‘Once they’re up there’s no taking them down’

A view of the Comeragh mountains

WHEN you’re reared in an area, you take it for granted. It’s something that’s a given.

I’m from the Clonea-Rathgormack area in Co Waterford and my home place, the place I grew up, is probably about a mile from where the Eirgrid pylon route would cross the road between Carrick-on-Suir and Dungarvan.

In recent years we’ve had the Tour of Waterford every summer and the people you meet, taking part, talk about the Comeragh mountains and about how they’ve heard so much about the Comeraghs but never realised it’s such a beautiful area.

Anyone who travels on that road, between Carrick and Dungarvan, will know that the Comeragh mountains are spread out in front of you and, as you get closer, it’s on the right-hand side all the way down towards Dungarvan. It would be a real eyesore to have pylons crossing that road, just where you turn off for Rathgormack or Clonea.

I heard about the Eirgrid plan a number of months ago but it was really only about five or six weeks ago that I saw exactly where the pylons were planned for.

The local people, who I know well, were organising the first meetings to start objecting against the pylon plan and they approached me asking for support. I asked a few questions to find out more about it and said “yes”.

When you see what the pylons look like, and the height of them, and the area they would be going into, and how close they are together, you have to look at the possibility of putting them underground. I know they calculate it could be five times more expensive but I think that’s the way to go.

We have to keep putting them under pressure about this. I think the big advantage we have is that there are so many different areas around the country where people are just totally against this plan and they are all coming out in great numbers to object.

There’s been some talk about going up to Government Buildings for a rally which would bring all of the objecting groups together and hopefully I’ll be around for that.

Last week I was back home for a few days [Sean was conferred with an honorary doctorate at Dublin City University during his break] but I’m away again this week in Belgium, setting up the An Post Sean Kelly team for next year and it’s a very busy time.

I’m back home quite a lot but during the summer I’m often away and as it happens, over the last five or six weeks I’ve been away a lot because there’s a lot of work in getting the team set up for the next season. It was a big disappointment for me not to be there on the day for the protest walk at Mahon Falls last Saturday week. Hopefully I’ll be at the next event, on board with the Rathgormack and Clonea group.

They received great support and that seems to be the case right around the country, where all these groups are getting together and attracting huge turnout for their events.

Eventually somebody is going to suffer with this going through their area, but underground is the way to do it. Long-term, we would look back and think, why did we ever let this happen, if it did go ahead, and I think that would be horrific.

Because once they’re up, they’re up and there will be no taking them down.

* In an interview with Conor Kane

Case study

The Comeragh Mountains and their hinterland are dotted with walking clubs and climbing groups who have availed of the mountains’ amenity value for generations. Now members fear this amenity will be spoiled if Eirgrid’s proposal for the so-called “K9” corridor is put into practice and a daisy-chain of pylons erected.

Rathgormack Hillwalking Club chairman Michael O’Donoghue spoke passionately at the protest walk at Mahon Falls in favour of leaving the landscape as it is.

Living in Seskin, between Carrick-on-Suir and Rathgormack, he is close to the projected K9 route and is deeply concerned about the project. “I’m an ex-geography teacher and always loved the mountains,” he said.

“It’s the stand-out feature along the whole of the pylon route and obviously it’s Co Waterford’s premier natural feature, but also of national importance.”

Mr O’Donoghue points out that the Comeraghs contain the single- biggest concentration of coums — glacial hollows left by the Ice Age — in the country. Coumshingaun, described as the best example of a coum in Britain or Ireland, is less than 2km from the K9 corridor.

“In total there are 14 of them in the Comeraghs. This is a landscaped area that really needs protection and the thing about landscapes is that the visual is everything.”

As chair of the walking group, he began receiving notices from Eirgrid about 18 months ago, giving general information about an upcoming pylon plan but without specifics of the exact routes.

“It wasn’t until about six weeks ago, when they identified the possible corridors or routes, that everyone became galvanised about this. It was then that people realised it would affect the area.”

The cost of placing the new power network underground is variously reported as being between twice and five times the cost of a pylon grid but, according to Mr O’Donoghue, whatever that price is, it’s worth paying.

“They probably couldn’t put all sections underground but they could put certain sections in. If you think about the money that was wasted on banking bail-outs, vast amounts, and then these areas are going to be compromised for a relatively small amount of money. Nobody is against the new electricity network, but it shouldn’t be at a cost to the environment.”

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