Bygone age gives us modern industry

The Guinness brewery building in Dublin, a magnet for tourists.

THERE isn’t a parish in the country, urban or rural, without very visible reminders of how people earned their livelihoods, conducted their lives and transported themselves in the past.

We can see remains, often derelict, of our industrial past — railways, canals, mills, breweries, distilleries, telegraph stations, to mention a few examples. Sometimes, we can see the wheel turning full circle. Ireland, for instance, once boasted 180 breweries and we’re again witnessing a resurgence in craft beers being produced in new, small breweries.

Groups around the country are making preparations for National Heritage Week, August 22-30, with the Heritage Council urging people put on their creative caps and identify some aspect of Ireland’s industrial heritage to highlight the week. People in other EU countries will be doing likewise.

The story of our industrial past is a story of change, development and creativity and of the men and women who were a part of that story whether as mill, dock or railway workers. We’ve been bequeathed a rich heritage in the form of buildings, records and memories of people, a legacy that paved the way for how we live today.

In his meticulously-researched tome, Industrial Ireland 1750-1930 — an archaeology, Colin Rynne says upwards of 100,000 sites of interest survive, varying in size from farmers’ lime kilns to Ballincollig Gunpowder Mills, Co Cork, the largest industrial archaeological site in Ireland at 435 acres and the second biggest of its kind in Europe.

“Many of these sites are commonly found within incredibly rich and varied landscapes which, up to the advent of the Celtic Tiger economy, had survived almost without any human interference,’’ he says.

Chimneys stand out more than many other buildings and these tall, usually red-brick, structures which still dominate the landscape, were the most prominent feature of many 19th century industrial sites. The Cork Waterworks stack, built in 1865, is an example, and I’ve always admired the old mill in Macroom.

Around the country, closed rail lines are being developed as walkways/ cycleways, bringing back into use venerable old structures such as the Chetwynd viaduct, on the old West Cork line, and a viaduct near Kells on the old line along the Ring of Kerry.

One of the best examples we’ve seen in recent times is the Titanic project in the old Belfast shipyards which has become a major tourist attraction, not forgetting, of course, the Guinness brewery building in Dublin, also a magnet for tourists.

Literally, 101 event ideas for the heritage week are being offered.


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