Mourne water in Portadown

Vol. 3 No. 2 - 1976

End of Mourne water in Portadown

by R.E. Hadden

We read in the Portadown News of 26th September 1975 that "Portadown and water from the Mournes have parted it seems for all time." With the dry summer and the threat of the Spelga Dam drying up " the Lough Neagh connection was made in the middle of August" and is evidently likely to continue. The Water Service section of the Department of the Environment of the Government of Northern Ireland had a plan to turn our area on to Lough Neagh water over the next 5-10 years, but their hand was forced. We can be thankful that reorganisation of local service, in this respect at least, had been successfully completed.

I am encouraged to write this article as my Father, Dr. Wm. Edward Hadden, was very active in 1899 and 1900 in opposing a scheme more or less decided on by the Urban District Council to get water from the River Bann at Carrickblacker.

Portadown News

It seems worth while to give some extracts from the Portadown News of 6th January 1900 and to recall the names of local activists at this time. There were very lively and informative exchanges between the Councillors and the Members of a Deputation to the monthly meeting of the Council, presenting a Memorial to the Town Clerk, Mr. F. McClatchey, with 437 names, reading as follows: "We the undersigned wish you to bring before the Members of the Urban District Council the fact that we are opposed to taking the proposed Water Supply from the River Bann when a supply from Lough Neagh is available."

Council Members present were: Mr. John Acheson, J.P. (Vice-Chairman) presiding; Messrs. D. F. Bell, Joseph Collen, W. G. Hewitt, Clement Courtney, W. J. Johnston, J. G. Livingstone, John Patton, John Richardson, J.P., Henry Richardson, James McKell and Wm. M. CIow.

The Deputation consisted of Messrs. W. J. Watson, Hamilton Robb, John Sutton, Thomas Dawson, J.P., W. E. Hadden, M.D., W. Whitten, Alex McDowell and William Ramsey.

The first eleven signatures were - Thomas Armstrong, J.P.: David Graham & Co. Flax Spinners: Hamilton Robb, Linen Manufacturer: Wm. Stewart, M.D., J.P.: K. Carleton: W. E. Hadden, M.D.: Arthur Thornton: James McFadden: John Lutton: Mary Josephine Marley. The remaining names were mostly given under streets, etc.


Mr. Watson spoke first, and read a letter from Mr. Thomas Armstrong, apologising for absence as his sons "William and Franklin were both from home and I require to be in Belfast this forenoon." He said that "filtering wouldn't change the colour of the water and that people would be driven more and more into the public houses, and that the Council had decided this matter without consulting the rate payers. They were not governed in this country by a despotism."

Mr. Robb said he had no doubt that the Council were trying to do the best they could in the interests of the town generally, but he thought they had made a mistake in laying too much stress on the extra £5,000 or £6,000 which the Lough scheme was estimated to cost. The present valuation of the town was £24,000, the loan would be for 35 years, and the interest and sinking fund would be at the rate of about 5%.

If they looked at the rapid growth of the town in the past, and considered that all the manufacturing concerns were notoriously short of workers, he thought they might base their calculation on an average valuation of £36,000 during the term of repayment. That meant 2d in the £1 and that on a £10 house came to the large sum of 1s. 8d.


Professor Sir Charles Cameron had been asked to analyse samples of water and had given rather indefinite advice but, in what was probably a final letter, he had written "the water of the lake is superior to that of the river only as regards colour - it is not so yellow." There was a lot of discussion about his reports, and various speakers took part.

When the Deputation had retired it was stated that the engineers would have the plans completed about 15th January (for the Bann scheme) and that application would afterwards be made for the loan. So the Deputation would seem to have failed. However the next monthly meeting of the Council, held at noon, was reported in the Portadown News of 10th February 1900 with the headlines "The Bann Scheme Postponed." "The Mourne Scheme Favourably Considered."

Mr. Henry Richardson, in accordance with notice given at the previous meeting, moved that the consideration of the Bann Water Scheme be adjourned for two months and that the engineers, Messrs. Sweeny and Dorman, be instructed to make a report of the necessary measurements, borings and calculations, as to the cost of securing a water supply from the Mourne Mountain district. In proposing the motion he assured them he had no desire to reflect on anything that had been done - "but this scheme if it proved feasible would be doing good to Portadown for all time." "The water would be lifted at a point above which there is no human habitation in the whole catchment area, and very little pasture land; it is perfectly free from pollution and therefore does not require filtration."

Bann Scheme

"The initial cost of the Bann scheme was £17,000 to which must be added a constant permanent outlay of £700 a year for pumping and filtration which, capitalised at 3.5%, represents a sum of £20,000 and this, added to the initial cost, came to £37,000, against £40,000 for the estimated cost of the Mourne scheme. With regard to the cost of iron for pipes it was evident that by the time they were ready to place their contract, the iron market would have levelled to a lower price."

Mr. Joseph Collen seconded the proposal. He was never quite satisfied with the Bann as a source of supply and Lough Neagh was out of the question. He then dealt at considerable length with the financial details of four schemes - two of these were for Mourne water, one on a smaller scale and the other on a larger scale, the third and fourth schemes being the Bann and the Lough respectively.

The rate for the smaller Mourne scheme would work out at 1s. 5d, for the larger scheme 1s. 6d., for the river scheme at about 1s. 4d. at present requirements and for the Lough Neagh scheme at about 1s. 8½ d.

Mr. Clement Courtney rose to support the motion - (he had been in touch with the Chairman of Banbridge Urban District Council, and had been very active in opposing the Bann scheme). At a later date, on the motion of Mr. Henry Richardson seconded by Mr. Acheson it was unanimously resolved "That Messrs. Carleton Atkinson and Sloan, solicitors to the Council, be instructed to take the necessary steps to obtain a provisional order to enable a supply of water to be procured from the Shimna River for the Urban Districts of Portadown and Banbridge."

The contract was awarded to Messrs. Collen Bros., Ltd.. Foffany Reservoir Dam was made in the Mournes: and Drumahare Reservoir for Banbridge, and Drumclogher Reservoir for Portadown, and both were brought into use on Thursday 5th July, 1906. Mr. Charles Johntston was the first Chairman of the Portadown and Banbridge joint Waterworks Board and Mrs. Charles Johnston performed the opening ceremony here.

The article in the Portadown News of 26th September 1975, which I quoted initially, ended with this paragraph: as Mr. Burnett of the Water Service says "The Portadown people have already become used to drinking Lough Neagh water and there is little or no difference. Lurgan people have been drinking it for years, and there is no evidence that Portadown people live longer."

He is quite right in the latter statement, but in fact a good deal of work has been done in recent years on the possible merits of hard water over soft water; and there is evidence in England and Wales and in America that the death-rate from cardiovascular disease is slightly less in hard water areas than in soft water areas.

A matter of degree

The hardness or softness is of course a matter of degree. Spelga water has a total hardness of about 13 parts per million, and the Lurgan Lough Neagh water of 95 parts per million (three quarters of which is "temporary" hardness). The Bangor supply varies between 80 and 130 parts per million; Limerick has a level of 190, and hard water areas in England and Wales have levels of over 300.