In 100 Buildings of 20th Century Ireland, architectural historian Emma Gilleece explores Irish architecture of note. This week: a true Dublin landmark...

Poolbeg Chimneys have a significant vertical presence across Dublin. city Although no longer in use they stand as remnants of a key stage in the story of the powering, heating and lighting of Dublin city changing from coal to oil to gas.

The Poolbeg Chimneys is part of a collection of structures referred to as the Pigeon House Precinct. The structures represent over three centuries; the South Wall (1717), the fine Palladian form of the Pigeon House Hotel (1793), the Old Fort (1798) , the Poolbeg Lighthouse (1767) to the twentieth century Pigeon House Generating Station (1902) and the Poolbeg Generating Station. From 1902 until 1929 Dublin Corporation Lighting Committee ran Pigeon House Generating Station when the Electricity Supply Board (ESB) took control of it. With the demand for electricity growing in 1963 the ESB decided to build a new Generating Station beside the Pigeon House.

The initial development of the £19 million oil-fired Poolbeg Generating Station was completed in December 1971. The station occupies an area of about 80 acres at the mouth of the River Liffey, much of the area having been reclaimed from the sea. The slender chimneys have an elegantly tapered profile and are painted in its distinctive red and white stripes that are intended to make them conspicuous to passing aircraft.

The first chimney, Chimney A was commissioned in 1965 were built at a cost of £350,000 and designed by Maurice O'Sullivan of the ESB Civil Works Department. Chimney A (December 1971) is 207.48 metres high with a base width of 13.8 meters and a top width of 4.8 metres and its non-identical twin Chimney B (November 1978) is slighter higher at 207.8 metres in height 15.6 meters wide at the bottom and 6.7 meters wide at the top. They were constructed using a system called a slip form: a circular mould was made, into which concrete was poured; once that concrete was dry, the mould was moved upwards and filled with more concrete. In this way, a seamless series of concentric concrete rings were stacked, forming a chimney.

The reinforced concrete chimneys were specially designed at the optimum height, not less than two and a half times the height of the boiler house, to avoid flue gases being drawn to turbulence around the building ensuring minimum concentration of pollution at ground level in the city area. There is full-height lining of acid-resistant brick with a four-inch space between the concrete outer layer and the inner brick lining.

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Watch: Inside the Poolbeg Chimneys

The tallest structures in the capital, once the tallest in Ireland, are no longer in use since the related oil-burning facility closed down in 2010. Built with a planned operational lifetime of 30-40 years, Dublin City Council placed steel caps on top of the structures in 2015 to ensure the chimneys’ medium-term stability.

These controversial structures built for the sole purpose of syphoning a by-product, have outlived the power station they originally accompanied as discrete entities in our collective consciousness. Standing like two watch guards at Poolbeg peninsula for a mere forty years it is difficult to imagine Dublin Bay without them acting as a focal point joyfully poking the city’s skyline.