All At Sea

Arklow, Co Wicklow, had a ‘first’ for Ireland: the first offshore wind-farm installation in the country, and the first in the world to employ wind turbines rated over 3 MW. Phase 1 of the project, commissioned in June 2004, consists of seven GE 3.6-megawatt generators. The total output of 25.2MW seemed good at the time but the improvements in technology since it was constructed are considerable. A second phase, currently being planned, aims to achieve an export capacity of up to 800MW.

Going back in time a bit, we can see that Ireland has always been at the forefront of wind technology. Above is a still from an RTE news piece on 23 October 1987. This reports on the installation of two state-of-the-art (then) wind powered generators on Cape Clear Island, in West Cork.

. . . The new technology was funded largely by the Germans and came in at a cost of around £500,000. The two wind-powered generators stand fifty feet above the top of the island and provide 30 kW each from the turning of their 12.5-meter blades. The National Board for Science and Technology claims that this new technology is the first of its type in the world as it integrates wind generation with diesel generators and battery storage creating a complete power supply . . .

RTÉ Archives

(Top) another still from the RTÉ news piece, and (above) aerial view of the site. The masts and turbines are still in place today, although they have been disused since the island was connected to the mainland for electricity supply via a subsea cable in 1996. (Below) we photographed the surviving turbines on the island in 2016.

Wind power goes back a very long way, of course. Here (above) are some very picturesque ancient examples from La Mancha, in Spain. Here’s another (below) – Pitstone Windmill in England: an interesting composition with newer technologies in the background.

Compare technologies old and new (below)!

In West Cork we are no strangers to the more recent developments in this expanding field, although at present all land based. The scale and form of the machinery is, of course, increasing apace. These examples are on the hills close by us:

But it’s the vast resource of our relatively benign coastal waters that offers the most for the country’s still young wind-power industry. There’s a further example being planned in County Wicklow: the Codling Bank Wind Park scheme. Currently in the consultation stages, it is hoped that construction will be completed in late 2028. 73 turbines are planned, to be sited on the shallow Codling Bank, some 20km out in the Irish Sea. This project – the largest so far in this country – has the potential to power 1.2 million homes using natural resources. It will also provide welcome employment for a large work force. And – in my eyes – an elegant contribution to the marine environment. Well done, Ireland!

Photomontage of the Codling Bank Wind Park seen from the shore at Greystones. Thank you to http://www.codlingwindpark.ie for the dynamic illustrations.

12 Arches of Ballydehob – Pics for Christmas Day!

Last week’s post The Twelve Arches of Ballydehob proved a most popular subject. Ballydehob’s railway viaduct – dating from the late nineteenth century can’t be ignored. It was fairly easy to put together another dozen pics of the structure, making a good Christmas Day theme to take your minds off turkey and stuffing!

As we have lived not too far from the viaduct over the last ten years, we have seen it – and photographed it – in many of its moods. And it’s a constant backdrop, of course, to life in our West Cork village. Below – here it is, supporting a very ancient tradition, on St Stephen’s Day (that’s me on the right!):

“No Wrens Were Harmed in the Making of this Post!” That was the title of my RWJ article on the Wren Day festivities in Ballydehob in 2019 – pre-Covid. It was great to be out and about in the village, echoing a custom which has been passed from generation to generation. When I grew up in England I joined in the Mummers’ tradition there: I followed it for much of a lifetime, and even now can recite the whole play without a prompt… “Here comes I, Bold Trim Tram: Left hand, press gang – press all you bold fellows to sea…”

Something else which could do with a revival is the Pedalo tradition. Pedalos were brought out of storage for an unique occasion in the summer – a project named Inbhear, an art installation by Muireann Levis. Here is own my post about it.

I was pleased to have this photo of the viaduct in my collection. If the scale looks a little wobbly it could be because this – and the train – are models sited at the West Cork Model Railway Village at Clonakilty. Below – a local company, in Ballydehob, has chosen to use the bridge in its title.

We showed you some of Brian Lalor’s work last week. Here’s another of his drawings. It is dated 1975: he tells me he has plenty more viaduct pics if I write another post in the future.

Atmospherics a-plenty: we have them all the time in Ballydehob. We do live in one of this world’s most inspiring places… Have a very good and atmospheric Christmas, everyone! And – safe journeying if you are out and about.

The Twelve Arches of Ballydehob

As we are approaching the traditional Twelve Days of Christmas I thought it fitting to give you Twelve views of Ballydehob’s iconic viaduct. Our West Cork village of Ballydehob has many claims to fame. It has been the centre of a great Irish art movement in the mid-twentieth century (have a look at this site). But earlier – between 1886 and 1947 – it was an important stop on the Schull & Skibbereen Tramway. This was a three-foot gauge railway line which must have been a great wonder to those who witnessed it in its heyday. There are fragments of it still to be seen, but its most monumental structure remains with us: the twelve-arched viaduct at Ballydehob.

Above: Brian Lalor was one of the creatives who settled in Ballydehob back in the artists’ heyday (he is still here today). The railway viaduct was a great source of visual inspiration to him and to his artist colleagues.

