A review of the history of infrastructure development in Ireland reveals the lasting legacy left by civil engineers in the forms of bridges, roads and buildings that supported industrial development
Civil

During the past three centuries, civil engineers have played a central role in providing the infrastructure essential to supporting civilisation on the island of Ireland. In particular, they have been involved in the provision of transport facilities – including roads, inland navigation, railways, docks and harbours, and airports – and in the provision of water supplies, facilities for wastewater treatment and disposal, arterial drainage and power supplies for industrial and domestic purposes.

Apart from a relatively short period of intensive industrialisation in the northeast of the island, centred mainly around the linen and shipbuilding industries, Ireland, unlike Britain, was never heavily industrialised. Due to the effects of successive glacial periods in geological history, Ireland lacks the wealth of minerals found in Britain, in particular significant supplies of good quality coal.

As a consequence, Ireland generally stood still in terms of industrial development and the need for major civil engineering works was thus correspondingly less.

Ireland’s infrastructure has not only been subject to the same periods of unrest as in Britain but, in addition, suffered the destructive effects of the Elizabethan and Williamite wars. Each of these episodes was followed by a series of Plantations, with land being given to settlers from England and Scotland. Many of the settlers brought with them their own construction techniques and expertise. One result of this periodic warfare is that there are very few civil engineering works in Ireland dating from before about 1700.

For a period in the 18th century, Ireland had its own parliament based in Dublin. The Irish Parliament was very supportive of industries, such as linen, and of certain civil engineering works, especially canals. Following the Act of Union in 1800, power was transferred back to London. The Westminster Parliament is sometimes considered to have been less favourable to Ireland, but the establishment in 1832 of a Public Works Loan Board, able to give grants and/or loans, was to provide an important spur to the development of Ireland’s infrastructure. Additionally, govern­ment support of public works was often seen as a way of assisting the unemployed poor.

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LOCAL GOVERNMENT

Local government administration was slow in coming to rural Ireland. From 1710, Grand Juries were enabled to raise funds by presentment for a limited range of works – most notably, from the civil engineering point of view, for roads and bridges. Later, guarantees were also given to support the extension of the railway system.

Ardnacrusha, one of Ireland’s greatest engineering projects

Until the advent of public works loans, moneys for these works had to be raised from the larger landowners and progress was slow. Each Grand Jury had to decide its own policy in such matters, but pressure for road improvement also came from the Irish Post Office and most counties in Ireland undertook major road and bridge improvements in the 19th century.

County surveyorships were established in 1834 and, in 1899, the civil engineering functions of the Grand Juries passed to newly estab­lished county councils. These bodies continued after the establishment of the separate jurisdictions in 1921, although in 1974 the county councils in Northern Ireland were abolished, with the functions passing to government departments.

In Northern Ireland, the protection of buildings of historical and architectural importance by statu­tory listing is well established. Following the practice in Britain, listing under the planning legislation was introduced in 1969. In certain circum­stances, a partial grant was available to assist with maintenance and resto­ration. Under Northern Ireland legislation, the definition of ‘building’ includes any complete structure. Some 300 bridges of all types are listed, as well as other examples of civil engineering structures.

In the Republic of Ireland, the Architectural Heritage (National Inventory) and Historic Monuments (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 1999 formally established the National Inventory of Architectural Heritage (NIAH) and placed it on a statutory basis. The NIAH provides planning authorities with information, which assists them in assessing and protecting the architectural heritage. This, by definition, includes structures associated with inland waterways and other civil engineering structures, especially bridges.

There have been a number of new planning acts in the Republic – the first in 2000, amended in 2002, the most recent being the Planning and Development (Strategic Infrastructure) Act 2006. The Planning and Development Act 2000 – Part IV Architectural Heritage deals with protected structures and architectural conservation areas (ACAs).

The then Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government (DoEHL) produced architectural heritage protection guidelines for structures of special interest and for the preservation of the character of ACAs. Under the Development Plans (Part II of the 2000 Act), each local authority is obliged to prepare a development plan indicating the objectives for its area, and this must include a Record of Protected Structures (RPS).

 CIVIL ENGINEERING HERITAGE

A feat of Irish engineering at Shannonbridge, Co Offaly

A new book has recently been published by The Collins Press in Cork, entitled Ireland’s Civil Engineering Heritage, is co-edited by Ronald Cox and Philip Donald. The book examines the contribution of the civil engineer to society over the past 200 years and analyses civil engineering’s impact on Ireland.

In a number of thematic chapters, the book deals with the heritage aspects of transportation infrastructure, such as roads, bridges, canals, inland navigations and railways. Other chapters discuss the civil engineering aspects of water supply, drainage and wastewater disposal, hydro-power and maritime facilities, such as docks and harbours.

The accompanying Gazetteer contains entries for sites and structures arranged geographically and grouped according to province (Leinster, Munster, Connaught, and Ulster), in addition to Dublin and Belfast.

There is a wide variety of civil engineering heritage to be seen in Ireland and it is hoped that this book will provide the information necessary to encourage readers to seek out and appreciate this legacy. Ireland’s Civil Engineering Heritage by Ronald Cox and Philip Donald is published by the Collins Press, price €19.99. It is available in all good bookshops and online.

Ronald Cox is a Research Associate in the Department of Civil, Structural & Environmental Engineering at Trinity College Dublin. Founder of the Centre for Civil Engineering Heritage, he is Chairman of the Engineers Ireland Heritage Society, and on the Board of the Irish Architectural Archive. Major publications include Ireland’s Bridges (2002) and Engineering Ireland (2006).

Philip Donald is a retired civil engineer whose career embraced the construction of major projects, including one in Argentina; and in Northern Ireland, the Foyle Bridge and the Belfast Cross Harbour Bridges. Publications include Mud on my Boots: The Memoirs of a Civil Engineer (2009).

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During the past three centuries, civil engineers have played a central role in providing the infrastructure essential to supporting civilisation on the island of Ireland. In particular, they have been involved in the provision of transport facilities – including roads, inland navigation, railways, docks and harbours, and airports –...