before we walked out, we lined up in order of our jobs.  The first two went to the left of the altar and did the water and the wine and ablutions.  The other two to the right and did the bells and held the platter at communion.

Familiar view of the altar server

There were all sorts of misadventures of course, trips, falls, sneezing fits, nosebleeds and fainting. My most memorable was a morning, when I was only beginning on the altar, serving with John Boy Kent and I think John O Leary and Charlie Hanlon.  Johnboy was probably in sixth class at that stage and was renowned for his strength.  He was ringing the bells that particular service.  As the priest raised the blessed bread and the congregation bowed their heads, John Boy lashed into the bells giving them an almighty shake.  One minute the bells were a jingling the next there was a crash as one bell hit the wall, another landed into our lap on the other side of the alter, whilst a third landed down on the tiles in the middle of the church with a loud plop.  One of the jobs when putting out the bells was that you checked to make sure the nuts that held the individual bells were tightened…for some reason no one checked that morning…The boys in the front pew were bursting in laughter and I remember praying earnestly in the hope that it would take me mind off the scene and that I would manage to keep the laughter in.

Sometimes there was money to be had from the job.  The priest usually gave us a few bob at Christmas, I remember Fr Daly, giving me 50p one year and all the other boys too.  There was also money to be had at a wedding or a funeral.  Weddings weren’t as common in those times as they now are at the church but funerals were, and we considered them a good source of sweet money.  There was a lot more “work” with a funeral mind you.  Along with standard mass duties you had holy water, carrying the cross and the trickiest of all, lighting and maintaining the incense burning thurible.  We were generally paid by the undertaker who used an envelope which meant you’d get a pound note.  The envelope gave me a feeling of importance, almost like I was an independent earner.  On occasions the family paid which was awkward as you felt they were going through enough, and sometimes you were paid by both which was another dilemma altogether.  What should morally correct young catholic boys do?

Of course the big thrill of a funeral was when it occurred during school times.  As time progressed I served with Michael Duffin and Teggy Murphy (our opposites were Williams Doherty and Elliott and Ger Doherty meaning we took turns doing all the masses) and when the funeral was during school we would be left off about 20 mins before to make our way to the church.  Needless to say, there was no cars to bring us, it had to be walked; something we rejoiced in, especially on the return.  Many’s the morning Michael White the Principal, was drumming his fingers on the desk as we made our return, with a questioning look.  Of course we had some excuse or other, but the reality was we walked both sides of the road and did whatever we could to delay our return.

One of my worst memories of the church happened with our favourite priest Fr Daly (RIP).  It was an evening mass, probably around all souls when there was a week of evening vigils.  The three of us were on and it wasn’t long since the new PA system had been installed.  This included a table mike on the altar table and a standing mike for reading the gospels.

We were setting it up, and for some reason Joan wasn’t around that evening, or had gone home to run an errand.  One of the jobs was to tap the mike to be sure it was working.  Left to our own devices we got it in our heads to forgo the tapping and to mimic Meat Loaf instead.  So with a drummer, air guitarist and a lead singer with the stand up mike we launched into Bat out of Hell.  We were warming to the performance, when Father Daly came through the doors at the end of the church.  We sank into the carpet.  The shame was unbearable and was made even more so by the look on our priests face.  Not anger, not revulsion, just disappointment.  Nothing was said, he didn’t need to, we got back to the task of arranging the altar and never blackguarded like it again.

It was night vigils like these that I enjoyed the best.  The mass over, we cleared the altar, tidied away in the sacristy and then changing, we went outside to make our way home.  There would be few enough cars in those days, but those that were there would be gone and we would face the mile and a half to Cheekpoint with no great fear.  Walking along the darkened road we would pick out the stars and constellations and Teggy would regale us with fantastical stories of UFO’s and accounts from his father, Terry, who had served with the US Air Force and was a great man for a yarn.  Coming along, every light that moved across the sky was an alien spaceship coming to invade, or snatch away people out on their own in the night for experimentation!

At some point my brother Robert and neighbour Mossy Moran (RIP) joined our altar team, thus it became our turn to be seniors and pass on the trade.  Come Autumn of 1978 we headed into town school and with it took a joint leap from a school with probably 60 students overall to a class year of 150+.  On leaving we naturally also left the altar service and if I was honest I have to say I missed the buzz of it. 

Although there has been a sea change in attitudes towards the church in Irish society since, including some horrific accounts of abuse of altar boys, I still look back on my altar service days with a fondness (and maybe you would think relief).  Not so much for the religious aspect or the ceremony.  No it was more because in a time when there was not many other alternatives for children of our age, it gave us something to do, something to make us feel special, something of which we could take some pride.

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Cheekpoint sailors in a River Mersey rescue

On Saturday night, 12th Nov 1955 my Father, Bob Doherty and two others from Cheekpoint, my Uncle John and Jimmy (O’Dea) Doherty, were departing Liverpool as seamen aboard the MV Ocean Coast in dense fog.  They were carrying general cargo and were bound for Falmouth.

