Red Iron Recalled

Waterford Greenway has brought many benefits to the City & County, and one of them for me was the first views it gave of the Suir Railway Bridge or known in more recent times as the Red Iron located at Grannagh.  Although it might have been new to me, several generations of Waterford youth grew up around the bridge. In choosing it as the title for one of his most popular plays, Jim Nolan captured to many the essence of the bridge, a gathering point, a hangout, a safe space for teens who wanted to just be, and how can you just be, unless you are away from the eyes of adults.  But did you realise that the Red Iron was originally planned to be located much closer to the city?

The Red Iron, or Suir Railway Bridge in its heyday. Note the buoys in position below the bridge opening span in the River Suir for warping. What looks like a lighter is moving with the tide on the Waterford bank to the left. The Kilkenny bank is to the right.

Suir Railway Bridge was opened in 1906 as a means of connecting the railway line which had just opened to Rosslare and via the crossing to travel on to Cork, via Kilmacthomas, Dungarvan, Lismore, Fermoy and Mallow. Once completed the Waterford South Station became redundant to rail, and the North Station then became the city’s sole terminal.  The bridge was in regular use up to March 1967 when the last passenger train left Dungarvan for Rosslare. The line was reopened again to facilitate a magnesite ore processing plant at Ballinacourty but this closed in 1982. CIE would have run occasional maintenance locomotives on the line up to the 90s. A span was removed over the weekend of May 27-28th 1995 and dumped on the Kilkenny bank. I guess the hope of its owners was that the rest of the bridge would rust away into the river.

I had a bit to say to the camera about the Suir Bridge and its opening span to filmmaker Ben Rowland back in 2021. The program was C5’s World’s Most Scenic River Journeys. Disappointingly for me, most of what had to say went on the cutting room floor

The underused, and later abandoned bridge became a mecca for young people in Waterford City from the 1970s onwards.  And my good pal Mark Power recently shared his own personal memory of the bridge which gives a sense of its attraction and danger!

My memories of growing up in the 80s in Waterford were of adventure, curiosity, wonder, and endless fun during the long hot summers. Without a care in the world, a group of us from the same street would head off out to the Red Iron Bridge, during much simpler times, with no phones and gone for the day. We would walk or BMX our way there. It was around the time of the film “Stand by Me” 1986 and we would walk and recite the dialogue from the film on our way there. One could start a line from the film and the rest of us would finish it off.  We’d cut up left just past the dog pound where the track ran over the road. We would run, throw stones into the mud, play tig, and climb the ladder to the top of the tower in the middle to get the best views. Some even walked along the top, but only the brave would dare follow.

Although dangerous as it seems now, we did not see the danger, we just saw it as a day of having a laugh with our friends. The centre span was still intact at that point, and you could walk all the way across to the “lemonade factory”, I think it was some soft drinks store. I remember cycling across the flat part next to the track on my BMX, you needed to pay attention for that one, as you’re looking down and can see through the gaps down to the water. One of my friends tried it and ended up flying over the handlebars. He was fine after a few minutes, as we were made of rubber and invincible then, but he knew better than to try it again.

 Then there was always the threat of the infamous “Yellow Cab” coming across the bridge and catching you. I was told it was a small carriage that was used to police the track. I still don’t know if there was ever any truth to it because as many times I had been over there, I always avoided “getting caught”. I personally had never laid eyes on it, so it was most probably a made-up story, but it was real for me back then and the fear was always there. It’s funny really that “The Yellow Cab” was the only thing we were scared of, with a million and one other thing that should have killed us. In the end, we made it out alive, and it gave me and my friends memories that will last forever (you know who you are). I still bring my girls out there and tell them the stories and fun we had back in the 80s. It was our “Stand by Me”, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

I really appreciate Mark sharing his memories with me. It reminded me of our own gallivanting around Cheekpoint, away for the day on the strand, the rivers, the Minaun, Hurthill or to the Barrow Railway Bridge- long wonder-filled days, adventure, some danger, and lots of laughs. But we were a long walk from the Red Iron!

