This is an incomplete account of the upper Suir navigation. I haven’t been along the whole thing either by boat or on foot, but I have taken photographs at some of the bridges, and they may convey a sense of the difficulties that boatmen found on this fascinating stretch of the river.
I am keen to fill in the gaps in my knowledge and to have any mistakes corrected so, if you spot any errors or omissions, do please use the Comments section at the bottom of the page.
Major update December 2010
Added photos of some places upstream of Clonmel and some more of features of the navigation between Clonmel and Carrick-on-Suir. Also added a new section on the navigation infrastructure, using photos and information from visits to the Suir in 2010, including the Industrial Heritage Association of Ireland weekend trip led by Fred Hamond, who had carried out a survey (Fred Hamond Survey of Lower Suir River, Tinhalla to Knocklofty Bridge, Part 1 Built Heritage conducted as an Action of the South Tipperary Heritage Plan 2004–2009) for South Tipperary County Council November 2009.
For a slideshow of a boat trip on a small section of the Suir, upstream from Kilsheelan to Sir Thomas’s Bridge, see this page (published December 2010).
There is a photo of a yawl at Clonmel here.
The Suir above Clonmel
Cahir Castle on the River Suir (2002)
The Suir above Clonmel is terra incognita:
Of the upper course of this fine river we have unfortunately no information, except that in 1868 a party of canoeists, having come down the Blackwater to Cappoquin, carted their boats 12 miles to Newcastle-on-Suir, and thence descended the Suir to Clonmel. But even of this there are no particulars recorded, and the upper Suir remains for the present inter hiatus valde deflendos, which we trust some member of the Cruising Club will ere long fill up.
From Cruising Club Manual: A New Oarsman’s Guide to the Rivers and Canals of Great Britain and Ireland, edited by F E Prothero and W A Clark; London, George Philip and Son, 1896.
However, Prothero later returned to Ireland, launched his canoe at Thurles and travelled downriver, recording his portages and other excitements in Supplement to A New Oarsman’s Guide. The Suir — The Nore — The Barrow — The Boyne F E Prothero Esq, Rear-Commodore. London, Cruising Club Offices, 1898.
Major Rowland Raven-Hart visited Ireland in the 1930s. He wrote of the upper stretches of the Suir:
This river is the “Shure,” and not the “Sewer,” please.
From Thurles (rail) to Clonmel (rail) there are some twenty portages in 51 miles: it is doubtful whether the run is worth the trouble.
The scenery above Clonmel is fair […].
From Canoeing in Ireland by Major R Raven-Hart. London, The Canoe & Small Boat Ltd, 1938.
Here are some photos of places on the Suir above Clonmel.
With a bit of luck, if you click on “View larger map”, the Google map will show Thurles at the top of the map, Golden near the left-hand edge and (from left to right) Cahir, Clonmel and Carrick-on-Suir along the bottom.
Neither Prothero nor Raven-Hart gives any clue that the navigation between Clonmel and Carrick-on-Suir was the scene of the worst drowning accident in the history of Irish inland waterways. But we’ll get to that ….
The course of the Suir through Clonmel is a thing of great complexity, with many channels and three weirs feeding mills and other works. Here’s a rough sketchmap showing the river in Clonmel at around Prothero’s time. The river flows from left (west) to right.
The map doesn’t extend as far upstream as Workhouse Bridge, above the town; here are some photos instead.
Workhouse Bridge (2009)
Looking upstream from Workhouse Bridge (2009)
Looking downstream from Workhouse Bridge (2009)
The high banks in the distance include modern flood defence works. This older photo from the National Library may also be taken from the bridge.
Getting through Clonmel
The boat-house at Clonmel is 200 yards or so above the weir, which, with the old town bridge just below it, forms the last but not the least bad place on the river. I started soon after nine of the morning of the 14th, taking the boat-house lad with me to help with the portage, which has to be made out of the mill stream on the left. At the point where the boat has to be put into the lower water, the river rushes down from the weir above with great fury, while the left arch of the bridge, the only passage, though only a few yards off, is round a corner to the left, and, as if this was not a sufficiently awkward state of things, a huge boulder projects from the right hand buttress of the arch, greatly aggravating the deep fall under it. Great care therefore is required in rounding the corner not to get too far out to the right. I got through without mishap, though not before I had slipped into the river up to my waist in making a preliminary reconnaissance round the corner.
