True Tale – The explosives, the Garda and the cows

moneypoint

Ireland’s Electricity Supply Board (ESB), wanted to put the new Moneypoint Power Station into the hillside to make it less obtrusive (so did they succeed? The chimneys might give it away). To do this the contractors had to excavate a massive amount of rock. They also needed nice clean-cut sides to the excavation, and to get those they had to use pre-split blasting. Pre-splitting is a technique that provides nice flat walls to an excavation. A row of deep drillholes is charged with exactly the right amount of a certain kind of explosive – one that cracks the rock suddenly, rather than one that produces tons of gas.
The explosives arrived with an impressive escort of armed Irish police (it was the years of ‘the troubles’) There were about 100 drill holes to fill, so the Garda stood around for four hours until all the explosive was in the ground. Unfortunately the stuff that arrived wasn’t the explosive I’d recommended. But after all the hassle of getting it there we had little choice but to use it.
We retired to a safe distance (as it used to say on fireworks) with the shot firer carrying his blasting machine and trailing a cable. Safe distance for us meant over a small hill behind the site, as far as we could go before we were stopped by a barbed wire fence. The shot firer sounded his air horn, wound the handle on his box, and pressed the button. There was a roar. The sky filled with clods of earth. Chunks of rock and pieces of turf rained all around us as the explosive energy went skywards rather than into the ground.
It shouldn’t have done that. It looked like the photos you see of volcanoes erupting in Iceland – all the smoke and debris but with no molten lava. Our estimate of how far away to stand was about right. The largest of the rocks and clods landed some way off. What we hadn’t allowed for was the effect the explosion would have on the herd of cows grazing in the same field. Like us, they were safety away from flying debris. But not from the noise of the blast.
Were the cows unhappy? You bet. They came round the hillside like stampeding buffalo, about fifty of them heading our way. The barbed wire fence no longer seemed such an impediment to us. It’s amazing how quickly you can move and how high you can vault if you really try.
I learned later that while they were charging the holes with explosives, the contractors found they had too much. They couldn’t return it to Dublin because the police escort and armoured van had gone. No brownie points for guessing where they put the surplus explosive. Down all the drillholes.

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