Here (above) is another Lalor work depicting the viaduct (many thanks, Brian). Behind the arches in this print you can see the former commercial buildings on the wharf, now converted to private use. At first glance you might think what a fine masonry structure this is. In fact, most of it is mass concrete. Look at the close-up view of the arches below: they are cast and faced in concrete, albeit the arch-stones are made to look like masonry. Only the facing infills and the parapets are actually of stone. This is quite an innovative construction for its time. Barring earthquake it’s certain to endure.

I was not surprised to find how often images of this engineering feat have inspired artists and others working in creative fields. Here’s a particularly fine example from the days of the artist settlement around the village in the mid-twentieth century (below): this one is a batik by Nora Golden.

I really like this moody photograph by Finola: it demonstrates the elemental nature which repetition and shadow gives to the scene. (Below): we have to see the way over the top, now a public footpath. The railway was a single track narrow-gauge at this point.

The ‘Tiny Ireland’ creator – Anke – has sketched this wonderful caricature of our wharf area, showing the 12-arched bridge in context. Finola has written about Anke. You can buy your own piece of Tiny Ireland through her website, here.

How better to look at the bridge in context than this view from Aerial Photographer Tom Vaughan. Thank you, Tom, for allowing us to use this magnificent image. Here’s the link to his own website. You will find excellent gifts for the connoisseur here. The last of our ‘Twelve Arches’ (for now) has to show us the bridge in its rightful use. I think this postcard – from the Lawrence Archive -dates from the early 1900s. I can’t resist quoting the caption for the rail buffs among you!

. . . A Schull-bound train has stopped especially for the photographer: this is Ballydehob viaduct looking north. The train comprises GABRIEL, bogie coaches Nos 5 and &, brake vans Nos 31, 32 and 38 . . .

The Schull & Skibbereen Railway – James I C Boyd – Oakwood Press 1999

The Politics of Peat

It’s a poignant juxtaposition, perhaps: the old turf road that leads into the peat cuttings at Letterlickey, here in West Cork, with – beyond – our newest energy technology lining the distant hills. On October 31st this year, the sale of turf, smoky coal, and wet wood in shops or online was banned in Ireland as part of the drive to improve our climate.

The move marks the loss of an ancient tradition in Ireland. ‘Turf’ – or peat – has been harvested from our bogs for countless generations. But it’s a resource that can’t be readily renewed. It’s also relatively inefficient: the gruelling labour required to cut, dry, store and transport turf on a domestic scale is hardly justified by the output of heat which it provides. However, such work has been deeply ingrained in family life for centuries by those who have always accessed the bogs. The word ‘bog’ derives from the Irish bógach, or “soft place,” and 17 percent of Ireland’s 27,000-square-mile national territory was originally covered in peatland. Commercial extraction, however, has significantly diminished this resource. What has been realised – in comparatively recent times – is that peatlands, including bogs, store twice as much carbon as all the world’s forests – if left intact.

The turf workings at Letterlickey: the significant and ancient bog there has been in use in very recent times – perhaps it still is active. The new ban doesn’t prevent families who have always had turf-cutting rights from continuing to gather it for their own use. But all commercial peat extraction has now ended. It’s a sobering thought that electricity was generated by peat-fired power stations in Ireland for many years: ‘peat power’ peaked in the 1960s, providing 40% of Ireland’s electricity. But burning peat for electricity emits more carbon dioxide than coal, and nearly twice as much as natural gas. In 2016, peat generated nearly 8% of Ireland’s electricity, but was responsible for 20% of that sector’s carbon emissions. Today all of the peat-fired powers stations here have been closed. The West Offaly power station at Shannonbridge (below) was the largest in Ireland: it shut down in December 2020.

We are witnessing the end of an era here in Ireland. At the same time we are embracing the search for new technologies: we are harnessing the wind – that will never stop blowing! PV cells are now commonplace, and we know that it’s likely we will mostly be driving electric cars as the decade advances. Other ways forward are still waiting in the wings. We were interested to see – when we were walking the Letterlickey turf road yesterday – that the trackway has been deliberately blocked by large boulders:

These blockages have been put in place since we last visited – and, probably, fairly recently. There could be local access issues: we don’t know. It could be to do with neighbours or trespassing, but it’s also possible that current political preoccupations are being practically addressed. It’s certainly interesting that significant moves are under way since the importance of peat bog preservation as carbon sinks has been fully understood. ‘Bringing home the turf’ will soon become a solely historical concept. The image below is by Tomás Ó Muircheartaigh:

“. . . Ireland has more than half the European Union’s remaining area of a type of peatland known as raised bog, one of the world’s rarest habitats and, scientists say, the most effective land form on earth for sequestering carbon . . .”

New York Times 04/10/2022

Small Roads

Road repairs in rural Ireland peak in the summer months. Favourable weather is responsible. Always be ready for holdups and diversions. ‘Boreens’ – narrow roads in country areas – are often unable to take the machines required to cut edges, fill potholes and restore surfaces while letting traffic through at the same time. In the worst cases, alternative routes can add many kilometres to a journey. So, when setting out, always leave yourselves plenty of time.

