I often wonder if people the world over are similar when it comes to appreciating their own locality. When we travel we tend to make it our business to visit cathedrals, historic houses, museums, art galleries and gardens. While many happily visit museums abroad they may never have been to the Waterford Museum of Treasures. Some boast of a visit to St Patrick’s Cathedral in Manhattan and yet have never crossed the door of Christchurch Cathedral in Waterford City or St Carthage’s in Lismore; a beautiful medieval cathedral, steeped in early Celtic history and Christianity. I suppose we just take what’s around us for granted and fail to appreciate it fully.
Recently I visited Curraghmore House and Gardens, situated in Portlaw and considered one of the finest estates and houses in Ireland. It is the home of Lord Waterford, the 8th Marquis of Waterford, and has been in his family for over 800 years. It opens to the public at certain times during the summer. Comprising acres of formal gardens, woodland and grazing fields, the house, which is the magnificent centre piece, has evolved architecturally over the centuries. With extensions added at different periods it makes a striking study in style and form.
The long tree lined courtyard to the front is entirely different from the French style garden at the back. Hidden in a shrubbery near the main house is a unique shell house, created by Catherine Countess of Tyrone in 1754. According to history Lady Catherine asked Captains of ships sailing to and from Waterford to collect shells for her from all over the world. They didn’t let her down and shells from all of the World’s oceans were returned to her, where she embedded them into the walls with her own hands. We’re told it took her 261 days to complete and it really is a visual treat and still in perfect repair. The gardens are lovely with their historic layouts still maintained to a very high standard. The French style garden with formal terraces, balustrades and lovely statuary overlooks a picturesque lake. It really is like something out of a wonderful, period film and you almost expect costumed characters with fancy wigs to stroll from behind a bush here and there. However, when you stand back to take it all in, you are suddenly aware of a very ugly addition. Spoiling this beautiful, well cared for historic scene are two very tall wind turbines that look so incongruous with the landscape that you almost think you are imagining it. Sadly it is not an illusion. These two towering, modern monstrosities are visible from almost anywhere on the estate, but loom particularly large over the house.
At first I wondered if they were part of the energy plan in Curraghmore, but their location seemed outrageous. While I am very aware of the need to find alternative energy sources and wind power, in and of itself is to be welcomed, surely we can’t just plant massive wind turbines anywhere we like. Would it be alright to erect two wind turbines behind Áras an Uachtaráin in the Phoenix Park or how would they look towering above the restored Farmleigh? Obviously they would look totally out of place and wrong, just as they do in Curraghmore. So whose decision was it to put them there?
Marquis objected in vain
I had a chat with Lord Waterford and was relieved to find that the turbines, with their huge blades, were nothing to do with Curraghmore Estate and he had objected vigourously but in vain to their erection. He is a fascinating character and within a few minutes of conversation I realised that he sees himself very much as a gentle custodian rather than a protective owner. As we talked I couldn’t help thinking that if we all thought of ourselves that way the landscape, and indeed society, might look quite different. Lord Waterford has lived and worked in Curraghmore for all of his working life, has undertaken much of the labour himself and has never been an absentee landlord. The working estate also provides local employment for the farming and landscaping activity involved and the emerging tourist attraction that it is. Lord Waterford sometimes turns tour guide during the summer, taking visitors through the more historically interesting rooms in the house. His first hand knowledge lends a wonderful interest and connection to the pieces and you are drawn in as he talks warmly and enthusiastically about the paintings and furnishings. Despite all of this he was unable to make the planning department in Waterford County Council see the folly of allowing the turbines to be placed where they were. As we walked and talked it became apparent that Lord Waterford is deeply saddened that after 800 years of careful family stewardship it was on his watch that this had to happen and he was unable to stop it. Of course the more frightening question it raises is will they allow more of these to be erected indiscriminately at other places of historic and natural interest?
There is a great deal going on in the world right now. The grip of recession is getting tighter and there is a palpable fear of what is to come in the form of cuts and job losses. It’s a time when we probably don’t consider wind turbines spoiling beautiful views as that important at all, but we should care and not take our eye off the ball now.
As a tourist destination Waterford tends to undervalue and take for granted its most important jewels. I have no doubt that the reason these turbines were given planning permission in the first place was that the planning department failed to recognise Curraghmore Estate as one of the most important working estates in the entire country and the historical value it has as a tourist asset as well. It also failed to see it as a potential and very lucrative period film location, a use that is totally out of the question now with wind turbines overlooking the gardens. Can you imagine a large satellite dish protruding from the front of Kilkenny Castle or what about a mobile phone mast protruding from the top of Bunratty Castle? Both suggestions are inconceivable, but if they were located in Waterford it might come to pass. This certainly wouldn’t have happened if Curraghmore Estate was in Kerry, Wicklow, Kildare or Dublin and not somewhere in the middle of the seemingly less important county of Waterford.
I appreciate the need for progress and that we must explore wind energy as a viable alternative. In the right setting wind turbines can actually look quite majestic, but in the wrong setting they really are an ugly blot on our beautiful, rich landscape. We should all be outraged by such awful planning decisions.