Waterford Harbour

Waterford Harbour
Cheekpoint village 1940's

Friday, 21 July 2017

Barrow railway bridge

111 years ago today a special event train carrying up to 500 invited guests traveled across the the Barrow Bridge to signify the opening of the South West Wexford Line. It would mark a new departure in Irish Sea travel for citizens of the south of Ireland and be a vital link for Wexford in the years to follow. It was certainly a key architectural feature of the harbour in my upbringing and still one of the most amazing structures we have hereabouts.

Built between January 1902 and opened in July 1906 it served the railway faithfully and lived up to the designers and builders earnest efforts. It forded the river Barrow between Drumdowney in Co Kilkenny and Great Island in Co Wexford.  In doing so it connected the railway lines of the south of Ireland to Waterford (via the Suir Bridge) and hence on to Wexford and the new Rosslare harbour and the cross channel ferry service.

Growing up it was a wish of mine to take the train. My mother often got nostalgic when she spoke about it. As a young emigrant to the bright lights of London she remembered passing over the bridge on the way to the boat train in Rosslare. Her last outbound trip was in the winter of 1963. Having come home for the few days of Christmas she returned with her uncle, Christy Moran, and several others from the village including Pat Murphy and Charlie Hanlon and recalled a bonfire lighting in the village, a traditional local custom of farewell, a reminder of where the homefire burned. She returned to Cheekpoint in late 1964 to be married, and never crossed it again.
A postcard of the crossing, from the Great Island Co Wexford side
Initially buses and then cheap air flights started to bite into the viability of the line as a transport option.  But a mainstay was the sugar beet industry.  I worked with a man originally from Thurles some time back. We got talking about the beet trains and the autumn beet campaign that saw trains arriving daily into the town and the entire area a mass of diesel fumes as anything with a trailer was used to ferry beet from the train to the sugar factory. I related how the same trains passed through our lives. Wexford being the centre of the countries sugar beet growing and the beet trains which loaded at Wellingtonbridge had to cross the Barrow to get on to Carlow, Midelton and Thurles. I recalled one day sitting on the back step and a beet train engine almost to the swing section of the bridge before the last beet truck clattered onto the bridge. I lost count of the trucks but it was almost 2000 feet long in my estimation. All this was to change however and the last of the beet factories were shut down in 2006. The question remains though, did the beet factories ever need to close?

With the end of the beet industry and the decline in passenger numbers many fears were expressed for the viability of the line. Trends in sea travel had changed with travellers now encouraged to take a "carcation" Commuter passenger numbers were dwindling too. The car was king. The Passage East Car Ferry which started in 1982 may have also been a contributory factor.
Construction work underway
Finally on Saturday 18th September 2010 the last train crossed over the Barrow Bridge ending the historic link created with the bridges opening in 1906. Another special event train was laid on for the occasion, proving at least, that CIE had some sense of occasion of such a decision. Our neighbour here in the Russianside, Bridgid Power was one of those who made the trip. Another family who made the effort to take the trip was Alice Duffin in the Mount Ave, her daughter Una Sharpe and her grand daughters Emma and Fiona. They got off in Wexford and her dad Brian drove down to bring them home. He drew the short straw! So did my brother in law Maurice, he collected my sister Eileen, his mother Florence RIP and his young family after taking the trip too
A favourite stroll of mine

Although ships still pass through and many is the time we walk it, I never did manage to cross it in a rail car. For now, all I can manage is this virtual roll of the wheels, There have been efforts to revive the line, but it would appear the necessary funds are not forthcoming. Which brings to mind the wonderful Waterford Greenway and surely another viable option for this magnificent architectural gem and related and still accessible railway line. If nothing else it would ensure the route stays open. And the economic argument of the draw of such infrastructure in terms of reviving rural villges and towns is certainly in evidence in Waterford at present.

