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A Survey of Monuments of Archaeological and Historical Interest in the Barony of Bunratty Lower, Co. Clare by William Gerrard Ryan
 

Part 5: Sites of later historical interest (post 1580 AD)
Chapter 49: Rossmanagher Bridge and Toll Gates

ROSSMANAGHER BRIDGE AND TOLL GATES

Location Nat. Grid Ref. R474627; ½” Sheet 17.

Townland : Rossmanagher
Parish (R.C.) : Sixmilebridge - Kilmurry
Civil Parish : Feenagh
6” O.S. Sheet number : 52, Co. Clare
Reference : 9.6 cm South; 22.4 cm West
1” O.S. Sheet number : 143 (Limerick)

Photo 1: Rossmanagher Bridge, near Sixmilebridge, Co. Clare
Photo 1: Rossmanagher Bridge, near Sixmilebridge, Co. Clare

Though the Bridge and Toll Gates at Rossmanagher are within 20 metres of one another I will here treat them separately.

a) BRIDGE

It is unlikely that a bridge existed at this site in Rossmanagher before the late eighteenth century. If one existed it can only have been of timber and probably a footbridge. I feel, however, that even its former existence is most unlikely based on the reaction to the construction of a stone bridge over the Ratty, or Owenogarney, river in 1784. This reaction, based on a notice which appeared in the Ennis Chronicle on 17th February, 1785, can only be said to have been most hostile and fully against this stone bridge.

According to the notice the following took place. Henry D’Esterre, local landlord, wanted to build a bridge over the Ratty at a point close to his house and farm. Before 1784, to get goods to his home by road, they would have to come around by Sixmilebridge which added some miles to the journey. However he realised that there would be a deal of local opposition to a stone bridge over a lower section of the Ratty (I suggest reasons for this opposition later). Thus instead of applying to the local Sheriff for permission he applied to the authorities in O’Brien’s Bridge, near Killaloe!!! They granted him a patent and he had the bridge constructed.

When locals realised what was happening they approached him on the matter but got anything but satisfaction. In fact, according to the 1785 notice, some of D’Esterre’s men fired on the deputation. To protect his interest D’Esterre then obtained a military garrison to guard the bridge.

Why was there such objection to the erection of this stone bridge?
Based on field examination I suggest the following reasons:-

1) When dealing with the oil mills at Ballintlea reference was made to the highest point to which ordinary tides flow. Thus boats could go up and down the river Ratty to a point within one mile of Sixmilebridge. This facilitated the industrialists and people of the Sixmilebridge area as transport costs by water tend to be low in comparison to road transport. As the upriver photograph of the bridge shows the open arched space was low and narrow thus severely restricting movement. After the completion of D’Esterre’s bridge only small boats could go upriver. Locals objected to this.

2) Further objection may even have come from the effect of the bridge on water flow. Field examination noted that the river width narrows fairly considerably at the bridge and as the same volume of water must flow through a narrower space the river speed increases quite markedly. Thus even for the smaller boats attempting to go to Ballintlea they were now faced with a short but difficult passage around Rossmanagher Bridge.

At any rate the completion of this bridge destroyed all river traffic.

When dealing with the oil mills at Ballintlea reference was made to the fact that these mills ceased production in the 1780’s. Could it have been that the construction of the stone bridge at Rossmanagher was the death knell of the 90 year old industry? Or perhaps the mills had already ceased production a short time previously and D’Esterre felt it was now a suitable time to build a bridge which would be so convenient for him.

