THE FIRST visible sections of a new €300 million marina and housing development for the east coast have started to appear above water at Greystones in Co Wicklow.
Work on replacing the town's crumbling Victorian harbour got underway earlier this year - after more than 100 years of lobbying - with major submarine engineering to lay foundations for the development's north and south sea walls.
To be included in the development are a 230 berth marina, commercial units, leisure facilities, premises for five local clubs, a new coastguard station and - somewhat controversially - 341, mainly apartment homes.
The scheme involves the removal of the former north wall and east pier which were built between 1885 and 1887, and the laying of some 4,000 new concrete blocks - each weighing 28 tonnes. It will also involve the removal of the "Kish" the existing circular end to the east pier which was originally built as a base for the Kish lighthouse, but having been damaged, was moved into position in Greystones as a harbour defence in the mid 1960s.
According to contractor Sispar - a consortium involving John Sisk and Company and Park Developments - the appearance of the new sea walls above water is a significant step. The walls, which will be extended at the rate of 10, 28 tonne slabs a day over the next 15 months, will provide shelter from the Irish sea - a less than hospitable place for a large scale construction project - particularly in an easterly gale.
But it is not just the winter that can throw up difficulties: this is a construction site through which children from the local sailing club regularly navigate their dingies along a marked channel. At the same time a convoy of lorries delivers massive boulders through the town, down to the harbour and along a temporary causeway to a new north wall.
The scale and challenges of the project give rise to wonder at how the Victorians managed to build a harbour at Greystones in the first place. But in fact the Victorian harbour started to decay within years of its completion and By 1895 the north wall was in decay.
The Irish Times records the chief secretary for Ireland Augustine Birrell arrived in 1910 to view the harbour "which was represented to him by the local authorities as being in such a condition of dilapidation that a grant of State money was urgently necessary. . .".
The State money failed to materialise however and 98 years later it is a wonder the harbour lasted as long as it did. The design of the east pier caused waves to bounce upwards with huge sprays making for dramatic scenes frequently enjoyed by customers of the Beach House pub and restaurant overlooking the harbour.
In contrast the new walls are designed to break and absorb the waves on an outside slope. The design involves an outer barricade of concrete blocks with holes in them, called "antifers".
Long-time campaigner for the new harbour and local Fine Gael councillor Derek Mitchell said he has seen antifers in operation at the Bangor Marina in Co Down, and remarked that "waves hit it and appear to vanish into it".
Towns people at least have the consolation that, unusually, the public amenity elements will be provided before the private housing.
In the meantime a project website www.greystonesharbour.ie has been set up and will provide regular updates and photographs as the project progresses.
The Irish Times