Masons Historical Society laments loss of limestone quay walls

Masons Historical Society laments loss of limestone quay walls
Proposed flood defences along Cork's quay walls. Fr Mathew Quay, Georges Quay

THE Cork Masons Historical Society has said the precious limestone used to build the city’s quays could be lost forever if Office of Public Works (OPW) plans for city flood defences go ahead.

Historical society member Jim Fahy is a lifelong mason whose family links to the trade go back several generations. He is also one of the last remaining speakers of the unique mason language developed in Cork, called ‘Bearlager na Saor’.

He said the rare Cork limestone used in the quay walls is no longer available from the quarry where it was sourced in Blackrock, as it has been repurposed as a public park and he believes the OPW plans to build concrete walls on top of the existing quays will ruin their heritage and aesthetic.

The OPW and Cork City Council are moving ahead with proposals for raised quay walls, which are supported by the Cork Business Association. The first phase of the walled scheme at Morrison’s Island is being carried out by City Council with the remaining phases set to get ministerial approval later this year.

However, campaign group Save Cork City says a report they commissioned by UK hydro engineering company HR Wallingford on a tidal barrier at Lough Mahon costing up to €170m would be a better solution.

The OPW say their consultants ARUP have valued a barrier at €1.6bn.

Cork Masons Historical Society is backing the Save Cork City tidal barrier idea and Mr Fahy has made a video with Framework Films to raise awareness.

“The quays are there for god knows how long and they haven’t fallen down and they haven’t been breached. They just need a bit of TLC to be reinvigorated. Every old building and structure needs that,” said Mr Fahy.

“This idea of taking off the top section and putting on a concrete top is wrong. Concrete is the ugliest material you can use anywhere. It gets grubby and it just doesn’t last. It draws water to the point where it has to leave it off. It’s a capillary attraction. It soaks so much then it won’t soak anymore and just leaves it off.

“The limestone that is on the quay walls cannot be got any more, so it makes [the walls] irreplaceable as items of national heritage.

“There are no quarries for Cork limestone left in the city. It’s a very particular type of limestone.

“We are lucky, we can walk around our city and see many diverse buildings within such a small space. Within minutes you go from Gothic to Romanesque to Modernist. We have everything and that’s what draws people here,” he added.

Mr Fahy has worked in the trade since the early ’70s. His great-great-great grandfather was a stonecutter from Kanturk and his great-great-grandfather was the foreman on the building of the city courthouse. His father and grandfather were both masons.

“The work that was put into building the quays deserves some respect and some credit. Once it is taken away, it will never again be seen,” he said.

“The people in Cork City need to realise what is going to be done to the quays by the OPW,” he added.

Mr Fahy said there are a number of slabs of the limestone peppered around the city that should be catalogued, treated and made safe for future use.

The video on the Cork masons by Framework Films can be viewed at https://tinyurl.com/y9sym7yv.

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