ENGINEERING GIANTS

A visionary engineer himself, Berkeley Deane Wise followed in the footsteps of two titans of the Victorian period

The greatest engineer of the century, Englishman Isambard Kingdom Brunel worked on an extension of the original Dublin to Kingstown railway line, built by William Dargan, 'the father of Irish railways'.

Conceived as part of an ambitious rail and sea connection to Wales, it involved the herculean engineering task of overcoming the section of coast at Bray Head which, it was claimed, 'would never be conquered'.

Thanks to a network of tunnels, viaducts and bridges along the cliffs, the work was successfully completed in 1872, partly thanks to a brilliant young engineer ' Berkeley Deane Wise!

ISAMBARD
KINGDOM BRUNEL

© Mary Evans Picture Library

WILLIAM
DARGAN

© Mary Evans Picture Library
  • AWise's original plans for his station at Portrush.
    Courtesy of the Deputy Keeper of Records, Public Record Office of Northern Ireland T3020/152
  • BBerkeley Deane Wise surveys the railway line close to Whitehead.
    Photograph © National Museums Northern Ireland Collection Ulster Museum

A MIRACLE OF ENGINEERING

The Herculean task of building The Gobbins path wrung every inch of ingenuity out of Berkeley Deane Wise. All was calculated by hand, his designs based on judgement rather than formal codes or standards.

Wise's workmen, all railway company employees, worked in perilous conditions 'up to 20 metres above sea level' often enduring biting rain and ferocious winds. They received no safety training and their equipment and clothing would seem primitive compared to today.

Wise began to cut and blast his path in May 1901. The smaller bridges were constructed on site, with concrete poured over cast iron beams. However, due to a lack of space and heavy seas, the more elaborate bridges, such as the famous Tubular Bridge, had to be built in Belfast. From there they would be transferred by train and boat, then hoisted into position by workmen using ropes and pulleys.

Wise completed the first section of his path, from Wise's Eye to Gordon's Leap in August 1902. It was an achievement that earned him the right to be ranked alongside the great engineers of the age.

  • AMany elements of the original path were shap ed by hand with tools like those being used by these Belfast blacksmiths.
    Photograph © National Museums Northern Ireland Collection Ulster Museum
  • BThe metalwork for the original path was cast in Belfast foundries like this one.
    Photograph © National Museums Northern Ireland Collection Ulster Museum
  • CWise's bridges were fabricated in Belfast at works like this.
    Photograph © National Museums Northern Ireland Collection Harland & Wolff, Ulster Folk & Transport Museum
  • DBerkeley Deane Wise stands next to The Tubular Bridge as it is being pulled in to position.
    This photograph was published by the Belfast Telegraph 30 years after The Gobbins  rst opened.
    © Belfast Telegraph, Courtesy of the Lennon Family

A NEW PATHAT THE GOBBINS

Today's path recreates Berkeley Deane Wise's vision for a new era. Following largely the same route as the original path, visitors can experience the same sense of awe as their Edwardian counterparts on the day it opened

New bridges, designed using technology that Wise could only have dreamed of, merge seamlessly with the dramatic landscape around them. Using the latest 3D software, they have been designed to withstand maximum wave impact.

The new Tubular Bridge is as spectacular as Wise's original. Like the other new bridges it was lowered into position by crane from a specially built crane pad on the cliff top.

Most of the original bridges have been removed. At the path itself, only concrete abutments and a handful of the original handrail stanchions remain. But the steps you tread on are the same ones carved out with hammers and chisels by Wise's men over a century ago. Welcome to The Gobbins path!

  • ACrane on crane pad on the cliff top.
    Courtesy of McLaughlin Harvey
  • BPreparing the cliff for path supports.
    Courtesy of McLaughlin Harvey
  • CSpecially trained workers used a system of ropes and harnesses.
    Courtesy of McLaughlin Harvey

Engineering facts!

The PAST v's the NOW...

Move Arrows left and right

THEN

The Tubular Bridge was winched up the cliff from the sea by hand, using ropes and pulleys.

NOW

The Tubular Bridge was lowered into position by crane from the clifftop.

THEN

The Tubular Bridge's walkway was 0.6 metres wide. The bridge weighed 6.5 tonnes.

NOW

The Tubular Bridge is twice as wide. Yet the whole structure weighs less - 5.8 tonnes.

THEN

Workers cut steps and built the path using picks and shovels.

NOW

Workers built the path using giant battery- powered drills and chisels.

THEN

Materials were brought by rail and barge. Some bigger bridges were built in Belfast.

NOW

Materials were brought by lorry. Some bigger bridges were built in Mallusk.

THEN

Workers wore hobnail boots, trousers and shirts. They used simple ropes to support their weight.

NOW

Workers wore steel toecap boots, high-visibility overalls and protection for knees, elbows and eyes. They used climbing harnesses and headgear.

THEN

Bridges were made of cast iron, repainted during harsh winter weather each year.

NOW

Bridges are made of stainless steel, needing minimal maintenance.

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The Gobbins path will be open for the summer season, Council Confirms.

Mid and East Antrim Borough Council has announced that the internationally-unique coastal path at The Gobbins will re-open at the end of June, just in time for peak visitor season.

The Gobbins closed unexpectedly last year, when extreme weather conditions caused higher levels of rock fall along the path. Council brought forward its programme of planned maintenance in the interests of visitor and staff safety, which it says are paramount.

Mayor of Mid and East Antrim , Councillor Audrey Wales MBE outlined what has been happening in Islandmagee over recent months: “We were very disappointed last year to miss our first peak season due to the unavoidable closure. Our visitor figures had already well exceeded our targets for the period and out feedback worldwide had been, and continues to be, extremely positive.

“The Gobbins is an outstanding natural and sometimes unpredictable attraction and the only guided adventure walk of its kind in Europe. Over recent months we have been working to dislodge loose rock through scaling and the majority of that work is complete. We have been looking at options for the areas around the ends of the bridges, to ensure that they aren’t damaged during the scaling process and we will now move to complete that element of the maintenance work.

“Council had budgeted around £2 million for its maintenance work, which included work to restore the access path following Storm Frank in 2015. We have spent about a quarter of the budget to date, so the next phase to get The Gobbins open represents a significant investment in growing local economy in Mid and East Antrim through creation of sustainable jobs and tourism. Mid and East Antrim has a fantastic range of tourist attractions, from Carrickfergus Castle to Slemish mountain and we have been committed, together with our partners in Tourism NI and Tourism Ireland, to promoting all our assets on a world stage.

“The Gobbins is so special within Europe. It sits within an area of Special Scientific Interest on account of its wildlife and habitats. It is one of the only mainland sites in Ireland where puffins nest and as such we will always be restricted by the bird nesting season. We will be unable to open a small section at the end of the 2 km path in time for June because of the environmental sensitivities within this area and the associated Planning restrictions, but we will work on those areas during the off-peak season later in the year. Seasonal opening will be a feature of The Gobbins going forward and will be necessary in order for Council to carry out its annual cliff maintenance work off-peak.

“We’re very excited to have a re-opening date confirmed. Booking lines will be open again early in May and we look forward to bringing people back to The Gobbins and to Mid and East Antrim for an exhilarating and exciting raw experience with nature” she said.

 

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