Susan Collins, researcher, standing on the footprint of Gouldings Fertiliser Plant, The Glen Cork
The Glen River Park and its history of industry and pollution
Sir Basil Goulding, speaking in 1968 as he handed over the Glen Valley to the people of Cork:
“I have the delight today of formally handing to you now, Mr Mayor, for the enjoyment of the people of Cork, the ups and downs of Goulding’s Glen”
The Glen River Park hasn’t always been the wildlife haven it is today: for over 100 years, it was home to W&HM Goulding Limited, which was, before Irish independence, the largest chemical fertiliser company in the UK.
The Goulding family started as a “family druggists and perfumers” on St Patrick’s St, selling everything from candle wicks to glass, from mineral and soda waters to tooth powders.
In 1856, Gouldings purchased the former Glen Distillery, ideal for their manufacturing due to the supply of water and the proximity to the rail line. Their agricultural chemical empire grew and grew, and eventually employed some 300 men.
But the production of sulphuric acid, superphosphates and bone meal that happened in Goulding’s Glen was a source of industrial pollution for the area as well as employment.
Records show a history of complaints, including a law suit in 1857, just one year after Gouldings began manufacturing in the Glen, taken by residents that looks much like modern-day environmental activism, on the basis that the production of superphosphates was “injurious to the health of the inhabitants of the locality.”1
Descriptions of the workers tending to suffocatingly hot lead-lined vats of sulphuric acid include the detail that they wore handkerchiefs over their noses and mouths to protect against the “obnoxious gases” being omitted.
In 1865, locals again complained of a “burning irritating odour” and ongoing smells of burned blood, sulphur and castor oil.
The Ups and Downs of Goulding’s Glen will be a stand-alone podcast episode delving into the fascinating industrial past of Goulding’s Glen, including interviews with historians, genealogists and a member of the Goulding family. The podcast episode will be available on the Gleann na Phúca website.
1 Walsh, S. (2016) W. & H.M. Goulding: From 108 Patrick Street to Fertiliser Empire. Diploma in Genealogy. University College Cork
Morgan, Alexander Campbell, 1919-1958 “This image is reproduced courtesy of the National Library of Ireland [NPA MOR2118]”