I have had a busy week so I decided to post something simple. As I had heard that one of the bridges by the site of the old Gasworks on the Waterside in Waterford City was being replaced this week I decided to post a sketch of the footbridge there that I had drawn over twenty-five years ago. But first I wanted to check my facts…famous last words. One fact led to the next and all of a sudden I was embroiled in the history of this small area that spans more than a thousand years and touches on Vikings, a Plantagenet king and a workers uprising which resulted in the Gasworks seceding from the state (I kid you not) to form a Soviet which lasted for six weeks until this day (or at least March 10th) in 1923.
The Courthouse is in this area too and the Peoples’ Park, which was inaugurated in the 1850s, is nearby and the area also plays host to wildlife. All this in the city centre. It has been run down for a long time but various projects are afoot to upgrade this picturesque area. I am not going to pretend after couple of hours research I can present you with a concise history of the area, or even a correct one but I will try to give you a glimpse at the snap shot that my ‘research’ has given me.
This area is familiar to me as a long time ago I lived in a ‘bedsit’ in one of the red brick houses on South Parade (c.1890 ..the houses, not me) which face onto the park. As I remember, when my father first came to Waterford he stayed in one of these houses too. I say bedsit but it was actually a cupboard. Having two big windows it was bright but the door into the ‘bedsit’ was a sliding one as there was no space to open a real door. In the room there was a bed, a tiny sink and a tiny Belling cooker. Though it was actually a nice cupboard, as cupboards go, I did spend a lot of my time out and about with my sketch pad. The park was a favourite spot. My drawing at this point was quite detailed and tight but I wanted to loosen it up. The park saw my first attempts at this. I would sit under the big plane trees (no fancy trees here) and sketch with twigs dipped in ink to free my hand.
The Courthouse, which was designed in 1849 by J.B. Keane (Wejchert.ie ) is in the grounds of the Peoples’ Park. It is, or was, a nice building in the classic style but it is currently undergoing refurbishment. The artists’ impression of the upgrade looks to my eye like 1970s technical institute. The court itself, meanwhile, is operating out of Gracedieu Manor on the Tramore road some three or four miles outside the city. This means that the walkers and runners in Northface walking clothes and hi-vis vests are now mingling with individuals who don’t look like they’ve been out in the country, or even the daylight, very often, let alone walked for any distance. One day I even saw a high-heeled solicitor, too impatient maybe to wait for a taxi, tottering along swinging ballast in the shape of an expensive leather briefcase. It makes my drive to college more interesting anyway.
But I digress…turning left away from the park and the courthouse, onto the Waterside, one passes, or used to pass a fountain which I have never seen working. I don’t think it is there any more though I can’t be sure. It was very small, maybe six-foot across. In the centre a boy stands face averted, clutching a flower pot behind his head (as you do) from which water may once have spouted. In my memory the figure seems to be painted with household gloss paint, wrinkled and yellowed. But that can’t be right…
Walking along the Waterside, Johns’ River is on the left while the right side of the street runs parallel to the wall of the medieval city, the river being outside the walls. Waterford was established as a Viking settlement in the ninth century and Johns’ river, or whatever it was called at the time, meandered and spread out into marsh at the present park as it ran towards the River Suir, the water providing defences for the city on three sides as well, I suppose, as mooring sites and boatyards for ships. Everything around here is called Johns’ something or other, testament to the eternal obsequiousness of the Irish in government. The John in question refers to whichever Saint John was connected to King John, son of Henry the Second. (We don’t bother with the ‘saint’ part of anything around here as we don’t like to be giving people,even saints, notions). King John, you may know from the Robin Hood stories as being a bit of a bastard and was one of the worst kings England ever-and he had some stiff competition. He inspired the Magna Carta which would lead to a reduction in royal power. He was made Lord of Ireland in 1177 and visited Waterford in 1185 and in 1210 by which time he was King (Library Ireland, 2015).
Further along the Waterside, walking towards Johns’ Bridge (see?) you will see on the other side of the river the site of the old Gasworks. The Gasworks were built around the 1820s and ceased operations at the end of the 20th century, although I am not sure what year. I took some photographs of the site before it was cleared and if my mind serves me correctly that was around 1991. I know that there were tests done on the soil on 2001 (Pollock, 2016) to check suitability for development. When I went looking for more information I came across a number of accounts of the Waterford Soviet of 1923.
