This post was originally entitled “The avarice of the ferryman” but, as more information has been added, it seemed best to name the post for the remarkable Float Bridge itself, which links road, rail and waterway transport.
The avarice of the ferryman
Castlepollard, Sept 11. Last Week the following Accident happened at the Ferry, or Float, plying for Passengers over the River Inny, in the County of Westmeath: — A Post-Chaise and Four, with a Lady and Gentleman, were imprudently put upon this dangerous Conveyance, without separating the Cattle from the Carriage; unfortunately a Car and Horse had been put in before them, which, with the Post-Chaise and Horses, occupied the full Length of the Float.
On the Passage, the Car Horse grew very uneasy, and going back, the Car annoyed the Post-Chaise Horses, which occasioned them to back in like Manner, until the Post-Chaise fell into the River, and dragged the Horses after it; three of the Horses were drowned, being entangled with the Harness; the other broke through his Harness, and swam over to a boggy Place, but could not get upon Land; one of the men followed him in a small Boat, to lead him to a proper landing Place, but not being able alone to guide the Horse and row the Boat, the Horse got too near it, and striking it with one of his Feet, overset and sank it, by which the Man was drowned; the Horse then swam, and was saved.
It was very lucky for the Lady and Gentleman that they alighted from the Chaise at going into the Float. The Carriage, which belonged to the Gentleman, was got out with much difficulty; the Horses were Hacks. The Avarice of the Ferryman occasioned this melancholy Accident.
Hibernian Journal; or, Chronicle of Liberty
18 September 1775
That report came just about a year after this next one.
Good shot wanted
FERRY-BRIDGE, over the River Inny, between the County of Westmeath and Longford, 3 miles from Castlepollard, 12 miles from Mullingar and Longford, Sept 1st, 1774. Complaint having been made, that the Smallness of the Float rendered it inconvenient, and occasioned timorous People to drive or ride many Miles round to avoid the Ferry, the Proprietor therefore has undertaken to build a Bridge at his own Expence, which will be finished with all convenient Speed; in the mean Time, a Part of the intended Bridge, above 30 Feet long, Battlements fixed on each Side, properly gravelled over &c, will be made Use of to ferry over Carriages, &c. A Coach and four may now pass with the utmost Safety, without taking off the Horses, or 20 Head of Cattle, &c in less than 2 Minutes; and, to accommodate Graziers and others, as soon as said Bridge is compleated, Droves of large Cattle, above 30 in Number, will be passed over at the Rate of a British Shilling per Score, private Soldiers with Furlows from their Commanding Officers, in Time, gratis, all other Passengers, Cattle, &c at the usual Rates taken above these 20 Years.
This Road is now in good Repair, and well known to be many Miles nearer from Dublin to the County of Longford, Leitrim, Roscommon, Sligo, Mayo, &c than any other Road; a commodious Inn, near Ferry-bridge, on the Westmeath Side, is building, and a Carriers Inn on the Longford Side, will be both soon finished, and proper People to keep them.
Wanted, to take Care of said Bridge when finished, and to collect the Toll, &c a sober, honest, careful, active, middle-aged, single Man; he must be a Protestant, write a good Hand, and if a good Shot, and understands fishing in Lakes and Rivers, and delights in those Amusements, it will be more agreeable &c. Comfortable Lodging and Board, and not less than £12 per Ann will be made good to the Person approved of, and shall be treated (as far as can be reasonably expected) agreeable to his former Manner of Life. None need apply but such as have an undeniable good Character, as to Honesty and Sobriety, from his former Employers or Neighbours. Inquire of the Printer hereof.
2, 7, 9, 12, 14 September 1774
Sir Thomas Chapman
The Dublin Evening Post of 9 August 1810 advertised part of the Meath and Westmeath estates of Sir Thomas Chapman Bart to be let. They included
The Tolls of the Float near Castlepollard
And an excellent house and fifty acres of land
Applications were to be sent to Sir Thomas at St Lucy’s, Athboy, or to Mr High Dickison at the same address.
Sir Benjamin Chapman
Sir Benjamin James Chapman was the fourth baronet. Ewan Duffy writes:
Float bridge was a privately owned toll bridge. Its owner, Sir Benjamin Chapman, offered the bridge to the Midland Great Western Railway if they would build a station at Float, for which he would also give the necessary land. He subsequently suggested a variation on the agreement that if the company were to cease using the station, the land and bridge should be re-conveyed to him!* As the bridge remained in CIE ownership up to 1971, when it was transferred to Westmeath County Council under the Transport (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 1971, he clearly did not get such a deal!
The original bridge is no longer there — I paid a site visit there last year, given its railway connection, but it has been replaced sometime in the 20th Century.
* W E Shepherd “The MGWR’s Cavan Branch – 1” JIRRS Vol 16 No 104, pp 282–3