THE PROPOSED IRISH CHANNEL TUNNEL Rev. Kevin McHugh S.S.C

This summer, while browsing in the National Library, Dublin, I chanced upon a reference to Cushendun. This led me to an article in a publication entitled THE IRISH BUILDER. I read it with interest and jotted down the contents. Sometime later I discussed the article with the Editor of THE GLYNNS who suggested that I submit it for publication in the hope that readers will find the topic both informative and somewhat amusing.

Nowadays, whenever the Channel Tunnel is mentioned one naturally thinks of the tunnel presently being constructed between England and France. A hundred years ago, whenever Glens folk talked about the Channel Tunnel they referred to the one that proposed to connect Cushendun and the Mull of Kintyre. It seems that a few public figures considered this a feasible project and went so far as to bring the proposal to the Board of Trade in London.

Earlier issues of THE GLYNNS remind us of the heritage shared by the people of North Antrim and Kintyre.1 In ‘Ferry Me Across The Water’, Jack McCann describes in some detail the commerce between these two areas. “So busy had the ferry become that by 1834 the Crommelins of Cushendun had been instrumental in having a Cushendun Harbour Act passed at Westminster whereby a great terminus to cost £30,000.00 was to be constructed at Cushendun. There is a plan of this proposed harbour in the Public Record Office, Belfast, yet by 1834 the ferry had been abandoned.”2 Trade to Kintyre would have slowed even further with the completion of the Coast Road from Larne to Ballycastle in 1843.

The desire to maintain the cross-channel links remained, however, and so the proposed tunnel must have been a regular topic of conversation around Cushendun during the closing years of the last century. What follows below is an edited version of an account which appeared in THE IRISH BUILDER, volume XXIX, published on July 1, 1897

“A few years ago we noticed a pamphlet written by L. L. Macassay C.E., in which he laid before the public his opinions upon four schemes, for the purpose of connecting Scotland and Ireland.

The first was a tunnel between Cushendun, Co. Antrim, and the Mull of Kintyre. This, we are told, is the shortest possible line that can be selected and appears to possess many advantages over all other feasible routes.

The second one was between Donaghadee and Portpatrick; the distance between land and land being only about 22 miles. The plan proposed for a route between Whitehead and Portpatrick embraces a sea tunnel of 23.5 miles. Next comes Island Magee and Wierston Tunnel; length of sea tunnel is put down at 26 miles.

Though (writes Mr. Macassay), a very large traffic in goods and passengers would be carried through the Channel Tunnel no matter what route may eventually be selected, it nevertheless appears quite clear that no amount of traffic would make the Tunnel a dividend-paying concern. Even if the more northerly tunnel be the one made, and the capital be taken at 6‘/2 million pounds a net annual income of £195,000 would be required to give a 3% return or £3,750 per week, and say, for pumping and ventilation £400 per week; all these items would make up a gross sum of £5,150 per week.

No railway company or body of speculators would ever venture upon an undertaking of so doubtful a character. But though the Tunnel Scheme would not pay a fair return on its cost, it would nevertheless prove a work of immense importance and advantage to the public on both sides of the Irish Channel.

Quite independently of the mere question of goods traffic between the countries and its probable development, there would be an enormous impetus given to trade generally and to that intercourse which is kept in check by the intervening sea. Most Britons think of Ireland as they do the Isle of Man, and nothing would more effectually dispel such want of knowledge as the Channel Tunnel, in affording a rapid and comfortable means of access to and from Ireland.

In connection with the subject we print some extracts from a report of a deputation which waited upon Mr. Ritchie, Chairman of the Board of Trade, on Tuesday last, comprising members of the Irish and English committees for promoting the construction of a submarine tunnel between Ireland and Scotland for the purpose of urging him that the Government should grant a sum of £15,000 for the purpose of making boring and soundings, with a view to come to a conclusion as to the practicability of the Scheme.

Mr. Arnold Foster, M.P., in introducing the deputation, said that the committee had been formed — one in Belfast and one in London — for the promotion of the scheme, and a number of gentlemen on the S.W. coast of Scotland had also joined. A scheme such as the one they advocated would, if practicable, have been carried out long ago, at public expense, in any other country.

Mr. Kyle Knox, President of the Belfast Chamber of Commerce, desired simply that the Government should arrange for having the borings and soundings made in order to test the practicability of the project.

Mr. McConnell, Secretary of the deputation, said that ever since the matter had been brought to the notice of the House of Commons by Mr. Foster and had been taken up by the Belfast Chamber of Commerce, sixty articles had appeared in the Press upon it, and of these only 3 or 4 had been of a deprecatory character.

Mr. Harrison Hayter, M.I.C.E., engineer of the Severn Tunnel, explained, by the aid of plans, the schemes for the construction of the Tunnel. There was a striking similarity between this work and the English Channel Tunnel the only difference being that this was in rather deeper water, and that the strata were not the same.

Mr. James Barton, C.E., Dundalk, said that between £8.3 million and £9.2 million would be required to build the Tunnel.

Mr. Ritchie said that other tunnels have been made without much difficulty but he had never heard of any tunnel under the sea of such a depth from the low water mark as the proposed tunnel. The deepest one, as far as he was aware, was 120 feet, whereas the proposed tunnel would be between 800 feet and 1,000 feet in depth and the fact that nothing like it had ever existed left a very considerable amount of doubt as to the amount of money which would be required, and as to whether this tunnel could be made at all.

Mr. Ritchie went on to explain that there would be considerable difficulty in raising the £15,000 required for exploration purposes. Companies which operated sea-going vessels would oppose the monies being taken from Government revenue (taxation). The Board of Trade would always be willing to help if and when approval was given from above. It would be his duty to put before the Chancellor of the Exchequer the suggestion that, if the £15,000 could be found, it would materially assist to a conclusion before arrived at as to the practicable nature of the proposal, and he would communicate the reply to the deputation.

Having thanked Mr. Ritchie, the deputation withdrew.”

It is over 150 years since the Cushendun Harbour Act was passed and around 100 years since the Cushendun-Kintyre Tunnel was formally proposed. Those that tried hard to put Cushendun on the commercial map are long dead. Their schemes died with them. Doomed from the start? The Harbour never got off the ground! The Tunnel never got under the sea!

FOOTNOTES:

I- Vol. 4,1976 ‘The Campbeltown Customs Records’

Vol. 13,1985 ‘Kintyre: The Hidden Past’

2. Vol. 2,1974.

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