The wreck of the SS Hermoine

There was plenty of drama along the Irish coast in the First World War, some of which was directly played out in the harbour, whilst others eventually washed up, or in this case was towed into, the harbour.  One such story is of the SS Hermione, a saga that continued to create problems long after the savagery of war had passed
The S.S. Hermione, originally called the Yarrawonga was almost 360 feet long, 4,011 tons and was  launched in 1891 by J.L. Thompson and Sons, Sunderland. She was purchased from the Blue Anchor Line by R.P. Houston & Company, (The British & South American Steam Navigation Co) Liverpool in 1903, renamed and used for transatlantic trade between Liverpool and the Argentine carrying frozen meat.
SS Hermione in better days.  Brendan Grogan collection
The Hermione was requisitioned by the British Admiralty in WW1. Whilst sailing from Liverpool to Buenos Aries in April of 1917, carrying general cargo including 57 horses, she became another statistic of the war.  She was badly damaged approx. 1½ miles south of the Coningbeg rocks, off Co. Wexford, by a mine which was laid by the German submarine, UC33.  Three sailors lost their lives, but I’m not clear as yet whether it was because of the mine, or her foundering (presumably the former).
She was towed into Waterford Harbour by an escort ship, HMS Daffodil and was anchored off Ardnamult Head (Ard na Moilt) above Dunmore East.  Whilst there she sank on 14th April 1917. But this was not before in a very capable act of seamanship, Captain Spillane of the Clyde ship SS Arklow (previously SS Dunbrody of the Waterford Steamship Co) managed to come alongside in hazardous sea conditions and remove the horses.*
HMS Daffodil © IWM (FL 9965)
It would appear the wreck caused immediate problems for shipping and navigation (and was probably not a great help to fishermen either). An article in the local papers of July 1917 stated that Mr Watt of the Clyde Shipping Co had complaints from the masters of their steamers about the position of the wreck and claimed it was a hazard to shipping.  The Harbour Commissioners obviously agreed, as they were in the process of placing a whistling and lighted buoy over the wreck, having secured it from the Commissioners for Irish Lights.  In November that same year ads appear in several papers looking for a salvage operator to remove the impediment to shipping.(1)
SS Hermione at her final resting place.  Brendan Grogan collection
It turned into a long running saga however. A follow up court case of 1935 taken by the Harbour Commissioners against the British & South American Steam Navigation Co seeks a settlement of almost £6000 for marking the wreck and salvage costs.(2)  We learn of a number of failed efforts to get a salvor for the wreck including a contract in 1925 which ended when the contractor died. A follow up contract secured in 1928(3) we read was successful.  However, payment was outstanding to Waterford Harbour Commissioners, and from what I have read thus far, it appears it may have remained so.
An advert from 1917 (4)
As an interesting aside the Munster Express carried a report of the opening of a new maritime Museum in Waterford in December 1978.  One of the exhibits at Central Hall on Parade Quay was described as “2 wooden spoked wheels six feet in diameter from the SS Hermione salvaged in 1932 and donated by the Waterford Harbour Commissioners”(5) What I wouldn’t give to still have a Maritime Museum with us here in our area!
Update 20/11/2023:  Found this interesting piece on the claim for salvage by HMS Daffodil
(1) Waterford News & Star Friday 20th July 1917 page 2
(2) The Waterford Standard Saturday 3rd August 1935 page 11
(3) I did find advertisements in the papers of 1928, however Brendan Grogan has his grandfather’s diaries which show a date 1932 for the break up and removal.
(4) The Belfast Newsletter 24th Nov 1917 page 1
(5) Munster Express 29th December 1978 page 15
* added following publication 20/9/2018 from The Clyde Shipping Company. Frank P Murphy. Decises #38 Summer 1988 p29
I got the initial information about the SS Hermione from a post by Brendan Grogan on the Waterford Maritime History facebook page which sent me off looking for more background to the story.  I’m indebted to Brendan for the ship photos and his ongoing support.
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Dunmore U Boat trap – part II

