Misadventure on the SS Pembroke, 1899

The SS Pembroke was one of a proud fleet of ships of the Great Western Railway company which carried passengers, freight and mails between Waterford and the UK. While en route to Waterford in February of 1899 she encountered dense fog and ran aground on the Saltee Islands, sparking a major rescue and salvage operation.
SS Pembroke heading inbound to Waterford, Flying huntsman ahead.
AH Poole Collection NLI

http://catalogue.nli.ie/Record/vtls000591122

The SS Pembroke was built by Laird Brothers of Birkenhead, in the year 1880. She was originally a paddle steamer, but in 1896 she was altered by the shipyard into a twin screw steamship as shown above. She was operated by the Great Western Railway Company and did regular sailings on the Waterford to Milford Haven route, latterly Fishguard, and as such would have been a regular sight to the people of the city and the harbour.
SS Pembroke departed Milford port on the 18th February 1899 with 28 passengers, a crew of 30, the mails, and a cargo of 28 tons. The ship was under the command of Captain John Driver. At 6.19am the ship was forced to reduce speed having encountered dense fog off the Wexford coast. At about 6.30am the Master spotted breakers ahead, and immediately ordered the engines to full astern. The response came to late and she struck land.
Aground on North Saltee- AH Poole Collection NLI

http://catalogue.nli.ie/Record/vtls000591118

A 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)
The land they encountered was one of the Saltee Islands and there were two men staying on the island at the time (William Culleton and Anthony Morgan).  These men guided the ships boats in, and treated the passengers to tea and tried to make them comfortable. The second mate then set off in a ships boat for Kilmore Quay where he raised the alarm by telegram to Waterford. 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.(2)
Paddle tug, Flying Huntsman at Limerick,
courtesy of Frank Cheevers and NLI

A man named Ensor from Queenstown (Dun Laoghaire) 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 Pembroke’s own steam, but with several tugs on stand-by, she was brought into Waterford harbour and up to Cheekpoint.(3)

Aground again, but purposely
AH Poole Collection NLI

http://catalogue.nli.ie/Record/vtls000591127

Inspection in progress – AH Poole Collection NLI

http://catalogue.nli.ie/Record/vtls000591124

She was re-grounded at the Strand Road, above the main quay at Cheekpoint, 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.

The Pembroke sailed down the harbour for Lairds of Liverpool for repair on Saturday 4th March. Again she sailed under her own steam and safely got across the Irish sea, but sprung a leak off Liverpool and had to call to Hollyhead for emergency repairs.(4)

The subsequent inquiry into the incident was held at the Guildhall in Westminister on March 29th 1899.  It found that the ships Master, John Driver, made insufficient allowance for the tide which appeared to be running abnormally strong on the morning of the grounding. They found that he did not reduce speed sufficiently and should have cast a lead when unsure of his position.  However after a previous unblemished career of 39 years, the tribunal made no ruling on his position saying that he was “entitled to the confidence of his employers”

The Pembroke returned to service the Irish Sea and continued up until 1916. In that year she was given over to general cargo runs.  She survived the war, having at least one near brush with a U Boat which she managed to outrun. She survived the war but following 45 years of loyal service she was sold for scrap in 1925.

*  If you follow the links under each photo it will bring you to the NLI website and you may then zoom in on each photo where you will get a good sense of the crowds at Cheekpoint.  There is also a great view of a paddle steam tug ahead of the Pembroke as she departs above Passage.

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

(1),(2) & (3)John Power – A Maritime History of County Wexford Vol 1(2011) pp 377- 381
(4). Waterford Standard. Wednesday March 8th 1899

I publish a blog each Friday.  If you like this piece or have an interest in the local history or maritime heritage of Waterford harbour and environs you can email me at tidesandtales@gmail.com to receive the blog every week.
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110th anniversary of the Barrow Bridge opening- An acknowledgement

This week marks the 110 anniversary of the opening of the Barrow Railway Viaduct, 21st July 1906. Built to connect Waterford with Rosslare, the bridge crosses the Rivers Barrow & Nore at Drumdowney in Kilkenny and Great Island in Wexford.  The event was officiated by the the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland Lord Aberdeen.  He with the other guests, estimated at 500, traveled on a special event train that departed from Dublin via Waterford before crossing the new bridge where they stopped to admire the meeting of the three sisters.

