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)
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
 

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

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

Did Waterford port have a flag based communication system?

One of our most intriguing ruins in the area must be the Lookout in the Glazing Wood.   The Lookout stands above the River Suir and is now surrounded by Larch trees, part of the Coillte forestry scheme. But in the past it would have had fine views of the river, and many have speculated that this gives a clue to its purpose.

Perhaps the best view I have seen of the structure
via the ever generous Brendan Grogan

The Lookout is a stone and mortar made structure built out from the cliff face of the Glazing wood. The stone used in the base was hewn from the cliff behind the structure on the Glazing wood path.  The positioning is very strategic.  It’s built on a solid outcrop of stone which stands out from the surrounding hillside and has a fall of about 15 feet to the hillside.  The structure rises approximately 20 feet to its base.  This base measures fifteen feet by four feet.   There is an entry arch onto the platform, again made of stone and above this there appears to be the remains of second storey, or at least a higher platform.  I’ve seen a painting (by one of the Power’s of Faithlegg House) which suggests the building was once a small tower, with a door for, I presume, security. 

The only written account I could find as an explanation came from one of Michael Fewer’s books by Cliff and by Shore.  In it, Fewer and his companions, speculate that it was perhaps used by revenue men to monitor river traffic. Perhaps related to this, Anthony Rogers had a story that it may have been part of a system of monitoring the river traffic up to New Ross at a time when relations between the two ports was particularly fractious and where laws required all Waterford ships to offload their cargo at their home port.  Ships heading up the Barrow could expect to be intercepted, boarded and examined.  Not alone can you see the entry to the two rivers, but you can also see the old alternative entrance around the Great Island and of course the medieval Port of St Mary (Dunbrody Abbey and Campile)

My father always said that it was used by the Hobblers and Lightermen as a lookout for ships.  Its known that Hobblers rowed as far as the Hook and beyond to take sailing ships in tow and provide pilotage.  Its also a fact that a series of mooring buoys were positioned at Cheekpoint for sailing vessels who would have required the services of lighters to be unloaded, or lightened.
Others have speculated that it may just be a folly.  The detail that went into the construction is, I think, a little basic for a folly.  I also think that if the Aylward, Bolton or Power family were minded to construct such, that they would surely have located it at a site that would have afforded them the spectacular view of the harbour from the Minaun, or the vista of the counties of the south east, not a strategically significant overlooking the river such as the Lookout affords.
The lookout from the Marsh road circa 1950
photo credit Anthony Rogers
An idea of the view from the Lookout 1970
Photo credit: Brendan Grogan

Tommy Deegan, amongst others on the Waterford History Group Facebook page, has considered there to be a link between the lookout and Popes Tower in Ferrybank.  The tower, which is situated close to where the Ard Rí hotel is now lying in ruins, was the property of the Pope family, a very prosperous merchant family from the city.  Some of the speculation suggests that semaphore may have been used to communicate the arrival of ships.

Any reader of the 17th & 18th C sea bourn trade will know that the quantity of trade was phenomenal.  In the same way that the M50 in Dublin is now jammed with traffic, so was the river system and wharfs of ports, of which Waterford was to Ireland’s fore.  The difficulties faced by shipping companies and the boats and sea captains were many.  Weather was an ever present factor obviously, but getting pilotage into ports, whether or not to pay for towing services, the speed of passing through customs and the ability to get a good position when berthing to allow for fast and efficient unloading.
Ports such as Liverpool operated a flag system from the mouth of the Mersey.  The Bidport flag system was a means to communicate to the port the arrival of a particular locally owned shipping company boat and cargo.  This gave the company time to organise for custom men to be ready, a berth to be secured, dock workers to be ready to offload, and provisioning and an outboard cargo to be organised.  Then as now, speed was considered to be of the essence.

I’ve also read that flags at points such as Bidport also were a factor in communicating the weather conditions at the mouth of the harbour.  Ships would delay sailing until sure that conditions were favourable to make a safe passage out of the harbour and onto the sea,

Is it possible Waterford had a system of flags or other warning system operating to communicate the arrival of craft?  When we look at the scale of shipping along her quays, would it not be in local merchants interests to secure a ripe unloading position along the quayside.  Isn’t it also probable that a port almost 18 miles from the mouth of the harbour would have some means of predicting the sea conditions off the harbour, where ships could be at their most vulnerable. Lets face it, Flags have a very long history in the conducting of maritime trade and defence. 
There are other interesting points in relation to lookouts or flags that I am aware of.  Brendan Grogan could tell me that his grandfather used a flag to communicate his whereabouts as Harbour Master in town.  He was also aware (via Julian Walton) of a flag system being used from Brook Lodge (near Jack Meades) to communicate the passing of ships in Kings channel.  James Doherty could tell me that there were a series of flag poles on the quays, upriver from the Clock tower.  He was also aware of a curious placename in Crook known as Spy Hill.  Hobblers Rock in Creaden, a point from which these men operated, must have had a lookout point.  I also can recall another story I heard on a Barony of Gaultier Historical Society walk in Dunmore some years back, where mention was made of a look out post above the village, where pilots kept an eye on incoming ships with a spyglass, or telescope.  
Spy Hill, Crook.  Accessed from maps.osi.ie
Obviously a lot more research needs to be done to confirm or dismiss this idea. Is it not possible however that in a harbour and port of over 1000 years, where war, plague and every nationality under the sun has visited, that many of these stories are just echoes of the reality of life at different points along this noble history.  I can’t but feel, there are many other echoes out there.  
Many thanks to James Doherty, Anthony Rogers and Brendan Grogan for allowing me their time and knowledge of the area, to discuss this with them.  If anyone else has other stories, placenames, theories or written accounts, I would be delighted to hear of them.

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