A Visit to Flame
Ireland’s only gasworks museum
Flame, Ireland’s only gasworks museum, opened in Carrickfergus in 2002. The original gasworks was established in 1855, and made gas from coal until 1964, then stored gas made from oil until its closure in 1987.
The restoration of the gasworks was the result of some 18 years’ hard work by a small band of enthusiasts. Industrial archaeologist Fred Hamond spotted its potential while conducting a survey for the Environment and Heritage Service.
He inspired the formation of the Gasworks Preservation Society, which persuaded the Environment and Heritage Service to buy the site and raise funds for restoration.
In the past, such gasworks stood in every town, but Carrickfergus is the only intact site remaining in Ireland. There are just two such others in the British Isles, at Biggar in Scotland and Fakenham in Norfolk.
The advent of gas changed life substantially in the nineteenth century. Gaslights brought a murky glow to city streets, while gas cookers lightened the load of domestic work.
The museum explains the history and processes of gas production, whilst depicting the life of the gasworks’ manager and workers through a series of models and recordings.
Life in the gasworks was hard. In the dank basement, stokers loaded coal into the furnaces. They were working eight hour shifts in stifling temperatures, covered in coal-dust. The furnaces generated the heat to bake the coal in the retorts above. Baking the coal at 1000 degrees Centigrade produced gas. Coal stripped of gas became coke, which was then brought down to fuel the furnaces.
The gas produced in the retorts was then purified of tar, ammonia and hydrogen sulphide, which produced the characteristic smell of rotten eggs. Finally the gas flowed into a gasholder filled with water, which acted as a seal. The inner cylinders rose and fell as gas was stored and used. The inner cylinder at Carrickfergus has been raised and fixed to show how it would have looked in use.
A stairway goes up the side of the gasholder to the stage or balcony that encircles it. Those with a head for heights can climb up here to enjoy the magnificent view. Those worried about vertigo are advised to stay on terra firma.
Flame, The Gasworks Museum of Ireland, 44 Irish Quarter West, Carrickfergus, Co Antrim, BT38 8AT. For opening times and access details, phone 028 9336 9575.
Photograph by Liz Curtis. © Liz Curtis 2004.