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The Bay

This is a Four Part Documentary series which I filmed on the what Dublin Bay Has to offer. The series introduces viewers to the rich diversity of activities and personalities around the bay, while also touching on the serious environmental and political issues facing it

The Bay: Episode 1

May 4th, 2005, 7:30 PM, RTÉ One

Fish and Ships

Episode One takes viewers on a trip from the Forty-Foot bathing point in Sandycove, through the fishing community in Bullock Harbour, and on to Dun Laoghaire. Fishermen and sailors, lifeboat crew and historians populate this first programme, explaining why the bay was once one of the most dangerous in the western world, and why it has now become a vast playground.

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Episode one opens with a swim at the famous Forty-Foot bathing point in Sandycove, on the city's southern shores. James Joyce set the opening scenes of Ulysses here and hundreds of ordinary Dubliners still enjoy the experience of jumping into the bracing sea here every day. As long-time swimmer Martin Miller puts it, "the guys down here don't need Viagra".

And swimming isn't the only tradition to have survived on the bay - there is still a small fleet of fishing boats taking a living from it. Just a short distance from the Forty-Foot, at the small harbour of Bullock, lobster and crab are landed each morning - and early morning visitors are very welcome to make an offer for the catch. Fish life in the bay has improved dramatically since the opening of the new sewage treatment plant at Ringsend, and Bullock is now a popular venue for visiting anglers to rent boats.

But if Dublin Bay is now yielding up such richness, one question remains. During the bad old days of Dublin Bay, did the prawns really still survive? More to the point, perhaps, do today's Dublin Bay Prawns really come from Dublin Bay? Derry Clarke, chef/patron at top city restaurant L'Ecrivain provides the answer.

Episode one goes on to examine the development of Dun Laoghaire harbour, and its place in Irish life. It hosts the largest yacht fleet in the country, and it's the breeding ground for many of Ireland's international sailors. But time was when sailors sought to avoid the bay altogether, because it was known as one of the most dangerous places in the western world. Thousands died as ships were cast up on its shores, but it was as a result of one storm in 1807, in which over 400 people died, that Dun Laoghaire was developed as an asylum harbour. It offered protection to ships caught in storms in the bay, and helped to maintain Dublin's place as an international trading port.

It was from Dun Laoghaire that the mailboat, the Leinster, set out in October 1918, and the vessel had barely cleared the bay when it was struck by a torpedo from a German U-boat. These were the closing days of the First World War, and the Irish sea was a rich hunting ground for the German submarine fleet. The Leinster put out a distress call, but sank quickly. Out of its 780 passengers and crew, over 530 perished. It was the greatest loss of life ever on the Irish sea, and the wreck of the Leinster, which lies on the sea bed just beyond the Kish lighthouse, serves as a reminder of how close war came to Ireland's shores.


The Bay: Episode 2

May 11th, 2005, 7:30 PM, RTÉ One

Holding Back the Tide

Episode Two tracks recent efforts to improve water quality in Dublin Bay, examining the contribution of the new waste treatment works in Ringsend and the impact it has had on ordinary Dubliners as they swim and dive in the Bay. The programme also looks at the development of the south and north walls, and "the greatest accident that ever happened in Dublin" - the Bull Island.

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Dublin owes a lot to the bay, but Dubliners have returned much more than the favour. As the population of Dublin doubled over the last 40 years, the dumping of raw sewage into the bay threatened to overwhelm it. In effect, Dublin Bay was drowning in filth.

There was a primary sewage treatment works in Ringsend, which catered for about two thirds of the greater Dublin area. It removed about 40% of the pollution from the waste water directed through the plant, but allowed the other 60% straight through the plant - and on into Dublin bay. The 40%, which was called sludge, was taken out in a sludge ship, the Sir Joseph Bazalgette, which sailed from Dublin port three times a week and dumped the sludge further out beyond the bay. So in effect up until a couple of years ago, all of the waste water from Dublin ended up either in Dublin bay or just beyond it in the Irish sea.

In 1999, Dublin stopped dumping waste on its doorstep. Dublin city council decided to build a single treatment works for the entire Dublin area, so as well as building a waste water treatment works at Ringsend, it also built a pumping station in Sutton, which now pumps all of the waste water from the north Dublin area, and a massive submarine pipeline, 11.5kms long, connecting Sutton to the plant at Ringsend.

The Ringsend works is a tertiary treatment centre, ensuring that all water is filtered, aerated and exposed to UV light before entering the bay. Instead of dumping sludge at sea, the plant is now producing a granular fertilizer. The main effect of all of this is that Dublin Bay is clean for the first time in a couple of hundred years, and as project engineer Battie White puts it, "it means that the people of Dublin can use the bay in full confidence that they're dealing with clean water". Not all Dubliners are delighted with the results, however. Continuing problems with smells from the new treatment plant have left local residents holding their noses.

If you could create Dublin Bay all over again, you wouldn't make it like this. For the entrance to a busy port, it's far too shallow. Big ships need deep water, and Dublin has always had precious little of it.

So the city set out to adapt the bay to its own ends. Almost three centuries ago, the project to control the bay's shifting sands began - and the results have marked it ever since.

Just beyond this the Ringsend treatment plant is the Great South Wall, a spectacular structure stretching out into the bay but which goes almost unnoticed by the majority of the city's population.

The wall was an ambitious - and daring - project. From the harbour at Ringsend, a sea wall - the world's longest at the time - was built. The idea was to narrow the flow of the Liffey, thereby concentrating its power, and prevent sand from the south side beaches from clogging up the port shipping channel.

