Barrow railway bridge

111 years ago today a special event train carrying up to 500 invited guests travelled 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

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