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

Friday, 14 July 2017

The 1635 Waterford - Bristol convoy

Sir William Brereton was an English politician and writer who did a tour of Ireland in 1635 and wrote an account of it that is available online. Interesting in itself, what I found fascinating was his departure from Ireland. Brereton sailed on St James Day, July 25th 1635 in a fifty strong convoy, which had gathered at Passage East to await favourable winds.  He sailed on a Royal Navy ship that was required to protect the flotilla from pirates.
one of the Whelps, accessed from
Having traveled to Passage on the 24th he had difficulties finding accommodation, such was the numbers of travelers gathered for the journey. One can only assume it was no different on the Ballyhack side. But on the following day the weather changed.  Here's how Brereton put it;

"... upon St. James day the wind was sufficiently calmed, and stood fair, and they in The Whelp discharged a piece of ordinance to summon us aboard very early, so I was constrained to go aboard without my breakfast...About six hour I went aboard one of the King's ships, called the Ninth Whelp, which is in the King's books 215 ton and tonnage in King's books. She carries sixteen pieces of ordinance, two brass sakers, six iron demi-culverin drakes, four iron whole culverin drakes, and four iron demi-cannon drakes... 

This ship is manned with sixty men...We had (through God's mercy) a quick, pleasant, and dainty passage, for within twenty-six hours after we parted with Ireland, the utmost point I mean of Irish shore, we were landed at Minehead in Somersettshire. 

This is a most dainty, steady vessel, so long as she carries sail, and a most swift sailer, able to give the advantage of a topsail to any of the rest of this fleet, for whom we made many stays, and yet could not keep behind them, so as they did not put up all their sails as they otherwise might, but suited their course to the pace of this fleet, whom they waited upon to waft over from Waterford to Bristoll fair, and to guard them from the Turks, of whom there was here a fear and rumour that they were very busy upon the coast of France. These are full of men, ordinance and small shot..." (1)

As I said, fascinating. But what can take from the account? Well, the Ninth Whelp was part of a fleet of naval ships stationed on the coast of Ireland aimed at protecting the crowns interests and guarding against outside influences on the Irish.(2)  Here's a fascinating piece on the background to the Whelps including the ninth.

St James Fair in Bristol was then the second largest fair in England. It had started in Bristol in 1238 and had grown from a one day event with a few stalls in St James church, to a two week long gathering encompassing the neighbouring streets of the town. It had grown to such an extent, and attracted so many merchants and businesses that it was a prime target of privateers and pirates. The Turks mentioned in Breretons account are the notorious Barbary pirates, who had sacked Baltimore in 1631. The Bristol Channel was patrolled by the Royal Navy in the run up and throughout the fair in an attempt to thwart the threat.
A typical medieval fair scene
accessed from: http://sherwoodforesthistory.blogspot.ie/2012/10/goose-fair.html
The reason for the Waterford convoy then is probably protection. But why was it such a popular event. The following gives a sense of the scale of trade and entertainments at the fair;

"Blankets and woollens from Yorkshire, silks from Macclesfield, linens from Belfast and Lancashire, carpets from Kidderminster, cutlery from Sheffield, hardware from Walsall and Wolverhampton, china and earthenware from Staffordshire and other counties, cotton stockings from Tewkesbury, lace from Buckinghamshire and Devon, trinkets from Birmingham and London, ribbons from Coventry, buck and hog skins for breeches, hats and caps, millinery, haberdashery, female ornaments, sweetmeats and multitudinous toys from various quarters arrived in heavily ­laden wagons and were joined by equally large contributions from the chief industries of the district.

To these again were added nearly all the travelling exhibitions and entertainments then in the country - menageries, circuses, theatres, puppet shows, waxworks, flying coaches, rope-dancers, acrobats, conjurors, pig-faced ladies, living skeletons, and mummers of all sort who attracted patrons by making a perfect din.

It need scarcely be added that the scene attracted a too plentiful supply of pickpockets, thieves, thimble-riggers and swindlers of every genus." (3)

One of the details that the account fails to shed light on is the type of ship and the numbers leaving Waterford harbour. Roger Stalley who has written on medieval travel suggests the most popular type of craft at the time was most probably a Carrack. As regards the numbers carried, accounts of the time of pilgrim ships suggest anything from 50 to 200, and in one notably case from New Ross, 400 pilgrims aboard a single ship. (4)
Parade of sail at 2011 Tall ships, the closest image that comes to mind to compare
Accessed from: http://www.shetlandtimes.co.uk/2011/07/08/christian-radich-with-
Even to take the lower figure of 50 passengers still gives us a head spinning number departing these shores for the journey and underlines the importance and relevance of Waterford and Bristol trade links. Realistically, the numbers would suggest that this represented a large contingent from not just the city, but the surrounding hinterland and towns. Indeed it may also suggest ships from around the coast, gathering into the safety of a naval escorted convoy.  