He’s talking about the weir between Grubb’s Island (Grubbs were a prominent family of millers) and the Old Bridge (top left on the sketchmap). I think that Grubb’s Island has now merged with the land and that a road runs along it; if you can correct my understanding, do please leave a Comment at the bottom of this page.
Road alongside Grubb’s Island (looking downstream) (2009)
Looking in the opposite direction from the downstream end (2009). The angler has just caught an eel
Looking over the wall: the weir as it is now … (2009)
… and looking to the left towards the bridge (2009)
The weir seen from the bridge (2009)
Prothero said that “the river rushes down from the weir above with great fury”. Here’s what he was talking about. The photo below shows the current below the Old Bridge, with Prothero’s left arch nearest the camera. This photo and the one below were taken in September 2008, after several dry days.
The current at the Old Bridge (September 2008)
The Old Bridge is just above the Old Quay: it was already called that in the 1840s. But I don’t understand why anyone would want to haul a boat up along that stretch, against such currents!
The current past the Old Quay (September 2008)
A diversion: the millstreams and weirs
You can see why the navigation did not continue above Clonmel. But let us leave the navigation for a moment and have a look at the millstreams and weirs of Clonmel. Here’s the sketchmap again. We’ve been looking at the river flowing past Grubb’s Island, over its weir and down along the Old Quay: the bodies of water along the top of the map.
The centre of the map is dominated by a number of islands. Stretches Island divides the river at the western end, with a channel flowing around its south-west side.
The channel south-west of Stretches Island (2009)
There is also a channel along its eastern side (which I forgot to colour blue).
The channel east of Stretches Island (2009)
Interesting building on the north-east corner of Stretches Island (2009)
The two channels meet, with flood defence work going on (2009)
The water here is held up by a weir so that it can supply the Grubb mills on Suir Island (to the left, out of shot).
The Suir Island weir (2009)
The water that makes it over the weir is held up again by another weir downstream.
Looking downstream to the third weir (2009)
The 1904 map shows a smithy at the south end of this weir. Did it use water-power or a water-supply from the river? If not, what was the weir for?
The smithy weir (2009)
The tailraces from the Suir Island mills rejoin this channel and they join the north channel at the tail (east end) of Suir Island.
Downstream end of Suir Island (right) (2009)
The New Quay
Back to the navigation. The channels rejoin opposite New Quay, and just above Gashouse Bridge.
Looking across Gashouse Bridge from the south (2009)
Looking upstream from Gashouse Bridge at Suir Island … (2009)
The National Library has an older photo.
… and at the New Quay (2009)
The Gashouse Bridge itself is puzzling. Boats travelling upstream from Carrick-on-Suir to Clonmel were horse-drawn (more on this below). So did they have very small horses? Or were boats man-hauled through the bridge? Or has the towing-path been raised since carrying ceased? If you know the answer, please leave a Comment at the bottom of this page.
The towing-path arch (2009)
The inner arch has an extract from a poem on it.
The towing-path arch has unidentified strings hanging from its ceiling. What are they? Why are they there? Do please leave a Comment if you know.
There are the remains of some old buildings along the quay.
Old buildings (2009)
There is a flight of steps along the quay … (2009)
Depth gauge (2009)
But the most interesting features are the bollards, deeply scored (presumably by ropes). I don’t know whether they are in their original positions. If you know, do please leave a Comment at the bottom of the page.
Below Gashouse Bridge
Here is Gashouse Bridge from the south side of the river. The block of flats on the far side is on the old gasworks site.
Gashouse Bridge (2009)
It has its own depth gauge. You can see why the citizens want flood defences. But imagine hauling a loaded boat upstream against that lot.
The depth gauge (2009)
Looking downstream along the towing-path from Gashouse Bridge (2009)
Hotel Minella (2009)
The navigation runs past its grounds; here is a photo looking upstream towards Clonmel.
