Public Backs the Stacks

two towers pics

Why has the fate of an industrial set of chimney stacks in Poolbeg stirred up a public debate that borders on hysteria? What is it about these candy striped poles that has endeared them to not just Dubliners but anyone with a sense of Irishness?

Whatever the outcome will be, the plans from the ESB have exposed an inexplicable passion among Irish citizens that goes way beyond the future of a disused thermal plant and opens up serious questions about our attitude towards our national image on the world stage.

Who should have the final say on these matters and what motivation, economic or heritage, deserves priority?

Differing opinions have emerged, and it cannot be forgotten that the current fiasco began with a routine financial decision that was based on the unavoidable reality that the stacks are uneconomical to maintain.

According to the ESB, “The twin stacks have outlived their usefulness and require demolition on the grounds that their maintenance is a drain on the company’s finances.” Chairman of the Environment Group of Ringsend, Damien Cassidy says they have consistently asked the ESB to save the iconic structures.

“I have a pain in my face putting it to them, but I will do it again. We’ll do everything that we can to stop them from interfering with those chimneys. They’re part of the industrial heritage of Ringsend.”

The not-quite-identical twins belched their last puff of grey cloud (actually vapour) in 2010. The Pigeon House was previously a military base and began generating electricity in 1903. The Pigeon House remained on standby for a number of years after the Poolbeg plant took over.

Stretching over 200 metres tall, the first tower appeared in 1971 and was joined by his slightly taller, thinner brother in 1976. Their utilitarian roots gave them little protection during deliberation over land value of the decommissioned site. Time is running out as they stand precariously and for over four years now, functionless, at the very edge of the country.

In the battle of emotion versus logic the country is not going with its head as a poll conducted by NewsFour shows. Comments on NewsFour’s Facebook page reflect these figures.

Noeleen Turner: “Keep them! I worked in the ESB and my nieces and nephews called them Noeleen’s poles.”
Peter O Reilly: “Get rid.”
Christy McDonnell: “More important landmark than The Spire. MUST BE REPURPOSED!”

If there is a win for the protectors, there is the new dilemma of what next and what of the can of tangled worms that could open for all the invested parties? There has already been talk of a sky bridge revolving restaurant and an observation tower.

One such proposal on the table is that of architect Michael Ó’Mara. The bridge would house a café accessed by staircases up the chimneys, and the buildings below would be converted into a museum and cultural centre. A bungee-jumping platform from the centre of the sky bridge is also part of the plan that would include an outdoor exhibition space, athletics track and marina with a yacht club and nightclub.

Sculptor Patrick O’Reilly has reignited his proposal to illuminate the chimneys. “They have a magical effect being so close to the water. The lights would reflect not only in the water but in the sea fog.”

Dublin City Council agreed in July to add the redundant chimneys to the Record of Protected Structures (RPS). Councillor Mannix Flynn told NewsFour, “They are iconic structures on the Dublin skyline and should be maintained as part of our industrial heritage.”

Flynn was one of the majority from the South Dock area council meeting who initiated the procedure with the civic trust to have the structures preserved. “Most of the representatives are in favour of keeping the chimneys.”

The decision on the stacks is tied up with the overall plan for the area, the incinerator and waste water plant being the other matters on the table. While the decision on the incinerator has been made, the fate of the chimney stacks will hang in the balance until the end of the year.

The debate has stirred an undeniable passion among all Irish citizens, at home and abroad, who have spoken out on this issue with a zealousness that arguably outweighs the cause, particularly when juxtaposed with the problems facing our society today. Is that, perhaps, the very reason why the stacks are so important?

chimney poll

Left: A poll of NewsFour readers shows most in favour of keeping the chimneys.
Above: Before and after. This mockup shows how the landscape would look without the chimneys.
By Maria Shields O’Kelly