I don't think any modern reader can imagine the scene, except perhaps if they have seen the parade of sail which we were so lucky to host here in the harbour twice as part of the Tall Ships Festival of 2005 and again in 2011.  Once again however, we have an example of our harbours rich maritime past. One also wonders how many other flotillas departed for similar events down the years, that we had not the fortune to be captured by a writer.

(1)  William Brereton, Travels in Holland, the United Provinces, England, Scotland and Ireland, 1634–1635, ed. and publ. by Edward Hawkins, printed for the Chetham Society, vol. 1 (Manchester 1844.)

(2)  John de Courcy Ireland.  Ireland's Martime Heritage.  1992. Criterion Press. Dublin

(3)  http://www.prsc.org.uk/flying-coaches-and-pig-faced-ladies-reinventing-the-bear-pit/

(4)  Stalley, R. 1988. ‘Sailing to Santiago: Medieval pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela and its artistic influences in Ireland’, In Bradley, J. (ed.) Settlement and Society in Medieval Ireland. Studies presented to F.X. Martin, o.s.a. Kilkenny: Boethius Press, 397-420

A very thoughtful and interesting blog on the origins of fairs

Thanks to Damien McLellan for the Roger Stalley paper.

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

Friday, 7 July 2017

Honest John Roberts - the harbour connection

John Roberts 1714-1796 was born to a Waterford builder and architect from who it must be imagined he first learned his trade, before heading to London to further his studies. Apparently whilst there, he met and eloped with Susannah Maria Sautelle (1716-1800) and the pair had 24 children. Susannah was the daughter of the Huguenot and the couples first home on returning to Waterford was in Patrick Street.

I read previously that it was his wife’s contacts that landed him his first big break. Bishop Este was having a palace constructed on Waterford's mall. On his death work ceased but his successor Bishop Chevenix, another Huguenot, turned to Roberts to oversee the completion of what we now know as the Bishops Palace.

John and Susannah's home in Cathedral Sq, Waterford
marked by the Civic Trust blue plaque system
Roberts never looked back and his career from that point forward has been well recorded and celebrated, and its often mentioned that he has a unique distinction of being the architect of two cathedrals of different faiths in the one city; Christ church and Holy Trinity. Speaking for myself, I find my favourite building in Waterford to be his townhouse for the Morris family that we now refer to as the Chamber of Commerce building at the top of Gladstone Street, with its imposing view of the quay and his amazing internal staircase. I have speculated before that he was the architect of Faithlegg House, as he lived not more than 100 yards from it on what was called Roberts Mount, or Mount Roberts, which gives us a tangible harbour connection mentioned in the title. Faithlegg was his country mansion, but his townhouse was the old Bishops Palace, Cathedral Square.

Honest of course comes from a habit of his, of paying his workmen in small coins, freeing them of the obligation of going into pubs to make change, and also in paying half their wage to their spouses. Another admiral character trait however seems to have led to his undoing. He had a preference to oversee all elements of his work. On his last commission, the catholic cathedral in Waterford, he died. But had he been residing in Faithlegg perhaps he would have lived to complete the building?
Theater Royal, on Waterford's Mall
The story has it that he was an early riser and was normally on the job to greet his workers and supervise the days activities. In the days before he died he woke and went to work as usual. However, on this occasion he was a few hours early and so rather than return to his home he sat down to await the workers. He fell asleep and when he awoke, he had caught a chill. This turned to pneumonia and some days later he died; 23rd May 1796. 
Christ Church
However, had he been staying at his Faithlegg address isn’t it probable that when arising he would have had to have roused the stable boy to get his horse and carriage ready, or his boat man to ferry him to the city, three miles upriver? And surely either of them would have remarked to their master that it was indeed an early hour for such a trip. And just as likely their aged master would have turned on his heels and retired either to his bed chamber or his kitchen. Alas it was not to be. Maybe at 80 years of age, he was ready to take his final rest, however, one wonders had he lived another ten years what other architectural gems would Waterford boast.

Joe Falvey gives this great account:  http://www.munster-express.ie/opinion/views-from-the-brasscock/the-john-roberts-story/

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.
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