Last week we looked at the story of the sinking of UC-44 in Dunmore East in August of 1917.  This week I wanted to complete the account with a look at what subsequently occurred to the salvaged sub and her crew.
The U boat was thoroughly examined and the design and features noted.  Once completed, some have said that she was towed upriver and used as a foundation in a breakwater in Duncannon. Stokes however has a different account, and perhaps this is where the confusion lies.  Her engine apparently lay in a garage in Duncannon for years afterwards, and rusted and worn, was dumped into a new breakwater. (Stoke: p193)

Salvage operation at Dunmore via Paul O’Farrell
on the Waterford Maritime History page

Other accounts say that initially she was taken out of the harbour and dropped back to the ocean floor. There is further speculation that the wreck was depth charged or in some other way broken up and dispersed.  Either way, there appears to be no known wrecksite.  However, it was not until 2011 that her sister UC-42 was re-discovered lying intact outside Cork harbour, is it possible UC-44 remains to be re-discovered.

An intact mine being unloaded (1 of 9 remaining aboard) note Dunmore
Lighthouse to the left.  via Paul O’Farrell on the Waterford Maritime History page

Some mementos still exists of the U boat however.  For example this piece from USA shows how important the event was and to the Americans who were there to assist aboard the USS Melvile.  And they also have memento in the Imperial War Museum in London.  I wonder are there any still remaining in Dunmore, Duncannon or elsewhere?
An inscribed memento of the event via the Imperial War  Museum
link above, passed on to me by James Doherty

Although the U boat sank, at least 3 of her crew, the Captain, Tebbenjoahnnes, and two engine room staff; Richter and Fahnster, escaped.  When the explosion happened they were in the conning tower, and were separated from the main craft.  Their escape necessitated them opening the outer hatch of the conning tower and a swim to the surface that lay 90 feet above.  All three broke the surface together, but eventually they drifted apart and as we saw last week the commander, Tebbenjoahnnes, was rescued when three Dunmore East fishermen came to the rescue. (McElwee pp 183-9)

Tebbenjoahnnes was cared for in Dunmore overnight, but next day journeyed on to Waterford and then Cork and from there to Dublin for the short sea journey to Holyhead and subsequently to London for interrogation and life as a POW.  (Ibid). The actual telegram and other correspondence can be viewed online!  Stokes relates an interesting anecdote about  Tebbenjoahnnes’ journey.  He boarded the RMS Leinster under escort for the trip across the Irish Sea.  He was sitting in the saloon with a British officer having a drink, when Captain Birch, the ships captain, approached the party and remonstrated with them.  Captain Birch stated that he would clap them both in irons if the German was not immediately confined.  Tebbenjohannes was led to his cabin, and there he sat out the remainder of the journey, apparently in an unlocked and unguarded cabin, while his escort went back to the saloon. He’d given his word not to try and escape! (Stokes p.198)  The RMS Leinster would be sink following a U Boat attack in October 1918 and the good Captain along with 500 other souls would die.  (Hutchinson: pp 77-84)
His “interrogation” in London seems to have been a conversation, at least when you read the actual report.  He gives a good description of the event including his position; 52 07′ N – 06 59′ W, fixed with Hook light and Dunmore prior to laying mines.  He also gives a list of the crew but this seems to be incomplete.  There is a short piece online looking for further information on him, which suggests that he went into banking after the war, and in WWII played a role with the German Navy. It appears he was still alive in the early 1960’s, but nothing else seems to be known.
Of his fellow crew mates, less is known unfortunately.  Richter’s corpse washed up on Wexford shore in the following weeks and was buried in Duncannon.  It was re-interred after the war to the German Military Cemetery at Glencree Co Wicklow.  Bahnster was the name given in several sources as the other man.  However I’d like to set the record straight on this, his surname was Fahnster.  Its a typical name of Northern Germany, which was revealed to me by a German friend, Nicki Kenny. Joahnn Fahnster’s body was not recorded as ever being found, as far as I can see.
UC-44 had 30 men aboard on the night that she sank.  Having traced three we still have twentyseven souls unaccounted for.  There is a thread online claiming that 19 bodies were contained in the submarine when she reached Dunmore, undoubtedly the others would have washed out of the damaged hull. The reference for this claim is cited as Robert Grants book the U Boat Hunters. Some claim that in line with Naval policy, they were taken out and buried at sea.  It has been speculated that to inter so many in a cemetery on land would draw attention to the fact that the U-boat had been salvaged and thus loose an advantage to the Germans. (Stokes: p.192-3).  Many accounts don’t even mention the crew, their average age being 20!

