Odd couple have become markers of our capital city

Four years after Poolbeg power station shut, the ESB is thinking of getting rid of the chimneys

Twin peaks: Poolbeg, photographed from the air. Photograph: Frank Miller/The Irish Times

Twin peaks: Poolbeg, photographed from the air. Photograph: Frank Miller/The Irish Times

Sat, Jul 12, 2014, 12:07

It was bound to happen, sooner or later. Four years after the Poolbeg power station in Dublin Bay was closed, the ESB has said it will decide by the end of this year whether its pair of chimney stacks should be pulled down. After all, they now qualify as redundant “industrial infrastructure”.

I used to be in two minds about the fate of Poolbeg’s not-quite-twin twin, red-and-white striped stacks, until I spotted them while travelling home on the Jonathan Swift catamaran from Holyhead.

Way out in the the Irish Sea, they clearly marked Dublin’s location, distinguishing it from the general horizon.

Suddenly, I realised that this odd couple of chimneys were real landmarks, in the original meaning of the word.

Standing more than 200 metres high, they are the tallest structures in the city – easily eclipsing the Spire in O’Connell Street.

And not many realise that one is slightly thinner and taller than the other.

Artists have found them fascinating, mainly because they are vertical markers in an otherwise fairly flat urban landscape; I even have a watercolour of Poolbeg by Peter Pearson, who painted them several times from different angles.

Decay claim

Ian Rawnsley said: “I love these chimneys; featured in my work too. Leave well alone, ESB!”

Of course, I was well aware that they no longer functioned either to belch out dark grey smoke from the Poolbeg power station when it was oil-fired or white clouds of water vapour after it was converted to run on natural gas.

So the question about their future, once the power station closed, would inevitably arise.

What brought it to a head was a letter to ESB chief executive Pat O’Doherty from then transport and tourism minister Leo Varadkar – now finding his feet in the horrors of Hawkins House, headquarters of the Department of Health – expressing concern that these “iconic symbols of our city” were in decay.

He suggested that money used for upgrading the two stacks “would be well spent, both for Dubliner and visitor alike” – implicitly proposing that the ESB itself should find money from its own balance-sheet to carry out the necessary works to secure them. Certainly, he didn’t offer State funding for this purpose.

Mr O’Doherty replied that carrying out the works needed to stabilise the soaring stacks may not be the best use of resources and said the ESB would decide by the end of this year whether to knock them down – as it has already done with the equally “iconic” cooling towers of peat-fired power stations in the midlands.

The ESB chief executive also noted that there were divided views on the merits of Poolbeg’s chimneys: “Some view their 40-year presence on the Dublin skyline as iconic; others as a blight on the landscape.”

And indeed, this division of opinion was reflected on Twitter, but with many more in favour of keeping them.

‘Praised or razed’

In response to a tease from The Irish Times about whether they should be “praised or razed”, local Sinn Féin TD Chris Andrews (formerly of Fianna Fáil), openly declared that he was “in the praise camp” and urged his followers to “retweet if you agree”.

Many of them did, horrified that the towers might be lost.

Labour councillor Dermot Lacey, who also represents the Sandymount area, has now tabled an emergency motion for Dublin City Council’s South East Area Committee, calling for Dublin’s (nearly) twin towers to be added to the list of protected structures because of their “iconic status” and industrial heritage value.

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