DUBLIN BAY: A CONJECTURE Our Bay is Beautiful – Let’s keep it that way

By Timo

The Bay is the Womb in whose amniotic waters Dublin was conceived and born, from whose dust it rose like the Phoenix. And like that mythical bird from which its Park is named it needs to be reborn every one thousand years from the dust. However, if we continue to poison that dust (ie. mud) by discharging our ever increasing waste into its waters there will be no source for regeneration of the Bay or the twenty km of coastline bordering it.
Dublin is as much the ‘city by the bay’ for Leinster people, at least, as San Francisco is for Californians and it should be respected and preserved as a national treasure as is San Francisco Bay by all Americans from the President down. The expanse of sheltered seafront stretching thirty km from Howth Head to Dalkey has provided food, employment, commerce, shipping, fishing, aqua-culture, recreation, health, as well as being a playground for Irish people since the dawn of civilization. It has been prized and fought for by many tribes and nations who landed on the shores of Éire, such as theTuatha De Danann, Celts, Vikings, Danes, Normans, among others.
Until half a century ago its waters were the breadbasket of Dublin, particularly for the ordinary working class who enjoyed the world renowned Dublin Bay Oysters, Lobsters, Crabs, Cockles and Mussels as immortalised by Molloy Malone. Citizens could catch fish and swim in its waters without fear of being poisoned. It is paradoxical that while the land area has become much cleaner and healthier in the meantime, the water quality has deteriorated to such an extent that the oysters cannot tolerate it any more.
I would take the liberty, although I am no sewerage engineer, to postulate that the single greatest pollutant is the effluent entering the shallow Poolbeg water off the Irishtown treatment plant. Apparently, it was decided back in the 1960’s to focus all the metropolitan area waste from Howth to Dun Laoghaire to Tallaght into one small focal point (about 150m x 300m) at Irishtown. While the plant may kill all the E Coli and other bacteria, it does so at the expense of deoxidizing the sea water and promoting the growth of algae. It is like a cancer and will continue to spread to the whole foreshore as the quantity of waste increases.
It might be of interest to study how this came about and to ask why so many other cities, such as San Sabastian and even Venice are able to keep their waters purer than Dublin. Our history does not go back much more than 1,000 years, as the Romans declined to come to Éire thinking it too cold, calling it Hibernia; although they crossed the Alps and the Himalayas. Subsequently, we have no great roads or bridges or records from Roman times. It would appear that records of the first settlements on the Dubh Linn (Black Lake) only go back to the time when the Vikings invaded Ireland and set up settlements at ports along the coast. For their primary settlement on the East coast they picked the estuary of the Liffey, the Dodder and the Tolka rivers, which was then apparently a dark swampy sea marsh, too shallow for ships to sail up. But it did have a Wattle Ford crossing it, which may be the source of the name Baile Átha Cliath (town of the hurdled ford). They knew a good port and hinterland when they saw it.
It is reasonable to assume that those Danes, coming from a well developed land of almost a thousand islands, would have landed in the shallow water at Poolbeg beside what is now Irishtown and set up their first settlement, while they mapped, drained and built dikes along the river banks. Indeed those building works continued right down through the centuries even to the present day. Much of present day Dublin from Capel Street to Ailesbury Road, Clontarf to Blackrock, was built on land recovered from the sea, as attested to by the many ‘Strand Roads’ around.
After their defeat at Clontarf, the Danes stayed in Dublin and continued commerce and trade with overseas countries, England, Europe, the Mediterranean coast even as far as Muslim lands and the Middle East, from where the Irish got silk and spices and gold.
In 1169, Diarmaid Mac Murchadha sought the help of the King of England, who sent him a contingent of mercenaries. They landed at Waterford; but they quickly moved to Dublin causing the Danes to flee the city. Many years later, as the ‘Second City of the Empire’ its port was one of the most important in the United Kingdom. Work continued down the centuries to make it suitable for bigger ships. However, owing to it being shallow and silted up the ‘Bull Wall’ was built following a survey in 1801 by Captain Blythe (yes he of the Bounty fame) and finished by 1825; the wooden bridge was built in 1819 to facilitate its construction. While this kept the estuary of the Liffey deep for shipping it resulted in further silting of the Poolbeg and led to its disuse as a harbour except for coal barges from England.
Hence Irishtown became the centre first for the production of town gas and later electricity from coal. The ESB built a big generating station there in the 1960’s with its twin iconic chimneys, which have since been closed down. Coincidentally the City Council decided to place the treatment plant for the whole city of Dublin and divert all the city’s waste here too.
Consideration might be taken of how the treatment facilities could be diversified and the effluent removed from the shallow waters of the bay so that the waters might be brought back to life. Water is life and in this age of growing populations and diminishing resources, it is very unwise to be killing the greatest natural resource on the East coast of Éire, which has survived millennia and been the lifeblood of the city. The cost of relocating the facility or augmenting it would be considerably less than that of building the new terminal at the airport; it would also pay for itself by freeing the foreshore area for residential homes and hotels, such as the disused one at Poolbeg now.