Looking upstream from Hotel Minella (2009)
A diversion: poetry
C J Boland was from Clonmel; his parents, I learn from the Sunday Independent, were master and matron of the workhouse in the 1880s. He became Commissioner of Valuations in Dublin and died in 1918. If that is so, I believe that his epic The Clonmel Flood is out of copyright, but do please let me know if I’m wrong.
This is the first verse:
Come all ye boatmen circumspect
That navigate the Suir,
Set all abaft, desert the craft,
And every lighter moor;
Unbend the sail, put down the bale,
Lave all things taut and true;
For I’ll sing a song of the good ship Sprong,
Her captain and her crew.
An anonymous author wrote of the voyage of the Fury which, navigating by the Gashouse chimney, sailed all the way from the Old Quay to … a little further downstream. This is the final verse:
‘Sure, we might have been blown
To the cowld Torrid Zone,
Or the deserts of Nova Zimbley’;
As the skipper’s voice sank,
They jumped out on the bank,
And walked home by the Gashouse Chimley.
But the unfortunate Gwendoline ran aground on Dudley’s Weir and had to be towed off by twenty horses. The anonymous author’s account of this tragedy (the crew, and the dog, walked ashore and went home in an ass and car) begins:
From the day I was nine, the wish was mine
A sailor bold to be;
I began to pine for the stormy brine
And a life on the deep blue sea!
And soon upon the old Bridge Quay,
I kissed my blue-eyed Nell,
And shipped with joy as a cabin-boy
To a boatman of Clonmel.
Traffic on the Suir: Waterford, Carrick-on-Suir and Clonmel
According to The New Commercial Directory for the Cities of Waterford and Kilkenny and the Towns of Clonmel, Carrick-on-Suir, New Ross, and Carlow, printed by T Shearman of High-Street, Kilkenny, for F Kinder & Son, 1839,
Though not a seaport, the town, from its situation at the head of the Suir navigation, is the medium through which the corn and provision export trade is carried on between the southern and eastern portions of this large county and England. There are generally about 120 lighters, of from 20 to 50 tons burden, employed in the trade of this town.
The Clonmel boat-owners were listed (I give their addresses as the book does, save that I have guessed that the first letter of Patrick Hogan’s address, illegible in the original, is B):
Breen, Daniel ducket street
Breen, John irishtown
Breen, Roger main street
Danks, Thomas duckett street
Darcy, Michael spa water
Farrell, James old quay
Grubb, Thomas Samuel new quay
Hayes, Richard and James old quay
Hayes, Patrick old quay
Hogan, Patrick blue anchor
Jacob, Joseph new quay
Moore, Thomas N. (and store keeper) old quay
Power, Nicholas main street
Ryan, Thomas flag lane
Smyth, John, old bridge
Stein, John and Co., new quay
Troy, Jeremiah abbey street.
Whitten, Anthony old quay
No boat-builders were listed: it seems likely that the Clonmel owners bought their boats in Carrick-on-Suir, where the Directory lists amongst the shopkeepers and traders:
Conway, Jeremiah, boat builder, carrickbeg
Kehoe, Wm, boat builder, river side
Dr Patrick C Power, in his invaluable article “The Lower Suir – Boats and boatmen long ago” in the Tipperary Historical Journal of 1991, says:
Lighters were made in Carrickbeg at the graving dock of the Kehoe family, which had plied this trade there since the 18th century. By the time that the 20th century had arrived they merely repaired lighters and yawls, while a man named O’Brien still made some craft. He was illiterate, but had the ability to gauge precisely the exact amount of wood needed to build a lighter or a yawl without detailed measurements. There is no vestige of O’Brien or the Kehoes there now.
Dr Power had his information from Michael O’Callaghan, who had worked at the graving dock when he was young.
V T H & D R Delany, in The Canals of the South of Ireland (David & Charles, Newton Abbot 1966) say that
Between Carrick-on-Suir and Clonmel there does not seem to have been any authority in charge of the navigation, though the local Grand Juries had certain functions with respect to the towing-paths under the 1836 statute.
