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Ferrybank – A  Brief  History

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In the early times when forest clearing and tilling had taken place, the areas that developed from this clearing  were used for deer roasting pits and boiling pots to prepare food for the settlers of those days. Evidence of these settlements called Fullacta or Fiagh were visible in some areas such as Ballyrobin, Killaspy, Christendom, Belmont and Newrath. With man changing from a nomadic way of life to a more settled lifestyle the first farms and homesteads were then built and these settlements became known as Raths and now remain as part of the local place names e.g. Newrath, Rathculliheen,Rathpatrick etc.

Part of the early settlements included Christian settlers and one of the holy men set himself up in Ferrybank in what was known as a cell or Cill, in the area that is now the present Church of Ireland church. The official parish name was then Killculiheen which is still the Church of Ireland reference today . This area included Abbeylands, Ballyrobin, Newrath, Mount Sion, Belmont, Christendom, Knockane, Newtown, Rathculliheen and Rockshire.

According to the history of the Diocese of Ossory an Augustinian Nunnery was founded in the area of Ferrybank  by the King of Leinster in the 12th century. This nunnery although small in size was endowed with great wealth and apart from the entire Parish of Rathculliheen also had associations with parishes in County Waterford and as far away as County Kildare. The Abbess had the right to appoint Parish Priests in a large number of parishes in the Diocese of Ossory. All of the possessions of the nunnery were leased to the Corporation of Waterford with the premise that the house and buildings would be maintained by them.There is no trace of the nunnery and church as the buildings were probably cleared away in 1820 when the present Protestant church was built. Records and memories of the nunnery in Ferrybank are limited.

From this time onwards Ferrybank became an attractive location for families to settle and business to develop. Family names such as Pope, White, Penrose, Strangman, Smith, Laffan and Williams were recorded.One of the early business developments was shipbuilding and houses were built to accomodate workers in this industry. At this time the river crossing was completed by means of ferry and road travel was completed by horse and coach. The first wooden bridge over the river Suir was completed in 1794, it was completed by an American builder named Cox and it was referred to locally as ‘timbertoes’. This bridge was replaced in 1913 by an iron and concrete structure known as Redmond Bridge and this bridge was then replaced in 1985 by the current structure known as Rice Bridge named after Brother Edmund Ignatius Rice founder of the Christian Brothers.

The arrival of railways in the 1830’s brought further major  changes to Ferrybank. The rail links were initially extended to Rosslare to the East and as far as Limerick Junction in County Tipperary to the North which was then a military base for the British government.

In 1879 the Sacred Heart of Mary order of nuns began teaching in their newly built convent in Ferrybank and this new education establishment was to become a major influence in the area and beyond. Shortly afterwards the Brothers of Charity (from Belgium) started a hospital at Belmont Park for the care of the mentally handicapped.

In 1834 the first Roman Catholic church was built by the Barron family in Ferrybank, the tower was added to the church in 1867. In 1904 that church was then replaced by the current building. Further information on the history of the church can be viewed in the porch of the church.

Industrial development in the early 20th century consisted of a number of factories largely in the food processing industry. The Irish Co-operative organisation was founded in 1926 with the aim of providing a market for farmers produce e.g. butter etc with improved prices mainly in the English market. In 1934 it was decided to establish a bacon curing plant at Christendom with help from a Danish company which set up the factory and ran it in the early years until it was then taken back under Irish management. At this time the emerging factory changed its name to Clover Meats Limited. A number of the operational staff were sent to England for further training and returned to form a more skilled base of workers. From the initial bacon factory the company then developed a beef killing and canning facility as well as a later cooked meats and sausage production facility. The company struggled to develop its home market in the early years but following the outbreak of war in 1939 when the supply of food became a problem in England, Clover Meats took the opportunity to supply quantities of canned products to the UK and afterwords then extended this supply to the Irish market.

The Clover Meats beef processing plant was extended and developed in the 1960’s and although the bacon factory was also modernised it was not as efficient a manufacturing facility. In the 1970’s the Clover Meats company expanded and further bacon processing factories were purchased in Wexford, Limerick and Dublin and a national network of distribution depots was also set up. At this time there was also a significant beef export trade with Europe and the UK. At its peak Clover Meats would have employed a workforce of up to 600 staff in its factories. With the demise of the beef trade and the changing economic conditions in the early 1980’s Clover Meats found trading become difficult and finally closed its gates in 1984.