The train 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. The freight rail service was the first to start running on the line, followed by a passenger service which came into operation on August 1st 1906 and the first cross channel ferry passengers left Rosslare on Fri 24th August 1906, sailing on the St Patrick.

Of course the bridge might never have been constructed.  An earlier plan which would have seen a railway line from the city to Passage East and a bridge or rail ferry crossing to connect with Wexford got as far as a company being formed and the commencement of some structural works like the bridge at Jack Meades.
The option of crossing the Barrow was a controversial decision however.  The New Ross Harbour Commissioners had every right to fear disruption of trade.  It was not until provisions were made to the plans of Sir Benjamin Barker including a
swivel opening span to allow entry and egress, that the go ahead was received.
Work commenced in June 1902 after a tender of £109, 347 was won by Sir William Arrol & Co of Glasgow. The initial stages of the work went well.  However the twin pillars onto which the spans were placed had to be laid on a foundation of the river bedrock.  As they proceeded out into the Barrow the depths got ever deeper and in some cases workers had to dig to 108 feet below the mean water level. Such extra work added a cost of £12,000 to the bridge.

Once completed the bridge was 2131 feet long, consisting of 13 fixed spans
mounted on twin 8 foot diameter cast iron cylinders filled with concrete.
11 spans are 148 feet long and the two closest the opening are 144 feet.
The bridge is 25 feet above high water on the spring tides. The railway is a single track steel line, 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.  This span was constructed on 4 pillars and originally turned with an electric motor (now mains), situated on the pontoon around the pillars.  The opening pivots with an 80 Foot clearance allowing ships to pass.
The bridge saw several closures down the years, possibly the most exciting being
the incident with a floating mine in 1947, and which I’ve covered before in my
piece a century of Barrow Bridge incidents.
But the one closure it could not overcome was the economic arguments of CIE and
the final train crossed the bridge in September 2010.
We’ve seen trains pass occasionally since then, and perhaps in the future more
enlightened public transport policy or a tourism based initiative may see the
line re-opened.  I for one would dearly love to see it reinstated.  Its a train journey I never took, and regret it deeply.
I want 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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and history but the daily happenings in our beautiful harbour:
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Views from Cheekpoint Village

Rivers

Cheekpoint is
a traditional fishing village located 7 miles downstream from Waterford City. It has been an important
navigation point for the ports of Waterford and New Ross as it is located at
the meeting point of the three sister river network, the Barrow, Nore and Suir.
Between them they drain an area of land second only to the Shannon.  The Suir 114 miles long, and the Barrow 119 miles long, (the Nore joins the Barrow
above New Ross) combine beside Cheekpoint and create the estuary that flows out
to the Atlantic. 

Meeting of the Three Sisters.  Photo via Anthony Rogers

Cheekpoint Quays.

Cheekpoint was reputed to have a settlement of Ostmen
(Vikings) in the distant past.  It was
also of strategic importance to the Normans. 
The first references to a quay date from the time that the Mail Packet
Station moved to the village.  The Station was created in Cheekpoint
in 1785 by local landlord Cornelius Bolton.  Cheekpoint Quay
would have been the point of departure for all mail,
including some freight and passengers, from Waterford to Milford
Haven in Wales during that time.  Several ships were employed on the
service and it was run by a Welsh Quaker, Captain Thomas Own.  The station operated until 1813, when it was
moved further down river to Passage and then to Dunmore East in 1824.  The
present quay was constructed in the 1870’s, as was the lower quay breakwater, and
both have seen several upgrades and additions down the years.  More about the quay here.