Mark Power AKA the amazing videographer that is Waterford Epic Locations
Mark highlights the damage to the Red Iron at the start of his video, following a train crash on the 24th July 1945, miraculously no one died as far as I am aware

As I mentioned in the introduction, the Suir Bridge was not originally planned for Grannagh at all.  The siting and construction were actually a tortured affair. Initially, in 1890 a plan was proposed to cross a mere 1300 ft above the then road bridge in the city, Timbertoes.  However as ships would have to transit through the rail bridge also, the Commissioners, raised serious concerns about the merit of the proposal.

Effectively at the time ships had to “warp” through such bridges.  Many ships of this era still did not have engine power and so were at the mercy of wind and tide when underway.  Warping involved a sailing ship approaching a bridge at the correct time of tide – either side of high or low water was used, depending on the direction the ship was traveling.  The vessel heaved to at the opening span, and ropes were run through buoys on either side of the bridge by hobblers (local skilled boatmen).  When ready the ship manoeuvred through using the tides and the ropes to safely negotiate the bridge.

Captain Nicholas Parle of the Harbour Commissioners was to the fore in pointing out the very obvious issues with transiting sailing vessels, then without any auxiliary engine power, not through one but two opening spans.  Even with the very capable assistance of the Hobbler crews, such a manoeuvre was hardly feasible through two bridges. Moving several ships both upriver and downriver at the correct time of tide would have been impractical and probably caused bottlenecks, and most possibly involve ships having to wait for an entire tide (6hrs or 12 hrs, depending on the direction of travel) between the two bridges. 

An image of a sailing vessel being warped through Timbertoes. I realise this is an anorak special, many readers may not really care, but the skill and timing required for this were admirable, and I find it fascinating. Such a procedure is rarely photographed, but you may notice that below the bridge one of the buoys used can be seen in the river. Above the bridge a hobbler craft is at one of the upper buoys whilst another hawser is off to the right outside of the shot. Onboard the sailors were probably singing a chanty as the hauled the hawsers aboard. Another two hawsers were paid out from astern keeping the ship on course. This protected the bridge and the ships rigging and spars, yards and masts.
A close-up of the above image shows both hawsers leading away from the bow of the vessel. Hopefully, this might give some appreciation of the space required to warp just one vessel through. Perhaps it might help the reader appreciate the Harbour Commissioners concerns. Also note the yards on the three masts have been moved to assist the transit.

In 1898 the plan was revived and it seems that not one but two different rail companies had plans to cross the Suir, at much the same point as the 1890 plan.  William Friel as Engineer of the Commissioners raised similar objections about the position, but as the plan included a solid base or abutment reaching some 50 feet into the river from the Kilkenny side, Friel also raised the issue of silt deposits along the railway wharf and beyond if such an impediment were placed into the river.  If the modern reader has any doubts about this point, take a drive out to Cheekpoint at low water!  He proposed, and it was accepted, that an extra span of the bridge to reach the shore would alleviate the issue.

Another concern of the railway was the requirement of a 6ft wide footbridge to allow citizens to cross the Suir without the cost of the Timbertoes toll, it seems the rail companies avoided this expense by agreeing to a payment of £5,000 to the Corporation, which went into a fund towards the cost of buying out the toll, something which was later achieved and the end of 1907.

The Toll Gates on Timbertoes. The Bridge was finally made toll-free on the last day of December 1907

It seems that the bridge was still to go ahead in the proposed location up to 1899 when a contractor was employed to survey the area, and they realised that the ground was too soft and they would have to bore to a significant depth to reach the hard ground.  It was 1902 before an alternative location was sought, which eventually led to the siting and construction at Grannagh.  The Suir Bridge was commenced in 1904 and was ready by 1906. 

A notice published in the local papers giving notice of the new bridge

As stated previously, the last passenger train left Dungarvan in March 1967 and in March 2017 the greenway opened along the original railway line.  The opening span was removed from the Suir Bridge in 1995, and I have seen comments on social media saying it should be replaced and the bridge incorporated into the greenway infrastructure.  Watch this space, I guess. 

The removed span resting on the margains of the CIE goods yard rusting away

Two parting thoughts on the location.  Would CIE, now Iarnród Éireann have ever got away with simply removing a span out of the Suir Bridge and letting it rust into the River Suir if it was located in the town?  I hope not, it certainly would have been a much more controversial decision at the time, than it seems to have been.

