Grand opening of the Barrow Bridge 21st July 1906

Today marks the opening of the Barrow railway Bridge and the South West Wexford line. I wrote previously about the planning and construction of the Bridge which was started in 1902 by the firm of William Arrol & Co to a design by one of the foremost engineers of the time Sir Benjamin Barker. The purpose of the railway line was to open up the South West of Ireland to export with England in an efficient and quick manner and speed the crossing times to England and Wales for passengers.  The line’s specific distinction is that it was the last major railway line to be constructed in Ireland.  Barrow Bridge is 2131 feet in length and has an opening span to allow shipping through to the port of New Ross.

A postcard of the bridge not long after it opened

Both the bridge and the line, including the new pier at Rosslare, Co Wexford were officially opened on Saturday, July 21st, 1906.  Five hundred guests traveled on a special event train which started out in Dublin.  The train had twenty-one saloon carriages attached including the royal saloon in which was the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland Lord Aberdeen, who was to perform the inauguration.  It is said that it was the longest special event train ever seen in the country.  It stopped off at Carlow, Kilkenny, and finally Waterford station to collect further guests including the Marquis of Waterford, and then on to Rosslare via the new Barrow Bridge.  According to Susan Jacob, her grandmother Aggie Power (who lived in Daisybank house) was on that first train, a story handed down through the family. I do recall my father saying that there was some connection between the family and some of the engineers working on the project and Pat Murphy has told me in the past that he understood that some men stayed at Daisybank as lodgers during the construction.

Construction workers working on the opening span, April 1905

Apparently some of the guests fainted with the fear associated with crossing the Bridge.  Well, they might be in awe, for it was by far the longest rail bridge ever built in the country at the time and would retain that distinction (and possibly still should regarding the expanse of water crossed) until Belfast’s Dargan Bridge and related works were constructed in 1994. It might be hard now to imagine the fear that the travelers might have held in such a crossing, but it should be remembered that the designer and builder had only a few short years before completing a project to replace the largest rail bridge in the British Isles – The Tay Bridge, the predecessor of which had collapsed into the River Tay in 1879 while a train was crossing with the loss of all aboard.

A sketch I made (using a phone app) of the bridge recently looking towards the Kilkenny side

The opening span was also a concern no doubt, but passengers need have had no fear.  The opening span was operated from a control tower atop the opening, which was manned and operated via an electrical generator below on the protective pontoon.  (Mains electricity now powers the opening, but this is the only difference made to the operation that I am aware of) The operator couldn’t open the centre span unless and until signal men on both the Waterford and Campile sides acknowledged that there was nothing traveling on the line. 

A recent shot of the bridge looking towards the Wexford side. Note the black ball to the left of the control tower, I love to see such details preserved.

Indeed initially ships would not proceed through the opening until a signal was also raised from the control tower, a black ball.  This would later include a green light when the bridge opening was extended to nighttime.  Many the time I marveled at the nerves of these men sitting atop the span as ships passed through, and I’m sure their nerves were well tested as ships struck the bridge on at least two occasions.

Notwithstanding any guest’s concerns, the special event train proceeded onto the bridge and came to a halt halfway across to give everyone a view of the meeting of the three sister rivers at Cheekpoint. It 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 and this was followed by a party where several toasts were made to the good fortune of the new company.  The freight rail service was the first to start running on the line thereafter, followed by a passenger service which came into operation on August 1st, 1906 and the first cross-channel ferry left Rosslare on Fri 24th August 1906, sailing on the SS St Patrick.

The Barrow Bridge gave over 100 years of loyal service before being closed in 2010.  An event we have also marked. I also wrote about a century of incidents associated with the bridge in my book Waterford Harbour Tides and Tales.

I would like 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)

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