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.

My previous blogs:
Building of the bridge
http://russianside.blogspot.ie/2014/07/the-construction-of-barrow-bridge.html

Grand opening
http://russianside.blogspot.ie/2014/07/the-grand-opening-of-barrow-bridge-21st.html

Bridge Closure
http://russianside.blogspot.ie/2014/09/closure-of-barrow-railway-bridge.html

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)


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