The 1829 River Steamer Eclipse

On Thursday 16th March 2023 I was delighted to give an illustrated talk in Ballyhack on the Paddle Steamers’ service that ran from New Ross and Duncannon to Waterford from 1836/7 to 1917.  The steamers carried passengers and freight, provided day trips on summer Sundays, and were involved in numerous other activities including towage and salvage.  However, in researching the talk I discovered a much earlier steamer on the New Ross run, by almost 10 years, the paddle steamer Eclipse.

The story starts in May of 1829, when the Waterford Mail newspaper carried an article that outlined a public meeting held at the local courthouse in the port of New Ross on Thursday 14th May.  The meeting acknowledged that the new river service to run from the town to Waterford was a “…measure of great public utility…” and those attending resolved to “…pledge ourselves to give all the support and encouragement in our power towards promoting the success of this establishment.”  The service was to commence with daily sailings at 8 am, returning to the town at 4 pm. 

Waterford Mail – Saturday 16 May 1829; page 1

A number of ships and steamers of the era shared this name including a regular on the Belfast to Glasgow run.  The first mention of the Eclipse in this area was reported at Passage East on 10th May 1829 having arrived in ballast from Bristol.  There the master was recorded as Dando, elsewhere as Captain William Dando.  Presumably, this was the arrival of the vessel to service the new route. An internet search strongly suggests that the Eclipse was a newly built ship in 1828 by William Scott shipbuilders, was 31 tons, powered by side paddle wheels, and rigged for sail as a schooner. Any other details post-publication appreciated.

A local advertisement stated that fares were 1 shilling 6d for a cabin one way, and 1 shilling for the deck.  Passengers could apply on board or via the ship’s agent Anthony Jackson.  Interestingly, the ship was also open to responding to signals from the shore to call in and collect passengers from “…any suitable place…”.  Passengers could expect the “…utmost possible accommodation…” aboard.  Jackson was an agent based in Waterford.  Patrick Magee acted on her behalf in New Ross. 

A report in the Waterford Mail of mid-May was effusive in praise for this new venture, seemingly a private enterprise by an Englishman, possibly Captain Dando himself.  The article records perhaps the first sailing of the Eclipse stating that the “…beautiful little steamer…arrived at the quay at ten o’clock…from Ross with between twenty and thirty passengers, performing the voyage which is eighteen miles, in two hours. This vessel is quite new and has been brought over from Bristol to see if she can made to answer on our river.”  The steamer was warmly greeted as apparently “…The present road is quite abominable —rough, and all up and down hill, so much so that the nominal riders per car are very frequently in the predicament of our countryman in the bottomless sedan-chair, who said, if it war’n’t for the honour of the thing, he’d as live walk…”   The scribe states that another benefit is that the steamer is quick in comparison, has “plenty of room for stowage… a snug cabin” and to top it off the  “…scenery up the Nore and Barrow, though little known, is really some of the most picturesque and beautiful in Ireland…”  

An image used in advertisements, however this is most probably a generic image. It would certainly fit the bill in terms of standard design, two side wheels, a belching funnel, and sails in case of breakdown.

I could find no details on the freight types or the costs.  Of interest to me was to find that already what became a crucial financial earner to the later paddle steamers was also a feature of the Eclipse – the Sunday excursions or special events trips.  On Sunday 31st of May 1829, residents of Waterford and the harbour were advised that the Eclipse would depart the city at 10 am en route to Dunmore East for the day, returning at 4 pm. Later in August a four-day regatta at Dunmore East had a daily connection via the Eclipse.   The fare seems rather expensive however, 5 shillings each way from Waterford to Dunmore, and 1 shilling each way to Ross = 12 shillings minimum.  

Worryingly, by late September 1829, a front-page advert in the Waterford Mail was advising the public of route curtailment and a fare increase!  The “…intercourse between Ross and Waterford being more limited than originally intended.”  And although cabin rates stayed as was, the deck passengers now went from 1s to 1s 6d.  Children were half-price – a detail that I had not seen recorded before.  The steamer had an earlier return sailing to Ross at 3.30 pm – the changes to come into effect on Oct 1st.

