Archive: The Battle for the Metal Man 2013

The Metal Man and his pillars in 2005 before some Waterford business people sponsored their repainting. Photo:The Author.

This is a synopsis of three posts from 2013 that were moved when the site name was changed. This summary was created as a part of a new archive of The Mermaid’s Purse posts and reposted in order to provide an historical account of some events in the life of The Metal Man, a local amenity in Tramore, Co.Waterford, Ireland. 

Back in 2009, a community group, Tramore Tourism, was encouraged by the then Waterford County Council to seek ownership of the Metal Man and his pillars – including the pillars at Brownstown Head – from the Commissioners of Irish Lights (CIL) who, having no practical reasons for maintaining their upkeep, were prepared to gift them to an appropriate organisation. Waterford County Council had already refused ownership due to lack of money. In summer 2010 CIL determined that Tramore Tourism were the best candidates to do so.

It was necessary for Tramore Tourism to set up a legal entity to receive the pillars and Tramore Heritage Ltd. (THL) was born in October 2011. THL was limited by guarantee and was a public company. A public company in this instance means not-for-profit rather than being connected to the stock market. This appears to be the only way for a group or community to create a legal framework and is used by sports clubs and amenities such as Hook Head Lighthouse. None of the directors of a public company can make profit from it in any way nor sell any assets. If THL had wound up, the pillars would have to be passed onto another community group. The board of THL consisted of various local business people and, initially, a Tramore Town Councillor. THL had also applied for charitable status which, once granted, would have provided extra safeguards for the public.

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THL’s plan for the Metal Man Heritage Trail

THL worked towards getting the transfer of the pillars from CIL locally approved as well as negotiating access with the farmers on whose land the pillars stand. THL met with various interested parties a number of times to discuss their plans in detail. A public meeting was called for and held in January 2012 in the civic offices in Tramore.

Not everyone agreed that THL was the best way forward. In 2010 the Town Councillor had parted ways with THL. In December 2012 the concerned councillor wrote to An Taisce raising concerns around THL’s public company status. The fear was that the pillars were falling into private hands. Incidentally, in September 2012, that same councillor had set up a private company called Tramore Cultural Development (TCDL) to “assist individuals and organisations working to advance the preservation of the towns heritage.”

An Taisce then wrote to the Tramore Town Manager suggesting the deal be postponed until 2014 when Tramore Town Council – who had approval of any transfer of the pillars – would be dissolved, elections would take place and the new Amalgamated Council could take on the ownership of the pillars. It was suggested that the new Amalgamated Council (with some seats still to be contested at this point) could then lease the pillars to a private company interested in preserving local heritage. Any access to the pillars would have to be renegotiated.

Due to this confusion of the definition of public versus private company, in early 2013 things got heated. To cut a long story short, enough doubt and obsfuscation were created around company status – particularly in a social media campaign in March and April of 2013 that included personal attacks on THL’s board – that Tramore Town Council ultimately decided not to approve the transfer of the Metal Man and its pillars from CIL to THL. As An Taisce had suggested, on the back of the concerned councillor’s letter, a move was put forward to get the Council, soon to be The Waterford City & County Council, to take over the pillars. THL was dissolved as it had been set up for the sole purpose of managing the pillars for the community in the first place

Eight years on, it appears nothing came of that motion and without access to the land or any necessary legal framework, it may be very difficult to restart any venture there. Even if the Council do manage to gain access, as was suggested might be on the cards in the local press in 2015, the quality of the management of the amenity in either cash-strapped council hands or left to a private company, may not be popular with locals.

The pillars still remain, undisturbed.

Photo:The Author.

A Note on Sources

Most sources were public and included articles and letters in national and local newspapers incl. The Journal, The Waterford News and Star, The Munster Express, The Tramore Tourism and Friends of the Metal Man Facebook Pages and Solocheck for company information. Other sources included directors of THL interviewed by the author at their invitation while other individuals aired their views extensively on a public Facebook page which set up in March 2013 specifically to “save” the Metal Man from THL. It was deleted soon afterwards, however screenshots were taken.

Appendix

The Commissioners of Irish Lights (CIL) is the General Lighthouse Authority for all of Ireland, its adjacent seas and islands. The Metal Man and his pillars are defunct and CIL no longer want the responsibility of them.

Tramore Tourism is a community group established in 1991 to promote Tramore and has many active members from various business sectors in the community.They were encouraged by the County Council back in 2009 to begin the process of obtaining the Metal Man.

Tramore Heritage Ltd. (THL) was a legal entity set up by Tramore Tourism to receive the Metal Man and his pillars. It is limited by guarantee, it is non-profit and public. It has also been negotiating access, planning a cliff walk to the Metal Man. Its accountant, solicitor and surveyor worked for them pro bono. If THL is ever wound up the pillars and all assets will go to the next appropriate community group.

Tramore Cultural Development (TCDL), established in 2012 it is still operational and has been recently designated a micro company, a category created as part of the Companies Act 2017

Tramore Town Council was dissolved in 2014 when the Waterford City and County Councils were amalgamated. Some Town Councillors already had a seat on the new County Council at the time of these events while some would have to fight for one.

Waterford County Council (now Waterford  City & County Council) will always have an element control over the development of this area due to planning processes. The County Council tried to get access to the Metal Man some decades ago and failed despite the willingness of the land owner at the time.

An Taisce, our version of The National Trust in the UK, which is a far more influential organisation, must be informed of any developments in areas where there are archeological, environmental or architectural concerns. Local authorities are required to consult with them on certain applications.

The Landowners are those who own the working farmland on which the Metal Man stands and naturally enough they control the access.