A new six-part RTÉ series called 'Building Ireland' will see expert presenters in engineering, architecture and geography – including chartered engineer Tim Joyce – explore some of the finest examples of Ireland’s building and engineering heritage
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From the architectural splendour of Dublin’s Banking Halls to the longest Victorian railway tunnel in the country just five miles outside Cork City, a new six-part RTÉ series will examine the fascinating stories of how we went about ‘building Ireland’.

Tim Joyce, a practising civil engineer who has long been closely involved with Engineers Ireland’s student maths tutorials, joins architect Orla Murphy and geographer Dr Susan Hegarty as part of Building Ireland‘s presenting team. As Joyce explains in the first programme, which will broadcast on 8 July and is entitled ‘The Cork to Bandon Railway‘ (RTÉ One at 7pm), Irish people helped build the finest buildings and infrastructure abroad, but we did it here too.

PROBLEMS, SOLUTIONS AND CONTROVERSIES

“When it came to building railways, Irish engineers and construction workers were up there with the best,” said Joyce. “The Cork-Bandon Railway was one of the most important lines in the country. It was an early initiative that stretched out into rural Ireland, and it was one of the most complex to build. It’s an amazing story – full of problems, ingenious solutions and controversy.”

This railway line, which is 150km long, has left us with dramatic remnants in the landscape and in the towns and villages of rural Cork. They are familiar landmarks we take for granted, but just how did they get there, who built them and why?

This railway had to cross rivers and valleys, it had to cut through hills and it needed embankments.  It required investors, clever engineering, good project management and good luck. Hundreds of men worked for years to make it happen.

Joyce gets unique access to the hidden and abandoned tunnel at Gogginshill, the longest railway tunnel in the country for over a hundred years at over 1.2km long. The building of this tunnel makes it an epic engineering project of the Victorian railway age, nestled in a hidden valley just off the main road into West Cork.

Chetwynd Viaduct

Joyce also details the controversy and difficulties in building one of the most elaborate railway viaducts ever attempted in the country, the Chetwynd Viaduct, which now dominates the N71 just five miles outside Cork city. It served the people of West Cork for over a hundred years and still stands the test of time to this day.

The coming of the railways changed Cork and changed Ireland. What used to take days now took hours and an era of modernity and technological development brought radical changes to town and country. Over a seven-year period in the middle of the 19th century, through the darkest days of the Famine, two of the biggest civil engineering projects in the country had been completed just three miles apart.

Building these engineering achievements in the middle of the Cork countryside in the 1840s and 1850s “was the equivalent of people going to the moon”, according to Dr Colin Rynne, an industrial archaeologist in University College Cork.

INDUSTRIAL MANUFACTURING

Architect Orla Murphy sets out to discover the world of work in the 19th century in a public park outside Cork city. This site was once an industrial concern of international importance. Its produce was used to wage wars and help build the railways. “But the workers here would have their clothes, shoes even under their collars searched,” said Murphy. “They were taking their life in their hands everyday. This is the story of the Royal Gunpowder Mills in Ballincollig.”

This site is among the best examples of industrial architecture in Ireland – on a par with the Harland and Wolf shipyard or the Guinness brewery.  Over its one-hundred-year history, the Gunpowder Mills at Ballincollig turned out over two million barrels of gunpowder. Local historian Jenny Webb reveals that how you were dressed was as important as the work you did.

“You had to wear special clothes with no turn ups or collars. You wore special overshoes and when you left, you had to bathe to make sure there was no powder on your body that you brought home. Even a bit of grit could actually rub against the powder and cause an explosion,” Webb explains.

Geographer Dr Susan Hegarty explores Cork city’s unique association with food produce. “This city had a world-famous reputation for beef and butter. The warrens of narrow side streets and laneways tell us a story of urban migration and agricultural produce right here in the Shambles of Shandon,” she said.

Cork possessed the largest Shambles – or open-air butcheries – In Ireland in the 18th and 19th centuries. The Geography of Shandon, with steep hills sloping down to the River Lee, meant that blood would be washed away, but there was another reason for Shandon’s link to agricultural produce as Peter Foynes, director of the Cork Butter Museum, explains.

Tim Joyce looks over the Limerick Port archives

“Food tended to be processed on this side of the island. That’s Shandon, basically. If you look at the maps of Cork in the 18th century, it was this side of the city where the huge growth occurs in the emergence of food and butter. In the 19th century, the butter market in Cork was the largest butter market in the world. At its peak, there were 50 different butter merchants around this area and you had 400,000 firkins of butter coming through.” One firkin equals just under 25.5kg.

Butter was exported all over the world, particularly to America and the West Indies but also, later, to Australia and India. In the early 19th century, Cork controlled 88% of Irish butter exports to America. Most butter was packed into firkins or casks, with the addition of a pickle to ensure its preservation. The content of the pickle was a closely guarded secret – Cork butter travelled well on long-distance voyages to hot climates. It was generally highly salted and this acted as an important preservative.

PROGRAMME BILLINGS FOR BUILDING IRELAND

• Programme One: RTÉ 1 on 8 July @ 7pm – ‘The Cork to Bandon Railway’

Tim Joyce investigates how you bore an 800-metre tunnel through Goggins Hill and build a viaduct across Laune valley at the dawn of Ireland’s railway age. Orla Murphy explores the relationship of gunpowder with tunnel construction and Susan Hegarty discovers the markets and industries on the north side of Cork city.

• Programme Two: RTÉ 1 on 15 July @ 7pm – ‘The Banking Halls of Dame Street’

Tim Joyce discovers how banking led to the innovative development of the docks. Orla Murphy explores the 19th century-banking halls of Dame Street and the impact of personalities and politics on the architecture of the booming finance houses. Susan Hegarty examines the role of bridges in planning the city.

• Programme Three: RTÉ 1 on 22 July @ 7pm – ‘The Great Port of Waterford’

Susan Hegarty re-discovers the mile-long quay wall and fascinating maritime history of Ireland’s oldest city that has trade links with every corner of the world. Tim Joyce discovers the shipbuilding history of Waterford and Orla Murphy explores the streets and building to uncover the history of the city and its people.

• Programme Four: RTÉ 1 on 29 July @ 7pm – St John’s Cathedral, Limerick

Orla Murphy investigates St John’s Cathedral and its gothic revival spire that dominates the skyline and represents the aspirations of 19th-century Limerick. Susan Hegarty discovers the world-famous qualities of the local blue limestone and Tim Joyce examines the city’s relationship with the Shannon.

• Programme Five: RTÉ 1 on 5 August @ 7pm – ‘The Boyne Viaduct’

Tim Joyce investigates the construction of the Boyne Viaduct at Drogheda and its reputation as one of Ireland’s greatest examples of Victorian industrial engineering. Orla Murphy discovers the design of a 21st-century bridge over the Boyne and Susan Hegarty explores 8,000 years of human settlement in the area.

• Programme Six: RTÉ 1 on 12 August @ 7pm – ‘The Textile Mills of Mayo’

Susan Hegarty explores the historical role of Mayo’s wool production in stimulating a textile industry that has been subject to success, failure and rejuvenation. Orla Murphy discovers how the textile industry impacted on town planning in Westport and Tim Joyce investigates developments in woollen mill technology.

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  From the architectural splendour of Dublin's Banking Halls to the longest Victorian railway tunnel in the country just five miles outside Cork City, a new six-part RTÉ series will examine the fascinating stories of how we went about ‘building Ireland’. Tim Joyce, a practising civil engineer who has long been...