But impressive as it is, the great south wall didn't clear the sand from the mouth of the Liffey. Enter Captain William Bligh, famous for being thrown off his ship The HMS Bounty in the south Pacific. In 1800... 13 years after the mutiny... he was sent to Dublin to conduct the first detailed survey of the bay, and to suggest ways of improving it. Bligh believed that the south wall was only part of the solution.

He proposed building a second wall from the northern shore, in an effort to further concentrate the flow of the Liffey. Squeezing out between the two walls, the river would dig into the bed and cast the sand and mud out into the bay. The construction of the Bull Wall began in 1819 and was completed in five years.

The north bull wall, and the tidal scour that it produced, was a remarkable success. The force of the water pulled the mud out into the bay from the river's mouth, increasing the depth at low water from 6 to 16 feet. Finally, ships could get into the port at all stages of the tide.

But the North Bull Wall would do far more than open up the port. In the greatest accident that ever happened in Dublin, Bligh's wall created an island behind it - the Bull Island. The steady stream of mud and sand carried by the Liffey waters - which previously had moved out into the bay - was now deposited on the bay's northern shores, just behind the North Bull Wall. And so grew the Bull Island, which now measures 300 hectares and continues to grow.

The island is designated a UN biosphere reserve, and a steady stream of students are attracted to it each year to examine its plant life. The island so accidentally created by Captain Bligh is an internationally important bird habitat. The main attractions are the Brent Geese, which come in large numbers to spend winter here.

But it's not just the wildlife that fascinates on Bull Island. There are two 18-hole golf courses here too, along with a row of cottages that house Dublin's only islanders, and the beach where half of the city has learned to drive - Dollymount.

The Bay: Episode 3

May 18th, 2005, 7:30 PM, RTÉ One

Port of Call

Episode Three moves into the port and docklands, the beating heart not only of Dublin city, but also of the national economy. The volume of traffic passing through the port has trebled in recent years, forcing a fundamental reevaluation of how it operates, and the nature of its relationship with the city around it.

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Dublin city grew up around its trading port - in many ways, the port is responsible for the existence of the city. But the rest of Ireland relies heavily on this place too - much of the country's trade passes through here, increasing with each year.

The port is owned and managed by Dublin Port Company, a self-financing and profitable company that in turn is wholly owned by the state. In 1992, just over six million tonnes of goods passed through this port. Today, it handles 25 million.

Up to seven kilometers of trucks come through the port every morning and moves down the city quays. With the opening of the Dublin Port tunnel, however, much of this heavy traffic will be redirected away from the city centre, taking 9,000 trucks per day off the inner city streets and greatly stengthening the case for retaining the port on its current site. The tunnel will finally allow the docklands to breathe.

But the business at the port has left it with a problem - there just simply isn't enough room to handle the extra cargo into the future. As a result, Dublin Port has proposed to reclaim 52 acres from the inner bay - a proposal which has met with still opposition from residents groups.

Over 150 ships call to this port every week, and all traffic is controlled and monitored by Dublin port control. Much of this traffic is guided into the busy Dublin Port by its company pilot, and Episode Three brings viewers out on a port pilot boat to follow the work.

For ships approaching Dublin, the first sign that the Bay is within reach is the light from one of the three lighthouses that guard its entrance. The Bailey, Kish and Muglins lights are visible 12 miles out, announcing to all sailors that their journey is almost over.

If visiting sailors were to move a little further up the Liffey from the port, they would soon find themselves in one of the city's most exciting areas - the Docklands. After decades of neglect, the Docklands is now riding high, with a major new apartment development on the site of the old gasworks site and many thousands of new residents moving into the area.


The Bay: Episode 4

May 25th, 2005, 7:30 PM, RTÉ One

Drawn to the Water

Episode Four asks why the bay is important to Dubliners - what draws the city's inhabitants to the water's edge week after week, and why are they prepared to pay so much for a house overlooking it? The programme ends by questioning the lack of an overall management plan for a bay with national importance.

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Without Dublin bay, the city might never have been established. Certainly, life in the capital would be a lot poorer if it didn't open out onto the sea.

Dublin needs the bay. For trade... but also for peace of mind. Even in the bad old days, when pollution threatened to choke the life from its waters, it still attracted people. Maybe not to swim in it, but certainly to walk by it, or live over it.

Today, as lives become even busier, that attraction seems more powerful than ever. But what is it about the water that draws us out of the city? Irish Times columnist John Waters discusses the attraction of water, and in particular the sea.

Others draw inspiration from living close to the sea - composer John Walsh explains living by the bay has become such a vital part of his work. The sea, he explains, helps to unlock ideas, and still impresses by its changing moods.

But living the bay is not for everyone - chiefly because of today's booming property market. And if the leafy suburbs of Terenure or Howth are out of most people's price range, it doesn't get any more expensive than in the capital's waterfront homes. In short, you need serious money to buy a view of the bay, and you should expect to pay a 25% premium for it.

One of the key challenges facing the bay is the lack of access points to it. For Labour TD Eamon Gilmore, the disused baths at Sandycove represent a chance to preserve this public access to the bay's amenities for future generations, rather than allow them to be sold off for private development.

So who is in charge out there on the bay? The short answer is that no-one has overall charge for all the events taking place on its waters, and most commentators are agreed that it needs at least one manager to look after its needs.

But Dublin Bay continues to draw people in, and it continues to survive as a national asset. More fascinating, perhaps, is its ability to be all things to all people - as a short walk along its shoreline will demonstrate.