Battle of Clontarf over new flood wall
Published 02/12/2015 | 02:30
From 1926 onwards, a special horse-drawn tram sat at Clontarf Tram depot. Dublin wit quickly saw it dubbed the 'submarine'.
Specially adapted, with motors raised to a point above even the highest flood levels, it was used to rescue other trams trapped in flood waters along the seafront.
The affluent northside suburb is no stranger to the perils posed by raging waters.
The first train station at Clontarf was constructed in the mid-1880s, with the journey into Dublin city facing frequent disturbance because of floods, with the sea and the River Tolka sweeping away embankments and bridges. Finally, in 1956, the station was shut and a new one constructed, away from the sea, at the current location on Clontarf Road.
The risk of an occasional deluge is something people have always been willing to live with in the seaside town, in exchange for spectacular, panoramic vistas.
But the numerous yellow one-tonne sandbags that have sat along the promenade for the last four years serve as a disturbing reminder that flooding is becoming an even more regular occurrence.
Further up along the coast, a precast concrete wall signifies not only a new approach to flood defences - but also a battle line drawn between Dublin City Council and much of the local community.
With Dublin Bay a recognised Unesco biosphere being within the limits of a capital city, residents ask whether any other type of measure could not have been considered.
The wall was erected as parts of the Sutton to Sandycove Cycleway and Footway Interims works. The council took the opportunity to 'future proof' the wall. But there have been objection, about its intrinsic ugliness (although the council has now agreed to clad it with stone) and because it blocks much-loved views, and also because of claims there has never been flooding at that particular point in Clontarf.
"I call it the Berlin Wall," says Joe Nolan of Dublin Baywatch, whose family have lived in Clontarf since 1771.
Though he readily acknowledges that Clontarf regularly floods, he says there has never been flooding at that place. "None whatsoever," he insists.
The row serves as a good microcosm or 'test case' of the dilemma that will continue to be faced by other communities at key points along our coastline, as the climate crisis steadily mounts.
How can adequate flood defences be constructed in a manner pleasing to residents, ecologists and those who love their surroundings?
Dublin City Council insists the Clontarf wall is needed to protect against steadily rising sea levels, saying: "The wall is required to protect against coastal flooding in this area. In a coastal area, deeper water level will generate higher waves. With large portions of Bull Island likely to be flooded in the future due to a rise in sea levels, this section of the coastline will be much more exposed to wave action and the wall height is the minimum recommended to combat this."
Some residents agree.
Clontarf landscape architect John Ward believes the wall is a necessary structure, adding: "I don't know what the alternative is."
Professionally, Mr Ward has been involved in building a number of flood relief schemes - including a project on the River Barrow, where they created a new public space with flood relief measures.
He claims such thorny issues are best handled by giving local communities something rather than making them think they are losing something.
The issue of drainage at the wall concerns him, however.
Work on the wall has ceased for the winter - after concerns were raised by Birdwatch Ireland that the operations were disturbing the arrival of migratory birds like the Brent Geese.
Physicist John Morrissey, who grew up in Clontarf, says the wall is already over a metre higher than it needs to be, given that water always follows the path of least resistance. "Bull Island is lower lying, therefore it will flood long before the sea level becomes an issue for the new wall on the other side," he said.
Local resident Deirdre Nichol of Clontarf Residents Association - who lives just feet away from the new wall - also says the road has never flooded at that point, adding: "They're fixing a problem that never existed."
Mark Adamson, assistant chief engineer with the OPW, says how Ireland will be affected by rising sea levels in the future is a "changing situation."
"The best scientists around the world are still clearly uncertain. We don't know how fast sea levels will continue to rise but we understand the rate of rise is accelerating."
But he emphasises the need for public consultation to solve potential divisiveness on projects.