D’Esterre had a cut-stone inscription erected on the bridge which states:-
                                                               BUILT
                                                               BY
                                          HENRY D’ESTERRE ESQ.
                                          AT HIS OWN EXPENSE
                                                               A.D.
                                                               1784

Photo 2: Inscription on Rossmanagher Bridge, near Sixmilebridge, Co. Clare
Photo 2: Inscription on Rossmanagher Bridge, near Sixmilebridge, Co. Clare

b) TOLL GATES

Photo 3: Toll-gates at Rossmanagher, near Sixmilebridge, Co. Clare
Photo 3: Toll-gates at Rossmanagher, near Sixmilebridge, Co. Clare

“The Toll Bridge: We have located a toll bridge in the townland of Ballinphonta (site incorrect, should read Rossmanagher) and over the Ratty river. It was built by the D’Esterre family in 1847. This was the last year of the famine. Every person who went over the bridge had to pay a fee of one penny. D’Esterre’s own workmen could go across the bridge free but they could not take over any of their neighbours herd or belongings. If they did they would get into serious trouble…”
Source: Liddy (Ed.), 1979, page 26.

We have already dealt with the construction of Rossmanagher Bridge in 1784. As the inscription shows (see Photograph 2) D’Esterre built this “at his own expense”. As he had the trouble and cost of building it there is the possibility that he set up a toll gate on his side of the bridge to try and recuperate his expenses. This seems quite likely.

It may have been that the late eighteenth century toll keeper’s house was of poor quality, that is if one existed. Local tradition is vague here, however it does state that during the great famine the D’Esterre’s had the double toll-keepers house constructed, with the actual toll gate between both buildings and across the roadway (Photograph 3).

These buildings survive today (1979) though they are quite heavily covered by ivy especially on the outer top part. Field examination found a serious crack down one of the walls thereby endangering the site. The ivy cover must also be causing damage as is the vibration of heavy traffic passing within one metre of either building.

Photo 4: Toll-gates at Rossmanagher near Sixmilebridge, Co. Clare
Photo 4: Toll-gates at Rossmanagher near Sixmilebridge, Co. Clare

These buildings are endangered and for this reason a site plan and description is provided.

Toll Keeper’s house A: (see site plan)
Field examination suggested that this house originally had two entrances, one onto the roadway to the actual toll gate and the second into the large field behind the keeper’s house. The entrance to the roadway is now completely blocked up leaving only one entrance, via the field, in use.

The site’s interior is used as a shelter for cattle with the result that the ground is heavily churned.

On entering the site one notices a blocked up window on the south-east wall. This originally looked out on the nearby bridge so that the keeper could see who was coming.

The feature in the north-west wall is not clear, though in all probability was a window for viewing down the roadway to D’Esterre’s farm. The south-west wall is interesting and appears to have had two fireplace areas. The larger one probably provided the heat while the smaller enclosed space was for cooking.

On the first floor of the keeper’s house (a) one again has a window space, this time open, facing south-east towards the bridge. The north-east (road) wall is featureless. In all probability a window also existed in the north-west wall though the space is now blocked up. This floor also had a fireplace, directly over the large one on the ground floor.

Evidence of an attic is suggested by traces of walls over the first floor. This site, which contains a deal of red brick in its composition, averages 9 metres in height.

Toll Keeper’s house B: (see site plan)
In many ways this site B is similar to A 3.50 metres across the road. Though originally it had two entrances (again from the road and field) only one – via the field – is now in use. The second entrance, from the road, has been partly blocked up by loose stones and timber. Cattle also shelter in this site and again the ground is heavily churned.

Two windows on the ground floor – both now blocked up – commanded the roadway to and from the nearby bridge. An interesting aspect of house (b) is the absence of a fireplace, suggesting it was not the main living quarters of the toll keeper.

Features in the first floor are similar to those on the ground floor – i.e. two windows, facing north-west and south-east. Again trace of an attic exists over the first floor.

Site b also averages 9 metres in height.

Toll Gate:
A close examination of the site plan will show that the actual gateway ran between “houses” A and B. Both of the hanging irons are still in position as are the cut limestone blocks with circular depressions. The timber gateway was supported between these iron hinges and the depressions in the limestone block (Photograph 4).

Though constructed in the 1840’s this toll gate may have continued in use up to the 1880’s. Local tradition is unclear as to the exact date.

REFERENCES

Liddy (Ed.),
1979, page 26
Murphy (Ed.),
1974, (pages 71-73 of this are especially useful as they contain the 1785 notice which appeared in the “Ennis Chronicle”).
 

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