Should we save the Poolbeg Stacks?

Image Credit: Laoise Tarrant

Aoife Rooney takes us through the history of the Poolbeg Stacks and makes a case for their conservation

The Poolbeg Generating Station, which is home to two chimneys, affectionately known as the Poolbeg Stacks, has been a constant in the sprawling Dublin skyline for the past fifty years. They are the only Dublin landmark visible on a county-wide scale, and an accidental one at that. The two chimneys have sparked conversation in the past week as reports from the Electricity Supply Board (ESB) have detailed the level of structural disrepair the chimneys have deteriorated. They have recommended that the chimneys be partially encased in cement or fibreglass and noted that maintenance and repairs will cost “several million euros.” 

The station is located in Ringsend, on the South Bank of Dublin Port. Construction of the Poolbeg Stacks was finished in 1971, where they played a role in the supply of electricity for Dublin City. The cost of construction was twenty million pounds. They were decommissioned in 2006 and 2010 respectively, but the Poolbeg Generating Station is still operational, supplying electricity to over half a million Dublin homes. For the past ten years, both chimneys have garnered praise and enamour from residents of Dublin as an easily identifiable skyline landmark. 

Standing at 207 metres at their highest point, the Poolbeg stacks are one of the tallest structures in Ireland. They have quickly become an identifier for the city; the primary Dublin landmark in the city centre, the Spire, seeming cold and harsh in comparison to the welcoming rust of the chimneys. The popularisation of the stacks is largely down to their location. A steadfast in the Dublin coastal horizon, they make their way into most pictures taken along the waterfront anywhere between Sandymount and Dún Laoghaire. The chimneys are adorned with a striped red and white pattern atop their upper half, allowing them to stand out in an often muggy and grey Dublin coast. They are not in competition with any of the buildings in the city, allowing for the stacks to stand alone, together. 

Another reason as to how the stacks ended up becoming so beloved by Dublin dwellers is that they have a history - that they are an accidental landmark. There is a story to the chimneys. They once provided a service, and are a direct link to a more industrious time for Dublin. The stacks received their name from Poolbeg lighthouse which also resides on the South Bank. Dublin Port was also once home to Pigeon House, a popular Dublin restaurant opened by the first caretaker of a preceding generating station by John Pidgeon. 

The sheer size of the chimneys is not felt until you are walking along Sandymount strand, the two imposing figures unchanging and constant in contrast with the mercurial and vast coastal spread. Unlike the Spire, similar in affection and stature, you can enjoy the view of the chimneys while out for a leisurely stroll. The Spire has connotations of coldness, as thought is not meant to be admired but passed on one’s commute. 

While the Poolbeg chimneys have enjoyed many decades of uninterrupted retirement, there is cause for evaluation of their contribution when the cost of their maintenance is brought into question. At best, the work on the stacks could permanently alter their silhouette, which arguably defies the point of attempting to maintain them. The cost is the main issue, with millions seemingly being required to fit the chimneys with support material. While all of this has yet to happen, the stacks were fitted with steel caps in 2015 and were listed as protected structures the previous year. 

While the chimneys hold a place of fondness and familiarity for many who live both in Dublin and abroad, there is the question of whether this is enough to warrant such an investment in their protection and maintenance, especially one that might alter their appearance. conducted a survey which concluded that 65% of people like the Poolbeg Stacks. Without a consensus of a larger percentage of people who enjoy having the Poolbeg chimneys around, there might be an argument for assigning those funds elsewhere. 

While I believe that the Poolbeg stacks add life to a largely dilapidated part of Dublin city, and pull tourism to the docklands and further, you cannot ignore the cost and potential visual alterations. While this is the risk, the bottom line for someone who catches a glimpse of them at some point every day is that they would be sorely missed. The Poolbeg stacks should be protected, for the same reason that green areas and historical buildings are. They not only add to, but create the Dublin skyline, and act as a marker of getting close to home once they come into sight.