28 December 2018

The Burrow Beach in Portrane
is collapsing before our eyes

Fingal County Council is installing ‘SeaBee’ reinforced concrete units along the Burrow Beach in Portrane (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

Patrick Comerford

Today marks the 151st birthday of my grandfather, Stephen Edward Comerford (1867-1921), who was born on 28 December 1867. I have often shared the tragic story of his lonely death in 1921, and I thought it was worth marking his birthday on the 100th anniversary of the end of World War I by visiting his grave in Portrane.

My grandparents, Bridget (Lynders) and Stephen Comerford, are buried among the graves of countless members of the Lynders family in Saint Catherine’s old Church of Ireland churchyard in Portrane, close to the homes of my grandmother’s parents, Margaret (McMahon) and Patrick Lynders.

The churchyard and church ruins are close to Stella’s Tower, with so many associations with Jonathan Swift, and just two minutes’ walk from the Burrow Beach.

Two of us placed a Poppy Cross on my grandfather’s grave before the early setting of the sun on a winter’s afternoon, remembering the difficult experiences with the Royal Dublin Fusiliers in Thessaloniki that would lead to his being sent back to Dublin in 1916 and his eventual death in 1921.

They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old:
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning
We will remember them

A poppy cross on my grandfather’s grave in Portrane (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

As I put the finishing touches to next Sunday’s sermon, drawing on the story of Christ being lost for three days in the Temple in Jerusalem, I am also taking three or four days off after Christmas in Dublin, with time for walks by the beach along the shoreline in Howth, Portrane and Skerries, and other parts of Dublin that I have not visited for some time.

At one time, I regularly went for walks in these coastal parts of north Co Dublin, but I had not visited them since I moved to Askeaton almost two years ago, at the beginning of last year [2017].

In Howth on Wednesday afternoon, two of us went for a walk along the West Pier at dusk, enjoying the lights at dusk on a cold and early but bright winter’s evening.

Walking along the pier at the harbour in Howth this week (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

From the churchyard in Portrane, we strolled down to the Burrow Beach on Thursday afternoon. Because it must be at least two years since I last visited this beach, I was not prepared for the sight.

Serious coastal erosion over the last two years has brought a response of serious measures from Fingal county Council that have been described as interim emergency measures to protect properties at risk in Portrane.

The council has engaged contractors to install 370 ‘SeaBee’ reinforced concrete units along the beach above the Mean High Water Level. The ‘SeaBees’ are designed to reduce the force of waves hitting the coastline during stormy conditions.

The ‘SeaBees’ are each 1.4 metres high and 1.7 metres wide, and filled with stone to prevent their movement. They have been placed along a 270-metres stretch of beach in front of the sand dunes. At the same, sandbags are being removed at this stretch of beach, and the council has promised a thorough clean-up.

Meanwhile, however, the extent of the damage to the dunes and property along the Burrow is an ugly sight. Mattresses, the remains of houses, and broken trees protrude through the new line of the sand dunes, and some buildings now balance precariously on the edge of the sand above the waves.

The council’s actions may be well-intended, but they are ugly visually, probably no more effective than the commands of King Canute, and unlikely to have a lasting impact with concerted action globally.

The coastline that my grandparents must have known less a century ago is disappearing before our eyes. If anyone doubts the real impact of global warming and the consequences of climate change should go for a walk on the Burrow Beach in Portrane … before it finally disappears.

Homes are hanging perilously above the sand dunes in Portrane (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

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