By the 1750s the small fishing village of Tramore began to expand into a popular sea-side spa and resort and over the next two decades the popularity of Tramore grew particularly with the gentry as a place to permanently live. In 1778, Bartholomew Rivers, merchant, ship owner and banker moved from Waterford city to Tramore and subsequently began investing in the town. Rivers built a thatched church, assembly rooms and a large hotel, identified today as the Grand Hotel. Rivers further developed Strand Street as an attractive terrace leading to miles of golden beach and sand dunes.
By the early 1900s thousands of visitors were attracted to Tramore for the beach and the amenities of the town where they availed of the healthful benefits of sea air and also the the spa facilities in the town which had more than one public baths. Hot and cold showers and reclining sea water baths were available from Morrissey’s and Chapman’s public baths. Doctors often prescribed a healthful trip to Tramore for the sea air and spa facilities. In 1914 a concrete promenade, which still stands today, was built to provide visitors and locals with a healthful walk beside the fresh sea air.
For the more lively visitors Tramore provided amusements. The amusement rides first visited Tramore in 1895 and returned in 1900. In the early years of the twentieth century Pipers Amusement visited Tramore most frequently. By the 1940s visitors to the town could enjoy the amusements and also the dancing and music of the Silver Slipper and the Atlantic Ballroom. Until 1960 visitors from Waterford could travel by train to the dances on a combined train and dance ticket and return worn out on the last train at 3 am. The Tramore to Waterford train station and railway line was opened in 1853 and the journey to Tramore from Waterford took 25 minutes. The importance of the W&T railway to Tramore town was not merely the supply of passengers to while away the summer days at the seaside, in fact, the railway can be accredited with being responsible for the growth in the number of residents in the town in the 106 years of its existence and also for promoting the town as the most popular tourist destination in Ireland.
There are many important historical markers which are unique to the townscape of Tramore and include; The Metal Man, the Doneraile Walk, the Coast Guard Station and indeed the two churches which are visible from the beach standing impressively overlooking the town with slender spires that accentuate the skyline. Holy Cross Church is located on Priest’s Road and is described as a monumental Gothic Revival Church. The church was built from 1856 to 1871 to the designs of James Joseph McCarthy and replaced an earlier church which was built before 1840. Christ Church the other noted ecclesiastical structure of Tramore is located on Church Road. The church was constructed from 1850 to 1855 to the design of Abraham Denny. Of special interest on the grounds of Christ Church is the memorial erected to commemorate those who lost their lives as a result of the Sea Horse tragedy in 1816.
As is often the case with many towns and cities throughout Ireland there are events that occur which define a place and remain fixed permanently associated with that location forever more. Such is the case with the tragedy of the Sea Horse. In January 1816, the Sea Horse began its voyage from Ramsgate to Cork. On board the Sea Horse were members of the 2/59th Regiment who had bravely fought in the Peninsular Wars. The Sea Horse was a part of a convoy of three ships which included the Boadicea and the Lord Melville. After three days of calm sailing, an unexpected storm occurred. Disaster struck when the only person who was familiar with the coastline, the first mate, fell from the rigging and died within hours. Unable to see the lighthouse at the Old Head of Kinsale, the Captain decided to turn and sail in the opposite direction towards Waterford. By early afternoon on the 30th January the Sea Horse struggled to round Brownstown Head and with anchors dragging, the vessel struck a sand bar in Tramore Bay. The ship broke apart and all were thrown into the sea. A total of 363 lives were lost including 33 women and 38 children. The Sea Horse as a commercial vessel had previously sailed to the South Seas and had been put at risk by the teredo sea worm. The hull of the ship was copper sheathed with iron nails and it was the combined effect of the copper and sea water corroded the nails and caused the hull to weaken. The remains of the soldiers, their wives and children were buried in three mass graves on the Back Strand in Tramore while others were buried in a mass grave at Drumcannon church.
It was the tragedy of the Sea Horse which led to the most famous landmark associated with Tramore being built which is the Metal Man who stands on a pillar 18.5 meters tall on the cliffs of Tramore. The Metal Man was built as a navigational marking to distinguish Tramore Bay from Waterford Harbour. The local legend which attracted tourists in great numbers in the nineteenth and twentieth century no longer applies. The legend promised marriage to ‘eligible maidens’ within a year for those who hopped around the base of the Metal Man’s tower. With the distance being 80 yards on bumpy ground, this feat alone ensured a spouse was guaranteed a good wife. Access to the Metal Man is restricted due to safety concerns but thankfully today women have no need to hop around any structure to seek matrimonial success.