In November an article praised the work of the Eclipse both in terms of the connection with passengers and freight but also in towage.  A large brig the 400-ton Agenoria had been towed up to the city from the harbour that week and another, the brig Drake had been towed from “…Ross to Waterford against wind and tide, at a rate of 5 miles an hour.” You can’t fault the editor and staff of the Waterford Mail for not trying to give assistance to the venture in fairness.

 Alas it was not to last, and I would think at the rates charged, it was proving very difficult for the ship.  In mid-November, an advert stated the ship was for sale, including all her machinery and stores.  Elsewhere an appeal was made for a local buyer to sustain the service which was considered crucial to the area.  The appeal was that the loss might not be easily replaced.   I’m open to correction but those words seem apt, as I am not aware of any other regular steamer on the route until the coming of the PS Shamrock.  Again as part of my research for the recent talk I found information that the Shamrock commenced in the summer of 1836, and not 1837 as I had believed for several years now. That service would run uninterrupted up to the last sailing of the Ida in July 1905.  A story we have delved into previously.    

Its been a busy time of events, and I look forward to my first talk in Dublin next week as a guest of Cormac Lowth and the Dublin Bay Old Gaffers Assoc. The talk will also be available live on Zoom at 8 p.m at
https://us02web.zoom.us/j/81928210833?pwd=RVZWenplSmZNeVdiZVdSMmJhaHIzQT09
Meeting ID: 819 2821 0833
Passcode: 062219

I have a number of events planned for the coming year, please visit the Talks & Walks section of my website for details and booking. Our next event is fully booked up, this coming Sunday – a gentle stroll through the Faithlegg estate. However other dates are available. If you would like to subscribe to my monthly maritime blog, please complete the details below

Will the Barrow Railway Bridge ever open and close to shipping again?

This is my ongoing diary into the fate of the Barrow Bridge. The details are below but in brief here’s whats covered to date (30/1/2024)

  • July 1906 – opened to connect the new port at Rosslare with Waterford and on to the west
  • Sept 2010 – route closed
  • Feb 2022 – Bridge gets struck by an inbound ship
  • November 2022 – IE pins open the opening section and gates the bridge to any train
  • March 2023 – another ship hits the bridge
  • July 2023 – publication of the All-Island Strategic Rail Review
  • Jan 2024 – Update from Joint Oireachtas Committee on Transport

In late November 2022, disappointing news started to filter out that the Barrow Railway Bridge opening span was to be pinned open because of an operational issue. It came following an earlier threat to pin it open because of the cost of the operation- a decision that was postponed following negative community, media, and political reactions. But the rationale for the move seemed plausible to many (the timing close to Christmas was excellent I must say from the company perspective), and the opening span has been pinned open since December. But is this the end of the Barrow Bridge?

The Barrow Railway Bridge was opened as part of the works to connect the South of Ireland via Waterford to the new port of Rosslare in 1906. The last commercial train to use the line was in September 2010. The line’s viability is now being examined as part of an All-Island Strategic Rail Review. The review might potentially reinstate the railway, but there were also plans to create a greenway along the route. The opening span allows ships to access and egress from the inland port of New Ross via the River Barrow.

A screengrab of the vessel (one of the Arklow Shipping craft) that collided with Pier 3 of the Barrow Bridge on February 26 2022. Photo: Iarnród Éireann

On February 26th, 2022, a ship manoeuvring inwards through the span struck the central protective dolphin. In November Iarnród Éireann (IÉ) put out a press release covered by the Waterford News & Star. The subsequent article explained that “the span will need to be held open for marine traffic as there’s an increased risk of it becoming inoperable, thus preventing vessels from traversing through it.”

Some of the damage to the dolphins protecting the opening span

Because of the collision, IÉ stated that there was a “… real risk that in the course of movements of the swing span, the span could move and strike a passing vessel” It sounds nasty, although a bit far-fetched surely! Other points were raised, although it made no more sense to me. But please read the New & Star article yourself to make your own decision.