Sunrise at Dunmore East last Sunday morning

Personally I think it is timely that the event be remembered.  As someone who has lost a brother, an uncle and friends to drowning, it strikes me as sad not to have some testament of these sailors death. Whatever we may feel about the U boats and the destruction that they caused and lives that they shattered in Waterford, her harbour and beyond, they were still brave men, doing what they were ordered to, as was their duty.  


Maybe by not knowing these men makes it easier to forget them,  Well thanks to Nicki, who I have already mentioned I can at least reverse that small omission. The names and ranks of those lost are listed at the following link and below.  With the anniversary coming up next year, we may have an opportunity to remember this event, and deepen our understanding of our harbours history and heritage.

Rank                Surname               Christian name

Matrose
BARTZ
John.
Ltnt.z.S.d.Res.
BENDLER
Wilhelm
O.Masch.Mt.
BIENERT
Fritz
Heizer
BORGWALDT
K:
Btsm.Mt.d.Res.
BÖTTCHER
A.
O.Matrose
BÜRGER
O.
Masch.Anw.
CLASEN
H.
Ob.Matrose
DÜSING
August
Ob.Masch.Mt.
FAHNSTER
Johann
Heizer
FEHRLE
Erwin
F.T.Gast
GIESENHAGEN
K.
T.Heizer
GOLOMBOWSKI
U.Maat
HEUER
Otto
Ob.Btsm.Mt.
HORAND
Hans
Matrose
IDSELIS
Michael
Heizer
KERSTEN
Heinrich
Masch.T.Mt.
KLEIN
Karl
F.T.O.Gast
KRÄMER
A.
O.Masch.Mt.
LEHMANN
R.
Masch.Mt.
MÜLLER
Heye D.
Ob.Btsm.Mt.
PABSCH
J.
Masch.Anw.
RICHTER
W.
Matrose
ROTTSCHALK
Walter
Masch.Mt.
RÖSLER
P.
Ob.Heizer
SCHICKENDANZ
W.
Steuermann
SCHULTER
J.
Masch.Mt.
SCHMITZ
F.
Mt.Ing.O.Asp.
SEIFARTH
Helmut
Matrose
ZIELOSKO
Emanuel

I publish a blog each Friday.  If you like this piece or have an interest in local history, heritage, Waterford harbour and environs you can email me to request to be added to my email list russianside@gmail.com.  Other ways to connect are:
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Thanks to Nicki Kenny and her husband Mick for assisting me with the German research this week. Also to James Doherty for allowing me to wreck his head and to Paul O’ Farrell for some of the images.

Here’s a great link to a blog post by Roy Stokes on UC 44 and others, most of which is similar to what os contained in his book referenced below.http://lugnad.ie/flanders-u-boat-alley/

Another interesting blog post highlighting the sinking and a memento sculpted from the starboard propeller to the inventor of the depth charge Herbert Taylor:
http://www.portsmouth.co.uk/heritage/man-who-invented-the-depth-charge-1-7199079

References:
Hutchinson. S.  Beware the Coast of Ireland.  2013.  Wordwell. Dublin

McElwee. R. The last voyages of the Waterford steamers. date unknown. The Book Centre Waterford

Stokes. R.  Between the tides; Shipwrecks of the Irish Coast.  2015. Amberly.  Gloucestershire.