The statute in question was 6 & 7 Will IV c. xc An Act for improving and maintaining the navigation of the river Suir and for making and constructing a ship canal at Carrick-on-Suir although perhaps 6 & 7 William IV, c. cxxvii An Act to rectify a Mistake in an Act passed in the present Session of Parliament, for improving and maintaining the Navigation of the River Suir, and for making and constructing a Ship Canal at Carrick on Suir is also relevant. I have not, alas, read either of them.
The Delanys tell us that the Shuttleworth Commission heard, in 1906, that there were 70 “barges” on the Suir, of which 20 traded between Carrick and Clonmel. Of the 138 000 tons carried on the navigation, 110 000 went from Waterford to Carrick and just 28 000 went on to Clonmel. I have little information about the cargoes; my guess is that coal was an important cargo going upstream, especially to the gasworks, and that the mills provided downstream cargoes. I don’t know whether there was any loading facility on Suir Island.
If the evidence of the songs is to be believed, beer may have been an important cargo. The Sprong was loaded with Indian ale, to be carried downstream to Fiddown (The Clonmel Flood), and the Fury was changing berth to lie alongside the brewery north of the quays (Changing Berth). The Gwendoline had a cargo of oats (The Wreck of the Gwendoline) but the Avondale (qv) was loaded with coal for the gasworks (The Wreck of the Avondale). The OS map of 1904–06 shows a mooring post downstream of Gashouse Bridge, beside the gasworks.
John Ernest Grubb, whose Suir Steam Navigation Company (with its tug the Father Mathew) controlled much of the trade on the Suir, retired in 1912. He sold the Suir Steam Navigation Company to Thomas Walsh & Son in June of that year. In 1927 they sold the Father Mathew to the Tarpey family of Carrickbeg (the town on the south side of the river) but sold the Waterford–Carrick business to Edward J Dowley & Sons (who had bought the Grubb stores at New Street in Carrick).
Thomas Walsh & Son had continued the trade to Clonmel until 1920 or 1921; in 1923 it was revived but lasted for only a few months. The Canals and Inland Waterways Commission of the new Irish Free State reported in 1923, according to the Delanys, that the trade suffered from labour troubles, difficulties of navigation higher costs after WW1 and competition from the railway. The Carrick boatmen went on strike in 1916, seeking an extra ten shillings a week, and traffic was suspended; some of the boatmen went to England to work. And in 1922, horse-drawn barges travelling between Carrick and Clonmel were raided and looted by armed men.
The late William O’Callaghan of Carrick told me about the unpowered lighters — pitch pine, 71′ X 16′ — used by his family, and many others, on the middle Suir from Carrick to Waterford. They used the tide to ascend and descend the Suir; the crew of two used 30′ steel-shod poles for manoeuvring at close quarters; for steerage, to keep in the tidal stream, they each had a 35′ or 36′ sweep, each stroke of which meant walking six steps forward and six back. The oars swivelled on 2″ oak dowels.
I am indebted to Pat Kennedy for the photo below, taken in 1934, which I believe to show the Knocknagow towing two unpowered lighters up the Suir.
Knocknagow towing two lighters (1934)
The National Library has a good photograph of two lighters above the bridge in Carrick.
On the upper Suir, from Carrick to Clonmel, the standard vessel was the yawl, a smaller vessel carrying. according to William O’Callaghan, 16 tons; Dr Power says 14 tons “or a little more”. I note that the Avondale (The Wreck of the Avondale) was carrying thirteen tons of coal.
Dr Power’s is, as far as I know, the most comprehensive account of the yawl. He says it was 60′ long with a 6′-high oak towing-mast, about one third of the way back from the bow. The mast had a forked head; it was 9″ in diameter and was secured by an iron collar in the bottom of the boat and by ropes to both sides at deck level.
Clearly, a 60′ boat carrying only 16 tons was shallow-draughted: the Sprong (The Clonmel Flood) drew only 20″. However, Dr Power says that a yawl might carry 40 tons in winter when water levels were high.
William O’Callaghan told me that lighters were sometimes hauled up to Clonmel: in such cases a yawl would be tied aft “on the Waterford side” (further from the towing-path) to do the steering. Dr Power, in contrast, says
Sometimes one or two lighters were towed after a yawl with ropes.