A forelorn sight over Christmas of the bridge pinned open, the glowing lights to illuminate the channel and the red and green flashing navigation lights showing the access point. The new bridge at the Pink Rock is seen in the background.

According to IÉ the repairs could cost between €5 million and €10 million. The funds will need to be sought from the ship’s insurers…So that probably won’t be any time soon, given that almost 11 months have now passed? The South East on Track campaign group called on Iarnród Éireann to carry out the repairs in advance of monies it’s hoping to receive from insurers, but to date, this call has fallen on deaf ears.

From Cheekpoint this January 2023. A forlorn sight to see it

The opening span of the bridge was a crucial factor in alleviating the concerns of the New Ross Harbour commissioners when the bridge was originally constructed. It’s kind of ironic that the potential death knell of this magnificent piece of Edwardian industrial heritage should be sundered by IÉ on the pretext of maintaining access to the port.

To see the skill required in transiting the bridge here’s a short video I shot in 2021

Edit March 2023: – although there is still talk of the bridge reopening to cater for, initially, freight to and from Rosslare, there is no sign of work commencing on the bridge. In fact a local chap who knew the workmen who were involved in the recent pinning opening says that all papers etc have been removed and the sense given was that this was the end as far as they knew. I got excited on the 12th of March when I saw a Belgian ship called the Pompei coming in. Obviously a work boat, I hoped that it might be about some repairs. Alas, it seems not, and worse, it struck the bridge on the way up too. Later it emerged that the ship was to be stationed off Baginbun for works associated with the new interconnector between Wales and Ireland…works are ongoing at Great Island to receive the power!

Pompei inbound

July 2023: On the week of the anniversary of the opening in 2023, Deena and I took a trip over to view the bridge, It’s now securely locked up, still pinned open, and rusting away. No further information on repair work to the opening span, or to refurbishing the line…or indeed a greenway. It’s hard not to be pessimistic about its future. See the images below of the rust.

August 2023: Publication of the draft report of the All-Island Strategic Rail Review -gave a mention to the SW Wexford line and that it is to be upgraded by 2030 to provide freight a least…I’m no expert but it all sounds a bit wishy washy

Pinned open, Tues 18th July 2023
One of four new gates – the only investment on the bridge in many a year

January 2024: In late January 2024 Deputy Marc Ó Cathasaigh was interviewed after a Joint Oireachtas Committee on Transport session in which the Waterford Green Party TD questioned Jim Meade, the CEO of Irish Rail on the company’s plans around the damaged bridge and the reopening of the rail line. Here’s what Jim Meade was quoted as saying in the Irish Independent:

“There’s no argument about liability because we have CCTV,” said Mr Meade in response to Deputy Ó Cathasaigh’s question about the bridge. “So, it’s very clear and both insurers are not just waiting for us to come back to them to say that’s the cost”.

Irish Rail intends to enhance the bridge as part of repairing it by automating it so it can be controlled centrally rather than by personnel on the bridge. “We want to automate it in the process and bring it back to our national train control centre,” added Mr Meade.

“We have outlined a whole series of works some time back. We have been working through it and we are substantially complete. We have some residual GI survey works to do but nothing major in the grand scheme of things”.

Irish Independent, 29th Jan 2024

The automation makes sense from a cost-saving point of view, but from a heritage perspective this is very disappointing to hear. It’s good to hear that the insurers are just waiting for the bill to come from IE for repairs, but why is this taking so long?

I heard the discussion and although Jim Meade talks a good talk, and makes it sound like a lot is happening behind the scenes, there is little evidence that I can see of preparation works. And what would any automation etc have to do with insurers, their liability is simply about reinstating the timber supports surely.

As much as I want to believe Jim Meade’s statements, from where I sit, watching the bridge daily it appears to be left to rust away into the river. I will keep you posted.

