Waterford City Ferry

When Waterford city was looking to create a river crossing to cater for the increasing trade associated with its dynamic port of the 18th Century the city fathers had a problem. A bridge was needed, but ferrymen operating between its quays on the Waterford and Kilkenny banks had an ancient licence preserving their rights as the only means of connection between both sides.
The bridge that would ultimately be built of course was Timbertoes, designed and constructed by the American Lemuel Cox. The ferry rights were bought up and in 1794 the bridge was erected. Of course citizens and travelers alike still needed to pay for the service, as the bridge was tolled. But it provided a river crossing that previously could only be completed by boat, unless you were willing to walk to Carrick on Suir.(1) Timbertoes was tolled until 1907 at which point the corporation bought out the rights for £63,000. The original bridge cost £27,000, £13k of which was paid to buy off the rights of the ferrymen. which highlights both the lucrative nature of their trade, and the strength of those original city charters!(2)
Waterford Ferry by Alexander Williams circa 1912 from a book by Stephen Gwynn
Accessed from http://www.gutenberg.org/files/44046/44046-h/images/i_026g.jpg
The ferry service of course was ancient. According to Michael O’Neill(3) the rights were granted by King John to Waterford in an original city charter.  (In much the same way his father, Henry II, gave the rights at Passage to the Knights Templar.  Anyone thinking that this was a new initiative however would I believe be delusional*)  It was listed in a letter patent granted by King William III to a certain James Roche on the 13th June 1694. The rent was £4 10s 0d and I’m sure the money was recouped handsomely*! *.  In 1786 it seems to have been in the possession of one Cornelius Grogan, when four boats were operating on the service. In the Richards & Scales map of 1764 a ferry slip is shown to the west of conduit Lane*! *. From mid 19th C newspaper clippings it appears that ‘Tower ferry’ was often used to describe it. I would also presume that the ferry’s were carrying livestock as well as human passengers.
Croker postcard showing the ferry boat at the landing stage at the Adelphie
Image courtesy of Brendan Grogan
Michael Fewer gives an insight into the ferry as used by his mother in the 1920s. Taking the ferry to school in Ferrybank, it traveled in all weather except sever gales and fog, not because of getting lost, but in case of being run down by the constant commercial traffic in and out of port. The open punts were 15 feet long and had two oarsmen, except on really strong tides when four were employed. They left from Adelphie Quay and from a slip by Abbeyside every 15 minutes and the cost was one old penny. School children had a discounted rate of ten trips for threepence. (4)
The business obviously survived the lifting of the toll and the construction of the new toll free Redmond Bridge. According to an article in the Munster Express of 1942(5) the ferry was relocated from its traditional landing stage to below the Clock Tower (Duncannon Hulk), a change to accommodate the modern user we are told. In April 1950 the Munster Express(6) carried a report that the ferry service was in difficulty. A replacement ferry has been hired, at considerable expense to the corporation, and there is concern that the operation was becoming nonviable. Mention is made of a “more comfortable means of conveyance” which I am guessing refers, as there is no other details, to the bus service provided by Kenneally’s.
Ferry boat operating on a regatta day.  Photo courtesy of Brendan Grogan

Almost two years later to the day, the Munster carried another report of a deputation seeking restoration of the ferry, at a cost to the corporation of £1,200. So at least we can say that the ferry stopped between April 1950 to 1952**.  Interestingly a report from 1957 in the same paper mentions an ongoing campaign for the restoration of the ferry.  I  came across the following bit of video which folks will probably enjoy about the flour mills that has a small mention of the ferry: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5sQaJWDpo4I

Of course the history of ferries around Waterford is of long standing, and thankfully still to be experienced in parts. I was lucky enough to travel the Passage Ballyhack ferry when it was a case of raising a flag at the ferry boat chugged across to collect you.  The ferry still runs, as does the Island ferry to the Waterford castle resort. The Island was an important crossing point as folks could travel on foot across the Ford (all in the name) and then take a short ferry trip to the Waterford side.  My father often told me of the ferry that linked Great Island to Ballinlaw, and how it was easier to go to mass and school in Slieverue rather than walk to Horsewood for certain folk from the Island. The ferry that spanned the River Blackwater between Kinsalebeg and Youghal operated from the extant name of Ferrypoint. Grannagh Ferry operated above town, where the new city bridge operates.
There’s a few blogs in that last paragraph alone. However, for now lets be thankful for old photos and written snippets of history.  And next time you cross a bridge, or take a car ferry think of the centuries of tradition you are embracing.
Thanks to Brendan Grogan for assistance with this piece.
* I had a follow up conversation today which suggests some ferry rights went back to Brehon law
** 16th April 1950.  With thanks to Michael O’Sullivan of the Waterford History Group via Twitter
*! * according to A Parcel from the Past, Des Griffin, Waterford civic Trust. 1994, “… It was the most lucrative of all the Irish ferries given by William of Orange to ‘Roche the Swimmer’ in recognition of the part he played in the capture of Derry in 1691”

(1)  Power. Patrick. C. History of Waterford City & County.1990.  Mercier Press. Dublin (p110)
(2) Walsh. K. (Ed) Waterford memories, 150 years with the Munster Express. 2010.  A&A Farmer.   Dublin (p37)
(3) O’Neill. Michael. Reminiscences of Waterford.  1987.  Waterford (p13)
(4) Fewer. Michael.  Rambling Down the Suir.  2009.  Ashfield Press. Dublin. (pp229-10)
(5) Munster Express Friday January 16th 1942. P.6
(6) Munster Express April 7th 1950. P.7
(7) Munster Express April 4th 1952. P.8