One of the biggest remediation projects ever undertaken in this country, which has transformed a toxic waste steel dump into a large public park at Cork Harbour, is now being used as a template across Europe as the way forward in reconstructing challenging sites with an industrial past.
The former East Tip on the old Irish Steel site at Haulbowline has been converted into a 22 acre amenity and recreational site, with 4km of fully accessible walkways, a jogging route, wildflower meadows, picnic sites, over 200 native trees, and seating areas which look out on majestic views of Cork Harbour.
Haulbowline, which is the home headquarters of the Irish Naval service, was also the location for Ireland's only steelworks from 1939 until its closure in 2001.
640,000 cubic metres of by-products and waste were dumped into the East Tip over 40 years of Irish Steel's production life.
Following years of activism by local residents in nearby Ringaskiddy, and by the Cork Harbour Alliance for a Safe Environment or CHASE group, extensive remediation works costing €26m were undertaken by Cork County Council over the past four years, transforming the steel graveyard with thousand of tonnes of soil materials and rock armour to protect the shoreline.
Mary O'Leary of CHASE says the origins of the transformation actually began with her making a complaint to the EU Petitions committee back in 2008 about the steel dump, which had remained unregulated for years, a complaint which was upheld by the EU and which forced the Irish Government and Cork County Council to finally take action.
"We were watching this dump for years emitting dust and debris across the harbour with absolutely no controls and little being done about it, as it never had an EPA licence in all the time it was there," she said.
"Digging it out was not an option, so its transformation is the best that could be done with what has been a legacy project of a dirty industry. I think what has been done is good and is a great achievement for public participation and we should learn lessons from the project. The harbour should be Cork city's playground and we need to protect it now."
Gertie O'Driscoll of the Ringaskiddy & District Residents Association said the local community are absolutely delighted with the transformation of the steel dump, as they had agitated for years for something to be done about it.
"We were sceptical about what could be achieved, but the park speaks for itself with views out to Cobh and its historic cathedral, to Spike island in the middle of the harbour and to the historic forts further out and to the naval base. Already thousands of people are using it constantly, and it has greatly enhanced our village of Rinaskiddy," she said.
Her colleague on the residents' association, Mary Jordan, said they are campaigning for work to continue around the recreational amenity, and are urging Cork County council to build a footbridge out to Spike island.
"There was a causeway out to the island in the past and we are now pushing for an accessible route out to Spike island, which is located so close to the park and which would further enhance the transformation which has taken place." she said.
Cormac O'Suilleabhain, project manager with Cork County Council, said the Haulbowline island recreational amenity is now being held up as an example of best practice by the EU about what can be achieved with old industrial and challenging sites.
"We've been contacted by public authorities in both Romania and Bulgaria seeking advice about the work we have done, as well as being contacted by other local authorities around Ireland who want to do similar work," he said.
This was echoed by Taoiseach Micheál Martin, who formally opened the park, and said it displayed the serious transformation which can take place and what can be achieved here and at various sites across Europe.
He paid tribute to the transparency showed by all involved and it showed the benefits of what had been a long and diligent approach by Cork County Council and by the residents of Ringaskiddy to the transformation of a site which held a special place in the history of Cork and its people.