Tuesday, 9 August 2011

Mizen Head Bridge Reopened

On Friday last I travelled to the most southern point in Ireland, to the Official Opening of the Mizen Head Bridge in West Cork by Minister for Transport Sport and Tourism Leo Varadkar TD.  The project was jointly funded by Failte Ireland, Cork County Council and the Commissioners of Irish Lights.

I had been in West Cork before but never south of Schull to Mizen Head, the home of the famous lighthouse and all kinds of electronic navigational aids. It’s a fascinating drive beyond Schull to Goleen, Crosshaven then on past what was a crowded golden beach at Barley Cove and onto Mizen Head Visitor Centre.

Mizen Head Bridge

I was happy to accept the very kind invitation of Cork County Council to attend the official opening of the Mizen Head Bridge. I was greeted by the County Mayor Councillor Tim Lombard, County Manager Martin Riordan and County Engineer Noel O'Keeffe. Noel had given an excellent interview on the engineering of the bridge on Morning Ireland earlier in the day in language that the public could readily understand. Also present to welcome the Minister was Murt Coleman MD of Carillion Irishenco the contractor who built the new bridge. Murt is Finance Committee Chairman at Engineers Ireland. Present also was Brendan Brice Acting Chairman of the Cork Region of Engineers Ireland standing in for Jim Robinson who was on leave.

P J Rudden President of Engineers Ireland greeting Leo Varadkar TD Minister for Transport and Tourism together with Noel O'Keeffe Cork County Engineer

Also highly involved in the project itself were Fiona Buckley Operations Manager of the Cork/Kerry Region of Failte Ireland, Eoghan Lehane Civil Engineering and Property Manager of the Commissioners of Irish Lights and Sue Hill Development Officer of Mizen Tourism Cooperative.

One of the reasons why I was delighted to visit the project is my stated intention of visiting Regional Infrastructural Projects and Research Institutes during my year as President. These visits are intended to assist in highlighting our principal theme of Job Creation and the importance of Regional Infrastructure towards Job Creation and Balanced Regional and Economic Recovery.

I now find as I did in Mizen that these visits by Engineers Ireland are highly welcomed by the development agencies as appreciative of their efforts and I have received many messages of support from members of our own Council, Executive and members generally. In terms of Infrastructure the trip to Mizen was the first national visit to Infrastructural Projects. On September 7th I hope to visit the NUIG Institutes and the Marine Institute in Galway together with Director General John Power.

Pictured at the bridge opening were Brendan Brice Acting Chairman Cork Region Engineers Ireland, Noel O'Keeffe Cork County Engineer, P J Rudden President of Engineers Ireland and Eoghan Lehane Engineering Manager Commissioners of Irish Lights

The public footfall and economic importance of the Mizen Head Bridge is unbelievable in terms of tourism value. I would not have thought it possible that a facility in so remote a location would be such a public and tourism magnet. However, when you visit Mizen you are left in no doubt as to the reason for this - the views from the new bridge and the newly constructed surrounding platforms are truly stunning. When I arrived there the large visitor car park was already full. The tourism 'economic case' for the new bridge was so strong that Failte Ireland contributed some 80% of the overall cost of the new bridge construction and viewing platforms which speaks for itself.

The new bridge designed by RPS and built by Carillion Irishenco at a cost approx €1.8million is a near replica of the original Victorian steel structure constructed in 1909. It spans 50m from the mainland to the neighbouring island and soars 45m above the swelling gorge of the Atlantic Ocean.

The project was completed to a high standard with no accidents on time and within budget over a 2 year period. As the County Engineer describes it so graphically it 'involved building a bridge within a bridge' - using the old bridge as part scaffolding for the new bridge and then when the new bridge was built the remaining parts of the old bridge were demolished in a logistical sequence. Tremendous skill was apparently shown by the contractor Carillion Irishenco who had to access the entire construction along a steep 1 metre path using a dumper the size of a ride-on lawn mower to transport materials in and out of the site to the nearest public road 300 metres away.

The project is already shorted listed for a British Institution of Structural Engineers heritage award. Interestingly too, both Cork Institute of Technology and UCD on behalf of the Irish Concrete Society are overseeing concrete technology research using permanently installed instrumentation within the bridge structure which will be of value to generations of structural engineers to come.

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