Ferrybank Grotto is 50 years old

By a Special Correspondent

The papers described the occasion as a “memorable one for the glorious Catholic annals of faithful Ferrybank – across the River Suir from Waterford,” when recording the blessing and dedication of the magnificent Grotto situated at the entrance to Rockenham estate.

Sunday, 20th May, was the day when the people of Ferrybank and surrounding areas attended in large numbers for this solemn occasion; fifty years later the Grotto still stands in pristine condition, tended to by loyal parishioners since 1956.

The idea of the Grotto – a most inspiring and compelling representation of the Lourdes Apparitions, depicting the Mother of Christ in a halo of heavenly light and the knelling of St. Bernadette – was conceived by the late Mr. James Sinnott, a well-known painting and decorating contractor at that time. Mr Sinnott discussed his idea with some friends and soon after they embarked upon, with intense enthusiasm, drawing up plans for the Ferrybank Grotto project.

They formed a small committee and met with the parish priest, Canon James Ryan, who gave his full and wholehearted approval of the project. A general meeting of the parishioners of Ferrybank was summoned for the 3rd January 1955 in the Boys’ National School hall where the project was meet with heavenly acceptance by those in attendance.

Two voluntary officials were appointed at this meeting, Mr. Eddie Carroll, Lower Sion Row and Mr. Thomas Ryan, Rockenham. After that meeting, plans got underway with great speed and, just over a week later, the site at Rockenham was selected and preliminary work on the size and what shape the Grotto should take was started. Before the plan was finalised, the committee visited many locations around the country where similar shrines were erected. These were photographed and taken back to Ferrybank for inspection and discussion.

Corporation approval

Permission to use the site was sought by the committee from Waterford Corporation around January, 10th and the Corporation responded positively on April, 15th giving full approval for the plans. Following the granting of the permission to use the site, a more representative group was formed the “Ferrybank Parochial Grotto Committee”. Their task was to look at ways in raising money for the Grotto project and this was done through door-to-door collections, flag-days and other events. The Ferrybank Parochial Grotto Committee members were : Mr. J. Sinnott, (Chairman); Mr. Ed Caroll (Hon Sec); Mr. T Ryan (Hon Tres) and Messers M. Rellis, P Conroy, J Marshman, P Hayden, P. Moore, J O’Donoghue, J. Power, Ed Breen, D Corbett and T Sadlier.

On 13th March work began on the Grotto, which was a labour of love for all concerned. Men and machinery were supplied by the Community of St. Patrick’s Institute, Belmont Park, and nearby Clover Meats Ltd, which was a very important source of local employment at that time. Clover Meats also gifted the committee with the statues of Our Lady and St. Bernadette.

Huge conglomerate stones were drawn from quarries in Ballinamona and Slieverue to use in the construction of the Grotto. Plans and specifications for the Grotto were prepared by Mr. John Cunningham (Senr) Clerk of Works to Waterford Corporation and Mr. Eamonn O’Leary, B.E. Waterford County Council.

Following the completion of the works, Sunday, 20th May 1956 was pencilled in as the day the Grotto would be officially dedicated. Beautiful May sunshine was in the sky above Ferrybank as the procession formed up outside the church of the Sacred Heart at 4:15pm and walked to the Grotto where Benediction and speeches were imparted.


The procession included eight priests from neighbouring parishes and members of local sodalities, local school children and parishioners, the Mayor of Waterford Mr. T Gallagher, the City Manager Mr. Liam Raftis and the President of the Chamber of Commerce Mr. E. J. Aylward. The ceremony was performed by Canon Ryan in the unavoidable absence of the Bishop of Ossory Dr. P. Collier, who was administering the Sacrament of Confirmation in the northern end of the diocese.

People who visit the Grotto in Ferrybank will see a flat piece of rock embedded into the Grotto with the inscription: “Piece of rock on which Our Lady stood in Lourdes 1858,” this came from the Grotto in Lourdes. The committee, as part of the ceremony, built into the Grotto a vault, which contains newspapers, coins and other items of May 1956. This was then sealed. The committee hired a cameraman to film the occasion and maybe there are some copies of the film still in existence.

The Ferrybank Grotto stands today as a monument not only to the Apparitions at Lourdes, but to the community of Ferrybank, whom back half a century ago, had the inspiring idea, skill and provided the hard labour to bring the Grotto project to fruition. It stands as a lasting reminder to future generation of real community spirit and of a people’s dedication to Our Lady and their church.

At that time

Incidentally, Redmond Bridge was re-surfaced in May 1956 and reportedly caused no traffic delays; The Savoy Cinema was showing ‘Mister Roberts’ starring Henry Fonda and James Cagney; 5000 spectators watched Waterford United (2) play Charlton Athletic (3) in Kilcohan Park and this was reported to be a disappointing attendance figure; to rent a bungalow in Tramore would cost £35; a new Fiat 1100 with heater £615, there was over 200 ‘Messenger Boys’ employed in Waterford earning between 17/6 to 30/- a week and a week in Lourdes would set you back just over £38.

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