be­neath POULA­PHUCA

Bray People - - Report Council -

ANEW book by Chris Cor­lett gives a fas­ci­nat­ing in­sight into the 1939 Poula­phuca sur­vey of lands flooded by the Lif­fey Reser­voir Scheme. In West Wick­low the Poula­phuca Reser­voir has taken on a rep­u­ta­tion of al­most myth­i­cal pro­por­tions, with many tales of what lies be­neath the reser­voir con­tin­u­ously told and re­told.

Now ar­chae­ol­o­gist Chris Cor­lett has de­cided to get the the bot­tom of things by metic­u­lously re­search­ing the flood­ing of the King’s River Val­ley which was part of a mas­sive hy­dro­elec­tric and wa­ter sup­ply scheme.

The construction of the dam at Poula­phuca cre­ated a large reser­voir and flooded some 5,000 acres, dis­plac­ing 70 fam­i­lies from their homes and farms.

‘This was a com­plete and to­tal im­pact on a scale that has never since been seen in this coun­try,’ says Chris.

Construction work on the 100 foot high dam be­gan in Novem­ber of 1937.

‘What was once a beauty spot famed for its wa­ter­fall favoured by tourists for over a cen­tury, the gorge be­came a mas­sive construction site. Apart from the dam, there was also the construction of the nearby power sta­tion, a large wa­ter fil­tra­tion plant and three new bridges,’ adds Chris.

On March 3 1940 the sluice gate di­vert­ing the River Lif­fey around the com­pleted dam was closed. Soon wa­ter grad­u­ally built up and by Septem­ber of the same year the wa­ter lev­els had al­ready risen and cov­ered one-third of the reser­voir.

Many vis­i­tors to the area th­ese days could be for­given for be­liev­ing that this man made lake was al­ways present, not re­al­is­ing the his­toric land­scape and scenery now com­pletely cov­ered by wa­ter for nearly 70 years.

How­ever, a group of lo­cals led by Liam Price were de­ter­mined that their way of life wouldn’t be for­got­ten about. In 1939, months be­fore the area was to be flooded, teams of peo­ple from dif­fer­ent back­grounds agreed to record as much in­for­ma­tion as pos­si­ble to pass on to fu­ture gen­er­a­tions.

As Chris ex­plains, ‘The lives of th­ese peo­ple might only have been re­called in dreams and a hand­ful of fam­ily snaps, had it not been for the fore­sight of a small group of in­di­vid­u­als.’

Most of the field­work was car­ried out dur­ing the months of May, June and July. The main themes were pla­ce­names, ver­nac­u­lar ar­chi­tec­ture and folk­lore. Most of the sketches and pho­to­graphs re­lat­ing to the sur­vey were of house ex­te­ri­ors and in­te­ri­ors, as well as do­mes­tic and agri­cul­tural fur­nish­ings.

How­ever, un­til Chris de­cided to doc­u­ment the sur­vey, the re­sults had never been fully pub­lished. The vast ma­jor­ity of the re­search ma­te­rial was in the pos­ses­sion of Pro­fes­sor Fred Aalen, pre­sented to him by Liam Price shortly be­fore he died.

Chris tracked Pro­fes­sor Allen down but found there was other sur­vey re­sults rest­ing else­where.

‘In or­der to fi­nally pub­lish all the ma­te­rial col­lected dur­ing the Poula­phuca Sur­vey it was nec­es­sary to find and re­unite some ma­te­rial that had been scat­tered over the years. For ex­am­ple, pho­to­graphs taken by Liam Price’s sis­ter, Kath­leen Price, were held in the Pla­ce­names Branch of the Depart­ment of Com­mu­nity, Ru­ral and Gaeltacht Af­fairs and Price’s an­no­tated maps of the sur­vey ar­eas were held in the Depart­ment of Ge­og­ra­phy, UCD. Un­for­tu­nately, some aerial pho­to­graphs of the area taken by the Air Corps have not been re­lo­cated.’

The Royal Ir­ish Academy had un­der­taken a com­pre­hen­sive and sci­en­tific sur­vey of the Clare Is­land Sur­vey 30 years ear­lier, but is equally im­por­tant for dif­fer­ent rea­sons.

For a start the Poula­phuca Sur­vey was car­ried out by vol­un­teers and re­search time was lim­ited by the ac­tual sched­ule of works.

Chris feels, ‘the Poula­phuca Sur­vey could never hope to achieve the same sci­en­tific ob­jec­tives of ear­lier sur­veys. But it was the first at­tempt to give detailed at­ten­tion to folk­lore, pla­ce­names and ver­nac­u­lar ar­chi­tec­ture. While pla­ce­names were recorded as part of the Clare Is­land Sur­vey, the Poula­phuca Sur­vey went one step fur­ther and, ar­guably for the first time, also recorded the names of in­di­vid­ual fields.’

Chris doesn’t be­lieve it’s a co­in­ci­dence that such at­ten­tion was paid to folk­lore and ver­nac­u­lar ar­chi­tec­ture at a time when the re­cently es­tab­lished Ir­ish Folk­lore Com­mis­sion was ac­tively col­lect­ing ma­te­rial coun­try­wide, and the Na­tional Mu­seum of Ire­land was con­tin­u­ing to gather ar­ti­facts re­lated to Ir­ish folk life.

‘The Ir­ish State was still in its youth and fre­quently looked to its cul­tural tra­di­tion as a means of es­tab­lish­ing a sense of na­tion­hood. An­other means of es­tab­lish­ing na­tion­hood and in­de­pen­dence was the de­vel­op­ment of na­tional in­fras­truc- ture.

‘In this way the Poula­phuca Sur­vey and the Lif­fey Reser­voir Scheme achieved th­ese am­bi­tions in par­al­lel, though one was sac­ri­ficed for the other.’

The Poula­phuca Sur­vey was also one of the first times the cul­tural record­ing of an area af­fected by large-scale de­vel­op­ment was recorded, and the vol­un­teers de­served a great deal of credit in the eyes of Chris.

He con­cludes, ‘the level of record­ing pla­ce­names, folk­lore and ver­nac­u­lar ar­chi­tec­ture has only re­cently and grad­u­ally been adopted as a stan­dard form of mit­i­ga­tion in ad­vance of large-scale in­fras­truc­tural de­vel­op­ments. This is a tes­ti­mony to the fore­sight of all those in­volved in the Poula­phuca Sur­vey.’

A farm­house and out­build­ings be­fore the wa­ters flooded the val­ley. ABOVE: The lake at Poula­phuca to­day. INSET: A fire burns in the hearth in one of the now-sub­merged cot­tages.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Ireland

© PressReader. All rights reserved.