Harry’s Dublin


From top: Vartry Reservoir and treatment plant, Roundwood, county Wicklow

Water for Dublin.

Harry writes:

Taking a walk beside Vartry reservoir on a beautiful summer day, I think our Japanese friends may be onto something when they speak of shinrin-yoku, bathing in the forest atmosphere, or taking in the forest through our senses. The reservoir and its woods have some lovely easy to walk trails and shinrin-yoku is simply yours to experience by being in nature, connecting through the senses of sight, hearing, taste, smell and touch.

Through the opening of our senses, shinrin-yoku bridges the gap between us and the natural world, and whether you believe in it or not, idling away a few hours in the woods is very calming for the spirit.

Woods surround the manmade lakes in Vartry, and they are a very scenic body of water, especially when you are looking at the volcano-like peak of the Sugarloaf (above), my favourite Wicklow Mountain.

The reservoir was the brainchild of Sir John Gray (1816-1875), more anon, with much of the ground and building works being carried out and completed by men using only picks, shovels, horses and carts. Development of the Vartry reservoir was greatly driven by Dublin’s cholera epidemic of 1832 where more than 5,200 people died.

Basic sanitation and clean water were scarce at that time, especially for the poor, and the overcrowded living conditions led to rapid spread of disease and infection. The death rate from cholera was extremely high at the time due to a lack of medical knowledge of the disease and how it spread. Some of the most well-known graveyards today have little-known corners that were used as cholera mass graves

As Dublin’s population expanded the need for additional fresh water supplies greatly increased. In October 1860, a Royal Commission, being mindful of previous cholera outbreaks urgently, recommended that a new fresh water supply should be provided from the Vartry River in Wicklow.

The project had an estimated cost of £500,000, around €71 million in today’s value. The canal companies provided the now inadequate water supply to Dublin and facing financial ruin, they did their utmost to prevent the Varty project and engaged in “many underhand ploys” to prevent it.

The Vartry scheme was completed due to the efforts of John Gray (above), a nationalist politician, he was an Irish physician, Surgeon, Journalist and Politician. Gray was born in Mount St Claremorris Co Mayo and educated at Trinity College and went on to Glasgow University in 1839. Growing up, he became interested in politics and the needs of communities.

Becoming proprietor of The Freemans Journal, he advocated repealing the Act of Union with England.Due to his political activity, he was imprisoned for 9 months with “The Great Emancipator”, Daniel O Connell. Gray helped to establish the Tenants League (1850) after the Famine.

Arguably his greatest public contribution was his work leading to the improvement of clean water in Dublin, resulting in disease free public sanitation thereby greatly reducing outbreaks of cholera and other diseases associated with contaminated water.

The new water supply also increased the water pressure to fight fires by the various Fire Brigades of the day. Gray employed all of his political skills to push the 1861 Dublin Corporation Waterworks Act through the Houses of Parliament allowing the Vartry scheme to proceed. To ensure the necessary land, he even purchased it using his own money and sold it on to the Corporation at cost price, to prevent profiting by speculators.

In November 1862 Work began on the Vartry scheme and it took six years to complete. A major earthen dam over 18 metres high was constructed and lined with stones to create a reservoir with a capacity of 11.3 billion litres and a maximum depth of 18.3 metres, it held 200 days’ supply of water, initially seven filter beds were constructed, three more were added in 1873. Another four were built in 1930, and two more in 2005. Work on a tunnel through Callow Hill began in 1863, and was completed in September 1866.

The tunnel was approx. 2 metres high, 1.5 metres wide and more than 4 kilometres long, large enough to contain a small car. It linked the Vartry reservoir to 40 kilometres of trunk water mains into a reservoir at Stillorgan then along to Dun Laoghaire and Dublin.

Today it currently supplies about 15 per cent of drinking water for the greater Dublin area. Some of the original iron work piping into Dublin can be seen beside Dublin’s Leeson Street bridge (above).

