Sunday 25 August 2019

Plan for iconic viaduct resurrected

Landmark structure abandoned more than 50 years ago set for a facelift

Bill Browne

An ambitious plan to give one of Fermoy's most recognised and iconic landmark structures a new lease of life has been resurrected by the Avondhu Blackwater Partnership.

Back in 2014, it was granted permission by Cork County Council to convert the abandoned Carrigabrick Viaduct into a pedestrian walkway and viewing platform. 

While the plan has yet to come to fruition, the partnership has given a clear signal that the project is still very much alive by applying for, and being granted, an extension of duration for the planning permission granted five years ago. 

Known locally as 'The Red Bridge', the protected structure was built in 1872 as part of the Fermoy to Lismore railway line. In 1966, the imposing viaduct, which spans the River Blackwater, was used as the backdrop to one of the most iconic aviation movie sequences ever captured on celluloid in the World-War-I-themed film 'The Blue Max'.

This after stunt pilot Derek Piggott flew a Fokker Dr I triplane under the bridge with only four feet of wing clearance on either side. The scene was the dramatic climax to the film, which saw two German WWI pilots (played by George Peppard and Jeremy Kemp) go head-to-head in a death-defying dual of nerves to see which one would emerge as master of the skies. 

Piggott flew the plane under the wide bridge span 15 times, and a staggering 17 times beneath the narrow span in order to capture the perfect sequence. 

However, the viaduct was left idle and rusting following the closure of the railway line in 1967. 

Since then the protected structure has been the subject of numerous proposals, none of which have ever come to fruition. The Avondhu Blackwater Partnership plan made provision for the removal of the concrete block wall to the western side of the viaduct; the repair and restoration of existing railings along its length; the installation of seating and entry gates; and new path surfacing. 

As restoration and excavation work at the ruined Carrigabrick Castle was found to be cost prohibitive, the planned new walkway would only be accessible from the Rathealy Road. 

In 2014, council planners granted permission for the project with ten conditions. These chiefly related to the preservation of existing items of archaeological importance; the interest of visual amenity; the protection of water quality along the River Blackwater; and the protection of local biodiversity. 

The council ruled the proposed development was considered to be "in accordance with the proper planning and sustainable development of the area" and that it would "not adversely impact on the character or appearance" of the viaduct. 

Planners also ruled it would "not unacceptably compromise the integrity of the Blackwater River Special Area of Conservation". 

At the time it was estimated the project would cost in the region of €250,000 and, once opened, the walkway would become a spur for the Avondhu Way, which is part of the pan-European E8 Long Distance Path that stretches from Romania to Cork.