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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The Dunmore East U-Boat trap

I was a youngster when I first heard the tale of UC-44, a German U-Boat that sunk when she struck her own mine and was salvaged and brought back to Dunmore East. There her design and fighting capabilities yielded invaluable information to tackling the U-Boat threat. It was only over Christmas that I came to realise the true back story to the affair, filled with intrigue, subterfuge and probably a lot of luck. For UC-44 was lured to Dunmore with the express purpose of being captured and the outcome played a role in an allied victory of the First World War.
In July of 1917 UC-42 deployed mines in Waterford harbour aimed at interrupting the flow of provisions out of Ireland to the allied side. Usually this meant that mine sweepers were deployed and the port access cleared. However, not this time. This time the admiralty or at least those in control of the western Atlantic approaches based at Queenstown (now Cobh) had other ideas.

Dunmore East lighthouse in the background as sub lay alongside the harbour
photo accessed from WHG and uploaded by Jim O’Mara in July 2013 
The losses being endured by the allies to U-Boats were steadily increasing. Resources were stretched, and the Admiralty seemed more content on maintaining a blockade of Germany than protecting those ships supplying the allies. Admiral Bayly and his team at Queenstown were fighting a losing battle despite the setting up of an anti-submarine division in December 1916, the introduction of Q ships, airships and the added resources gained when America joined the war in April 1917. American ships arrived at Cobh in May and were on patrol next day. The Navy needed all the help they could get and so the intelligence value of an intact sub was considered a priority.
So rather than clear the identified minefield to Waterford harbour a tactical decision was taken. The harbour was closed for two weeks, while a sham sweep by minesweepers was conducted. (This was in case spies were watching, or indeed U Boats). After two weeks the admiralty sent a coded signal to say Waterford was cleared and opened the harbour. Both sides had already cracked each other’s codes, and both sides seem to have been aware of such. (Nolan: pp232-4)
The German navy ordered UC-44, under the command of Kapitanleutnant Kurt Tebbenjoahnnes to sea on July 31st with orders to deploy 9 of her 18 mines in Waterford to replace those that had been “cleared” and the rest were designated for Cork harbour. She arrived off Dunmore on Saturday 4th August and surfaced at about midnight on a beautiful starlight night. The mines were laid while running underwater. While checking the boats position in the conning tower, to plot his course for Queenstown, he heard and felt a loud explosion and his boat lurched downwards. (McElwee pp 183- 189)
Tebbenjoahnnes found himself on the bottom of Waterford harbour with at least two other men, separated from the rest of the crew. Entombed and having failed to contact anyone in the main body of the submarine, they made the decision to try for the surface. Miraculously Tebbenjoahnnes was pulled from the water later that morning by three Dunmore East fishermen, Jack McGrath and two brothers Tom & Patsy Power, who had rowed out on hearing the explosion. Tebbenjoahnnes was cared for in the home of a Mrs Chester and was seen to by a Mr Austin Farrell. Later that morning he began his journey to London and life as a POW. (Ibid)
Meanwhile Admiral Bayly ordered a salvage operation to be commenced and it was initiated three days later under Lieutenant Commander Davis. Divers (tin openers) were deployed, and entered the sub to bring up the U Boats papers which were to prove explosive in themselves. It was decided to lift UC-44 to the surface and then to Dunmore. The strategy employed was basic, if complicated given that she was 90 feet down. Cables were dropped from a surface vessel, brought under the sub and then brought back to the surface. At low tide, the cables were secured to the decks of two ships and when the tide rose, so did the submarine. Once the sub was sufficiently off the bottom, the salvage vessels moved towards Dunmore. In all it took twenty lifts and as a consequence of bad weather it would be September 25th before they reached harbour. (McElwee pp189-191)
UC-44 lying at the quayside at Dunmore September 2017
accessed from: http://www.warrelics.eu/forum/imperial-
germany-austro-hungary/german-u-boat-photos-postcards-156303/
The admiralty learned much about the design and capabilities of the submarine and they were keenly interested in the rescued mines and the deployment system. However it was the log books and other papers which arguably proved the most value. The log proved incontrovertibly what many had suspected but which was denied by senior naval personnel. It highlighted how easy it was for Tebbenjoahnnes and other U Boat commanders to avoid detection and slip through the existing protection around Britain. (Nolan: p235) Such information coupled with the with the rates of shipping losses highlighted that Britain and her allies were at risk of losing the war unless the U Boat menace was finally dealt with.
Macintyre (1965) explains the failure to grasp the U-boat menace “…submariners…comprised a breed apart” They suffered “…contemptuous refusal of senior officers and their contemporaries in surface warships to take them seriously.” This attitude created a “…mental inertia or lack of imagination of the great majority making for an obstinate conservatism” (Macintyre p 20). Some have claimed that the retrieval of UC-44 actually turned the war for the allies. What is probably true at least is that it helped in the continuing shift in attitudes in naval strategy and personnel, and arguably contributing to the removal of Admiral Jellico as commander of the navy, More ships and resources were provided to tackling the issue. The Dover barrage including 9,600 mines was completed and finally the convoy system was introduced. 
An enduring mystery of UC-44 was the notion that she was sunk by her own mine. There are many written accounts, both in books and online that suggest several scenarios. The majority believed for years that it was her own mine that sunk the ship. However, Nolan (2009) speculates that it may have been a casualty of the mines originally laid by UC-42, and as such a casualty of the trap created by the allies. More recently Stokes (2015) speculates that both UC-44 and UC-42, which struck her own mine in Cork Harbour later in 1917, were victims of sabotage, and that the deployment mechanism, or the mines themselves may have been tampered with by British agents operating in the German Naval dockyards. I’d imagine that we will never know for certain. 
My thanks to Michael Farrell of the Barony of Gaultier Historical Society for providing the names of the Power brothers of Dunmore mentioned above.  And to Ray Mcgrah for the name of his father also mentioned.
Macintyre. D. Fighting under the sea.  1965.  Evan Brothers Ltd. London.
McElwee. R. The last voyages of the Waterford steamers. date unknown. The Book Centre Waterford

