A Very Special Visit



It’s been a busy old week. Plenty of running, and plenty of running to watch on the telly, if that’s your thing. Generally-speaking, I prefer ‘doing’ sports to watching them, but when the Irish women reach a World Cup final in hockey, well, you just have to watch. Their semi-final against Spain was probably their peak and the most exciting game to watch, and, like a few of their earlier games, went to penalty shoot-outs.

The game has changed a bit since I played it, but then I was about 13 or 14 years-old, so I suppose it was bound to move on. Today’s game is fast and furious and energy-sapping, and feels like a million miles from the sport I played.

We met the Dutch in the final, and that was always a bridge too far, but the team returned to a heroes’ welcome nonetheless, as they were the first senior team of any kind from this country to reach a world cup final of any sport. And if some moaning fucker wants to recall the legendary over-60s darts team from 1952, well… no. Don’t bother. This was a real sporting achievement and was no fluke either, despite getting a favourable draw. They still had to beat some serious teams like India and Spain. Hopefully this will translate into Olympic success.

And speaking of which, the European Athletics Championships has just finished, and Ireland’s Thomas Barr won a bronze in the 400m hurdles. I can’t think of any way to make running 400 metres any harder than to put hurdles up at regular intervals. Maybe having someone shoot at you from the stands? Or run wearing glass-fibre underpants?

I always hated the 400m. I was a handy enough 100m sprinter, but suffered a bit over 200. So 400 was never going to work. Not a fan of the 800 either, though I quite enjoyed the 1,500m as I got a little older. But fair play to Thomas Barr; he ran a great race. He had to. A 48.31 season’s best was required to overtake the athlete on the inside lane on the home straight. Epic stuff. For those country’s that generally sit in the top ten of the medals tables; I pity you. For you, not winning a medal is just unacceptable. Millions poured into the best athletes in the best facilities with the best coaches. Failure is just not an option. For little old Ireland, a bronze medal is wonderful. If you have any doubts, watch the race online, watch Barr’s reaction, and then watch the medal ceremony.

So, when not watching athletics, Mark and I managed a few runs of our own. To the programme, of course. Progress is steady. Last week was the first ‘down’ week of the programme which is designed to peak on every third week, with a fourth week of consolidation before picking up again and increasing in distance. It’s interesting to note that the pace never changes; just the distance, but such is the way with these programmes. They are not deeply scientific, or personalised. Tomorrow will be a long run of 25k, and unlike last week when I was on my own and tied to the park (because I was on-call) and had to run around in circles, we are free to wander further afield. So most-likely we will take in the park to start with, then trot along the canal towards Carton, and see where we are after about 2 hours.

The fire service has been busy enough too, and that can be a drain on energy. We had a local house fire yesterday (and it was a family I know) and I ended up in BA in the attic. They can be tiring enough calls. Though I never forget how harrowing it is for the owners to stand there and watch flames and smoke pour out of their homes.

A dramatic sunrise over stubble-fields at Castletown House.

During the week I had to head out to a few local spots and take some photos for a wildlife information board I am working on at the moment. We have some great hotspots, including the Royal Canal, the Spa at Louisa Bridge, and Castletown House in Celbridge.

The Common Fleabane shot reminded me of my electric shaver with its three swivel-heads. Our ancestors uses to burn this plant on the basis that the smoke drove away fleas. Not sure what the science is behind that one. And it was used to treat dysentery, hence its Latin name Pulicaria dysenterica. I’ve never had the misfortune to have that illness, but I suspect if I did, I might not reach for Fleabane as my first line of defense…

And so, on to the visit. A local councillor and all-round decent skin had arranged a visit to the local dam and hydro-electric power station. This may not sound like much, but apparently the ESB (the electricity supply board) do not grant such wishes willy-nilly, and this trip had taken a couple of years to pull together. A group of us met up yesterday (with hard hats and hi-vis jackets), and set off to visit a structure that all Leixlip people would be familiar with, but few would have ever ventured inside. Or even got close to. Though I do recall it was a rite of passage for local lads to try and cross it.

Yesterday, many of those local Leixlip lads finally got their wish, even if it meant waiting ’til they were old and grey. It was worth the wait. The dam is a place that has huge resonance for me. As a youngster (pre-teen), the reservoir behind the actual dam itself was a no-go area. I suspect most kids had one of those places growing up. As I reached my teens, I was allowed fish there, and in later years, we would enjoy the odd skinny-dip too, with a few friends.

The surroundings have changed since then of course. Nothing stands still; certainly not around these parts. The nearby water treatment plant has expanded hugely to cater for a growing, thirsty (and wasteful) population, and many of the little nooks and inlets that characterised the south bank of the dam vanished under piles of hardcore and gabions. And then there was the small matter of the M4 motorway bridge right near the spot where we used to swim. I suppose I could write a song about it, but John and Paul really beat me to it when they wrote In My Life, two years before I was born.

From an ecological point of view, things are not much better. The fishing seems to have nose-dived, and there are large growths of an invasive pondweed that was simply not there when I were a lad (which you have to say in a soft Yorkshire accent).

The above pics can all be viewed larger on-screen, as you probably know. It was a wonderful evening to be up on top of the dam (after all these years), looking both upstream at the relative peace and tranquility (a few canoeists and anglers) and downstream at the turmoil from one small outflow from one gate.

Perhaps the most interesting fact from the trip was to learn that the station only really produces power about 4 days out of 10, and that the single generator (that is still the original from the early fifties) only produces 4MW. There are some wind turbines that can produce more than that. In reality, the dam’s main function is to provide a holding head of water for the supply of the treatment plant beside it, which provides a lot of the drinking water for Dublin. We also learned about the fish ‘lift’, which, as you may imagine, does not involve a standard elevator with a crayfish in uniform pushing a button for the top floor, while the half-dozen salmon stand around in suits and ties, trying not to look awkward, and pretending not to listen to the grating, piped elevator music. Though I can see a Gary Larson cartoon for sure!

I was particularly taken with the mighty chains that lift the sluice gates. They looked well-greased, though, as someone remarked yesterday, continuously greased since they were first installed. That wouldn’t work out too well for a bike chain!

So, a lifetime ambition achieved. Perhaps not quite the Grand Canyon or a parachute jump. But for me, quite exciting. There’s scope there to make it into an attraction, but I can see a million health and safety reasons why you may wish to avoid that possibility, if you are the owners.

And so I leave you with this photo of a pole on Mill Lane. It’s old school. These are telephone wires. Old copper pair. From a time before the internet. Not that my kids would recognise such a thing. Bless ’em.


P.S. I have ordered a new pair of runners. I will update you on those when they arrive. Because the world really needs yet another review of a pair of runners…

3 thoughts on “A Very Special Visit

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