Ferrybank has had other significant industrial developments over the years that provided much needed local employment and these included R&H Hall which produced animal feeds, Odlums flour milling which was a large mill as can still be seen via the now derelict buildings on the North Wharf that were used when the mill operated. Other smaller industrial activites in Ferrybank included the HMV radio and record factory and Tyresoles tyre factory both based on the Abbey Road.

This account of Ferrybank history is by no means exhaustive but is designed to give a flavour for some of the acivites that have shaped Ferrybank as we know it today.

Other References :
Shipbuilding in Waterford 1820 – 1882 by Bill Irish published in 2001
The Three Villages by Donal Foley and republished by Tom Fewer
The Munster, The Music and The Village by John O’Connor

The Old Waterford Society Journals

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Ferrybank – A personal memory of the area


Beautiful Places in South Kilkenny

A jaunt through my childhood back-yard.

By accident of circumstance I grew up - some would say was dragged up - within 100 yards of Tír an Chait, the old enemy.

We used to play, laugh, cry, explore, get into trouble, rob orchards, skin knees, break bones and parents’ hearts for the most part in County Kilkenny. We were and still are, Déise to the core. It just so happens we lived within a Clinton Hennessy puck-out of the ‘dreaded foe’. It never really bothered us.

A lot of our parents came from ‘town’; in my own case, just me mam. Many worked locally. Many worked in County Kilkenny even!

I went to school in town, subject to historical precedent. It was only when I was older and out in the workplace that I came up against any semblance of disharmony between those north of the Suir and those south of the Suir.

Here in Kent where I now live, your moniker is determined by whether you were born north or south of the River Medway. Kentish Man and Man of Kent! I can’t remember which is which. At least, you’re still in Kent either way. And anyway, Kent hasn’t much of a hurling team!

When we were young we used to have a game called ‘Waterford Would Be Nothing Without Ferrybank’. I suppose it was our attempt to make sense of our position in relation to our neighbours, north and south. I have a certain empathy with the Palestinians in this regard.

We wanted to and did, belong to Waterford. However, we could not escape the reality that we were ‘physically’ while not politically, in Kilkenny. In my younger days when at mass, I used to always perk up at the bit where the priest prayed “for our bishop Peter” or “Michael”. That way, I always knew whether I was at Mass in Ferrybank or in town.

Particularly for those townies who’ve never ventured across the bridge, other than to reach the railway station or zoom out the highways to Rosslare or Dublin, I would like to take you on a little trip through my back-yard, South Kilkenny!

We start in Ferrybank, from the bottom of Fountain Street and head up the Rockshire Road. Many ‘townies’ incorrectly refer to this as ‘Yorkshire Road’. Small point but people know what you mean.

My father told me that when they lived up that way, they used to build a trolley or cart out of pram wheels and bits of board. They’d start at the top and let fly the whole way down to the bottom. The road was a lot narrower in those days and there was little or no traffic.

At the bottom of the hill was ‘The Running Pump’. Not a pub but a source of Adam’s Ale which was backed by a heavy-set wall. The wall was essentially the brake. So, having made flitters of the trolley, it was off to hunt down another set of wheels and do the same all over again.

Neither my father nor any of his friends ever got a job with NASA afterwards!

Around that general area were several pubs. Not the modern hacienda style superpubs, more like botháns really. My grandfather used to frequent them; Paddy Brett’s, Flynn's (still there), Ned Fleming's….

As a young man my grandfather (a fine hurler, by the way) used to drink with his Ferrybank friends, some of them carpenters, dockers, sailors, reprobates and even merchants.

He told me a story of the time a group of townie bowsies came over the bridge and were obviously looking for a bit of action amongst the lads from the ‘Village’, otherwise known as the ‘Slip’.

Word was sent to the village. The Ferrybank lads exited the pub and with them a couple of Senegalese seamen from a freighter docked on the North Wharf. They confronted the cocky townies by Sion Row, gave them an unmerciful baytin' and drove them back across the then bridge - possibly ‘Timbertoes’.

