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Building of the Month - October 2011

Old Ennisnag Bridge, ENNISNAG Td./LAWCUS Td., Stonyford, County Kilkenny

Old Ennisnag Bridge 01 - Upstream Elevation 

Figure 1: Upstream view of the bridge showing the six arches of the original bridge

The old bridge at Ennisnag, crossing King's River outside Stonyford, is located approximately six miles south of Kilkenny and lies on the original road connecting Kilkenny with Waterford (fig. 1).  The bridge was bypassed in 1827 when the "new" Ennisnag Bridge, a three-arch ashlar structure, was built downstream.

Old Ennisnag Bridge 02 - Downstream Elevation 

Figure 2: Downstream view showing the eighteenth-century extension

The downstream face of the old bridge shows a picturesque bridge that appears to date from the eighteenth century (fig. 2).  However, the upstream elevation indicates that the bridge is actually much older.  The upstream and downstream faces are markedly different as the bridge was at some point widened by six feet.  The original bridge was just twelve feet wide, the view above showing the later addition.

The underside of one of the arches displays a break in the barrel in which the junction of the original structure with the later extension is clear (fig. 3).  Also evident are wattle marks in the mortar.  These marks arise from the use of wattles to cover the centring upon which the original arch was formed.  Such wattle marks are often associated with vaulting in Irish castles constructed in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries.  There is evidence, however, that this construction technique dates back to the twelfth century or earlier.

Old Ennisnag Bridge 03 - Detail of Construction (Barrel) 

Figure 3: Underside of an arch showing the discontinuty between the original bridge and the eighteenth-century extension and the wattle marks in the mortar on the intrados

Establishing the age of many early bridges is problematic and Ennisnag is no exception.  The old bridge is shown in the Down Survey (1654-6) but the routes it served are not detailed (fig. 4).  The bridge is also clearly indicated, and named, on Moll's New Map of Ireland (1714), which is the earliest map of Ireland's road network.  Rocque's map of 1759 shows Ennisnag as a crossroads where the route from Dublin down through Carlow, Leighlinbridge, Gowran, Bennettsbridge and through Callan to Carrick-on-Suir or through Clonmel to Cork intersects the road between Kilkenny and Waterford.  Taylor and Skinner's Maps of the Roads of Ireland (1778) shows the location of the bridge in detail (fig. 5).

Old Ennisnag Bridge 04 - Down Survey Extract Old Ennisnag Bridge 05 - Taylor and Skinner Extract

Figures 4-5: Left: Detail of Down Survey (1656) showing a bridge in Enishnagge Parish [sic]; Right: Detail of Taylor and Skinner's map (1778) showing the Kilkenny to Waterford road crossing King's River at Ennisnag

Bridges may be dated by examining their construction details.  The bridge at Ennisnag has a number of features that indicate that this may be as early as the twelfth century.  The narrowness of the bridge; the semi-circular profile of the arches; the ratio of the widths of the piers to the spans; the triangular upstream cutwaters – one of which is extended to form a pedestrian refuge; the wattle marks; and the use of fieldstone to construct the arch barrels, when taken together all indicate that the bridge dates from the twelfth to the sixteenth century.  A strong clue that the bridge is very early, however, comes from the nature of the arch rings.  An examination of the three central arches shows that the rings have not been "turned" with the stones laid in a radial pattern (fig. 6).  O'Keeffe and Simington (1991) have identified this feature in bridges that date to the thirteenth century or earlier.

Old Ennisnag Bridge 06 - Detail of Construction (Arch Ring) 

Figure 6: Arch ring showing non-radial voussoirs

Finding written evidence of the existence of a bridge before the Down Survey is a matter of luck.  In the case of Ennisnag, however, luck has provided such evidence.  Reverend Hugh de Rous, Bishop of Ossory (fl. 1202-18), exchanged lands with William de Marshal (1147-1219), first Earl of Pembroke, early during his term of office.  The details of these land transfers are recorded in the Bishop's Charter and the Earl's Acknowledgement.  Transcripts of both documents, which were originally recorded in the White Book of the Diocese of Ossory, were translated and published by Reverend James Graves (1815-86) in the Journal of the Kilkenny Archaeological Society (1859).  Both documents locate a parcel of land with reference to the bridge of Ennisnag.  Of course it is possible that the bridge mentioned in the document was replaced by the current structure.  However, the very early features make it equally possible that sections of the old bridge date from this period.  This would place Ennisnag amongst the oldest bridges in Ireland.

Dr. Demot O'Dwyer, Department of Civil, Structural and Environmental Engineering, Trinity College Dublin

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