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 judgment

Christmas Eve, New Ross Port 1840

I would like to thank Myles Courtney for passing this along to me for Christmas. I shared it with my facebook followers yesterday so this is just for those blog followers who are not on social media to enjoy. Wishing you a happy Christmas. Andrew

via New Ross Street Focus

It was Christmas Eve 1840, when I left my hospitable lodging in Rosbercon & wandered down to the quayside of that historic village. A full moon shone like a golden orb, of the richest hues, among the twinkling stars in a cloudless sky, casting its pale light down on the river Barrow. The winter tide was full in & not a ripple appeared on the surface; the calm of the night was a joy to behold. Instead of the savage river that so often had claimed innocent victims, including the much lamented James Freyne of Ballyreddy, it is now one big placid bowl. The harbour was full of ships from many nations, some bringing in cargo & others bringing away the local produce to far off lands.

via New Ross Street Focus
New Ross, looking downriver. via New Ross Street Focus

All sizes of boats lay at anchor in what can only be described as a sylvan scene, something that the artist could do justice to with his brush & canvas. My attention was drawn to a sailing ship anchored near the Rosbercon shore. She was well lit up, with many lanterns casting a cheerful glow onto the still waters of the lake-like river. Suddenly from up on deck, the silence of the night was broken by the sound of a powerful tenor voice. The words were hard to grasp, but the tune was easily recognisable; it was a song for the season that was in it- “O Silent Night”. The young Italian, he from a land so famous for its music & singers, gave a virtuoso performance that night, by the harbour wall. The rendition would have done credit to him on the stages of the music halls of Milan or Naples. Soon, all the crews of other ships joined in the singing; & although the languages were different, the joy & meaning of the carol remained intact.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=y3K5oLg-Fq4

O Solo Mio, you proud son of Italy, you made the Christmas Eve of 1840 something to be remembered & savoured by all who were privileged to hear you.

Author: Unknown: Source: A Historical Century, New Ross Historical Society… Via Myles Courtney of New Ross Street Focus

“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 tidesntales@irelandmail.com

Want to see the majestic structure that is the Barrow Bridge as it is today? Check it out here from Waterford Epic Locations; https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=osxp6UyMV0g

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

The Paddle Steamer Ida

Last week we looked at the river services operated by the Waterford Steamship Company.  This week I wanted to look at the work of one particular ship the Paddle Steamer Ida.

The PS Ida was launched from the Neptune Iron Works on Friday 27th September 1867 and was described at the time as “A very handsome little paddle steamer…of unusual size (149 ft x 19ft x 9ft) and beauty…intended to ply between this city (Waterford) and Ross (New Ross)” (1)

PS Ida circa 1898 leaving New Ross.  No standing room available
Andy Kelly collection

The Ida made her maiden voyage on Friday 31st January 1868 accompanied by the PS Shamrock , making it in 1hr 10 mins , both vessels getting a terrific reception when they reached the New Ross quays.  She would be a constant sight on the Suir and Barrow for the next 37 years.(2)  The steamers took freight, agriculture produce and passengers each way.  The Ida departed New Ross at 8.15am each morning (Mon-Sat) making stops as required at quaysides along the way.

I’ve heard she called to places such as Pilltown -where a hulk was stationed away from the quay- Great Island and Cheekpoint frequently, apparently it was all down to whether there were passengers or freight requiring transport.  Of course as is well known locally, boats dd not need to call to the shore as this fascinating account proves:  “But the most exciting experience of all was at Ballinlaw, when the ponderous ferry-boat with passengers and farm produce from the Great Island made contact with the Ida as she lay to mid stream.  To get the passengers safely aboard by means of a companion ladder involved considerable risk in rough weather.  But the Ballinlaw boatmen knew their job, and no accident occurred in living memory”

Once in Waterford the Ida and her sister ship the PS Vandeleur could be assigned to various tasks in the port, towage, maintenance works and indeed salvage and rescue missions for example the steamers featured in the wreck of the SS Hansa in 1899.  I’d imagine there was many a fisherman or boatman could thank these ships for a tow into town or up the Ross river against the tides, saving them from an agonising row.

