Saturday, June 10, 2006

Water, the village pump and progress

I was in Edmondstown last week on business and took a few minutes to reacquaint myself with the Owendoher river, still in its relatively wild state before it enters the concrete viaduct by the school.

This picture was taken at the bend by Mrs Kavanagh's old cottage, where a branch of it disappears in a tunnel under the Edmondstown Road to re-emerge on the western side by Rathfarnham Golf Course. The entrance to the "Kilmashogue Cemetery" passes over it.

Owendoher is the anglicised version of the Irish, Abhainn Dór, or River of Gold, which as you can possibly make out from the picture, describes the golden sand and gravel in its streambed.

"You wouldn't drink from a well these days," Mary Keating said in the staff restaurant a few days ago. "All the cows and everything now..."

Carmel disagreed with her.

"Sure the spring water bubbles up and drives out anything."

I was surprised to find a picture of a village pump which is almost identical to the one that used to be in Edmondstown before the worry about nitrates and ecoli and the rest made the Council take it away and connect a smaller pump into the water main. It was described on the Internet as a "19th-Century Village Water Pump" and was for sale on a U.K. garden antiques site along with other relics of our shared histories. In the picture (right) you can see the hook on the nozzle on which a bucket would be hung. Our pump differed in that a hole had been made in the hook such that it made a water fountain for drinking from if the main spout was blocked up by the heel of your hand.

The pump only failed once as far as I can remember. In the 1970s a summer drought made water very scarce, and the pump went dry for a time. We were forced to rely on the spring well at my grandmother's, which never seemed to fail. Even then, I think my mother was becoming concerned about pollutants, and the open-topped well with its stream that bubbled up out of the bank wasn't her natural choice for drinking water. The houses in the area tended to rely on dry toilets or septic tanks which could easily percolate into the waters.

Our national pastime of littering extends to waters as well, of course. As far back as the 1930s, my father slashed the sole of his foot in the Owendoher when paddling. The culprit was a broken bottle.

Some weeks back a customer rang me to complain that someone had emptied the contents of a septic tank into the Owendoher. Being biased by my own childhood playing in its waters, I was horrified at the notion, but colleagues who work in the area of water pollution said it was very common. I suppose the incident was probably a mark of our "development" since the 1930s. A rare broken bottle once containing a ha'penny's worth of pop is now replaced with a frequent tankful of cess sucked up at a million-euro bungalow by a cowboy too busy to cross the city traffic to dispose of it properly. How far we've come since the village pump.

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