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Binnian Tunnel - the Reunion Down Under

Wednesday, 28th August 2002 was a very special day for those few remaining Mourne men who worked on the Binnian Tunnel.

ML 1030

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Back to the Rockface - 50 years later

Wednesday, 28th August 2002 was a very special day for those few remaining Mourne men who worked on the Binnian Tunnel. As a result of your participation in this website, "Your Place & mine", in conjunction with the NI Water service, was able to reunite the men in the tunnel they built which was officially opened 50 years previously. The dozen or so workers once again walked in their tunnel and celebrated their huge achievement.

The reunited Tunnellers each received a plaque set in Mourne Granite, commemorating their achievement of fifty years ago.
The reunited Tunnellers each received a plaque set in Mourne Granite, commemorating their achievement of fifty years ago.
 Robert Stevenson - now living near Melbourne In Australia.
Robert shows off his plaque at home
in Cranbourne, Victoria.

Robert Stevenson show here on the left also worked on the Binnian Tunnel but had to leave Northern Ireland 3 weeks before the breakthrough as his "papers" had come through and he was on his way to Australia.

With the help of his former tunnellers the your place and mine team made contact. An ABC TV crew was despatched to his house on the suburbs of Melbourne to interview Robert about his days in the Mournes - you can see part of that interview in the BBC NI Newsline programme below.

It was a pity that Robert couldn`t team up with the rest of the tunnellers down at Dunnywater last August on the 50th anniversary of the opening of the tunnel he put much of his time and effort into, but his daughter Bernie tells me he is very proud of the Mourne Granite plaque which was sent out to him.

The story of the reunion was featured on BBC's TV News programme 'Newsline'. Two separate reports by Noreen Erskine were transmitted, one on the day and the other the day after .

Newsline Banner
Tunnellers reunited in the Binnian Tunnel 50 years on...
BBC Newsline report 28-08-02
Click image to watch
Newsline Banner
Tunneller discovered in Australia 50 years on...
BBC Newsline report 29-08-02
Click image to watch

News Online Banner 2002
The story also made worldwide news on the BBC Online News Service. Click here to see it.

It was with obvious pride and a sense of boyish adventure that the small contingent of 'Binnian Tunnellers' revelled at the thought of walking back down "their" tunnel once more.

As the coach picked the men up one by one, in and around the Annalong valley, the "craic" was still there as shouts of....
"ha'e ye got yer lunch boxes boys?" ...and " just wan more wee job, eh lads?" . rang out as they drove up to the Dunnywater entrance to the Tunnel.

A meeting out of the blue - or is it black?
A meeting out of the blue - or is it black?

In the years between 1947 and 1952 the fresh faced young men of Mourne and beyond, worked 12 hour shifts for around half a crown an hour - (12.5 pence in today's money) which was about threepence more than local quarrying work paid. Many men migrated from quarrying and stone work to tunnelling and a new and highly spirited historic workforce was thus born. Many of these strong men went on to work in the construction of tunnels and dams throughout the UK and Europe (including the building of the Ben Crom Dam in the Mournes - opened in 1957). Mourne men have always been synonymous with tough work and these men surely reinforced that fact.

The 20 foot drop down into the intake basin presented no difficulty to the men. Note that the tunnel has been run dry for the occasion.
The 20 ft drop presented no difficulty
Back then a gaping raw hole in the landscape was the last sight most the men saw of the Dunnywater end of the tunnel as they downed tools for the last time. As they arrived in August 2002, 50 years later, they were greeted by a melee of media and a concrete platform which drops some 20 feet vertically down into the entrance of the tunnel.

 

Some of the dozen or so tunnellers could barely wait to get back inside the tunnel. This involved getting from ground level to a concrete basin some 20 feet below. Now in their late sixties, seventies and forever young, the men made light work of the steep ladder down into the entrance of their nemesis. As a precautionary measure a mountainerring instructor was on hand equipped with ropes and harnesses should anyone have wanted them on the ladder but no-one felt the need. One tunneller said "Safety was never much of a big thing with us boys. When you worked 12 hours a day with Dynamite you got sort of confident. It's just the way us Mourne men are made.."

In fact the only injury (a pair of skinned elbows) was to a member of the BBC your place and mine team, obviously not made of the right stuff!

A Mountaineering Instructor was on hand with ropes and safety harnesses but non of the tunnellers felt the need for them.
Mountaineering Instructor
Martin McMullan
A very uninviting scene for most but it was home to some
A very uninviting scene for most
but it was home to some

The NI Water Service had done a splendid job of drying out the slippery surface leading down to the entrance and the tunnellers marched proudly into the familiar darkness once again. The media and non "dam busters" cowered at the side of the dimly lit tunnel as the old boys chatted excitedly as they ventured deeper.

The 6 inches of water underfoot and the heavy drips from the tunnel roof weren`t a consideration for pensioners Tom Newell, Thomas Rooney, Willie and Bobby Davey, William Doran and Sandy Heaney - they were too busy pointing and touching and letting Binnian back into their lives.

The Plaque presented to each of the tunnellers at the reunion

Once the tunnellers had given the press their stories and all had made a successful ascent back to the sunny top-side, a presentation of a Mourne granite plaque was made to each of the men by the Chief Executive of the Water Service Mr Robert Martin. The plaques bore the inscription - "50th Anniversary Binnian Tunnel 1952-2002 Men Against Mountain"

After a well deserved lunch back at the Silent Valley Visitors centre, the men were shown a new exhibit donated by the BBC "Your Place & mine" team, which gives an insight into the engineering task they achieved. Complete with original tunnel tools and an audio sequence, the permanent display will hopefully enlighten visitors from around the world of the daily grind needed to drive the two and a quarter miles of the Binnian Tunnel.

Click Here to move on to Page 2

See the other sections in this article:

Binnian Front Page | Intro & Background | The Tunnellers | The Engineers | Archive Photos | Then & Now | Contemporary Photos | Official Opening | The Reunion | Can you help?

Your Replies

Keith Patrick - Feb '08
Fantastic, what a sense of achievement these men must have had. As a construction professional I can only marvel at what the engineers and workmen did.


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