Great Island Power station, a harbour landmark

If I had a penny for the number of people who asked me what was the factory across from Cheekpoint with the big chimneys I'd be wealthy. Of course those distinctive 450 foot chimneys, which belched black smoke into the atmosphere for just over three decades, were part of the oil burning power station at Great Island, Co. Wexford.  Many can see the beauty of them, but because we lived with it, I was never one of them.
The station from Cheekpoint quay 1970, second chimney commenced
with thanks to Brendan Grogan
Although it's now decommissioned, Great Island was an oil fueled power generation station that produced 20% of the nations power. It was 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 employed up to 200 people. The station opened in 1967 with one generator and work commenced soon after on a further generator, which necessitated a second chimney. This extension was completed and working by 1972. To the right of the site, were five 17,000 ton capacity tanks for the storage of oil, which over time were screened by trees. 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 construction proposal when first mooted (around 1963) met with considerable disquiet in the community of Cheekpoint but not on any environmental or aesthetic grounds from what I was ever told. I never heard of any complaints from elsewhere, for example the view that is the meeting of the three sister river network. I suppose in the economic realities of the time people were happy for any local investment, or any offer of jobs. Its also worth remembering that for many electricity was a new convenience into their daily lives, something to make life easier, something they welcomed.   
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
That was except for the Cheekpoint fishermen. A deputation traveled to Dublin to discuss the fishermen's concerns. That the deep water jetty which would be planted smack bang in the center of some of the best local salmon drift netting waters was the principal concern and fishermen were anxious to communicate the loss that this would bring. They got what any of us would have hoped they would, the promise of jobs in the construction phase, and maybe a job thereafter. Although the jobs did materialise they were fleeting. Once the major construction work had ceased so did the work. 

In the 1970's the station was a real invasion into our lives.  The lights at night shone 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 were the cause of many a night of lost sleep. 

An advert from the time with an artists sketch of the work in progress
Things were no better in the 1980's and perhaps they were worse, as I was then fishing and so felt the noise right beside the station and the difficulties of drifting close by the jetty's. There were several local campaigns to highlight the noise, but in those days we had limited means of recording the racket. Occasionally, a mobile monitoring station was set up outside our home as a result of my father (amongst others) campaigning through Brian O'Shea TD a local Labour deputy. Coincidentally however, any time the monitoring system was in place the station lay dormant.  It didn't seem to be as big an issue on the Wexford side.  Noise does travel more easily across water than land of course. One benefit was obvious to me of course.  As we drifted up along the station floods of people were out on sunny mornings on their breaks, sitting, chatting, enjoying the view and the fresh air.  Any job in the early 1980's downturn was welcome.
grass fire in front of the oil tanks late 1970's
Photo credit Aidan McAlpin
The 90's seemed to bring a small improvement, in that environmental laws were coming into force, and there seemed to be a greater appreciation for residents concerns. The noise was not as bad, it happened less at night and the chimneys were not constantly on the go. Mind you it also seemed that the station was winding down and not as busy. Perhaps the worst event in the stations history happened in that decade however, when a New Ross tug boat was overturned whilst helping to berth a massive oil tanker at the station jetty in 1995.  The tug crew were Johnny Lacey and Mickey Aspel, both highly experienced.  Their bodies were eventually retrieved.  
Appropriately named Grizzly at Great Island from News & Star dated Fri 11th Aug 1995.
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. The station closed when it was replaced by a gas fired station, which commenced in 2012 and officially opened in June 2015. However, the old station and chimneys remain, and there is often speculation as to their fate. Some say they are now an indelible feature of our harbour. Indeed a similar landmark in Dublin, the Poolbeg chimneys, have been retained because of their iconic status. I tend to believe that whatever the future of the chimneys, it won't be decided by aesthetics or nostalgia, but by commercial concerns.   

I accessed some of the information on this piece from http://homepage.eircom.net/~horeswoodns/power_station.htm

For the younger generations perspective, and more on the building here's a fine piece by Aoife Grogan http://architectureireland.ie/the-poolbeg-of-the-south-east-great-island-power-station

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.

My Facebook and Twitter pages are more contemporary and reflect not just heritage 
and history but the daily happenings in our beautiful harbour:  
F https://www.facebook.com/whtidesntales  T https://twitter.com/tidesntales

Comments