PS Vandeleur at Cheekpoint (note no Barrow Bridge)
Andy Kelly Collection

The daily services ran Monday to Saturday but summer Sundays were used for special event trips, one of which started me on this quest to learn more. As I said last week Christy Doherty told me years back of memories of older folk of the Sunday outings, memories of which can still be found in newspaper searches of the time.  Bill Irish quotes one such account: “I have very pleasant memories of the shilling trips return every Sunday by steamer from Waterford to Dunmore East and the splendid tea for eightpence at Galgeys or Shipseys Hotel at Dunmore. These trips were the best value that have ever been offered to Waterford residents. The boats the Ida and Vandeleur left about mid-day or 3pm on alternate Sundays.  We had three hours in Dunmore and reached Waterford at 10pm” (3) As lovely as it sounds, it would appear to be very costly for ordinary folk.  But Christy Doherty did tell me that the special event trips called to all the quaysides and landing posts in the harbour and that a trip to Duncannon could be had for a few pennies and it cost nothing to walk the beach at Duncannon.  He also mentioned their roles in transport to and from regattas and events such as horse racing on Duncannon beach.

Bill Irish gives a first hand account from Captain Farrell of one such trip on the Ida to Duncannon when he was a boy. “A man named Friday, with one eye, played a melodeon box on the way up and down the river. The hat was then put around for a collection. The Ida stopped in Duncannon for about one hour to allow people to ‘stretch their legs’.  Along with the captain, was a first mate, two men to handle ropes, two engineers and two firemen”(4)

There were many episodes associated with the river service that I have come across.  But for sheer madness, this piece sent on by my good friend and heritage ally Frank Murphy must take the biscuit.

On Saturday evening July 23rd 1870 the Ida departed her normal berth at the hulk (The Duncannon Hulk I presume based on the events mentioned) on the quay at 4pm.  She proceeded down the Suir.

Opposite the Mall a drunken passenger jumped onto the railings and hurled himself into the river in an apparent suicide attempt.  The Ida immediately stopped her engines and the crew tried to effect a rescue.  The gentlemen was struggling in the water, fully clothed and with his boots on.  However he didn’t seem minded to accept the crews help.

The Clerk of the Waterford Petty Sessions, Mr PF Hanrahan was rowing by in a small boat and came close to the man offering him an oar.  He was met with abuse and turning on his back, the ‘drowning man’ proceeded to kick water and practically over turn Hanrahans craft.  A boatman in a prong met a similar fate.
A dock worker named Kelly had stripped on the quay and dived in to attempt a rescue also, however he met with an uncooperative client.  Kelly was picked up by the prong and the two men then managed to overpower and haul the ‘drowning man’ aboard.  In the melee that ensued Kelly ended up knocking the gentleman out with a punch who was then rowed ashore where he was arrested on the spot.
Meanwhile another rescue was required.  A considerable crowd had assembled quayside and in an effort to get a better vantage of the incident, some rushed aboard the ship Malakoff moored alongside the quay Proceeding to the bridge, they leaned out to view the scene, pressing against some netting designed to provide security but not to take the weight that was now placed on it.  The netting ripped and ten spectators ended up in the Suir fighting for their lives!  All were successfully rescued by a fleet of small boats that were gathered at the scene. The instigator of the drama was whisked off by the police. The writer of the piece expresses the hope that the miscreant will face the full force of the law at the next court session, something assured if Mr Hanrahan had any part in it surely.  The Ida then proceeded with her trip (5)

The final chapter of the gallant PS Ida, Bristol 1908
Andy Kelly collection

So many dramas, so many journeys, so many memories.  The Ida last sailed on the route in 1905.  I’m not yet sure when she last steamed down the harbour, but it took her to Bristol where she was broken up at Clevedon Pill in 1908.

My thanks to Frank Murphy, Pat Murphy Cheekpoint and Andy Kelly for their assistance with this piece.(1) The Cork Examiner. Monday 30th September 19867

(2)Decies #53 Waterford Steamship Company. pp 67- 89. 1997.  Bill Irish
(3) ibid
(4) ibid
(5) This is an edited and abridged extract from the piece published in the Tipperary Free Press – Tuesday 26 July 1870

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My book on growing up in a fishing village is now published.