Waterford Bridges

This week as we look forward to the re-shaping of Urbs Intacta as the very landscape of our lives is re-constructed in building the new Waterford by means of massive infrastructural projects, I thought we should have a look back at the city’s various efforts at ‘bridging’ itself, especially as I made a suggestion with regard to the naming of the new bridge when it is completed

Waterford did not have a bridge over the Suir until 1794. The river at Waterford is wide and deep and it was regarded as a huge job to build a bridge across it. Before 1794 access to Waterford City from many areas was by ferry. William III had granted this ferry (and fifteen others) to James Roche and by 1786 ownership had passed to Cornelius Grogan.

The principle ferries across the Suir were those at Waterford City, Passage East and Granagh. The ferries were of great antiquity and are mentioned in the Great Parchment Book of the Waterford Corporation.

Timbertoes

In 1770 there had been a proposal by Thomas Covey for a stone bridge at the Graving Bank but this fell through. By 1786 a body of prominent civic office holders were nominated to open subscriptions to build a bridge. These subscribers were known as; ‘The commissioners for building a bridge over the river Suir in Waterford’.

An Act of Parliament allowed Commissioners to obtain the ancient ferry rights on the river which cost £13, 000 – a substantial sum based on a 20 year purchase of the average receipts over a 14 year period.

Meanwhile the renowned bridge builder Lemuel Cox of Malden, Massachusetts, was invited to Waterford to build the proposed bridge. In 1785 Cox built his first bridge from Boston to Charlestown, across the Charlestown River.

Lemuel Cox

Before coming to Waterford he had already built the Foyle Bridge in Derry which he finished in 1792. After Waterford, Cox went on to build bridges in New Ross, Wexford, Enniscorthy and Portuma. The site chosen for the bridge was opposite Love Lane (Bridge Street). The bridge was constructed out of American oak. The bottom of the river was levelled and trestles were placed on the river bed. Lemuel Cox was presented with the freedom of the City of Waterford in a silver box in recognition of his work on the bridge.

Construction

The Timber Bridge was known locally as ‘Timbertoes’. Two tablets on the centre piers of the bridge recorded the construction of the bridge; ‘On April 13th 1793 the foundations of the bridge were laid. The money was raised through loans and parliamentary grants. The Bridge opened on the 18th January 1794 for the passage of carriages’. The Timber Bridge was 832 feet long (it was later reduced to 734 feet by quay extensions), 40 feet wide and consisted of stone supports and 40 sets of piers of oak. The depth of water at lowest ebb was 37 feet. The width of the carriage was 26 feet and the two foot paths were 7 feet wide. It cost £14,000.

Toll Free Bridge

The bridge was a toll bridge. This was unpopular with the citizens of Waterford but despite public complaints Timbertoes remained a toll bridge for over 100 years. In 1906 the Corporation promoted a ‘Bridge Act’ that empowered them to give notice to the Bridge proprietors to purchase the bridge. By 1907 the Corporation purchased the Toll Bridge for £63,000, making it a toll free bridge from midnight on the 31st December 1907. On Friday 20th December 1907 the editorial of The Waterford News read: ‘The Bridge is now the property of the citizens of Waterford and on the first day of January, 1908, it will be a Free Bridge…it is safe to say it will materially increase the trade of Waterford City’ The paper added that ‘the fight for the freedom of the bridge has been arduous and costly’.

Redmond Bridge

Soon a new bridge was needed. It was to be constructed of fero-concrete by the firm Kinnear, Moodie and Co. from Glasgow. In November 1910 a temporary bridge was started as the new bridge was on the same site as the old. The temporary bridge was finished in March of 1911. The new Bridge was 700 feet long and 48 feet wide. The opening span was 80 feet. The total cost was £71,000. On 10th February 1913 the bridge was opened by John Redmond M.P. and leader of the Irish Parliamentary Party. It was subsequently called ‘The John Redmond Bridge’.

The Official Opening

The Mayor, Michael Kirwan, members of the Corporation and leading citizens met at 12 o’clock in City Hall in preparation for going over to the station to meet Mr. Redmond, who was travelling by train. The 1:30p.m. train steamed in to the sound of exploding fog signals and cheers from the assembled thousands.

Mr Redmond proceeded down the Quays by carriage while an enormous procession formed behind. The cheering was continuous and greetings were waved from almost every window along the route. Several bands took part in the procession including the Barrack Street Brass and Reed Band and the Thomas Francis Meagher Fife and Drum Band. At intervals the strains of ‘A Nation Once Again’ were taken up by the crowd.

Shortly before 3 o’clock Mr. Redmond, the Mayor, and the members of the Corporation drove in motor cars and carriages to the new bridge entrance and the opening ceremony took place. The Quay and its approaches were packed with an enthusiastic crowd of twenty-five thousand spectators.

Mr. Redmond addressed the crowd with the words: ‘I have come to Waterford today to perform a civic duty in the performance of which all classes and all creeds and all politics are united’.

The Waterford Express newspaper of 15th February 1913 described the attention to arrangements as ‘perfect in every detail’. The day had been declared a half holiday and an enormous crowd of people thronged the Quay from early morning. The paper described how ‘the bridge was gaily decorated from shore to shore with a profusion of bunting and the shipping in the harbour was also ‘dressed’ in honour of the occasion…and Mr. Redmond was the recipient of a spirit-stirring ovation’.

Not everyone agreed with the name ‘Redmond Bridge’, the editorial in the Waterford Express on 15th February read: ‘we see no earthly reason why it should be described other than as ‘the Waterford Bridge…if the river Suir were spanned by half a dozen bridges we could understand a particular bridge being singled out to differentiate from the others. We hope that no pawky sentimentalism will ever have it described officially as anything else’. A lot of ‘no nonsense’ sense in that one!

A Suffragette Sign of The Times

A ‘Suffragette Incident’ was recorded in the Waterford Express of 15th February 1913: Just before Mr. Redmond alighted from his train and while he was being welcomed by friends, two ladies got out of a third-class carriage. One of them – said to be a Dublin lady – pushed her way towards Mr. Redmond. The lady then said ‘You are going to open a free bridge are you? Will you open a free bridge to votes for women?’ Mr. Redmond just smiled.

And Finally – The Second Crossing

The need for a second crossing of the river Suir in Waterford was first recognised in the 1960s and has been included in the Waterford City Council’s development plan since 1974.The need for a second river crossing has also been identified in the development plans of the Waterford County Council and Kilkenny County Council. The current Rice Bridge is the only bridge crossing for motor traffic in the City. The average daily flow of traffic across Rice Bridge in 2003 was 36,500 vehicles, with weekday flows of more than 40, 000 vehicles a regular occurrence. Waterford is one of the nine gateways identified in the 2002 Irish Government’s National Spatial Strategy. Provision of a second River Suir Crossing will be an important factor in implementing the strategy for the South-East Region.

Well, we did wait and wait but we all know by now that the actual construction process is underway and it’s all systems go and what are the chances of it being called the Bacik-Havel Bridge as this column suggested very seriously a few weeks back? Will I be launching a campaign in respect of same? Well, we will cross that bridge when we get to it! The Library Association of Ireland’s web site – AskAboutIreland – was a valuable resource in researching this piece on the city’s bridges.

Go seachtain eile, slán

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