Jack Meades Commercial Ice House

A few years back a group of scientists were gathered and asked what was the 20th Century's greatest invention.  Out of an eventual list of 100, refrigeration topped the bill. You might think the kitchen fridge is a relatively modern development, and I guess you'd be right, but the idea that cold could be used to keep food fresher for longer was identified by our distant forefathers. The Egyptians for example used earthen ware jars of water, left out on cold nights, to cool rooms in the daytime heat. Here's another example of how incredibly intelligent our fore bearers were

In Europe in the 17th Century, a fashion for the building of residential ice houses developed and we have a great example on Faithlegg estate which we have seen before on the blog. (In fact to understand the rest of this piece I'd ask you to look at the previous blog for a context.)

But there is another Ice house in the area, much bigger, yet more accessible.  Lets call it Jack Meade's Ice House, though we could as easily call it Ballymaclode Ice House as it resides in that townland.  Its circular in build, approximately 20 ft in diameter on the inside and over 30 feet high.  The wall to the South, which would have taken the most sun was six feet wide in the past, and was a cavity construction.  The roof was thatched and entrance was via the door near the roof, and accessed no doubt from the present garden of the Kenny family home.

I've long entertained a notion that the Ice house, as big as it was, must have been built with the coming of the Scotch Weirs in the early 19th Century, which gave rise to the Salmon Wars or the weir wars later in the century. The Barony of Gaultier featured an article about it by Ray McGrath in their latest newsletter. Originating in Scotland, the practice exploded with a new approach to the preservation of salmon, the use of flaked ice.
Inside the building
Previous attempts to use ice was found to be problematic, a fish when placed on a block of ice, fused with it and the flesh of the fish was damaged. The new approach which was brought from China in the late 18th Century, saw the ice being chopped or flaked and then the fish being surrounded by it.  The fish were thus preserved without damage...the Chinese had been doing it for centuries 1.

Remains of the cavity on the south face of the structure
This new technique, coupled with developing rail transport, meant that fresh salmon could now be delivered to the rapidly expanding industrial cities, especially London, where fresh salmon had long been prized, but was hard to get.  The new technologies and the new markets saw a rash of weir building, with little or no regard to the centuries old traditions of traditional nets men and "head weir" men such as had existed since at least the coming of the Cistercians to Waterford harbour.

Old entrance point

As a consequence of the demand for Ice a new trade was developed, apparently initially in America but it eventually spread to Europe, who could naturally depend on the Norwegians for a ready supply of cut blocked ice. This was transported on sail boats to harbours such as Waterford and then carried along on lighters to Ice House locations such as at Jack Meade's.  Straw or sawdust was used as an insulator between the blocks.  I've found little enough evidence of Ice House use in Waterford, but it was stored in basements all across England, and I have no doubt it was likewise stored in the city and New Ross.

accessed from http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons
I wonder however, did Jack Meade's Ice House pre-dated this era?  Looking at the design and the fact that it had a thatched roof, it's possible that it was an earlier build, and if it was, it most probably served the big houses that were in the area.  At a stones throw I can think of Ballycanvan House, Foxmount, Brook Lodge, Mount Druid and Blenihem.  I'm guessing that just like at Faithlegg, the landowners of the area, chose an ideal location to harvest ice from Ballycanvan Stream when the weather was right and to deposit it into the ice house.  It could then be brought to the homes of the rich to impress guests with chilled white wine or sorbets in the height of summer.  It could also be used to store a large quantity of perishable goods.  Meat and fish etc could be suspended from the roof beams above the ice and be preserved long after they would have turned in normal circumstances.

There is a story of Ice blocks coming up the pill in Lighters, so it was to see this trend emerge, and it's probably that like an "Ice Box" I have located nearby with the assistance of Pat Murphy, that it did play a part in the Scotch Weir developments. 

That it stands today, and is accessible to view is a testament to the vision of Carmel and Willie Hartley.  They should be thanks by all and sundry for their interest and dedication to our local agrarian heritage.  I for one am eternally grateful.

1 Robertson. I.A. The Tay Salmon Fisheries since the eighteenth century.  Cruithne Press.  1998 Glasgow.

For more information on Icehouses: Buxbaum. T.  Icehouses.  Shire Publications.  2008.  Buckinghamshire.