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Powerscourt's Paddock Ponds - a short history!

I call it the "Dry Lake", but Paddock Ponds is the proper name for the two artificial lakes, originally constructed by the Sixth Viscount Powerscourt who directed that a "sort of ravine inside the Paddock gates" be dammed up to form an ornamental lake with a drive on either side of it. This work was done by 1838 as this map belonging to my father shows.

The Seventh Viscount Powerscourt, who meticulously recorded all the works on the estate, felt that as his father was ill, (he died a young man in 1844 leaving his eight year old son to inherit the title), and his engineer, Tom Parnell, (uncle of Charles Stewart Parnell) was obsessed with religious meetings in Dublin, the work was carelessly done. In 1841/42, the dam collapsed and the water ended up flooding Bray Commons, which at that stage had no houses on it. We now know this area as Little Bray and 144 years later it was to suffer a similar experience!

While the Seventh Viscount was under age or in his "minority" the estate was run by his guardians, the Earl of Roden, his grandfather, and the Vicar of Abbeyleix. Between 1846 and 1848, as part of a famine relief project, two drives were constructed around the deerpark - Ladies Drive on the south side and Earl's Drive on the north. These works were engineered by Tom Parnell who used to say "it is the first duty of a Christian to make good roads"!. Tom Parnell was highly regarded by the Seventh Viscount who described him as "rough in exterior but with a most kindly heart" and his work as "more useful than that of his nephew the agitator"!

The Seventh Viscount Powerscourt came of age in 1857 and began a lifetime of works on his estate. An early project was the restoration of the Paddock Pond where the lake was divided in two, becoming Paddock Ponds. This was undertaken in 1858 under the supervision of his head gardener Alexander Robertson (no relation to Daniel Robertson the creator of the Italian Gardens) and the ponds were complete by 1860.

The Paddock ponds were to become more than ornamental additions to the landscape. A sawmill and a foresters house in the deerpark were constructed between 1864 and 1872 using a Board of Works loan - the sawmill was roughly where there is a private residence today. The sawmill, which supplied the estate and offered timber for sale, was powered by the water from Paddock Ponds. My 84 year old father remembers a Mr Pilkington living in the lodge at Paddock Gates. It was Mr Pilkington's job to open the sluice gates at 7 in the morning and to close them at 7 at night.

This fabulous photograph (year unknown) shows the deer park with very bare slopes - today these slopes are covered with coniferous species and owned by Coillte who allow the public access to recreate here.

This report appeared in the Irish Times on 8th March 1913.

In August 1986, Ireland was struck by the tail end of an early season hurricane. Hurricane Charlie hit the east coast particularly hard and in Co Wicklow rainfall of over 280 mm was recorded at Kippure. Many rivers burst their banks and caused severe flooding and a number of bridges were washed away. The dam at Powerscourt Ponds was under such pressure that it burst and sent a wall of water down to join the already swollen river Dargle below it. The bridge outside the deerpark was washed away and the increased flow of water made it's way downstream to the town of Bray, causing havoc. Little Bray, formerly Bray Commons, was particularly affected and many people who lived in this low lying area had to be evacuated. The damage caused by the floods ran into millions of pounds.

In one legal case, Coillte and Powerscourt Estate had to defend themselves against a substantial claim with this highly technical case requiring many days of evidence. The judge held that the flooding of the Plaintiff's premises was not solely attributable to the waters from Paddock Pond. Further, it was not possible to identify a substantial or ascertainable portion of the damage which could be attributed solely to the effect of the presence of waters from Paddock Pond.

Today nature is reclaiming the Paddock Ponds or the "Dry Lake" and it makes a pleasant walk with lovely views over the waterfall and the deerpark. Not everyone walking around it realises that it has had such an interesting history.....

My thanks to Frank Nuttall, John Ducie, Robert Butler, and Brian White for their assistance with this blog.


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