McShane. M.  Neutral Shores.  Ireland and the battle of the Atlantic.  2012.  Mercier press.  Cork

Nolan et al.  Secret Victory.  Ireland and the War at Sea 1914-18.  2009.  Mercier press.  Cork
Stokes. R.  Between the tides; Shipwrecks of the Irish Coast.  2015. Amberly.  Gloucestershire.

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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Mining Waterford Harbour

Two weeks ago we looked at the mine incident that closed the Barrow Bridge in 1946.  It was a floating mine, the origins of which was not identified, but it had been in the water for some time.  It might conceivably have dated to WWI.  At the time the mouth of the Harbour was regularly mined from German submarines hoping to interrupt allied supplies.  The allies were also deploying mines, most of the access points to the Northern and Southern entry points to the English coast were blanketed by mines in a futile attempt to thwart the u boat menace.
The German mines at the time were a contact mine which were deployed initially from ships but from June 1915 were planted from U Boats.  The mines were anchored by cable to the seabed and with enough draft to stay below the waterline.  They were pear shared, 3ft in diamater and filled with 350lb of TNT.  The top of the mine had 5+ horns, with a glass tube inside, which when a ship depressed, it broke and released a chemical to detonate.

US Sub Chaser SC-272 moored in the harbour circa 1918
Minaun in the distance
with thanks to Paul O’Farrell who passed on the image to me

The first Irish casualty of the mines was the SS Manchester Commerce which was sunk off Donegal 26th Oct 1914.  It was December before the admiralty realised it was the victim of a minefield and it would be July 1915 before they were satisfied that the estimated 200+ mines had been cleared.  Gives some sense of the difficulties posed.

Local readers are probably well aware of the story of Kapitanleutnant Kurt Tebbenjohanns and UC-44 which was sunk off Dunmore in 1917.  The U-boat was replanting a minefield between the Hook and Dunmore East, when it struck a mine.   Some might say ironic, but as it happens it was anything but, a story I will return to next week
accessed from http://www.digitalhistoryproject.com/2012/06/
submarine-mines-in-world-war-i-byleland.html