MV Ocean Coast was a twin screw motor cargo vessel of 250 ft in length and a 38ft beam and 1,790 tons deadweight .  She was built for short sea route trips by Leith shipyard for the Coast Lines shipping company and was launched on 31st July 1935.  During the war years she had served the war effort as a supply vessel to Gibraltar and North Africa.  She also played her part in the D Day landings servicing Omaha beach carrying petrol.

MV Ocean Coast

At 22:10 that night the Ocean Coast sent out the following message “Queens Channel, Q15 Buoy, River Mersey.  There has been a collision between two unknown ships.  I am anchored and sending a lifeboat over.  Strong ebb tide running.  One of the ships in the collision has sunk”

It would subsequently emerge that a fully laden Swedish motor oil tanker SS Juno inbound had struck the SS Bannprince which was operated by S William Coe of Liverpool.  The Bannprince was crewed by Northern Ireland men and had been built in 1933 in Glasgow.  She was 165ft 5″ long with a beam of 27ft 2″ and a deadweight of 716 tons.

SS Bannprince

Like the Ocean Coast, the Bannprince had served with a volunteer crew during the war.  She helped to evacuate 337,130 Allied troops from Dunkirk between May and June 1940, following this she was taken over for “Unspecified special government services” and was one of the first ships to land at Sword beach during the D Day landings with much needed medical supplies. 

The Bannprince was outward bound that fateful night, fully laden with coal for Colerain in NI.  The first the crew knew of difficulties was when the ships horn sounded three shrill blasts moments before there was an almighty crash and the ship healed over.  She would sink in ten minutes and most of the crew of 9 had no time to get a lifejacket.  Her lifeboats were submerged..  In the freezing Mersey the crew did what they could to stay together and help those that couldn’t swim into lifejackets found floating or other debris that would sustain them. 

Motor Tanker WWII era

It was almost an hour between collision and the calls from the lifeboat of the Ocean Coast were heard in the water.  At this point most of the sailors were close to exhaustion and had drifted apart.  The boat my father and Jimmy O Dea was in rescued six and a lifeboat from a sister ship Southern Coast picked up the remaining 3 men including the captain and the only crew man to lose his life, second engineer James Ferris of Limavady, Derry.

My father had to jump in the water at one stage to help some of the men out of the water.  Later this gave rise to a yarn from Jimmy O Dea about how they were rowing back to their ship when they noticed my father wasn’t there. They turned back, rowing now with a vengeance only to find my father swinging off a buoy shouting “where the hell were ye then ship mates???”

The Certificate my father received in 1957

They put the six survivors aboard the New Brighton Lifeboat and returned to the Ocean Coast to continue their voyage.  On the 3rd April 1957 my father along with 5 other crew men received a certificate from the Liverpool Shipwreck and Humane Society in recognition of their efforts.  The Captain received a silver cigarette box and the chief officer a parchment.

The Ocean Coast continued to give service into the 1960’s when she seems to have been sold for scrap,  The Bannprince was risen from the Mersey as she was a hazard to shipping and was sold for scrap to a Dutch shipyard.  The Juno, which was only lightly damaged, returned to work. but I couldn’t source any further information.

My father went to sea as a teenager like so many other men of his generation.  Himself, Jimmy and Uncle John are now gone to their rest, and with them probably most of their best stories.

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The SS Alfred D Snow and Cheekpoint Green

When I was a child I used to come to the cottage on the Green on Sundays, long weekends and summer holidays.  It was my Grandparents, Tommy and May White’s house and it was always full of cousins, aunts and uncles and lots of gatherings and parties were held there.  Grandad had bought it in the 1950’s from “Billy the Green” Doherty who had reared a large family in the house.

The summers were the best because you got to play all day on the Green and be with your friends from morning til night.  The village was always busy in the summer months too with fishermen on the quay, coming and going from fishing, mending nets, checking boats.  There were always visitors on holidays and people coming to Mac’s for food.

When the cottage was full with cousins Nanny would make up extra beds in the sitting room and we would all pile in.  In the mornings the jackdaws in the big open fireplace would waken us with their squawking and flapping wings. 

My favourite place to sleep though, was in the small back bedroom. We were told this was an old ships cabin from a ship that had been wrecked in the harbour many years before.  This room had a low wooden ceiling with some iron rivets across it in places.  There was a small skylight which was then closed in place but could have been opened in the past to allow fresh, if salty air into the cabin on a ship that crossed the Atlantic for her trade.  It was a cosy room and often too hot on a warm summer evening.  It was only years later that I learned that the cabin came from an American ship called the Alfred D Snow.

The Alfred D Snow was a three masted fully rigged all timber ship which was built in the Samuel Watts shipbuilding yard in Maine USA.  She was 232 feet long with a beam of 42 feet and was built in 1877. 

image courtesy of Andrew Kelly

She left San Francisco on Aug 30th 1887 bound for Liverpool with a cargo of wheat under Captain William J Wiley.  She had fair weather on the trip, including the rounding of Cape Horn but as she came up towards the Irish Sea a south east gale blew up and the captain found that evasive measures were required.  The crew battled bravely but the storm grew in force and they were forced to call into Waterford Estuary to try find some shelter.  Sails were dropped, leaving her without much helm and they tried to inch the ship in under the hook peninsula that would have given them some shelter.  However the ship struck the sand close to Broomhill and got stuck fast.  Heeling over, the waves crashing over, the ships boats were launched with some difficulty and one managed to make it away but it was swamped and all aboard were drowned.  The others took to the rigging in the hopes of salvation.