Dr Power describes the method of towing the boats by four horses, with four extra horses for each extra boat. One man led the horses while another steered the boat, extending the tiller when extra leverage was required. But there are accounts of eleven, twelve, thirteen and even fifteen horses being used to haul a pair of boats (Killaly and Prothero, see below, both say “three boats”) upstream against strong currents. The boats drifted back down to Carrick with the current, two boatmen using poles to control the boats. The dangers of this method are shown in the accident at Carrick bridge (see below).
The navigation and its difficulties
The Delanys tell us that, in 1821, John Killaly reported on the navigation for the Directors-General of Inland Navigation; he said that there was a fall of 57′ in 10.75 miles between Clonmel and Carrick and that the water level could change by 6’—8′ within a few hours. He did not think that the traffic would justify the building of locks but he recommended dredging and the improvement of “the existing flash weirs”. No locks were ever built. And neither steam nor motor boats were ever used: the fall of 57′ was overcome by horse power alone. Dr Power tells us that the upstream journey usually took about five and a half hours and that the horses came back to Carrick by road in about two and a half hours.
Prothero remarked, in the Cruising Club Manual, on the problems for rowing boats:
The Suir is navigable from Clonmel to the Barrow at Cheek Point, though the up-stream navigation from Carrick, the limit of the tide, to Clonmel is carried on under difficulties; 11 horses being required to haul up three small barges. A rowing boat can only get up by aid of the tow-line, which must be a very long one; 60 yards having proved insufficient in at least two places. The rapids, in 12.5 miles, number from 25 to 30, none of them however at all formidable on the descent; while the pretty scenery is set off by a number of ruins remarkable even in Ireland.
Raven-Hart, travelling downstream by canoe, reported no problems (Canoeing in Ireland):
From Clonmel (rail) to Carrick (rail) the navigation is quite amusing, and these thirteen miles should certainly be done: there is no danger whatever, and this part would be a valuable introduction to comparatively shallow-water canoeing for the absolute novice. The current here is always good, and there are several small rapids […].
On the whole run from Clonmel to the sea there is no portage, nor is it ever even necessary to float the boat down, unless perhaps in exceptionally low water […].
The scenery above Clonmel is fair, from there to Carrick excellent […].
The Shuttleworth Commission reported three main problems: insufficient depth, strong currents and an inadequate towing-path.
To judge by the OS maps, the first item on interest on the way downstream is the set of weirs linking islands at Millbrook House. Robert Dudley’s grain mill was built in 1782; the premises, called Suirville Mills on the 1840s OS map, changed hands several times until Thomas Russell converted to a woollen mill in 1887. Cleeves took over in 1896 and installed a condensed milk factory, shown on the 1904 OS map, but closed the premised in 1906. There was a tannery in the second half of the twentieth century. The long weir supplying the water-wheels was Dudley’s Weir, on which the Gwendoline was wrecked (The Wreck of the Gwendoline) “half-a-mile from home”.
The next obstacle — and it is a significant one — is Sir Thomas’s Bridge.
Sir Thomas’s Bridge (2005)
This is taken from upstream on the north (towing-path) bank. By 1904 St Joseph’s Industrial School was in the area behind the spot from which the photo was taken. The next photo shows the flow downstream of the bridge, with Kincor Castle on the south bank. Again, it is taken from the towing-path bank.
Downstream of Sir Thomas’s Bridge (2005)
Looking downstream through the navigation arch (2006)
The flow through the navigation arch (2006)
Looking upstream at the navigation arch (2006)
The drop (2006)
The river below the bridge (2006)
The depth gauge at the bridge (2006)
Have you noticed anything odd? Remember that this is a horse-drawn navigation ….
The horses have to enter the water to get under this bridge. As Dr Power points out:
The leading horse [was] chosen for strength and courage …. The horses each had bunches of hay tucked under the winkers on the riverside to ensure that they did not see the river-water. […] One man led the four horses, sometimes mounting the leader, particularly at Sir Thomas’s Bridge at Ferryhouse, where the whole team went into the river in order to pass underneath the arch. On days with the river in full spate, the water could reach to the horses’ collars.