Tebbenjohannes and his colleagues were regular visitors to Waterford Harbour, trying to interrupt the flow of resources to allies. Deployed at night from a submerged sub, the task of clearing mines fell to converted trawlers and their crew with a token naval presence aboard.  Two boats would work together drawing a metal rope between them in an effort to locate the sunken bombs.  The risks were high and any mistake would see the loss of the boat, and most probably the crew.  For example in the weeks previous to the arrival of Tebbenjohannes, one boat was lost, but the crew of the minesweeper was rescued by fishermen from Dunmore.
According to Wikipedeia the total number during the whole of WWI was 235,000 sea mines and clearing them after the war took 82 ships five months, working around the clock.  Somehow I doubt they found them all.
Mines were also a feature of WWII but this time Ireland was a neutral and the harbour area was not directly targeted.  However, readers might be interested to know that it was the Irish who mined Waterford harbour at this stage!  There was a minefield operated between Passage East and Ballyhack from 1941. The mines were deployed by the Irish government forces in the channel, and were operated by control from the shore (Ballyhack) also known as command detonated mines.  If any threat was seen, the mines were to be detonated by the shore watch.  I have no further information on it, but would love to hear any other accounts.  (MacGinty: P.61) Personally I’d imagine the minefield was directed more towards protecting Ireland from a German sea borne attack.  The Irish government had been informed by an Admiral Fitzgerald of the Royal Navy to expect same via the harbour at an early stage of the war. (MacGinty: P.32)
During WWII mines became more sophisticated.  The German side were the first to develop magnetic mines that detonated as a ship passed close to them. Mines were also deployed from airplanes, which meant the seas around Ireland became a target after the fall of France.  Mines became a constant hazard, and ships and fishing boats and indeed walkers along the coastline were asked during the emergency to maintain a constant vigil.  There’s a fine photo of the Great Western in camouflaged colours in the harbour.  For anyone thinking that seems a little far fetched, especially as a neutral country, they would do well to remember that mistakes are commonplace in war and every time the ship went to sea, the seafarers would be justified in thinking it might be their last trip.  This must have been heightened as most of those aboard would have known personally family bereaved by such war casualties as the Conningbeg and the Formby.  I’ve mentioned before the perils faced by the Hanlon family from Coolbunnia.  150 sailors died in WWII on Irish registered ships. It’s estimated that up to 4,000 more died on allied ships.(MacGinty: P.58)
SS Great Western in her war time colours
Accessed from Waterford History Group
posted by Tommy Deegan originally

Mines were reported regularly from ships, shoreline walkers and the look out posts, operated by the Marine and Coastwatching Service from Sept 1939,  that lined the coastline.  The interception and dealing with the menace of mines on the seas became a job for the newly formed Irish Marine service (now Navy). (MacGinty: p.26)

Ironically it was the navy’s approach which caused many of the difficulties as experienced by the newly developed inshore fishing fleet in the post war years.  The methodology employed was to approach floating mines and detonate them by shooting one of the protruding “horns”  A distance of 80 yards clearance was required.  However it was realised that when the mine casing was holed, the mine filled with water and sank.  The naval personnel naturally assumed that the salt water would corrode the detonators and explosives, however that would not be the case.  Up to 183 mines were destroyed by the navy during the war.  (Macginty: pp63-5)
Any cursory search in the Irish newspapers will highlight the scale of instances since WWII of mines being brought up in nets.  Had the naval personnel realised the longevity of the metal mine and or perceived how post war fishing practices would develop and the scale of bottom trawling they may have reconsidered their disposal strategy.  Dozens of these articles relate to Dunmore East and vessels out of Dunmore and I was present in the 1980’s for one such adventure.
The details are sketchy I’m afraid, as I could find no record in the newpspers.  However I remember a particularly nasty SE wind and a trawler coming in off Dunmore, but refused entry.  The trawler was being towed if I recall correctly.  The mine was trapped in the nets and part of the nets had fouled the screw.  Holding off Dunmore, a team of army bomb disposal experts arrived in Dunmore that day.  I vividly recall their energy and enthusiasm as they jumped out of a dark green jeep with large kit bags and boarded the Betty Breen to go out to the trawler.  However, they were back after an hour, green in the face and much less energetic.  The trawler was sent over under the Hook and the decison was taken to await a team from the Navy to deal with the issue.
You might think that such problems no longer exist.  However the most recent article I could find for Dunmore was the Irish Independent of March 2005 and the most recent nationally was August 2007 in the same paper, this time a mine trapped in nets off Co Cork.  Be careful out there, you never know what secrets the sea might give up, particularly on a stormy day.
Thanks to Tomás Sullivan for loaning me his copy of The Irish Navy
MacGinty. T.  The Irish Navy.  1995.  The Kerryman. Tralee
Drew some information on the mines from:https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Naval_mine#Contact_mines

