The great day finally arrived and a new world has opened for us all. Wow, it’s truly and utterly impressive and it was all celebrated with a great ‘Failte Isteach’ last week. We speak of our new bridge, of course, a welcome beacon of light in these otherwise bleak recessionary times beckoning us hopefully towards a better future. 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 has been bridged and with some style! The associated road works have been on a massive scale, transforming the landscape utterly, re-shaping of Urbs Intacta as the very landscape of our lives is re-constructed.
This week with the formal celebrations over, I thought we would have a look back the City’s various efforts at ‘bridging’ itself, each in their turn were duly welcomed and celebrated. The city seems to have had an enduring love affair with bridges, maybe that’s because 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.
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 for £13,000 – a substantial sum indeed. Meanwhile the renowned bridge builder Lemuel Cox of Malden, Massachusetts was invited to Waterford to build the proposed bridge. 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.
The Timber Bridge was known locally as ‘Timbertoes’. Two tablets on the centre piers of the bridges 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 in fact a toll bridge. (nothing new then!) 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 reads, “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, “the fight for the freedom of the bridge has been arduous and costly”. Will history be repeated in 2036?
Soon a new bridge was needed. It was to be constructed of fero-concrete by the firm Kinnear, Moodie and Co., from Glasgow. On 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 the 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 and 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.The Quay and its approaches were packed with 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”. Not everyone agreed with the name ‘Redmond Bridge’, the editorial in the Munster 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!
The Suir Bridge-Project Statistics
For those interested in facts and figures, here’s a few to ponder.
* 23.1km Dual Carriageway, with 4.1km Link Roads
* 9.6km Single Carriageway Side Roads/Realignment
* Three principal links connection to existing roads
* 60 Structures including Bridges
– 10 overbridges,- 8 underbridges, – 3 underbridges for railways,- 7 underpasses- 1 underpass for railway – 3 viaducts
* 475m Cable Stayed River Suir Bridge ,1 Toll Plaza
* Overall width: 30.60m; Overall length: 465 m;
* Main span length: 230m (Longest span in 26 counties. Foyle Bridge in Derry NI has a main span of 234m)
* Side span lengths: 40, 70, 90, (230), 35m
* Clearance over MHWS: 14m above MHWS
* Overall Tower height: 112m (above foundation)
* Height of Tower above road level: 95.6m
* As I said, WOW! The name Suir Bridge sounds good to me.
Go Seachtain Eile, Slan