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Reinsborough, Michael (2021) 'The arbitration of nature: state, water, and civil engineering in Northern Ireland directly after partition.' Water History, 13 (3). pp. 337-373.

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Begun in the summer of 1923, the Silent Valley Reservoir was the first large scale civil engineering project after the division between the North and the South of Ireland. It was the continuation of a previous project. In the late Nineteenth Century a portion of the Kilkeel and Annalong Rivers in the Mourne Mountains had been diverted 35 miles to provide water for the growing industrial city of Belfast in the North of Ireland. A reservoir in the mountains was also planned at a later date but this was delayed by the Great War and then by Irish political instability and the high cost of construction in immediate post war period. Before being completed the project had to overcome several obstacles. Firstly, the Mourne Mountains were claimed by the South of Ireland and thus subject to the Boundary Commission of the Anglo-Irish peace treaty. The Water Commissioners had brought important British political leaders to tour the Silent Valley construction site in an attempt to demonstrate how implausible a situation (in their opinion) that the South should control the major water supply to the capital city of the North. Secondly, shortly after the Boundary Commission was shelved, the combination of fluid subsoil and the failure to locate bedrock at expected depth brought construction to a halt while an engineering, political, and legal solution was sought for the expensive and now publicly controversial project. This article traces the contingent relationship between state (sovereignty) and technology (water res- ervoir) using a socio legal and socio material description of the crucial arbitration processenabling further time and resources for resolution of the difficulty. Ultimately an air-shaft device for excavating under increased atmospheric pressure had to be designed taking in mind both technical and political difficulties. Today the 3000-million-gallon reservoir, first imagined in the late Nineteenth Century, continues to be a major water source for the city of Belfast.

Item Type: Journal Article
Keywords: Water history; Northern Ireland; Sovereignty; Legal studies; Actor-network theory; Performance; Technology; Devices
SOAS Departments & Centres: Departments and Subunits > Foundation College
ISSN: 18777236
DOI (Digital Object Identifier):
Date Deposited: 25 Jul 2023 11:42
Funders: Other

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