Sallins Sugar Factory: Ireland’s first reinforced concrete building….or is it?

By The Helpful Engineer / On / In Historic Buildings

One of the first reinforced concrete buildings built in Ireland was Sallins Sugar Factory, according to the website Kildare.ie. It was built on the banks of the Grand Canal about 1km to the East of Sallins village in County Kildare by a German man around the time of the First World War.

Sallins Sugar Factory

Reinforced concrete is now the most widely used building material and is made by pouring concrete around steel reinforcement. The addition of steel reinforcement transforms the concrete into a much stronger material. The actual quotation from Kildare.ie is below;

On the north bank shortly after passing under the rail bridge you will see a concrete shell which is all that remains of an attempt by a German national to build a sugar – factory about the time of the First World War. The enterprise failed but the building is noted as one of the first to use reinforced concrete. Sallins is a gem of a canal-side village………….

The sugar factory is still standing and The Helpful Engineer decided to visit this historic building last week to check how this structure was resisting the ravages of time. I have previously written about concrete corrosion on this website and I was interested to discover how the reinforced concrete in a 100 year old building would age, click concrete corrosion for a related article.

I discovered that the building is located on private property and is difficult to access, I had to climb over a roadside ditch and a wooden fence to get closer to it. Once there, I saw that apart from the shell of the building, little else remains. The roof, upper floors and windows are gone, while the ground floor slab is covered with vegetation. The building is overgrown with ivy on the outside, and with trees and shrubs within its walls. The building measures approximately 24 by 24 meters and I guess between 10 to 12 meters in height. There is a pond adjacent to the building with what seems to be a concrete pier along one side, this could be the remains of a dock for loading canal boats but I couldn’t be sure as it is so overgrown. The tops of the walls have collapsed into the building in places.

Based on my visit I was very surprised to discover that it is not actually a reinforced concrete building at all, but is in fact simply a mass concrete building. This was established by investigating some of the large cracks in the walls, where there was no sign of steel bars reinforcing the concrete. Also the parts of the walls which collapsed into the building showed no signs of reinforcement. Furthermore there were no signs of spalling concrete anywhere which would be expected in a reinforced concrete building of this age. Spalling concrete is caused by the steel inside the concrete corroding. Interestingly the building would probably be in worse condition if it was in fact constructed from reinforced concrete as the steel would have corroded, thus damaging the concrete in the process.

As the information about the type of construction seems to be incorrect, I now wonder if the building was constructed at the time indicated i.e. Around the First World War. It could be from an earlier date as it appears on the twenty five inch Ordinance Survey map. This detailed map was based on surveys of the country carried out between 1875 and 1913. See the building on this historic map, interactively, here. When you click this link you will see the sugar factory located at the centre of the screen under the red cross.

But to finish, this is not Ireland’s first reinforced concrete building and the search to find it continues…………

Inside the building
Cracked wall with no reinforcement
Looking through the old front entrance door
Collapsed wall sections with no reinforcement visible
An old dock perhaps?

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