New Ross Pilot Boat James Stevens

In December 2022 Walter Foley retired as pilot officer for New Ross. Walter had provided the service since my uncle Sonny retired at Cheekpoint in 1995. Walter actually mentioned to me that he took over the role on the first tide of January 1996, Sonny retiring on the last tide of 1995. In recent years Walter was based at Ballyhack using his pilot cutter Crofter, but originally had based himself at Great Island, until the wooden jetty became unusable, and it was later sold, I believe for a €1

Great Island Quay (with the wooden jetty on the left), Sonny used to collect a number of pilots from the jetty in order to drop them alongside a New Ross bound vessel, he also dropped them back to the quay if the ships were outbound. All locked up now, but the old quay remains accessible
Morning Star II, Sonny’s pilot boat at Cheekpoint in the 1990s. Photo courtesy of Catherine Heffernan White
Walter returning in the Crofter to Ballyhack after a pilot exchange in 2019.

Tomás Sullivan of Cheekpoint took over the Pilot Officer role and although the Crofter was available, the new management of the port in New Ross ( Wexford Co Council) decided on getting a different boat, which they called the James Stevens presumably after the lifeboat of the same name which was based at the then Rosslare Fort and assisted in the rescue of the SS Mexico in February 1914.

James Stevens

According to the Marine Traffic website, JAMES STEVENS (MMSI: 250013635) is a Pilot Vessel and is sailing under the flag of Ireland. Her length overall (LOA) is 12 meters and her width is 4 meters. Originally built as a Mersey class lifeboat, (the first model was built in 1988). The site describes her as being “Designed to be launched and recovered from a beach via a launch and recovery tractor and carriage, she can also be launched from a slipway or lie afloat.The Mersey was introduced into the RNLI fleet in 1988 and the last Mersey class lifeboat was built in 1993”

James Stevens is based in New Ross and travels down and up the river to make the pilot exchanges. The Port of Waterford had a similar arrangement many years back but it was discontinued. So we will watch that practice to see how viable it is.

James Stevens passed me by at Ballinlaw on the River Barrow Saturday 23rd September 2023. Tomás Sullivan at the helm. The chap waving was an English writer named Mark Ashley Millar who is involved in a fundraising event called the Harbour Master Sailing Challenge at the time.
David Maloney and Tomás Sullivan stop off for a chat at Piltown on their way back to New Ross, Saturday 23rd September 2023

Obviously there is a lack of detail with this post, including photos, but I plan to add to it as and when I can. I’d particularly like to get more detail on the history of the craft.

My first bit of video of the James Stevens passing Morans Poles, following a pilot transfer with the inbound Wilson Thames, Tuesday 21st March 2023. A stormy evening on a spring high tide

I occasionally write small pieces for my own record that I publish on the blog. These are a way of keeping a record for myself and a very different style to my monthly heritage blogs. So if you came across this and wondered what the heck…please look at my normal stuff before rushing to judgement

Passing down outside the Russianside Lane 5/12/2023

“Warping” the Barrow Bridge

Before ever the Barrow Railway bridge was constructed to allow the trains run from Waterford to Rosslare, New Ross Harbour Board had concerns for its positioning.  The Bridge would block access to the port and to get around this an opening span wasintroduced.  Procedures were also agreed to facilitate safe opening and closing procedures in an attempt to avert accidents(In this they can be proud as there was never a rail incident with the opening).  Another procedure which I was
unaware of until recently was a procedure called “Warping” which was aimed at facilitating a smooth passage for sailing vessels.  The procedures value was underlined, even before the bridge was officially opened.

The bridge with the opening span under construction only two months after the incident.  Note the buoy below the bridge and possibly two another above close to the cylinder stanshion
The Barrow Bridge officially opened on the 12th July 1906 facilitating a connection between Waterford and Rosslare by fording the River Barrow between Drumdowney in Co. Kilkenny and Great Island in Co. Wexford. But of course it did much more than that, as it allowed a passenger board a train in Tralee and in relative comfort get to a ferry boat for a short crossing of the Irish Sea and hence to London.  For those with an aversion to sea journeys it sure beat boarding a steamer at Limerick or Cork.
But the port of New Ross lay above the bridge and it required safe access and egress for ships serving the port. The designers facilitated this by a swing opening span.  This
presented its own problems to the ships that passed through a narrow, tidal passage.  A warping procedure was developed circa 1904, aimed specifically at sailing vessels[i] as they were at the mercy of the winds and tides. Sailing ships were required to heave to on reaching the bridge and to run a rope through two buoys, each with an eye atop.  A rope was passed through each eye by a hobbler crew and retaken aboard, effectively doubling the rope and as one was tied off the slack was released by the crew.  Then using the tide, they drifted through the opening span, controlling their speed with the rope, which because of the loop could be easily retrieved once the operation was completed.
On Monday the 13th of February 1905 however two sailing ships struck the opening span in the one tide, both apparently because they failed to employ the warping procedure.  Each had a New Ross pilot officer aboard. The Schooner Conniston of
Barrow was sailing down on an ebb tide under pilot Whelan (sometimes referred
to as Phelan) when she struck a glancing blow at a gangway which was being used
in the construction.  Following her was the schooner Ethel of Preston under pilot
Kearne.  She however struck the opening span twice.  Both incidents were reported
by the builders, William Arrol & Co., who although describing the incidents as “trifling” also expressed concerns that it could be potentially more serious.[ii]

Although the Conniston incident seems to have passed off without repercussions, the Ethel was another matter.  Her Captain, McGuirk, through the ships brokerage firm of Betson & Co of Dublin wrote to the New Ross Harbour Board to seek damages.  His position was that his ship was in the “charge of the pilot” when considerable damage was done.  One stanchion was broken and parts of the main and top gallant rails were broken too.
Pilot Kearne did not lie down under the matter however.  He submitted a written report to the harbour master, Captain Farady, confirming the incident and the damage to some extent, but argued that he was not “in charge”. Kearns explained that while coming down on the ebb tide at the White Horse Reach he told Captain McGuirk that they needed to warp through the bridge. The Captain refused however, stating that
the wind was favourable, his ship was answering her helm and he had confidence
in the wind carrying them through.
However on approaching the opening span, the wind dropped away, and the schooner no longer “answered the helm”[iii]  The Captain order the Mate to drop anchor and
as she swung on this against the tide, first the stern hit the pier head, and subsequently the bow struck one of the bridge piles.

Whether Captain McGuirk ever got compensation is not clear, certainly he got little sympathy from the Board.  At this meeting and at a subsequent one[iv], it was
considered that he had not “properly stated the case” to the ships brokers and
that the Captain was really responsible.  The pilots (four are said to be then employed) were to be warned to use the procedure whatever ships captains might say.

Needless to say that would not be an end to the incidents that befell the tight opening span of the Barrow Bridge.  I’ve written about a century of them before.
The blog will move to a new address in the coming weeks.  Stay tuned for further details. If you want to ensure you do not miss one please email me at

Want to see the majestic structure that is the Barrow Bridge as it is today? Check it out here from Waterford Epic Locations;

Following publication John Aylward mentioned in a comment that a similar procedure was used at Timber toes in the city.  Presumably similar took place at Redmond bridge and at the Red Iron Bridge.

I’m open to correction on this point but I’ve not read of the procedure being
required for steamers
New Ross Standard 3/3/1905. P.7 (much of the subsequent detail is taken from
the report of the harbour Board Meeting)
A nautical term used to describe a situation when a ship cannot be steered
New Ross Standard 4/8/1905. P.2