Built to serve an empire and constructed during a time of rebellion, worldwide trade and emigration, Old Cork Waterworks played a key role in the prosperity of Cork and offers fascinating insights into the city’s industrial heritage.
Our story begins in 1762 when the architect and engineer Davis Ducart identified this location as being ideal for a waterworks. Fresh water was in plentiful supply (from the river and the salmon weir built by the Duke al Devonshire) and was also relatively clean as the site was upstream of the city and beyond the tidal reach of the sea. In the early 1760’s the Cork Pipe Water Company was established and the first Waterworks on the Lee Road was completed by 1768 with water supplied to Cork City using a wooden waterwheel and two open storage reservoirs, referred to as city basins. Water flowed through wooden pipes to the homes of wealthy city residents willing to pay an annual fee of two guineas. For the wider population water was provided through public cisterns and fountains. These facilities were said to be poorly maintained, often running dry resulting in public disorder.
The lack of clean water caused public health to decline drastically in the poorer areas and in 1852 the Cork Improvement Act allowed Cork Corporation to purchase the Cork Pipe Water Company and commence the badly needed upgrading works. In 1857 Sir John Benson was commissioned to design a new waterworks to supply clean water to rich and poor alike. His project installed two Forneyron turbines to act in tandem with the 20ft diameter waterwheel. A 90hp Cornish steam engine was introduced; new reservoirs constructed and cast iron pipes laid for distribution. These works were supplemented with two 40hp Bolton and Watt rotative beam engines in 1863 and a 38hp horizontal engine in 1869.
In the early 1890’s the waterwheel and associated buildings were dismantled, a new custom built turbine house constructed and a new pair of 60in “American” turbines installed. The excellent performance of this equipment influenced the decision to acquire two additional turbines in 1895, bringing the total to four all of which operational by 1901. The turbine house remains today with some of the remaining turbines reconditioned to generate hydro-electricity.
The waterworks was upgraded again between 1904 and 1907 when the two Lancashire boilers and three Inverted Triple Expansion Engines were installed. These engines and boilers were in use up to the late 1950's and are open to the public to view today.
A comprehensive 2 year restoration programme was completed in 2006. The Victorian buildings today function as a visitor attraction with meeting and event facilities and a dedicated STEAM education space.