X-blocks required for the breakwater, on Inis Meain, the second largest of the three Aran Islands

Whats happening west of the Shannon?

The following article is taken from Construction Magazine by editor, Brian Foley.

The east coast seems to grab all the headlines when it comes to big construction projects. From the M50 to the M3, Lansdowne Road to Grand Canal Dock, all the major sites appear to centre around Dublin. But what’s happening west of the Shannon, on Ireland’s other coastline?

Construction editor Brian Foley travelled to the Aran Islands to find out. It’s an unseasonably mild November day on Inis Meain, the second largest of the three Aran Islands. On final approach after a six minute flight from the mainland, there’s an excellent view of a hive of activity in one small corner of an otherwise sleepy island. A new pier is being built and for the people of Inis Meain it means a lifeline to the rest of the country. As one local puts it: “A pier is the equivalent of a new road to us.”

SIAC are the contractors for the project titled Caladh Mór Sheltered Harbour Development and it involves the construction of a pier, breakwater, berthing pool and navigation channel.

The project is funded by the Department of Community, Gaeltacht and Rural Affairs and Galway County Council. Niall Ó Murchadha a member of The Comhar Chumann (Co-Op) of Inis Meain says: “We have striven for very many years to have this basic infrastructural facility, which has been and is so badly needed to ensure the viability of the island community into the future. This development will enable boats to berth overnight and it will provide access during weather conditions which make the existing pier dangerous.”

The development will enable boats to berth overnight and will provide access during weather conditions which make the existing pier dangerous.

John Geoghegan is a Director in Siac’s Tuam office and is closely involved with the island works. Working on an island provides unique challenges for the contractor.

“Planning started three months in advance of construction commencing,” he says. “What you can’t do is simply turn up on an island for a job like this.

“We came to meet the land owners to talk to them. Obviously the fact that we’re working on a new pier means there old one isn’t that suitable – something that became very apparent when we tried to land all our plant machinery on the island. We had to use landing craft to get the machines on. We had some serious machinery making its way here, including concrete-making facilities and cranes. Two cement wagons, three mixing wagons, that sort of plant. There’s probably more plant per square metre on this island than a lot of projects on the mainland.”

John explains that planning is crucial for a project of this nature because if something breaks down it has the potential to grind the whole operation to a halt. “The thing is that you have no choice, once a machine breaks down you’re in trouble. So it’s critical that you plan for those eventualities.

One advantage the project has is the ability to use the materials dredged from the pier area. “From a civil engineering point of view, the fact that we can reuse the limestone or make 804 and aggregate materials is well received by the client,” he says. “We’re not interfering with the local community, which is a model for future projects. It’s all about sustainability and the minimising the impact on the environment.”

In fact, on the flight over to Inis Meain was a SIAC Environmental Manager who was heading to the site to inspect it for environmental impact.

It’s a 72 week project and like anything of that size there are challenges. John says progress is good. “From the balancing materials point of view, when you have to import materials the price just rockets so if you can ‘win’ the material locally it obviously makes for a more cots effective project. That was the main aim here.”

There are approximately 40 people working on site, made up of contractors and subcontractors. The SIAC crew stay in a local hotel during the week, while the diving sub contractors have the novel approach of bringing their own accommodation.

Another feature of island work is satellite communications. There are no land lines available and mobile coverage is patchy so SIAC have a satellite dish protruding from the roof of one of the work cabins. In the modern age even remote sites need a digital link to headquarters.

So what’s so important about the new pier? “It’s a sheltered harbour, something the island doesn’t have at the moment,” says John. “The existing piers are weather dependent and the new construction is an attempt to move away from that scenario. Once completed, ferries will be able to berth 98% of the year, only extreme weather will prevent them from making the crossing.”

The technical definition is a mass concrete pier with a precast concrete wall. The wall is made up of caissons, which are concrete boxes that are three metres by two metres by 1.5 metres with a wall thickness of 150mm and weigh about six tonnes.

Over 2,200 X-blocks are required for the breakwater and these are made on site, forming an impressive modern art piece as hundreds are stacked side by side in a field awaiting deployment. The facility can produce 20 of these concrete monsters every day.

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