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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A century of Barrow Bridge incidents

The Barrow Bridge was officially opened in 1906 to connect Waterford’s train station, and thus the SW of Ireland, to the newly developed port at Rosslare.  I’ve written before about the initial planning and concern about crossing the River Barrow which separates counties Kilkenny and Wexford, across from Cheekpoint. The principal objection was from the Port of New Ross.  The concerns were addressed by inserting a swivelled opening span to allow ships access to the River Barrow and thus New Ross. The outside channel was used for ships entering the Barrow, the opposite, on the Kilkenny side, for egress.  A manned control tower operated the opening and closing function. Down the years there have been many incidents recorded at the bridge, what follows is a sample.
The Barrow Viaduct Jan 2016
Interestingly, the first incident I could find occured before the bridge was even operational. During construction two sailing vessels struck it on the one day, indeed almost at the same time. The ships were the Conniston and the Ethel under the guidance of pilots Whelan (apparently one armed) and Kearnes, leaving New Ross on an ebb tide. The Harbour Board received a complaint about the matter from the builders, but thankfully not much damage to the bridge had occurred. The master of the Schooner Ethel also wrote alleging damage to his ship. The board interviewed the pilot on the matter who explained that at the White Horse reach (just above the Bridge) he had recommended to the master that the ship should be warped through the opening. He claimed the master of the Ethel refused stating that the wind was sufficient and he could control the passage through. Drawing close to the opening, the wind dropped and the master ordered the anchor dropped, this was done, but as she swung to the anchor she struck the bridge. No details were given as to the incident with the other vessel.

A few months later in 1905 pilot Whelan was again in trouble when a steamer under his control struck one of the cylinder piles and dislodged a concrete coping.  Despite the evidence of the harbour master, Captain Farady, who was also aboard, that the accident was completely outside the control of his pilot, Whelan received a caution.

The next incident came almost an exact year from the official opening of the bridge. From the Cork Examiner of 26/7/1907 we learn that “Yesterday the barque Venus, of Hellsingborg, Norway, bound for New Ross, with a cargo of timber, whilst in the tow of the barque Heron, collided with the Barrow Bridge, or Railway Viaduct. The Venus had her whole foremast knocked clean out, and the crew had a narrow escape, the bridge being apparently uninjured.”
opening span of bridge

While Dublin was in revolt during Easter 1916, the bridge was one of the pieces of infrastructure considered vital to the interests of the crown forces.  Admiral Bayly, commander of the British naval services sea protection detail based at Cobh sent motor launches to secure the bridge and ensure uninterrupted rail travel. (Nolan: p141).