Here’s our Yeti straddling the border between Cork and Kerry on the Priest’s Leap road. That’s one of our favourites: the scenery is outstanding, but there can be problems if you meet someone coming the other way. In fact, that difficulty is present on very many of our local byways: hone your reversing skills!

It’s not always other vehicles you have to watch out for . . .

A rural road can be a challenge: never be in a hurry. You just have to go with the flow, even if that means reversing for half a mile. In that situation, of course, the main difficulty is making the decision as to who will have to reverse: you, or the vehicle coming the other way. If that oncoming vehicle is a large tractor and trailer, you may not have much choice.

Yes, there are still a few roads around in very out-of-the-way places which are not surfaced as you might expect. They fit well into their rural surroundings!

Take care not to get lost . . . Some of these boreens are not even marked on the map!

Give a thought to those who built these byways: quite a lot of engineering has been involved in carving through rocks to create a more or less level route.

Some roads lead to a dead end. I prefer those that fly high – over the mountain passes; the scenery never disappoints.

. . . The Road goes ever on and on
Down from the door where it began.
Now far ahead the Road has gone,
And I must follow, if I can,
Pursuing it with eager feet,
Until it joins some larger way
Where many paths and errands meet.
And whither then? I cannot say . . .

from ‘the old Walking Song’ by J R R Tolkein

There’s always a reward to be had for travelling uphill: it’s the view from the top!

Art in the Bay

You’ll all know that Ballydehob is the true centre of art in West Cork. Our posts about the Ballydehob Arts Museum (BAM) set out the history of the community from the 1950s onwards. Artists settled in the environs – some camping out in the hills, and many of them remain connected with the area to this day. Local residents were at first amused – or bemused – by this ‘invasion’, but it soon became an accepted part of the character of the village.

Right at this moment, an innovative installation is in place on the water in Ballydehob, just above the 12 arch viaduct and by the road bridge that comes into the town from the east. This is where the two rivers meet, the Bawnknockane and Rathraune, giving the town its name: Béal Átha an Dá Chab, which literally means Mouth of the Two River Fords.

In summary, this art installation by Muireann Levis offers you a close experience of the water accompanied by a sensory soundtrack which is projected into the bay through a series of loudspeakers. The name of the project is Inbhear, which translates simply as Estuary. The way you experience the water is by climbing on board one of the ‘pedalo’ boats that were a common scene on the water here in Ballydehob back in the late 20th century. I remember seeing them on the estuary when I visited West Cork in that time, but they have not been in active use since then, so we were delighted to be among the first to experience their revival, a couple of days ago.

The pedalos have been kept safe and required only a little maintenance before coming back into service. Wouldn’t it be great to think that they might be brought out again on occasion? They are colourful and brimming with character. Have a look at these further examples from the historical archives of ‘pedal powered boats’; the first dates from 1930 in Stockholm, and the second is in Michigan, dated 1963.

Interestingly, the pedalos which we are seeing today were actually assembled in Ballydehob. They were made as part of a government employment scheme, and some were destined to be used in Barley Cove, with a small ‘fleet’ being set up in Ballydehob Bay. The latter deteriorated, but the Barley Cove boats have been stored well, and were recovered for this installation. So it’s a remote deja vu for these craft.

The meeting of the Bawnknockane and Rathraune rivers (above) creates an inner tidal pool – between the three-arched road bridge and the old railway viaduct, and this is where the installation has been set up.

. . . Working with field, hydro-phonic and electromagnetic recordings of the rivers and their many tributaries, Muireann invites us in to a relearning of her childhood environment, creating a piece that draws us closer to the everyday presence of water and elevates its endless subtleties . . . Inbhear, the Irish for “estuary”, finds meaning in its Old Irish roots where it translates to “a carrying in”. It offers a focal point for the carrying in and meeting of old and new identities, both social and environmental . . .

Inbhear event publicity

Finola shot these two videos while we were out on the water experiencing the event, and the soundtracks give an impression of what we could hear while we were afloat:

It may be too late for you to book this event: it’s only happening for a few days. Let’s hope that there’s a demand for a re-run in the near future: it’s such a celebration of so many aspects of Ballydehob, not least as a centre of pedalo boat production back in the day: who knew?

It’s very apt that I should be writing the post on this weekend, as we have just celebrated another Ballydehob event: the annual Cruinniú Bád (boat gathering) which happens at the quay around the highest tide of the summer:

With many thanks to Muireann Levis for inspiring the installation, and to Cormac Levis and William Swanton for information on the history of Ballydehob’s pedalo boats. We should also acknowledge the tireless endeavours of Eleanor Regan and the late Kevin Heaps who operated the pedalos getting on for forty years ago. William told me that Ballydehob Community Council has long been petitioning for the ‘Slob’ below the historic quay to be dredged to allow more boats to use that quay through the year. The sight of boats, small or large, on the water as visitors enter the village from the west would undoubtedly encourage enhanced footfall to the shops and hostelries of this remarkable community