But really what I am left with about the Red Iron is how fortunate that move of the location to Grannagh.  Would the Red Iron have been as nearly as relevant to so many of the youth of Waterford if it had been located as originally planned in the town?   Would Jim Nolans classic play have ever come to be? The Red Iron was a mecca because it was out of the way, removed from the glare of disapproving adults, a spot where young people could just be themselves, take risks, imagine themselves as they yearned to be, and laugh out loud without judgment.  Mark Power and his pals might be judged harshly by this generation’s more safety conscious parents, but were they at any more risk in relative terms, than a child today alone in their room glued to a smartphone? 

I drew on newspaper reportage of the era for its article, but mostly I referred to Ernie Shepherd’s excellent work on the railway line – Fishguard & Rosslare Railways & Harbour Company.

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 this coming Sunday – a gentle stroll through the Faithlegg estate. If you would like to subscribe to my monthly maritime blog, please complete the details below

‘‘A Novel and Unusual Spectacle’’; Ice on the ‘Three Sisters’ in the Late 19th Century

A guest blog by Conor Donegan

Standing at the end of the breakwater in Dunmore East two Sundays ago, I couldn’t help but admire the beauty of the frost covered cliffs and the white roofs all around the village, despite the intense and bitter cold. The estuary was alive with the sound of a thousand gulls following the sprat fleet, who judging by the landings made at the harbour day after day, have enjoyed one of the best seasons in years. The multi-coloured hulls stood out strong against the intense, inky black of the water, which made me shiver just to look at it.

The vibrancy of that Winter scene got me thinking about what the Harbour would look like in even harsher conditions. Pictures of icebergs and great sheets of snow flashed through my mind. Had Waterford ever seen such scenes in times past? Suspiciously, when I got home a post appeared in the Waterford Maritime History Facebook group by Michael Butch Power detailing just such an occasion in December 1878, when the sheer force of ice almost caused the destruction of the Timbertoes bridge in the city.

I quickly disappeared down a rabbit hole in the Irish Newspaper Archives and discovered that this was by no means a unique phenomenon. The freezing of the River Suir further inland has occurred during many severe Winters in the past (at Cahir in 1903, Carrick-on-Suir in 1947 and at Fiddown Bridge in 2010, to name just a few).  However for it to freeze solid at the city quays, where the river is considerably wider and deeper, and pose a serious threat to shipping and infrastructure, is quite another thing. Three years in particular stand out; 1867, 1878 and 1881.

 January 1867 saw temperatures across Ireland plummet to -15 degrees Celsius.  The Waterford News of 18th January reported an almost total absence of native grain being produced for the markets, due to the heavy ground frost.  Icebergs floated aimlessly down the City quays and the paddle steamer Shamrock, which was in the final months of a thirty year career spent plying between Waterford and New Ross,  remained tied up for many days.  Fears were raised over the potential destruction of the Timbertoes bridge, and a ‘railway steamboat’ was commandeered to act as an ice-breaker, smashing up the larger bergs before they could damage the pillars and abutments. 

Ultimately, Timbertoes survived the barrage, but her counterpart on the Barrow was not so fortunate. Conditions in Kilkenny and Wexford seem to have been much harsher than at Waterford, with the Nore and Barrow being reported as frozen solid ‘…for sixteen miles above Ross’.  The American architect Lemuel Cox is perhaps best known for building the aforementioned Timbertoes in 1794, but he had also designed and built the bridge at New Ross in 1796   (the Waterford News article of 25th. Jan 1867 states that it was actually built by a private company in 1779, but most other sources agree on the later date).

Local opinion however seems to have been somewhat critical of Cox’s work, and the local press dismissed the bridge as having been ‘…long regarded a nuisance’ due to its shakiness.  Having been raised to allow the passage of a ship, the central drawbridge remained firmly stuck upright until it was swept away, the structure eventually giving way arch by arch due to the immense pressure of the ice floes, with only two arches remaining on the Kilkenny side and one at the Wexford end. 