Another curious incident is related in the Munster Express dated 9th June 1923.  The opening span was stuck in an opened position for some days following a loss of a “Shaft” or pin, which was central to the operation of the swivel action.  The shaft was finally retrieved by dragging the river bed.  No explanation is supplied as to why it happened, or indeed why a replacement could not be found.
In the 1930’s the issue was trespass. Several men were brought to court owing to what was claimed to be a “tremendous amount of trespass”  The defendants were listed as Thomas Dempsey, Campile; Patrick Carew, Ferrybank; Patrick Cashin, Drumdowney; John Black and Richard Atkins of Glasshouse and two Cheekpoint men; Denis Hennerby and Michael Heffernan.  Solicitor from the railway stated that the men were putting their own lives at risk by travelling the line either by foot of bicycle.  The case against Mikey Heffernan was struck out, and Aitkins was adjourned.  The others faced a fine of 6d and costs amounting to 7/-.  (Source: Munster Express 3/12/1937)
At the outbreak of WWII and for several months after the bridge continued to see daily use.  Both Irish and those with Irish relatives and cousins and some refugees, fled the looming war.  Many travellers could only finding standing room on the decks of the ferry boats and seating was a luxury on the train too.  (McShane: p11)  As the war wore on and shortages deepened, rail traffic was suspended due to a lack of coal, only to be reinstated after the war
My mother like so many others left for England in the 1950’s.  To her the bridge brought mixed emotions, sadness on leaving, fires burning in the village, the last farewell to the emigrants that would keep families fed.  Of course it was also of gladness when she would get to return across it for the following Christmas and it would give her the first view of home.
There were several bridge strikes down the years from ships passing through, generally to enter the Barrow.  According to my father, the only surprise about hitting the bridge was that there were not more.  I remember hearing one as a child, where the stern of the ship was swept onto the central fender as it passed through, with minor damage to the ship and none to the bridge.  The sound reverberated around the village.
On another occasion, the 7th April 1986, the inbound Panamanian registered ship MV Balsa struck and did considerable damage to the opening.   She was of 6000 tonnes and was empty at the time (she was chartered to collect a cargo of malt) which probably contributed to the accident.  The central span was damaged and the bridge was immediately closed to rail and shipping until an inspection was carried out.
The bridge strike that caused the most severe damage occurred on March 7th 1991. The MV Amy a Dutch registered coaster was again entering port when she collided against the opening span of the bridge and knocked it out of line.  The timber fenders and central wharf was also damaged.  In fact the damage was so severe that the line and shipping channels were immediately closed.
However, legal writs started to fly as 14 vessels were stranded in the port between the Port of New Ross and the ship owners and shipping companies.  Within days an agreement was reached to allow egress and entry via the undamaged side of the opening, but the railway line remained closed.  Three months later the railway was again in use, saving motorists the 40 mile road trip, and rail passengers a bus transfer from Campile.  The repair was reputed to have cost £3-5 Million, and was carried out by a Cobh salvage company, who operated from Cheekpoint and were as renowned for their long hours of labour as their huge capacity for porter.
By far the most curious incident to close the line occurred on Friday 22nd March 1946.  A drifting mine – used during the second world war- was spotted floating close to the bridge by two Cheekpoint men Heffernan and O’Connor (Paddy and John respectively as far as I can recall, John being the father of the Munster Express journalist of the same name).  They reported the sighting to the Garda station in Passage East and a unit from the Curragh was dispatched under Comdt. Fynes to deal with the threat.  Locally it was always said that the boys had thrown a lasso around the mine and towed it away from the bridge as a train approached, saving countless lives as a result.
A more sober account can be found in that weeks Kilkenny People.  The mine grounded between Snow Hill Quay and Drumdowney Point (known locally as the Point of the wood) as the tide went out and once settled on the mud, a rope was tied around it, to prevent it floating away. Although the Boat train departed from Waterford that evening, it was decided to close off the line to rail and shipping on the Saturday.
The bomb disposal unit had to wait for the tide to go out before they approached the mine on the Saturday.  It was described as 5′ 4″x 3’4″ and was encrusted with rust and barnacles.  It was thought to have been a floating mine, deployed with an anchor and chain that had broken away.  The opinion of the army was that it had been deployed on the sea bed several years before,  There was no information provided about it’s origin.  The unit managed to make safe the mine by 4pm that evening, meaning the 5pm train could depart with safety.
CIE had to face a high court injunction in 1991 to carry out the repairs on the bridge to allow trains to run once more,  At the time there was speculation that they would prefer to remove the opening and make the railway line redundant.  With falling passenger numbers and the rise in private motor use the days of the line were numbered.   The closure of the Sugar Beet factories was the final straw.  The final train crossed the Barrow Bridge in September 2010.
Many thanks to James Doherty for his help with this piece and in particular loaning me the following books which I referenced in the piece;
McShane. M.  Neutral Shores.  Ireland and the battle of the Atlantic.  2012.  Mercier press.  Cork
Nolan et al.  Secret Victory.  Ireland and the War at Sea 1914-18.  2009.  Mercier press.  Cork

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