Eoghan Dalton Reports
The decision to demolish the Flour Mill on the North Quays means the “last remaining tangible link to a site which was part of the thriving maritime history of Waterford” will soon be no more, as one former worker at the site described it.
From Independent Councillor Cha O’Neill’s point of view, this is a necessary if regretful act so as to move the final pieces into place for the long awaited development of the North Quays.
“It’s time to bite the bullet,” he told a special Metropolitan Council meeting last week, after which Councillors voted unanimously to proceed with the demolition.
Waterford City & County Council (WCCC) received many submissions raising concerns and offering suggestions on how the building could be preserved and even find its place among the multi-million euro work due to take place on the site.
However, Council management formed their decision on the basis that to restore the structure to public use, it would require stripping away much of the architectural integrity of the building.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, many submissions came from historical and heritage organisations. Several noted how the site played host to significant parts of the city’s industrial past, including White’s Shipyard, grain stores, a water powered mill and a box factory.
The former worker at the R & H Hall quoted previously is Michael Maher, currently a member of Waterford Archaeological and Historical Society (WAHS).
While he explained in his submission that he was delighted to see the North Quays being developed, he feels that demolishing the building will be “contrary to all the aspirations/policies in the draft North Quays Master Plan,” where it indicated the Hennebique would be considered in all future plans.
The nine-storey flat-roof building, constructed in 1905, was innovatively designed, with it only the second such time these advanced techniques were used in Ireland at that time.
Mr Maher cited the example of Tullamore DEW in County Offaly, where the old Bond Store is now a “well kept and successful” visitor centre with a floor to ceiling height that is less than that of the Hennebique (2,000mm in Offaly compared to 2,650mm on the North Quays, but with the top floor of the Flour Mill having a 3,800mm height). Mr Maher attached a photo showing himself in the Bond Store which, as well as having a number of ‘Mind Your Head’ signs, is also stocked with goods and contains a seating area for a café.
He concluded his submission by pointing to the example of the Granary on the corner of Merchants Quay and Hanover Street: “The original entrances to the building from the Quay and Hanover Street were widened and raised to accommodate modern transport. With large timber sliding doors, RSJ heads and concrete surrounds, the entrances were functional but made the building look so ugly. [Renovations in 1998] included reserving the damage done to the entrances and restoring the tooled limestone door cases and restoring all the surrounding stonework.
“Since its restoration it has housed Waterford Museum of Treasures and Tourist Office. Today it is home to the School of Architecture of WIT and remains an important landmark in the centre of the city and is an attractive addition to the streetscape of Merchants Quay.
“Whilst the Hennebique Warehouse may not be worthy of veneration, it most definitely a representative symbol of the history and heritage of this site. Not only is it listed in the National Inventory of Architectural Heritage as a building of National Importance, it was part of the fabric of a once thriving site which gave employment to people from Ferrybank, the city and surrounding areas, in some cases, to two and sometimes three generations of the one family and it contributed to the social and economic life of the city for over 100 years. While it stands it will be a palpable link to the heritage of the site, the port and indeed, the city.”