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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Launching the punts

As a child in Cheekpoint there were various rhythms to the
year.  One was a boring repetitive one-
school.  There were others however, which were much more pleasant and one of the more interesting
and natural was the fishery.

I mentioned before the way of the tides and the fishing.  But around the fishing there was
also a natural cycle with the boats; from half deckers, prongs and punts.  For now I’d like to concentrate on the punts.

In those days they were made of timber,
generally larch planks over oak frames. 
Following the long spring and summer of the salmon fishing and eel
fishing boats were heavy with absorbed water into the planks and needing some repair. 

Wear and tear on punts could have been simple or more complicated including; damaged keel bands (a band of
metal that protected the keel) could be loose or broken following a
season of beaching on gravel or stone.,
natural wear on timber from weather, damage to gunwales from hauling nets or ropes, faded paint work and repairs such as few gaps in planks where caulking would have fallen out or rotted to having to replace timbers or planks, knees, thwarts etc.

Boats were generally hauled out on some of the high tides
such as the equinox springs in late September. 
These tended to be a community event, groups of men (and boys) gathering
to help to drag up the punts from high water and onto the shoreline.  Once up, they would be turned over,
keel side up and the gunwales raised off the ground with rocks under them to
allow the wind blow under and dry them out.

Turning over a punt at Moran’s poles. Photo: Hannah Doherty

In the village the Green was the favourite spot to
overwinter.  The Rookery quay would also
have a few boats.  Moran’s poles was a
favourite of Paddy & Pat Moran, Paddy, Christy and Johnny Doherty and
Maurice Doherty too.  Further along
towards Whelan’s Road Charlie Duffin kept his boat and in the next spot Jim
Duffin.  Ned “Garragier” Power kept his
punt and prong down under the house on the strand.

Over the winter, the barnacles and green moss that would
have grown on the boats bottom during the heat of the summer would have died
back.  At some stage these would be scrapped off and washed down. 
Some preferred to do it soon after, others not until they were readying
the hull in the spring.  There was always
someone down at the boats tinkering away at something.  As children we loved to come across the men
working on the boats.  There was always a
yarn, maybe a few bob for running an errand or an opportunity to learn some
particular skill. 

work in progress. Photo: Molly Doherty

One Sunday morning I returned home from the poles and asked my
father if I could light his fag.  He
was sitting at the fire and nearly choked on his cup of tea.  Anyway I
persisted and he said “go on so”.  So I
took the fag in my mouth struck the match on the box and cupped me hand around
the flame.  Bending down I puffed hard
and came up with the fag lit to perfection. 
Amazed, he asked me “Where did you learn that” – “Paddy Doherty just
showed me” I said, beaming with pride, “He said any man that fishes needs to
know how to light a fag when out in a gale”. 
“Well, you’re on your way so” said my father as he snatched it out of my fingers

Before the boat was turned it would need to be coated with a
mixture of tar and pitch to seal the hull. 
Any caulking that had come undone would be replaced prior to this.  Manys the time the tar and pitch we used came
from Johnny Hearne’s on the quay, but people had many sources, and I remember it said that the best you could get was from the Harbour Board. 

launching from Moran’s poles 1990’s.  Photo: Deena Bible

This would be melted down in a pot or an old paint can over
an open fire and you had to be careful that the tar didn’t boil too hot or it
could catch fire.  The brush used would
have to be a good one, or it would fall apart in the heat.  The same pot and brush tended to be used from
year to year.  Once the hull was tarred
it would be left to dry and then turned over to expose the inside.

Then this too would be tarred and finally the gunwales and
strikes would be painted inside and out. 
Each boat had her own traditional colours and a lot of care was
generally paid to ensure that the upper paint work looked well. 

Blessing of a punt at the Green Cheekpoint c1964

Once all was in order, it was time to launch.  This tended to be done a few weeks before the
new season started as boats needed time to swell in the water and close up
after the planks had dried out and most probably shrunk.  Again it was a big event and most boats would
go out together to save on time.

modern day launching
Sat 26th July 2014

Repairs these days take place with power tools, hence boats tend to come
out on a trailer and be towed home to a shed and a nearby power source.  It’s also a fact that most boats these days
are fibreglass or are timber boats that have a fiberglass coating.  Hence the traditions described above have either died out or are significantly altered and reduced, which when you think about it, is a big loss to a local tradition.

Thanks to Tomás Sullivan for suggesting the topic of this blog.

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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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