A boat service remained the only way of crossing the river until a new and more substantial iron bridge was built in 1869.  In the long running port dispute between the two towns from 1215 to 1518, New Ross’ difficulty had been Waterford’s opportunity.  Such was the case again when parts of the bridge floated downriver to the City quays, where some quick-thinking coal porters lashed and secured the timbers, and used them as firewood.  Thus many a Waterford home was heated through the last days of that harsh Winter, by the remains of the New Ross bridge.

View of Lemuel Cox’s bridge at New Ross, circa 1832. Destroyed by ice floes in 1867. Source:

December 1878 stands out as yet another extreme Winter in the south-east, one that saw a return of the mesmeric sight of icebergs on the ‘three sisters’. Despite the often clichéd view of the Victorian era as an age of joylessness and almost puritanical conservatism, it appears that people made it their mission to take advantage of the inhospitable conditions and enjoy themselves. Although he reported conditions in south Kilkenny as being akin to Siberia, the Piltown correspondent of the Munster Express, for example, focused on the great benefit that occurred to ‘…lovers of skating’ of whom there was ‘…plenty enough in this locality’.   A large, frozen pond on the demesne of Lord Bessborough attracted crowds of people from many miles around, and although the skating constituted ‘fine sport’, the correspondent was keen to deny any suggestions of impropriety or frivolousness; ‘No lady ventured out alone, but was always accompanied by a gentleman (her bachelor if you wish), who always took great care not to let her ‘come to grief’’.

While the good people of Piltown entertained themselves, things were getting far more serious downriver. Solid blocks of ice, three or four feet thick, were being hurled against all manner of objects on the river and such was their strength that the ice often cut through timber, and even iron.  A lighter moored at the City’s railway station was cut in half and sunk; another on it way upriver to Carrick-on-Suir avoided a similar fate by just ‘…half an inch of planking’. The wooden piles of Timbertoes were under severe pressure, and a large number of anchors were sunk a distance from the bridge in a bid to break up the ice, whilst heavy chains were used to secure the structure in place lest it be carried out to sea by a combination of retreating ice floes and gale force winds.  Comparisons with her New Ross cousin were inevitable, and the ‘…feeble old dilapidated’ state of Timbertoes was lamented.  Ultimately however, Spring rolled around, the ice melted and the bridge survived intact. This is all the more exceptional when you consider that in those dying days of 1878, and early 1879, the Suir was frozen solid as one gigantic sheet of ice, making it possible to walk across the river from the South Quays to Ferrybank, providing a ‘…novel and unusual spectacle’ for the citizens of Waterford.

Report from the Munster Express, 28th Dec. 1878, p. 4. Note the reference at the end where it is said such scenes were not seen in 40 years. This suggests the freeze of 1878 was even more severe and dramatic than that of 1867.

Novel and fascinating though these Arctic-like scenes may have been, for the people of Waterford and the wider region extreme weather caused real hardship and misery, compounded by the general poverty of the nation at the time. In January 1881, Ireland and Britain experienced a ‘great blizzard’, one of the most severe in recorded history, in which many snow drifts exceeded 20ft.  The Mayor of Waterford, Alderman L. A. Ryan, convened a meeting at City Hall for ‘…the purpose of creating a fund to provide coal, so badly needed in many a homestead in this penetrating and death-dealing season’. 

Employment in the city was severely impacted, though this was somewhat alleviated when the Corporation hired large numbers of labourers to help clear the snow and ice from the footpaths and roads.  Many of the local charities, including the St. Vincent de Paul, were unable to keep up with the increase in demand for their services, as many families were plunged into desperate circumstances. 

On the evening of Thursday 20th January a great sheet of ice drifted down from Carrick and once again became lodged at Timbertoes bridge.  Ever keen to avoid a repeat of the New Ross incident fourteen years earlier, the Bridge Commissioners tried to blow up the ice with dynamite, an operation performed unsuccessfully by an Edward Jacob.  More effectively, the two steam tugs Father Matthew and Suir spent the remainder of the month breaking up the ice by creating semi circles around the central arches of the bridge, thus helping to alleviate some of the pressure.  Old Timbertoes had once again survived the freezing of the Suir, though this was not universally welcomed. Whether this was due to the perceived run-down state of the structure, or its despised status as a toll bridge (a situation which did not end until it was acquired by Waterford Corporation in 1907), the Waterford News reported that it was ‘… a circumstance which some people seem to regret’.  Spring came, the ice and snow disappeared and a burden was lifted off the shoulders of the people of Waterford.

