Kilkenny Water Supply

A Public Water Supply For Kilkenny City

Patrick Neary

In the 1890s the sanitary condition of Kilkenny city painted a very poor picture. Water for every day use was sourced from wells or fountains. This supply often proved to be polluted after heavy rainfalls when surface water oozed into wells, the walls of which were badly constructed, poorly lined, and located close to graveyards. To put it mildly, Kilkenny was not the most healthy of towns, as Dr Stafford stated at a Sanitary Authority meeting in March 1893. He expressed concern at the possibility of a cholera epidemic and the urgent need for a safe water supply. Lanes were to be white-washed, house-to-house visitations were recommended.
Major O’Leary, a member of the Corporation who had frequently spoken of the need for a water supply, claimed he had the signatures of 200 ratepayers asking that immediate steps be taken for the benefit and good of the ordinary people. He said that some members of the Board had pumps and wells that contained the best of water, and had no regard for the thousands of poor people living in the lanes. At his own expense he had an engineer survey the Johnswell area, but the difficulty of finding suitable ground for a reservoir was a deterrent.
Muckalee was surveyed during the summer months, and an ample supply was available there. In April 1894, Major O’Leary proposed the scheme should go ahead and James Reade of John Street was appointed as engineer. He submitted plans recommending the river Douglas in the parish of Muckalee as the most reliable source of clean water with filter beds to be installed in Radestown. The proposal to commence the project was rescinded by the Corporation in 1896 and Mr Reade won a High Court action to recover his plans and papers, and was awarded £400.00.
A Local Government Board of Inquiry was highly critical of the Corporation who were found to be in default of providing a safe water supply and a proper sewage system. In the period 1898 to 1900, 176 cases of diphtheria, 21 of typhoid and 21 of enteric fever were reported, all pointed to pollution of the wells. Mention was also made of the 9 slaughter houses located in the city. The report went on to state Kilkenny has three problems: the graveyards, sewage and poor water.
Further surveys were made of the Muckalee area in 1899 and were largely in agreement with James Reade’s earlier work. The catchment area was extended to 2700 acres, a site of 12 acres to be secured on which a reservoir to hold 10 million gallons of water would be constructed, the water to be piped 5 miles to the sand filtering basins at Radestown, then to a clear water tank of 400,000 gallons capacity. Finally the water was to be piped a distance of 2 miles to the City. The design was such as to supply a population of 14,000 allowing 20 gallons per head per day. This report was submitted to the Corporation jointly estimating that the cost would not exceed £22,000.
So the Corporation, after a decade of debate, set in motion plans for the water supply. Laurence Kelly of Edinburgh was appointed as contractor in 1902. From this point, rapid progress was made, as is evident from regular reports by the sub committee. A water inspector was appointed in 1903, a caretaker’s house was constructed at Radestown, and the local plumbing contractors were advertising in the papers. The Borough Treasurer was to write to the War Office and enquire if a loan could be secured, seeing that the Military Barracks would be availing of the water.
The Kilkenny People in Sept 1905 reported that the long-talked of waterworks was now practically an accomplished fact, and that clean water would be be available to the citizens. The engineers presented their Certificate of Completion in March 1906. In April, a vote of thanks was proposed to the Contractor and Engineers by the Corporation. One alderman proclaimed the citizens now have a supply, second to none in Ireland.
Improvements were made in 1926 when a supplementary supply was pumped from the Dinan during the summer months. The population growth called for further expansion, and in the early 1980s a modern treatment plant was built at Troyswood and water abstracted from the Nore to augment the City’s supply. It is a tribute to the Corporation and engineers of the time, that over one hundred years later the design is basically the same and continues to provide clean wholesome water to Kilkenny City.

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