In April 1898 some of the people of New Ross were disturbed to see what they understood to be a Royal Navy gunship, moored in the town with an intention to suppress the commemoration of the 1798 uprising. But was this the real purpose of this ship, and where had it come from? That’s what I had hoped to uncover with this story.
After a sick house over Christmas it was early January before we could get out and about and our first trip was to New Ross. My wife had a message to conclude with Forrestal’s Jewellers, and while Deena joined a large queue inside the door, in an effort to maintain the male stereotype, I chose to have a jaunt around the town. Using Myles Courtney’s walking guide – New Ross Street Focus of course.
Although there is always something to catch the eye in the town, (indeed I caused a bit of a twitter sensation with a crows foot post from the Quay which I hope to blog about soon) this time I dwelled on an old photo on a wall in Quay Street.
The photo showed a paddle steamer tied up to a landing stage on the quay, and came via Jimmy Fitzgibbon from his wonderful collection of plate glass negatives from the Cavanagh Collection. Named the Gladiator, and in obvious immaculate condition, I could not help but wonder at the purpose of the vessel and the year in which it was taken.
A search online yielded a puzzling story from April 1898. The New Ross Standard reported that the town of New Ross (or certain sections) was in turmoil over the vessel Gladiator. Here’s the account:
I fully expected to find out more about the proposed survey, especially if it was to take 3 months, but alas I was to be disappointed. For no other mention could I find in the local papers, and I had never come across the name before or covered it in a blog. I did find that the HMS was incorrect, the Gladiator was listed as both a tug and a HMSV (Her Majesty’s Survey Vessel) at different times in accounts online. The ship was built of iron by Brassey & Co of Birkenhead in 1874. At the time of the survey work she was owned by E Griffiths Brothers & Co of Wallsea, at the mouth of the River Mersey and she seems to have had been contracted out.
Now my only real guess as to the survey work at the time in the Barrow was in connection with the building of the SW Wexford Railway Line. In 1898 there were many mentions of disputes between the New Ross Harbour Commissioners and the Waterford Harbour Commissioners into the building of two bridges that would later be known as the Barrow Bridge and the Suir Bridge- topic of my next blog!
Around this time, the plan for the Barrow Bridge was to construct the railway line away from Drumdowney on the Kilkenny side, along by the riverfront, and to construct a bridge towards Kents Point on Great Island, and hence along the riverfront towards Campile where the Power Stations now lie. Not long after the route was moved slightly inland and the crossing upriver, adding to the cost because of the tunneling of Drumdowney and cutting through part of Great Island. All of this is just speculation, but the timing fits, and the area had to be surveyed, not just on land but on the river too.
If I come across any other details that will either confirm or clarify the intentions of the Gladiator, I will happily update the blog. But at least the New Ross Standard confirmed over the summer that the commemorations took place and were widely attended – One event was helped considerably by the services of another paddle steamer, the PS Ida, which brought over 500 from the city and Glenmore for a hurling match in August.