Cheekpoints most notable landmark

Growing up in the Mount Avenue in the 1970's the most notable and invasive feature on our young lives was neither the magnificent Barrow Railway viaduct, or the colliding waters of the three rivers as they met below our home.  That honour, if that phrase is appropriate at all, was given to the blue and grey superstructure of Great Island Power Station, which lay directly across from our bedroom windows on the Wexford shore, and the twin chimneys that raised to 450 feet.

Great Island was an oil fuelled power generation station, owned and operated by the ESB, construction of which commenced in the spring of 1965.   It was the first such station to be built outside or Dublin or Cork and at its peak would employ up to 200 people.  The station opened in 1967 with one generator and work commenced soon after on a second generator, which necessitated a second chimney.  This extension was completed and working by 1972. At its commercial height it would supply 20% of the nations power needs.  To the right of the site, are five 17,000 ton capacity tanks for the storage of oil.  To fill these tanks, a very fine jetty was installed to which tankers tied up and were unloaded by suction pumps and via pipework to the tanks.

The proposal when first mooted (around 1963) met with considerable disquiet in the community of Cheekpoint.  And a deputation of fishermen travelled to Dublin to discuss and negotiate the fishermen's concerns.  The deep water jetty which would be planted smack bang in the centre of some of the best salmon driftnetting waters was the principal concern and fishermen were anxious to communicate the loss that this would bring.

A good sense here of the scale of the jetty, and how it blocked the fishery
accessed from:http://homepage.eircom.net/~horeswoodns/power_station.htm

Fishermen got little footing in Dublin however.  The project was a major capital investment for the country and was seen as crucial for the developing industrial base which was a major plank of government policy.  The promise of jobs however, was considered to be very real, and assurances were given that Cheekpoint men would be in a favourable position to benefit.

In the end those jobs did materialise and it was one of the reasons for example that my father returned home from sea, and it was also a factor in the return of my mother from London.  They were married in the Christmas of 1964 and my father started on the building work on the station in 1965. 

The jobs, however, were fleeting.  Once the major construction work had ceased so did the work.  A bone of contention in the community, probably still felt to this day.

Photo circa 1969 with thanks to Brenda Grogan
In the 1970's the station was a real invasion into our lives.  The lights at night shore through all but the thickest of curtains, and was one of the reasons my father planted a line of trees between the house and the river.  There was an ever present humming noise, which we managed to get used to.  But there was an extremely loud release of steam occasionally and also ear splitting bangs from time to time.  These were bad enough during the day, but they also occurred at night/early morning and were the cause of many a night of lost sleep.  (My Uncle John, a river pilot, managed to get the number of the manager of the station at one point.  Any night the station started and woke his home, he'd ring up the manager.  "what can I do" asked the manager, to which John replied "well if you can't stop it, you may as well be awoken like everyone else in Cheekpoint" I thought being woken at night was bad enough, but it was only when I started drifting for salmon later in the 70's and we were right under the station that the noise was really brought home to me.

An advert from the time with an artists sketch of the work in progress
There were several local campaigns to highlight the noise, but in those days we had limited means of recording the racket.  Occasionally, a monitoring station was set up outside our home as a result of my father (amongst others) campaigning through Brian O'Shea TD.  Coincidentally however, the station lay dormant until the monitoring station had been moved.  It didn't seem to be as big an issue on the Wexford side.  However, noise travels more easily across water than land.
grass fire in front of the oil tanks late 1970's
Photo credit Aidan McAlpin
The chimneys could be seen from almost any part of the area, including town and did become an identifying landmark.  The red lights that shone constantly at night became a familiar feature from the river and shore, and were always intrigued to watch the work of steeplejacks scaling up the sides to replace bulbs or do other essential maintenance.   However imposing they looked from a distance to be standing under them was awe inspiring, and you felt like the whole structure was tumbling down upon you, when you looked up. I'd never make a steeplejack.

As early as 2000 there was speculation that the station would have to close as a result of deregulation in the power industry and concerns about the commercial viability, pollution and cost of oil, used in stations such as Great Island.

Appropriately named Grizzly at Great Island from News & Star dated Fri 11aug 1995.
In the news following the death of two tug boat men who were helping in berthing the tanker.
Mickey Aspel and Johnny Lacey were their names. RIP

I had a mixed reaction to news that it might close.  Along the way there were some concerns that an Incinerator could be located on the site.  The fact that it was such a fine site with deep water access made it a very important, strategic location.  The announcement of the sale of the station to a Spanish power generation company Endessa sent shivers through the village I think.  For the state to sell off such a site made little sense in the long term.  Construction of a new gas fired station, which commenced in 2012 and officially opened in June this year brought the possibility that the old station would finally be knocked along with the chimneys.  It's currently owned by Scottish company SSE Airtricity.  I wonder how many others will feature in the stations story in the coming years.

Several years back Julian Walton, at the launch of the Development Groups booklet on local history, stated that the chimneys were a local landmark, and would in time become as important as the church to the local built heritage.  Many scoffed at the notion.  However, after living under their shadow, smoke and warning beacons for most of my life, I think I would miss them not lighting the night sky. In the end, like so much in the Ireland of present, I guess it will all be reduced down to pounds, shilling and pence matters, rather than any thought for built heritage.  Mind you, a similar landmark in Dublin, the Poolbeg chimneys, have been retained because of their iconic status.

I publish a blog each Friday.  If you like this piece or have an interest in the local history or maritime heritage of Waterford harbour and environs you can email me at russianside@gmail.com to receive the blog every week.

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