The Dodder and Poddle: mills, storms and the public water supply
14 June 2016
River Dodder catchment area
To be in with a chance of winning one of three copies of The Rivers Dodder and Poddle: Mills, Storms, Droughts and the Public Water Supply, simply e-mail email@example.com with the answer to the following question by 21 June: ‘In what year did Engineers Ireland begin representing the engineering profession in Ireland…was it 1835 or 1935?’ The three lucky winners will be drawn out on Wednesday 22 June and their prize will be sent directly from the publishers.
Over many years, the River Dodder, rich in history and archaeology, has been the engrossing subject of numerous books and papers. Most of what has been written focuses on particular aspects of the river, e.g. flora and fauna or folklore and legend. In contrast, a new book entitled The Rivers Dodder & Poddle: Mills, Storms, Droughts and the Public Water Supply concentrates on the engineering history and topography of the river, while not neglecting other relevant and social issues.
Although little is known of the remote history of the Dodder, which has its source at Kippure and reaches the sea at Ringsend, some sadly incomplete records survive of mills that worked in the 13th century. Considerably more is known about the industrial development of the river and its tributaries that began in the late-17th century. Until the late 1800s, water, where available, was the preferred power source for most mills and factories.
For thousands of years, corn has been grown as a food source. The early inhabitants of Europe and Asia ground the grain using rudimentary hand tools (known as quern stones), which separated the edible kernels from the chaff. In China, there are records showing horizontal waterwheels in use in 200 BC. These were applied to rotary millstones.
Mills on the Dodder and Poddle
In the second century AD, vertical undershot water mills were in use in Europe. The use of water mills spread through Europe in the fourth and fifth centuries and were used mainly in the grinding industry. Early Irish law dating from the seventh century noted “the rules for conducting water across neighbours’ land to power a mill”. All the old monasteries operated their own watermills for grinding corn. The working of a corn mill in Craanford, Co Wexford, is a good example of the hundreds of corn mills operating in rural Ireland until the coming of rural electricity.
On the banks of rivers and streams, water wheels were used to provide power for diverse industries. Every suitable watercourse was harnessed for its energy and William Hogg estimates that “there were more than 7,000 mills spread across Ireland when milling was in its heyday”.
Robert Mallet put forward a proposal in 1844 to construct two reservoirs on the Dodder to ensure a continuous supply of water to the mills on the Dodder and Poddle. This scheme was never constructed, as the mill owners would not contribute to its cost. At the time, Mallet identified 28 major mills on the Dodder and Poddle. In addition, four mills in Rathfarnham are noted.
The Owendoher River, which flows into the Dodder at Rathfarnham, supported 22 mills. The Slang River, flowing into the Dodder at Milltown, supported another six mills. The 60 mills are described in detail in the book. Other mills are mentioned where references were found in text and ancient maps.
The Dodder’s role in supplying water to Dublin in the 13th century and to Rathmines in 19th century is explained. The Poddle, also known as ‘the city watercourse’, is certainly the most notable of the watercourses associated with the Dodder River. It played a major role in the social and economic growth of the city, supplying the city of Dublin with water by proxy from 1244 until 1778.
The Bohernabreena Reservoirs, more properly known as the Glenasmole Reservoirs, were completed in 1886 and their unique role in water supply, millers’ compensation rights and flood control are a central feature of these pages. The upper reservoir originally supplied drinking water to Rathmines and the lower reservoir supplied water to the mill owners on the Dodder in times of low flow.
The history of the original design of the waterworks and the techniques used by the Victorian engineers in separating the coloured mountain-bog water, which flowed into the lower reservoir, from the clean drinking water, most of which came from lower down the valley, is described in detail.
The Dodder is known as a ‘flashy’ river and has a long history of flooding. Major rainstorms and floods from 1670 to the present day are recoded together with anecdotal stories associated with these floods. In the early 18th century, there were fords on the lower Dodder at Milltown, Donnybrook, Ballsbridge and Ringsend. These crossings were always hazardous and it was virtually impossible to negotiate when the river was in spate, resulting in many drowning tragedies.