Returning in victory to the hostelry, among the whooping and hollering could be heard the rich West African strains of “Me Slip man too”. A great night was had by all.

Heading back up the Rockshire Road, at the top near Garroway's, we take a right and follow the road past Ballyrobin. This is the scenic route to Tory Hill.

Tory Hill was our Kilimanjaro at about 900 feet high and we always thought it was haunted. We’d park up the bikes and head for the summit via either The South Face or Dead Man’s Ridge.

The climb to the top was fairly quick. From the summit we could survey our ‘Serengeti’, a vast plain stretching for miles before us and see right into the heart of Waterford city. New Ross could be seen to the east, and slightly to the right Sliabh Coillte, deeper into County Wexford. You could see right down to the south Wexford coast and indeed on a very clear day, as far as the Saltee Islands. I often thought it would be nice to go to Tory at night and see the lights.

The best bit was coming down from Tory.  Bigwood is a hamlet tucked into the side of the hill. It has a little church and a small bell-tower in the grounds. We used to ring it like hell and scoot full speed down the hill for about two miles.

Mullinavat was not a place to where we went much. It is close to Tory but has a busy main road through it. We preferred the quiet backwaters. Worth a visit was Poulanassa Waterfall near the village. Not especially Niagara-like but still refreshing. At that time very few knew about it. Nowadays it is signposted for tourists as per one of the Seven Wonders.

Returning to the top of Tory and looking towards Waterford we see Holly Lake, the only lake of any consequence in Kilkenny. Although my Dad said people used to go duck shooting there many years ago, I never actually got to the waters edge. Much of the land around the lake was boggy and overgrown. It is also known as Lough Cullen and the bird-life is protected now.

Heading back north again we pass through part of the ridge that makes up Tory Hill. This is Cat’s Rock. It always reminds me of those cowboy films where they have to ride through a rocky pass in constant danger of attack. Beyond here we were on open high ground. Nowadays a lot of it is covered in forestry.

One special place is the Three Friars. There are three standing stones in a field and if you squint your eyes ever so slightly they do look like little rotund men in cassocks.

Diverting to Inistioge we reach the River Nore, one of the Three Sisters. Above Inistioge is the Woodstock Estate. We were always intrigued by the sight of this once great house, now in ruins. Trees grow within the confines of its walls.

Mention of the Three Sisters brings to mind beautiful locations such as Graignamanagh and St Mullins. Both these settlements are a little further away on the Kilkenny/Carlow border. A lovely drive though. I once had the privilege of canoeing from Graig to St Mullins.

My maternal grandparents came from the Carlow side of the river. Sadly the only time I got to visit in latter years was to attend a funeral of some relative or other. In St Mullins there is a ruin of an old abbey within whose grounds is a plaque dedicated to a long-gone ancestor of mine, once the high king of Leinster!

A railway line ran from Ballywilliam to Borris and passed through the lands belonging to my great-grandparents. On her way back from shopping in Borris or New Ross, my great-grandmother would arrange with the driver for him to stop the train at a convenient point near their property, saving her the walk from the station. How times have changed.

In Ferrybank we had access to two railway lines which became our playgrounds at various times. One was the New Ross line. The other, the Rosslare (to Limerick) line follows the Suir as far as the Barrow Bridge opposite Cheekpoint. It’s probably one of the prettiest train rides in the country.

We used to go ‘down the line’ past Cromwell’s Rock, along by Clover Meats, (rivers of blood), past the Rum Well, a natural spring in the rock believed by some to have curative powers. Further on is a tunnel just before the Barrow crossing. The tunnel seemed about a mile long and many’s the time we waited excitedly for the 4.30 to Campile to come rumbling through. After that was the country’s longest railway bridge.

I’m sure it was all illegal and highly dangerous.

Best of all though, close by in Ferrybank were the fields above us, the woods, the outcrops of rock, the knock (yes we had our own knock.), the carvings on the trees and the views over our beloved Urbs Intacta.

We had the best of both, I’m thinking.

© S De Paor

This article was first published in the Munster Express in December 2007

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