It was here that the Avondale came to grief (The Wreck of the Avondale, published in the Clonmel Chronicle in 1903):
O brave Sir Thomas Osborne, you little did suspect
Against your bridge the Avondale was fated to be wrecked;
The cruel pier in her poor side conveyed a dismal hole,
Scamandering her precious freight of thirteen ton of coal.
Happily, Captain Britt, his son and his “tarrier dog” survived.
Here. from the National Library, is an older photo of the bridge.
A short distance below Sir Thomas’s Bridge, the Anner flows in: the Anner Mills of the 1840s were replaced by Anner House in the 1900s.There was a mooring post at the confluence. A further short distance below, the 1904 map (but not the 1840s map) shows a channel joining the Suir: it leaves the Anner above Inchanabraher, where there are stepping stones, runs along the edge of a small wood and passes a lodge and then goes under a road before it joins the Suir. The road bridge is marked Canal Bridge. I have no information about the canal and would like to know more, but I have some photos here: if you can help, please leave a Comment below or on that page.
The next bridge is at Kilsheelan, the only village between Clonmel and Carrick-on-Suir.
The bridge at Kilsheelan (2009)
Looking upstream from Kilsheelan Bridge (2009)
The towing-path is on the right of that photo. Here’s an older photo from the National Library.
The bridge from downstream (2005)
In that photo, you can see the edge of the towing-path (which looks as if it has been modernised) and the navigation arch on the right-hand side.
The Kilsheelan monster (2005)
Here’s a close-up of the object under the second arch. It looks like a turbine but I didn’t know what it was for. Thanks to nslatz (see Comments below) for identifying it as a salmon-counting machine.
Here is an older photo from the National Library.
Below Kilsheelan, there is a severe bend at Poulakerry, where the 1904 map suggests that the towing-path is a little inland from the river, but I haven’t seen it so I don’t really know. It is then some considerable distance to Coolnamuck salmon weir, a Z-shaped weir across almost the whole of the river, which is the highest point to which ordinary tides flow. After that, it’s a short distance to Carrick.
Navigation infrastructure: along the towing-path
The Suir between Clonmel and Carrick-on-Suir has many weirs, which may have served several different purposes: providing power to mills, trapping fish and perhaps keeping up the levels in the river for navigation. Fred Hamond identified fifteen weirs, excluding those in Clonmel itself. In some cases only vestiges remain, indicated by ripples on the water; in others the stonework can still be seen.
Many of the weirs were built before 1800 as fishing weirs, to catch eels or salmon or both, and for many of them no other function has been identified. Such weirs include Cor na mBráthar (Friars’ Weir), Coradh Mór (the Great Weir), Coolnamuck (the upstream limit of normal tides), Disney’s at Ballynoran, an unnamed weir at Ballydine, Hogan’s, an unnamed weir at Poulakerry, Power’s at Gurteen/Kilsheelan, Gurteen Eel Weir, the Black Weir at Kilheffernan, Neal’s Weir at Killaloan Lower and Power’s at Ferryhouse.
The weir above the old bridge in Carrick seems to have had just one function: that of powering a mill (now disappeared) on the north bank, via what is now known as the “blind arch” (photo below). Roderigo Flash at Ballyloan Lower was a navigation weir, designed to keep up water levels. Dudley’s Weir, on which the Gwendoline was wrecked (see above), was originally a fishing weir but then powered the mills at Suirville.
What is not clear is the extent to which the older fishing weirs were adapted to function as navigation weirs (like the summer weirs on the Barrow), maintaining the water levels above them.
The towing-path itself is worthy of attention. Sections form popular walking routes, although the path is blocked in two places by what I believe to be unauthorised incursions.
The towing-path has many small bridges or culverts spanning streams or providing access underneath; the most elaborate is where the River Anner joins the Suir.
At one point, a pair of ramps would have enabled towing horses to walk in the river to the mouth of a small bay, making the tow more manageable than would a very long towing-rope.
Many other artefacts are recorded in Fred Hamond’s survey.
I have written about some aspects of Carrick-on-Suir in my page on the middle Suir, but there are some aspects yet to be covered.