John Gray was deservedly knighted for his work on Vartry and rightfully credited with helping to reduce outbreaks of water borne diseases including the scourge of cholera.

So, today if you are strolling on O’Connell Street take a moment to glance at Sir John Gray’s statue, a man who did immense service for public health by providing fresh water and wonder what politician today would spend his own money in the interests of the public good, not too many I imagine.

Harry’s Dublin appears here every Friday.

All pics by Harry Warren.

Previously: Harry’s Dublin on Broadsheet

18 thoughts on “Harry’s Dublin

  1. Liam Deliverance

    Nice work Harry and a respectful tip of the hat to Sir John Gray, not many like him.

  2. ian-oG

    Thanks Harry, was not aware of any of the history surrounding this but its fascinating stuff as always.

    Have a great weekend!

  3. TMAN

    Brilliant again Harry. Thanks for sharing. My wife will be proud as punch when she hears Sir John Gray was a mayo man. As the chef mayor billboard said on the m4 “sure I’m a Mayo man myself”

  4. Gabby

    John Gray, a champion of the plain people of Ireland in the 19th century. Good to read about his good works, Harry.

  5. Slave to the Rhythm

    The single best thing about Broadsheet nowadays, along with nick’s vouchers thingies and the headlines.

  6. Jdawgs

    I’m actually sitting in the Wicklow Heather restaurant now after having a walk through the woods and by the reservoir and just checked broadsheet on my phone. It is so beautiful and the air around the reservoir was like soup. I was drinking it in. Lovely read.

  7. Harry

    Folks, thanks very much, your kind words are always very appreciated and I am genuinely thankful to Broadsheet for publishing the articles.

    I have really enjoyed writing these light history articles and creating the photos to illustrate them. I am now taking a break from Broadsheet and maybe sometime in the future I will be happy to write a few more if Broadsheet is ever willing to publish them again.

    With my background, family and friends I’m down with the cool kids and science.

    I fully support the health measures and the fight against Covid & the Corona Virus. In recent times I struggled seeing my writing appearing alongside the glut of Broadsheets dubious conspiracy theory articles deriding science and common sense. The anti-vaccination articles that could lead to some people endangering their friends and loved one’s health along with the vulnerable, (there may be a person with a health issue published on Broadsheet today that consideration should be given to). Some of these articles inadvertently provide publicity and website links to some very unsavoury far right sites and characters like the ones I chucked out of my gate during the last bye election, hence the reason for my break.

    So, I expect as science and history has previously shown, the silly conspiracy theories, the foolish people against vaccination, common sense and science… history has seen it all before and I recommend you read it about pandemics in the history books. In time this pandemic will fade into the background as a memory best forgotten and Broadsheet, I am sure will move onto something new.

    Enjoy the Summer :)

    1. ian-oG

      I’m am incredibly sorry to see you go Harry but I absolutely understand your reasons for doing so.

      Look after yourself and yours and know that many of us had our Fridays immeasurably brightened by not just your articles which were so interesting, thought provoking and well written but your own willingness to engage and answer questions and be a generally all round good bloke.

      The accompanying pictures were always great as well and really gave life to your posts.

      You will be very much missed.

    2. Jdawgs

      I fully agree with you Harry. Thanks for the stories. Light history and new facts and learning about beautiful things. Have fun and hopefully you will be inspired to bring us some more write ups in the future.

    3. Cú Chulainn

      Hi ya Harry, only getting to catch up on this now and upset to see you move on.. if only for a while. Your articles always brought a smile to my face and I discovered things about Dublin I never knew.. thanks so much and hopefully you’ll be back.. Cú

  8. Janet, dreams of an alternate universe

    you’ll be missed Harry, enjoy the summer, see you on the other side

  9. H

    Sorry to see you go, I agree with your sentiments, I tend to just scroll over those posts but I did contemplate taking a break too. I will miss your Friday posts.

  10. seanydelight

    One of the Healy-Rea lads gave me a free pint on my birthday, before I told them I’m not a constituent. Does that count?

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