When the 1st Duke of Ormond, Earl James Butler commenced the woollen industry in Carrick-on-Suir in the mid 17th Century it became obvious that the success of the venture with its ensuing rewards guaranteed his town of Carrick and its people prosperity hitherto unbeknown. The town would enjoy prominence comparable to its neighbours Clonmel and Waterford and this newly acquired commercial viability was not lost on one Capt. J.A. Archer. This gentleman would forward a plan to improve the river’s capability to handle ships of large tonnage by making it more navigable and creating a major avenue of trade bringing such ships laden with cargo, by-passing the port of Waterford and sailing to “His Grace’s Quay of Carrick”. Archer was a man of great vision and ambition, though not for himself as his letters of 1668 distinctly profess his loyalty to His Grace The Duke of Ormond. He foresaw sailing ships from Britain, France and other countries dropping anchor at the Suirside docks before progression of its cargo to other provincial destinations by horse drawn boats upstream and the roadway network created by the building of the Ormond Bridge.
In 1756, a sum of £1500 was sought from Parliament to build a towpath suitable for horsepower rather than manpower to assist in transporting goods upriver. In 1830, the quaysides were made to their present state by the creation of a new quay named after its financiers , the Sausse family after whom the berthing place would be referred to in the future as Sausse’s Quay.
In 1836, the Suir Navigation Company was founded replacing all other commercial traffic on the Suir. Fees were set to carry goods by tonnage and shares in the new company were £20 fully paid up. A contract was drawn up with one Edgar Clements to cut a channel through the rocks and build a new quay for £3250. This project was never completed although one section under the Ormond Castle known as the Navigation Cut was part of the unfinished work.
In 1877, Ernest Grubb, son of John Grubb who came to Carrick in 1843 to extend his coal, grain and goods business, founded the Suir Steam Navigation Company, thus improving the commercial usage of the river. Boats carried extensively to Waterford and returned with coal and other accessories of the age. The stores on the quayside were a hive of activity and employment. Although working relations were strained as employer and employee were constantly at loggerheads, mainly over wage restrictions.
The “Fr. Mathew” was possibly one of the most famous of the cargo boats of the time and is still referred to up to the present time. The advent of the steam train as a source of transporting goods did irreparable damage to the river trade. The new station at Carrick, with a track from Limerick to Waterford, fulfilled such an objective as was hitherto considered the preserve of the boats of the Suir. The Grubb family sold out their S.S.N. Company to Thomas Walsh of New Street in 1912 and in 1927 the Waterford section was sold to Edward Dowley & Sons.
The golden age of the river trade was over. The vast stores of Dowleys’, once filled to the rafters with grain, corn, fertilisers and other agricultural necessities and with the sounds of hard working labourers was now empty and silent.
The river Suir’s more recent association with such household boat names as “Knocknagow” I and II and the “Rocksand” would no longer ripple under the weight of the heavy burden. The O’Callaghan family would for some years more continue the arduous business of providing sand and gravel from the beds down river. Alas, the scenes, sounds, and chugging boats are gone but not forgotten. Hard laborious river work is replaced by our town’s spanking new marina as a source of recreational pleasure for the 21st Century and the towering stores are now state of the art apartment accommodation.