Looking north across the bridge (2009)
Carrickbeg is on the south bank of the river and Carrick-on-Suir is on the north. Kehoes’ graving dock was on the south bank, but I don’t know where it was or whether there is any trace of it now. Nor, as far as I know, have we any remains of any of the lighters or yawls that travelled on the Suir. William O’Callaghan showed me some of the iron shoes used by the lightermen on their poles, but there seem to be few other reminders of the unique heritage of the Suir boatmen. Now, even some fishing cots are being laid up as the snap-net fishery has been closed.
Carrickbeg looking downstream from the old bridge (2009)
There were quays and mooring posts on the north bank above the old bridge, between the two bridges and below the new bridge (seen in the distance in the photo below. The pontoon is modern, of course). The area between the bridges is the Town Pond.
The north quays in Carrick (2009)
There was also a quay with mooring-posts on the south (Carrickbeg) bank above the old bridge.
The Carrickbeg quay above the old bridge (2009)
That photo also shows the weir in Carrick; here are two more views of it.
The weir in Carrick 1 (2009)
The weir in Carrick 2 (2009)
You’ll see that flood prevention works have been undertaken here too.
The gasworks was on the north quay, above the old bridge, about half way along the wall you can see in the photo above.
Looking towards the gasworks from the south end of the bridge (2009)
But the navigation arch was on the south side of the bridge. I presume that it was chosen because it is higher and wider than the others.
The old bridge from upstream with the navigation arch on the far right (2009)
So (William O’Callaghan told me) a boat carrying coal to the gasworks, or indeed with a load to be hauled upstream to Clonmel, had to be manhauled across the bridge from north to south, hauled up through the arch (probably using a rope floated down through the arch from the Carrickbeg quays) and then manhauled back across the bridge to the north side.
It’s difficult to say what conditions were like up to the 1920s, when that was happening, but I presume it could be done only when the tide was relatively full, so that the lighter could clear the shoals between the arches on the downstream side, as well as the weir upstream. You can see some of the shoals in the next two photos. If any Carrick people can help to clarify this, I would be grateful: please leave a Comment at the bottom of the page.
Shoals between the arches looking north (2009)
Shoals between the arches looking south (2009)
Here is the towing-path upstream from Carrick heading for Clonmel.
The towing path heading west towards Clonmel (2009)
The flood wall, built on top of the older wall, makes it difficult to see any traces of the quay or the towing-path downstream of this point.
Looking back east, downstream, towards the town bridge (2009)
I draw attention again, therefore, to this National Library photo. These boats do not seem to have towing-masts, so they may be lighters rather than yawls. They seem to be moored above the weir.
There are some interesting traces near this point.
Mooring ring (2009)
Finally, I was delighted that there were still some cots to be seen.
The cries at the bridge
The old bridge at Carrick was the scene of the worst ever accident on Irish inland waterways. A plaque on the bridge gives the numbers and dates.
The plaque in Carrick bridge (2009)
Michael Coady’s piece “The Cries at the Bridge” in Full Tide — a miscellany (Relay Books 1999) gives an account of the tragedy. Three boats were hired in Clonmel to take an army detachment downriver. The first boat carried women, children and baggage with eleven men; the other two carried the remainder of the troops. The boats, which were to run down with the current, left at intervals of half an hour.
The river was swollen by thawing snow and the current was very strong.Coady quotes a letter from James Fitzgibbon, one of the officers; here is the central paragraph:
When the first boat came within half a mile of Carrick Bridge a boy jumped on shore and took the hawser with him. He made it fast to a stake but the boat on coming round snapped it in two. They fell away immediately down towards the Bridge. Their terror at that moment was not to be conceived. Death was inevitable. The boat ran full speed against one of the cut-waters sideways and was dashed to pieces — the men, women and children spread all over the flood.
Four out of eleven men survived, as did six out of forty women. All the children died. Those on the two later boats landed safely, although one of them was damaged. Michael Coady concludes his piece thus:
The horror of that mass-drowning and the piteous cries of women and children have long since receded, but still have power to evoke remembrance and compassion in anyone who stands on Carrick Bridge and reflects on all its tides and tidings.
Amen to that.