Kieran’s Our City, Our Town Article
Cork Independent, 23 August 2012
Views from a Park
Building a people’s park is no easy task; the making of a new public façade for the city at the Kinsale Road Landfill is one full of questions and debates on what it should be physically and symbolically. The last time a major City Park opened was Fitzgerald’s Park in 1905. Of course there are green spaces scattered across the city but none with the same scale of development as the 160 acre site off Kinsale Road.
On next Saturday, 25 August at 11am, I conduct a walking tour across the site as part of Cork City Council’s Open Day. I have entitled it “Views from a Park” (carparking on site, meet at marquee). The focus perhaps is twofold; by using an elevated site in a city’s suburb, one can tell the story of a city, and also in this context comment on the site’s contentious local history. The physical views range from the city’s shapeful public architecture through Cork’s northern suburbs to the harbour area and Lee Valley to the lush rolling suburbs like Ballyphehane and Douglas.
The new park is an exciting initiative on the Council’s behalf but walking across the site, one can feel the tension in its sense of place, a place haunted and engineered by its past and teeming with ideas about its future. This is a place where the City’s environment has always been debated. A 1655 map of the city and its environs marks the site as Spittal Lands, a reference to the original local environment and the backing up of the Trabeg and Tramore rivers as they enter the Douglas channel. The backup created a marshland, where coarse wetland grasses grew. Such a landscape is also immortalised in the parish name of Ballyphehane or Baile an Feitheáin, Feitheáin, meaning swamp. In the late 1600s, Colonel William Piggott of Oliver Cromwell’s army was rewarded with land across Cork’s southern hinterland. The Pigotts came from Chetwynd in Shropshire and initially came to Ballyginnane beyond present day Togher. In time, they re-named this area Chetwynd. In 1748, the wetland began to be enclosed and be let to city merchants for the grazing of horses. In the late 1700s, this area would have witnessed a number of camp field for military training until a new barracks was built in 1814 on the city’s northside. Interestingly, c. 1784 Sir Henry Browne Hayes, an owner of a glass making and distilling businesses, built Vernon Mount, named after George Washington home and his family’s respect for the British Royal Navy Vice Admiral Edward Vernon.
Fast forward to the 1840s and plans were drawn up for a railway between Cork and Bandon. When it eventually opened to the public on 6 December 1851, part of its design encompassed a nine metres high embankment as it crossed the Tramore River’s floodplain. The track crossed the river initially on a wooden bridge, which in time was replaced by a stone culvert. On the southern approach to the city, it became necessary to cut deep through and into the limestone bedrock. The line also cut across three south-eastern approach roads which led into the city itself. Part of this line later became the South Link Road.
The wetlands began as one of the city’s dump or landfill of sorts way back in 1894. Here a facility was made where the sweepings of the city would be dropped daily and auctioned to the nearby market gardeners for soil enrichment on a Saturday morning. Protests began but to no avail. It remained as a contentious thorn in the debate about the city’s environment well into the twentieth century. Indeed, when the site of the 1932 Irish Industrial and Agricultural Fair was disbanded, the city got an official dump site off the Carrigrohane Straight Road. In time, this site in 1971 began to be closed off and once again the process of dumping was speeded up at the Kinsale Road site. Campaigning began once again, this time by the residents of new estates off South Douglas Road. An article in the Southern Star on 13 July 1974 talks about “ a subsidiary, a kind of Branch of the parent dump” being created. Of course, there were expansions of the dump in 1990. The newspaper columns, which can be tracked down in the City Library reveal that tensions have run strong for nearly forty years to have the dump closed. And so now it has happened.
However, one of the big questions, is how do you rebrand this place? Here is a place for many years provided a need for the city’s waste, a stenchful landscape of waste and broken objects complete with its wildlife. Probably in one hundred year’s time and more, this will be the city’s greatest archaeological sites with thousands of tons of rubbish, still decomposing. Walking across the site, there are the multiple views of the city that reveal its multifaceted story but beneath the feet is the story of Corkonians and pure living. Here is a place of contention but an enormous place of opportunity, a place for years that needed to be validated as part of the city and an enormous landscape of ideas to be harnessed.
655a. Kinsale Road Landfill, Cork, soil capped and awaiting to be a regional park (picture: Kieran McCarthy)