Adjacent to where Milltown Bridge now crosses the Dodder, there was in the 18th century a ford that people used as a short cut to avoid going round by the somewhat inconvenient Packhorse Bridge. The Milltown crossing was notoriously deceptive and dangerous, and several fatalities occurred there. Major floods on the Poddle and Slang are recorded.
The 37 bridges crossing the Dodder are mentioned, together with a history of the more important bridges. At some stage, nearly all the ancient bridges were destroyed in violent floods. The numerous bridges linking Ringsend to Dublin up to 1816 only lasted a short time before collapsing. As a result, the only secure route between Ringsend and Dublin was by way of Ballsbridge.
In 1986, during Hurricane Charlie, the dams in Bohernabreena were within inches of being overtopped. As these dams are of the earthen embankment type, a breach of either would lead to major property damage and almost certain loss of life downstream and they thus posed a serious threat to the population resident in the lower reaches of the River Dodder in urban Dublin. To make sure this could not occur in the future, Dublin City Council constructed new spillways in Bohernabreena to cater for the Probable Maximum Flood from a one-in-10,000-year storm. The design and construction of these spillways is described in detail.
Many properties along the Dodder have been flooded in recent years. Dublin City Council, in partnership with Office of Public Works, has carried out a Catchment Flood Risk Assessment of the river. Following on from the study, plans have been prepared to provide flood alleviation along the river. Over the past ten years, flood alleviating works have been undertaken from Ringsend to Donnybrook. Work is continuing upstream. The planning process and works are mentioned in the book.
Recorded efforts to combat river pollution in the Dublin area go back at least as far as the 18th century. The assorted mills and other riparian industries along its banks poured significant quantities of waste into the Dodder. In this environmentally sensitive age, dumping in rivers by opportunistic and anti-social individuals – always a serious problem – has become more widely noticed than heretofore.
Hardware such as traffic cones and supermarket trolleys are relatively easy to retrieve, but litter, domestic refuse and substantial fly dumping are more difficult to remove and the results more costly and labour intensive to rectify. The Dodder Action Group is ever vigilant and each year conduct a cleanup of the river.
The Dodder Anglers Association, a very active organisation with 1,400 members, patrol the reservoirs and the river to stop illegal fishing. They also restock the river every year. The trout fish stock in the reservoirs and the river upstream, flowing into the reservoir, is the native Irish breed. It is one of a small number of locations in Europe where the trout have not cross-bred with farmed trout.
Michael Phillips, former president of Engineers Ireland and former Dublin City Council city engineer, notes in his foreword to the book: “We are very fortunate to have as two authors, Don McEntee and Michael Corcoran, who have spent a large part of their working life with the City Council and know the importance and relevance of such a river. Their association with the Council makes this book a personal journey and I am extremely grateful that they are sharing this story with us.
“While the story of the Dodder, like any other river, will continue to impact on the lives of people into the future this publication helps us to understand and appreciate the importance of the river in people’s lives who have gone before us and assist us in appreciating all the more the value of the river for future generations,” he added.
The Rivers Dodder & Poddle: Mills, Storms, Droughts and the Public Water Supply is published by Dublin City Council. It is the third title in the ‘Dublin City History Engineering Series’ (series editors: Mary Clark and Michael Phillips). Designed by Vemillion and distributed by Four Courts Press. Hardback: 978-1-907002-24-3 (RRP: €29.95). Paperback: 978-1-907002-27-4 (RRP: €19.95).
Michael Corcoran was a draughtsman with Dublin City Council’s drainage division for 24 years and is the author of several works including Our Good Health: a history of Dublin’s water and drainage (2005). Don McEntee was senior engineer in the design section of the engineering department of Dublin City Council.http://www.engineersjournal.ie/2016/06/14/the-dodder-and-poddle-mills-storms-and-the-public-water-supply/http://www.engineersjournal.ie/wp-content/uploads/2016/06/Montage-of-Dodder-Catchment-1024x719.jpghttp://www.engineersjournal.ie/wp-content/uploads/2016/06/Montage-of-Dodder-Catchment-300x300.jpgCivilDublin City Council,flooding,waste