Erosion risk fears at Valentia Island cable link site

Coastal erosion fears on Valentia Island are putting, at risk, a joint Irish-Canadian bid for Unesco world heritage status for the historic sites of the first transatlantic cable link.

The Cable Field at Coarha Beg, on the cliff top at Foilhommerum Bay in Kerry, is the location from where an underwater cable was relayed to a Great Eastern Ship which brought it to Newfoundland in October 1866.

The original relay station, known on an old site map as ‘The Anglo American Cable House’ is the sister site of where the cable came ashore across the Atlantic at Hearts Content in Trinity Bay, Newfoundland.

Newfoundland’s Tourism and Heritage Minister, Christopher Mitchelmore, visited the sites at Valentia last October and held discussions with junior tourism minister Brendan Griffin and Moira Murrell, chief executive of Kerry County Council, which is promoting the Irish bid for protected status of the site.

The ruins of the Cable Field relay station at Coarha Beg consists of rubble stone and external walls. The station had acted as a conduit for four different telegraphic lines.

However, site owner Peter Browne from Castleisland claims the failure of the county council to address concerns over rapid erosion of the bay in front of the Cable Field could damage the Unesco bid in both countries.

He and his father, Junior Browne, have warned the erosion of the cliff face at Foilhommerum is worsening. Since 2015, they have been trying to highlight concerns over a “soft cliff”.

Demanding an immediate survey, Peter Browne said: “Although the cable relay building is set back into the field, there is now only between 15ft or 16ft between the cliff and the road.”

He also said that the council was seeking to add the site to a list of recorded protected structures (RPS) without consulting his family, particularly in the light of the damage that further erosion could do.

“Being on the RPS list places obligations on owners as regards maintenance and other factors,” Mr Browne said.

He is outlining his concerns to the council before the RPS list deadline of February 22.

In recommending the Cable Field as an RPS, the council states: “The role of this structure, in terms of the birth of globalisation and the phenomenal technical advances in communications with lasting worldwide consequences, is indisputable.”

The RPS proposal includes the Slate Yard, Farranreagh, at Knightstown on Valentia Island which contains the so-called First Message building.

Meanwhile, in a separate matter, two coastal sites in Kerry are being put forward for tender shortly by the county council for coastal erosion surveys and funding — Castlemaine Harbour and Tralee Bay.

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