A Soviet, to my novice understanding, is a council of workers that has seceded from the rules of the state. The beginning of the 20th century was a time of great upheaval for everyone. With the First World War ending, migration, soldiers returning to jobs that had to some degree, been taken by women as well as increasing industrialisation, workers rights were coming to the fore. Trade Unions were recovering from the Lock Out of 1913 (an era you can read about in James Plunketts’ Strumpet City). Strikes were called in objection to the imprisonment of those involved in the Rising of 1916 as well as labour issues such as pay and conditions. In Ireland in the early ’20s, we had civil war. The division must have been deepened by happenings in the wider world. There was great admiration for the Bolsheviks and the Russian revolution in some quarters while others saw Bolshevism as the greatest threat to civilisation. As mentioned in another post, my own grandfather went to South Russia to fight the ‘Bolshies’ in 1919. In the early 1920s in Ireland there were upwards of 15 Soviets created. The one in Waterford lasted six weeks ending March 10th 1923 (Nielsen, 2012).
The Gasworks site has been cleared and is being made into a car park. This brings me finally to the bridge that began all this. There were two bridges spanning Johns’ River to the gas works. One was an elegantly curved, cast iron one, made in the early 20th century. It is this bridge that is being replaced by an ignorant looking slab of concrete was has caused some dismay. The second bridge was, and is, a pretty cast iron footbridge which dates from between 1870 and 1890 (Buildings of Ireland). Thankfully this bridge is being restored by the Waterford Civic Trust and will be placed back in position once the renovations of the area are complete (Waterford Civic trust, 2017).
Though the river has been seriously polluted in recent times, besides the renovations of the Gasworks and the walls that run alongside the river, efforts are underway to clean it up. Deise Natureways are a volunteer group which have recently spent time cleaning the river along here and would always welcome help I imagine. Amazingly, despite the pollution and upheaval, otters are occasionally spotted along the river which is also frequented by swans, herons, mullet and if memory serves, the occasional Kingfisher. Hopefully soon this area will be restored to its full glory.
UPDATE:After I posted I found this video on You tube uploaded today (March 11th 2017) by Mick Daniels. Footage shows the new bridge which, news of which inspired this post. Along with being an ugly thing it does not allow boats to pass underneath, which I hadn’t realised, as this part of the river is tidal. The footbridge which you will see at the end of the video will be re-installed in addition to this new monstro…bridge (ahem).
REFERENCES AND LINKS
Deise Nature Ways (2017), Home Page, [online], available at, http://www.deisenatureways.ie/%5Baccessed 10/03/2017].
Lambert, T., (2016), A Brief History of Waterford, Ireland, [online], available at, http://www.localhistories.org/waterford.html [accessed 10/03/2017].
Library Ireland, (2015), King John in Ireland, [online], available at http://www.libraryireland.com/JoyceHistory/John.php, %5Baccessed 10/03/2017].
Pollock, D., (2016), 2001:1258 – The Gasworks, Waterside, Waterford, [online], available at http://www.excavations.ie/report/2001/Waterford/0007193/, [accessed 10/03/2017]
National Inventory of Architectural Heritage, (2017), Waterside, Waterford, [online], available at, http://www.buildingsofireland.ie/niah/search.jsp?type=record&county=WA®no=22504553 %5Baccessed 10/03/2017].
National Inventory of Architectural Heritage, (2017), Waterside, Waterford, [online], available at, http://www.buildingsofireland.ie/niah/search.jsp?type=record&county=WA®no=22504552 %5Baccessed 10/03/2017].
Nielsen, R. (2012), Irish Soviets 1919-23, [online], available at, https://whistlinginthewind.org/2012/10/08/irish-soviets-1919-23/
St. John’s Parish, Waterford, (2017), St. Johns Parish, Waterford,[online], available at, http://www.stjohnswaterford.com/page.php?section=importantdates&pageid=033886ca4bbf4928c12bd4488aef847a %5Baccessed 10/03/2017].
Waterford Civic Trust, (2017), Lattice Bridge, [online], available at, http://www.waterfordcivictrust.ie/gasworks-lattice-bridge [accessed 10/03/2017].
Wejchert Architects, (2016),Waterford Courthouse, Co. Waterford,
[online], available at, http://www.wejchert.ie/projects/project-detail/waterford-courthouse-co.-waterford %5Baccessed 10/03/2017].
Wikipedia, (2016), John’s First Expedition to Ireland, [online], available at, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John’s_first_expedition_to_Ireland, %5Baccessed 10/03/2017].
Workers Solidarity, (1985),When The Red Flag Flew Over Munster, [online], Issue 13., December, available at, https://libcom.org/files/When%20the%20red%20flag%20flew%20over%20Munster.pdf [accessed 10/03/2017].