View of Timbertoes bridge, Waterford, circa 1890-1900. Built in 1794, it was replaced by Redmond Bridge in 1913. Note the immense size of the Suir at this point, five times wider than Dublin’s Liffey. The transformation of the river into one solid sheet of ice must have been quite a sight. Source: U.S. Library of Congress

Fast forward back to the present, 2021. Winter has officially ended and although the weather seems to suggest otherwise, we are in now in Spring. As a part-time retail worker, much of my conversation with customers revolves around meteorology and how cold or otherwise the day may be. Usually I’m inclined to agree with said customers that is there is a particular bite in the wind this morning, and sure isn’t it only a day for the fire? Having looked back at those extreme weather events a century and a half ago, I don’t think I’m entitled to complain about such things ever again!

Those dramatic images of icebergs floating by Adelphi Quay, or any one of the ‘Three Sisters’ frozen solid from bank to bank, are incredible to picture in one’s mind, and it is a terrible pity there doesn’t seem to have been any photographs taken to record such sights. Romantic images aside, we should not forget that these events also caused considerable hardship to people all across Waterford Harbour, be it in terms of fuel poverty, unemployment, loss of shipping or the destruction of vital bridges and other infrastructure.

The crises people faced in 1867, 1878 and 1881 are not too dissimilar from the battles we face today with Covid-19. In both cases, daily life became a stagnant, seemingly never ending malaise caused by events largely outside human control. Yet as the weather improved each time in those three years, the big freezes always ended and the omnipresent ice gradually disappeared, as this virus surely will too someday. As President Barack Obama said on his visit to this country in 2011, ‘Whatever hardships the winter may bring, springtime is always just around the corner’. That was just as true in past times as it is now in our time.

Some stills here of a frozen Suir at Fiddow in 2010 uploaded by Joe Cashin

My thanks to Conor Donegan for this fine account. Its a story I have longed to write, and I am delighted to have it featured here now for the tidesntales crew. Conor currently attends UCC, and is presently doing an MA on the History of the Irish Revolution 1912-23. He has written for the blog before on the HMS Brave Border Incident and was recently published in the 2021 Decies: ‘1917: U-boats on the Waterford Coast’ based on his BA dissertation.


1.  Keyes, Dermot. (2010). Mighty Suir frozen over. Munster Express. [online]. Available at: [Accessed on 26th Jan. 2021]

2.  Dixon, F. E. ‘Weather in Old Dublin’. Dublin Historical Record, vol. 13, no. 3/4, (1953), p.101.

3.  Waterford News, 18th Jan. 1867

4.  Doherty, Andrew, Waterford Harbour: Tides & Tales, (The History Press, Cheltenham, 2020), pp. 30, 31.

5. Waterford News, 25th Jan. 1867

6. Ibid

7. Ibid

8. New Ross Standard, 4th Mar. 2017

9. Waterford News, 25th Jan. 1867

10. Ibid

11.  Bassett, George Henry. (1885). Walls, Gates, and Bridges of New Ross – Wexford Guide and Directory, 1885. Library Ireland. [Online]. Available at:  [Accessed on 31st Jan. 2021]

12.  McEneaney, Eamonn; Ryan, Rosemary; (Eds). Waterford Treasures. (Waterford Museum of Treasures, Waterford, 2004), p.66

13. Waterford News, 25th Jan. 1867

14. Munster Express, 21st Dec. 1878

15. Ibid

16. Munster Express, 28th Dec. 1878

17. Ibid

18. Ibid

19. Ibid

20. Ibid

21. Simons, Paul. (2021). Blizzard in 1881 left people trapped in their homes. The Times. [online]. Available at: [Accessed on 1st Feb. 2021]

22. Waterford News, 21st Jan. 1881

23. Ibid

24. Ibid

25. Ibid

26. Manning, Cian, Waterford City: A History, (The History Press, Cheltenham, 2019), p.102

27. Ibid

28. Waterford News, 21st Jan. 1881