Artists to capture the dramatic effect of erosion on Portrane beach

Local woman recalls boardwalk and fencing that have long since been swept away

At 93-years-of age, Nancy Dempsey can remember Portrane beach in north Dublin when it was straddled by a long wooden boardwalk and when children played football along its wide grass bank.

Today, all of that is gone, washed into the sea. She is standing beside the last few slats of the wooden pathway which overlook a row of five tonne cement blocks placed in the sand to halt the erosion.

“I am sad, really very sad,” she says of what has become of the beach since her childhood in the “burrow” of Portrane, when trips to the seaside were commonplace.

“I just hope they find some way to protect it. The boardwalk was great . . . it was done by the locals themselves; we all got together and spread out putting in those boards.”


In more recent times Portrane has become a touchstone for east coast erosion. Its long picturesque beach, sandwiched between Rush to the north and Donabate to the south, has receded by as much as 20 metres in some parts. At one point you can just make out the remains of a house that collapsed into the sand.

Earlier this week, locals including Ms Dempsey gathered beside the water to help promote a new initiative through which erosion and the wider effects of global warming will be examined and studied by locally based artists.

As a joint initiative of Fingal County Council, Dublin City Council and Wexford County Council, four artists will work with local biodiversity and other specialists to interpret the issues and help communicate them to the public when their work goes on show in the autumn. It is funded through the Arts Council's Invitation to Collaboration scheme.

In Portrane, artists Mary Conroy and Joanna Hopkins will live locally for three months, mingling with the community and observing the environment before producing artworks.

“It’s to try and understand the information that comes from scientists, that comes from biodiversity, that comes from biology, that comes from other fields and to translate that into a more visual message – something that is more relatable to people and to try and connect communities with these issues,” said Ms Conroy.

Last October, a 250m long wall of concrete “seabees” – erosion protection infrastructure – was placed along the beach as a temporary measure. Locals say they have worked, but a longer-term solution is required.

Raymond Brett (54), who moved to Portrane in 2002, said the local estimate is that about 100 acres of coastal land has been lost to the sea in the past four decades. Things got very bad, he said, in the last 10 years.

“Those dunes [used to be] way out there,” he says, pointing out to sea in the direction of Lambay Island.

Mr Brett says the problems are due to the fine sand, aggravated by recent violent storms. The community shares concerns too about rising sea levels due to global warming.

Although several homes here lie just metres from the shoreline, Fingal County Council says a "significant" number of others are also threatened with flooding.

Mark Hilliard

Mark Hilliard

Mark Hilliard is a reporter with The Irish Times