On land the people were helpless to give direct assistance.  The Dunmore East lifeboat was called but didn’t respond until much later, which was a matter of controversy at the time.  The tug Dauntless did try to respond.  She was sheltering at Passage East but as she approached one of her paddles broke and she drifted helplessly away back up the harbour.  As the gale continued to roar and the seas continued to pound, the ship started to break up and the remaining crew were washed away and they too were drowned. 

In total all 29 crew men died.  Mostly American but also men from England, France, Germany, Norway and Russia.  There was an Irish crew man named Michael O Sullivan but I haven’t found out where he came from.  However in researching this piece I did learn that there was a survivor; the ships dog, a sheepdog, managed to swim to shore and climbed up the rocks to safety.

During the days that followed the Captains body was recovered and was shipped home for burial in a lead lined, brandy filled casket, (I wonder did he like a drink?).  Other crew men were interred in Ballyhack, but most were never found.  Pieces of the wreck floated in all along the harbour.  These were secured by the Coastguard apparently and were auctioned off.  That’s one possibility for how it arrived in Cheekpoint.

A model with the cabin behind the foremast
image courtesy of Andrew Kelly

Locally, it is said that it came to Cheekpoint quay and using rollers was brought up the village and the backroad and then down behind the cottage and put in place.  The Boreen wasn’t wide enough apparently.  It remained as it was until a few years back when my cousin renovated the house, so that in total the shipwrights at Samuel Watts yard created a cabin that lasted over 130 years.

I’m glad I had the opportunity to sleep in the cabin, but I don’t know if I would have slept so soundly had I known the whole history of the ship at that time.

Deena Bible 23/8/2014
Piece first read at the Heritage Week event in Reading Room Cheekpoint

With thanks to Andrew Kelly for further information.
John Power – A Maritime History of County Wexford Vol 1(2011)

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SS Pembroke and Cheekpoint

SS Pembroke – AH Poole Collection NLI
The SS Pembroke was built of steel by Laird Brothers of Birkenhead, in the year 1880 and was originally a paddle steamer.  The company was founded by John Laird.   The Pembroke was registered at the Port of Milford.  In 1896 she was altered by the shipyard into a twin screw steamship as shown above.  The photo seems to me to show her off Seedes bank inward bound to Waterford with Buttermilk Point in the background.

She was operated by the Great Western Railway Company and did regular sailings on the Milford Haven to Waterford route and as such would have been a regular to the people of Cheekpoint and the Waterford estuary.

She departed Milford port on the 18th February 1899 with 28 passengers, the mail, and a cargo of 28 tons, under the command of Captain John Driver, and with a crew of 30. Passing close to the Saltee Islands off the Wexford coast,  the master, spotted breakers a-head, and immediately reversed the engines to full speed astern.  The response came to late and before the way could be taken off her, she struck the Islands.

Aground – AH Poole Collection NLI
As passenger takes up the story; “…we were thrown out of our bunks onto the cabin floor.  For a few seconds we heard a terrible sound underneath the vessel.  The rest of the passengers thought that the vessel had collided with another vessel and was sinking…When we got on deck, other passengers were huddled together in a group, half dressed.  Among the passengers were some ladies, who seemed very calm, while male passengers were running about in terror.  The captain ordered the boats to be launched and by 7 o clock all the passengers were landed on the island”1
There were two men staying on the Island at the time who guided the ships boats in, and treated the passengers to tea and comfort.  The second mate then set off for Kilmore Quay where he raised the alarm.  The entire fishing fleet set to sea and the tug “Flying Huntsman” part of the Waterford Steamship Co fleet which was then at Dunmore responded and eventually took on the passengers, cargo and the mail and brought all to Waterford that same day.
A man named Ensor from Queenstown (Dun Laoighre) was engaged as salvor and it was considered feasible to refloat the ship.  This was achieved five days later on the 23rd Feb and under the ships own steam, but with several tugs on stand-by, she was brought into Waterford harbour and up to Cheekpoint.2
Aground again, but purposely
AH Poole Collection NLI 
Inspection in progress – AH Poole Collection NLI

She was re-grounded at the Strand Road, above the main quay, and it seems that it was a major draw for city and country people alike.  The photo above shows clearly the benefit of re grounding the vessel as a full view could be got of the damage and temporary repairs could be carried out.  Once done she sailed once more for Lairds for repairs.

The Pembroke returned to service the Irish Sea and continued up until 1916.  In that year she was given over to general cargo runs and she was retired and sold for scrap in 1925.  The subsequent inquiry into the incident on the Saltees makes for interesting reading and parts of the account have been taken directly from that source. 

The original story was passed on to me by Tomás Sullivan Cheekpoint.

1 & 2. John Power – A Maritime History of County Wexford Vol 1(2011) pp 377- 381

 All photos above are sourced from the National Library of Ireland and were part of the AH Poole Collection.

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