Cheekpoint in 1960’s  photo by Martin Power via Déaglán De Paor

 The Barrow Bridge

The Barrow rail bridge was for over 100 years the
connection that linked the SW of Ireland via Waterford to Wexford and Rosslare
port.  It is 2131 feet in length and
consists of 13 fixed spans mounted on twin 8 foot diameter cast iron
cylinders filled with concrete.  11 spans are 148 feet long and the two
closest the opening are 144 feet.  Because the port of New Ross is
above the bridge and an opening span had to be added at the deepest part
of the river channel.  The railway is a single track steel line, built
within the protective casing of a mild steel girder frame with cross trusses.

Sir Benjamin Baker designed the bridge.  Tendering commenced in late 1901 and was won
by a Glaswegian firm – William Arrol & Co.  Both men were responsible
for some of the finest engineering constructions worldwide, of their age.  The winning bid was £109, 347 and work had
commenced by June of 1902 and was opened on the 21st July
1906.  The bridge served its purpose
until Saturday 18th September 2010 when the last commercial train crossed
over. 

It has several distinctions as a bridge; it is the longest
railbridge in Ireland and it was also the last major rail line to be
constructed in Ireland and the bridge the last major piece of infrastructure.
Previously we covered the planning and construction of the bridge, its opening and eventual closure.

 
Add caption

Power stations

There are now two Power Stations across the river at
Cheekpoint at Great Island.  The station
on the left is a redundant oil burner.  The
building of the station started in 1965 and the first phase was finished in
1967. A second phase and chimney was added by 1972.   The
chimneys are 450 feet high and are almost as high as the Minaun.  There were 5 storage tanks on the site each
holding 17,000 tons of oil, which was delivered via oil tanker ships.  At it’s height the station employed up to 70
people.  The most recent station is gas
burning and its set to open this month, November 2014.  The
gas is delivered by pipe and the new station is said to have a lifespan of 30
years.  The entire site is believed to be
over 170 acres of land.

Fishing Weirs

A distinctive factor in the Cheekpoint fishery was the use
of fishing Weirs. An example of which can be seen above the main quay.  The
weirs originated with the coming of the Normans in 1170 and since that time
were responsible for much of the fish caught in the area, either directly or
indirectly.  They could provide year
round fishing.  Weirs could be used under
licence for Salmon fishing, for white fish in autumn and winter and also a
source of bait for the summer Eel fishery.

Eels like the heat and during winter disappear into the
river mud to sleep.  They emerge when they decide it’s warm enough and
feed voraciously.  This feeding frenzy suited the fishermen well who used baited
pots to capture them.  The Eels had to be kept alive prior to their sale,
and were exported live to the Netherlands. The buyers would arrive on the
quay with their water tanks on the back of trucks and the fishermen first
weighed the eels and then loaded them into the tanks for export. The village has a unique distinction in that it still has a
number of weirs in operation.  This is
unique not just in Ireland but also in Europe and most probably the world.

I publish a blog each Friday.  If you like this piece or have an interest in the local history or maritime heritage of Waterford harbour and environs you can email me at russianside@gmail.com to receive the blog every week.
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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; 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. 

I publish a blog each Friday.  If you like this piece or have an interest in the local history or maritime heritage of Waterford harbour and environs you can email me at russianside@gmail.com to receive the blog every week.
My Facebook and Twitter pages are more contemporary and reflect not just heritage 
and history but the daily happenings in our beautiful harbour:  
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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.

I publish a blog each Friday.  If you like this piece or have an interest in the local history or maritime heritage of Waterford harbour and environs you can email me at russianside@gmail.com to receive the blog every week.
My Facebook and Twitter pages are more contemporary and reflect not just heritage 
and history but the daily happenings in our beautiful harbour:  
F https://www.facebook.com/whtidesntales  T https://twitter.com/tidesntales