100 years of Mourne Water celebrated(permalink)

Posted by Martin Johnston on Thursday, 22nd May 2003 Last updated Tuesday, 17th June 2003

A tribute to skill and dedication...

Mr John Kelly
Acting Chief Executive of Water Service

On Tuesday 20th May 2003 a bronze plaque was unveiled by the Water Service at the Silent Valley Reservoir to celebrate one hundred years of drinking water from the Mourne Mountains and to pay tribute to the skill and dedication of all those who were involved in the construction of the Mourne Water Scheme.

The plaque is mounted on a newly built dry stone wall with a red gate. The wall, which was built by local stonemasons, is in the style of the "Mourne Wall", the 22 mile long stretch of wall that encompasses the mountain catchment area originally bought by the old Belfast Water Commissioners. The red gate is significant because red gates were used to mark the entire route of the original Mourne conduit that carried the water through farmland on its way to Belfast.

Mr John Kelly, Acting Chief Executive of Water Service said: "This plaque is a tribute to all who have worked to build, maintain and improve a major part of Northern Irelandís water infrastructure since the beginning of the 20th century which includes some of Northern Irelandís greatest engineering achievements".

The centenary celebration also coincided with the completion of the second phase of the £65 million "Aquarius" project which involved the replacement of half of the original Mourne Conduit and the construction of two new pumping stations. The next stage will build the largest water treatment works in Northern Ireland. (to be finished in 2004)"

Local representatives, Water Service employees, retired staff of the old Belfast Water Commissioners, engineers, contractors past and present and workmen of all trades made up the 150 invited guests who attended the celebration which was sponsored by contracting partners of the Water Service.

Good forward thinking ensured that the event was held in a huge marquee, specially constructed for the day, which was very fortunate because the weather was atrocious for much of the day. One retired water service man, on greeting an old friend in a downpour, made the comment: "We were definitely right to put a reservoir here weren't we?". The assembled guests were able to watch the unveiling proceedings from the comfort of their seats via two large TV screens. There was also an excellent exhibition, detailing the various stages of the Mourne Scheme and many wonderful old photographs and artefacts were to be seen.

Old pals reunite at the
Ben Crom Dam which they built 50 years ago Bringing water to greater Belfast from the Mournes was an enormous scheme with major works going on for more than half a century just to establish the infrastructure. The magnitude of the work on the Silent Valley Reservoir is demonstrated by the fact that at one stage over 2,000 men were based at the work camp, in what is now the visitors' centre. The work camp had its own police station, hospital and even a cinema.

In addition, railways had to be built to bring supplies from Annalong harbour into the Silent Valley, Entire communities of workers descended upon what was once called "Happy Valley". Stonemasons, carpenters, railwaymen, concrete-gangs, crane & derrick drivers, scaffolders, engineers and many many others populated the mountainsides for years as a reservoir emerged and grew.

The centenary day also provided an opportunity for some of those who had worked on various parts of the Mourne Scheme to retrace old steps and perhaps quietly ponder anew the work of their own hands. This group of men took the minibus up to the Ben Crom Dam which they worked on 50 years before. Much reminiscing took place and almost immediately the 'craic' started and a sharp witty humour emerged, very possibly masking heartfelt nostalgia.

Since the opening of the 'Mourne Conduit' 100 years ago, the Mourne Water Supply has served greater Belfast and much of County Down. The subsequent development of the supply included the construction of the Silent Valley Dam in the 1923 to 1933 period, the Slieve Binnian Tunnel between 1947 and 1952 and the Ben Crom Dam, between 1954 and 1957.

On the right is a picture of the bronze plaque which was unveiled at the Silent Valley Visitors' Centre. It says:
"This gate has been erected to pay tribute to the men and women who were involved in the construction of the Mourne water supply system over the past 100 years."
20th May 2003


100 Years of History

The hundred year history of the Mournes Water Scheme and the importance of its effect upon the greater part of our industry and society cannot be overemphasised. To read a concise history of Water from the Mournes click here...

The Binnian Tunnel

There is also a large section of this website devoted to the story of the Binnian Tunnel, where you can read about the task and listen to those who carried it out. Click Here to see it.

The Senior management team of the Water Service (May 2003)
From left to right:
David Carson, Director of Finance
Robin Mussen, Director of Corporate Services
Robert Martin, Outgoing C.E.O.
John Kelly, acting C.E.O.
Billy Gowdy, acting Manager, E.Division
Harry Thompson, Technical Director
Trevor Haslett, Director of Development


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