For more than two centuries now Waterford’s river crossing, be it in the forms of Timbertoes, Redmond or Rice, was invariable known as The Bridge as an obvious consequence of there being only, one despite repeated efforts over the past century to achieve a second crossing at least. But at long last that vital gap in our infrastructure is being bridged.

The associated road works have been on a massive scale, transforming the landscape utterly. Daily we see it all falling into place – a magnificent feat of engineering, I had need to drive that area a few times recently, not having done so for a good while and was amazed. It’s all part of the great city bypass project which will allow our city to breathe again. But the yawning width of the Suir where the port and its city stand had a huge impact on its development and consequently its shape – lopsided if you like.

Therefore, Ferrybank has always been an interesting place – very much a part of Waterford and yet a place apart. There’s often talk of boundaries and tugs of loyalties but there is no doubting that the greater Ferrybank area falls into Waterford’s natural hinterland.

I thought that the Brasscock would flee his perch hereabouts to cross the river to explore the story of developments across the Bridge. I read some time ago in Daniel Dowling’s great book on all things Waterford that that area on the County Kilkenny side of the river Suir formed part of the Northern Liberties (of the City), prior to the enactment of the Municipal Corporation Act of 1840. So references by some to that greater area as ‘North Waterford’ seem to have some based in fact after all! It is now a populous suburb within the county borough/City Council area. The last few years have witnessed extensive developments in both retail and residential terms.


Access all areas

The location here as the name obviously suggests comes from its function as a ferry point, giving access to and from the city centre. Therefore it was an area of importance for centuries from that association with the ferry which served the main road systems approaching the city which converged at this location. The road from Dublin and the midlands through Mullinavat entered Ferrybank via Smartscastle, Mullinabro and Rockshire Road (used to be a popular traffic dodger!) and the road serving New Ross, Slieverue and The Mile Post.

The opening for traffic of the Lemuel Cox Bridge in January 1794 completely diminished the importance of the ferry, except for pedestrian usage. It was, however, to continue in existence for a further 158 years until the service was finally terminated in April 1952.

Eventually the main Dublin road entering through Ferrybank was replaced when the new stretch of road from Granny (another key ferry point) through Dunkitt, Milltown and Skeard to Ballykeoghan was completed and opened for traffic circa 1840. This in turn linked up with the road from Clonmel and Carrick-on-Suir at Granny, which entered the city via Sallypark. As we said above, that whole area of which we speak is undergoing an enormous transformation as a new road infrastructure and river crossing is being put in place, finally replacing a road structure that is well over 170 years (some would argue much longer) in place. About time!!


Miles ahead

Mention of The Milepost and all that talk of new roads reminds me to note how embedded the Mile is still in our daily language even though we parted company with miles as our official designation of distance a few years ago. However, it will still take a considerable time longer to distance itself (talk of miles) from the common currency or idiom of daily language usage. In debate our stated positions may well be described as being miles apart and in dreaming up counter arguments our minds could be miles away. Was it not the Byrds who sang about being 8 miles high and which poet still had many more miles to go? And was it not Katisha in the Mikado who declared “I have a left shoulder blade that is a miracle of loveliness, people come miles to see it. My right elbow has a fascination that few can resist!”

Stirring stuff indeed, who knows one might end up miles from nowhere or if you’re lucky you might yet end up at our Milepost for a wee dram or two or indeed at the Two Mile Inn, or Three Mile House (Monaghan) or Four Mile Water, Fivemilebourne (Sligo) or even Six Mile Bridge, not to mention Nine-Mile-House in the County Tipp. And on a clear day you can see for miles and your special favourite is usually better by miles. Horse racing still embraces their beloved miles and furlongs.

The word mile, of course, comes from the Romans as the Latin word for a thousand, ‘mille’, as the distance of one thousand paces (usually of that of a Roman soldier marching). The old Irish mile used to be longer than the English mile, so there was a time when Wexford Town was 30 miles from Waterford City, so now. Over the years we must have grown apart!!

Sacre Bleu – The French Connection

So where did all these metres and kilometres come from and were we miles rather than kilometres apart in the Lisbon Treaty debate?

Now the word Kilo is from the Greek and also means one thousand. But the word ‘metre’ is from the French ‘metre’ which in turn is from the Greek, also ‘metron’ meaning ‘measure’. But how did they determine the length of a metre and who did so and why? Well the French did so because they were not going to have their world ruled and measured by English rulers! It was bad enough having to stomach the 0 meridian of longitude going through London/Greenwich.

I have heard many theories as to the origin/scientific basis of the ‘metre’, most are plain daft. People believe the strangest things, but then again life would be very boring if there was no allowance for eccentricity. But in the interest of science and to settle all arguments, I bring you the precise and definitive explanation….tighten your safety belts. Metre: the base unit of length (symbol m), defined, finally, in 1983 as the length of the path travelled by light in a vacuum during a time interval of 1/299 792 458 of a second. Phew, now you know!

The metric system which also provided for litres and grams was first proposed by Gabriel Mouton of Lyon in 1670. When the metric system was standardised in France under the Republican government of Napoleon in the 1790’s and made compulsory in 1801, careful measurements were made of the Polar Quadrant of the earth through Paris (of course) – this is the 90 degree segment of a line of longitude from North Pole to Equator via Paris – and so a metre was defined as one ten millionth part of this Arc. To overcome the impracticability of this definition the French Academy of Sciences used a platinum bar the length of which was equal to the theoretical length, and this (despite an imperfection in its calculation) was used for the next 90 years.

In 1889 the International Metre was redefined as the distance between two lines engraved on an alloy bar, and this held until 1960 when the metre was defined in terms of the wavelength of the krypton-86atom and it was finally (!) redefined again in 1983. Now what was wrong with the length of a Roman soldier’s stride X 1,000 – miles better in my book! And we were all agreed on how to pronounce the auld mile.

Myles (Kilometre!) na Gopaleen and The Brother would have had great fun with all this metriculation. Next thing surely on the agenda must be our dear old ‘pint of plain’. Now that will brew up a lot of trouble for there are limits after all! No wonder the populace went all funny on Nice and Lisbon! But maybe they have gotten over all that by now.

Get back across the Bridge, did I hear you say?

Got an interesting letter about my recent piece on The Island – tell you about it next time.


Go seachtain eile, slan.