Berkeley Dean Wise (1855-1909) was born in New Ross, Co.Wexford.  After school in England and Trinity College, Dublin, he became a Civil Engineer and studied under James Price, Chief Engineer ,  Midland Great Western Railway of Ireland.

 

His first job was as resident engineer for the Navan and Kingscourt Railway followed by a two year post with the  Dublin, Wicklow and Wexford Railway building a tunnel through Bray Head. He then moved to become Chief Enginneer for the Belfast and County Down Railway (BCDR).  He took up residence at Salem Cottage on the Knock Road, Belfast.

 

 After eleven years he took up his role as Chief Engineer for the Belfast & Northern Counties Railway for which he widely associated and known for. He was an inventive engineer who was forward thinking in his role, he introduced new ideas and a higher level of safety. One of his first projects in the north was the  Quoile Viaduct,  he also introduced interlocking signals here and developed with a patent  the signalling staff system which carries his name. He joined the Belfast & northern Counties Railway as Chief engineer in 1888 and spent 18 years with the company until retiring due to ill health in 1906.

 

As well as his routine ailway duties he designed numerous stations, a harbour, promenades, footbridges, walks, hotels and also one of the major attractions in Ireland, the Gobbins Walk.  Safety was always the priority in his work and the quality of materials essential, for the renewal of the BNCR line he opened a quarry at Ballyboyland, Ballymoney with the latest crushing machinery to provide the highest grade stone for the track and was responsible for the major extension and refurbishment of  York Road Station in Belfast  which included the clock tower, concourse, tramway canopy, hotel, freight offices and goods store. The renewal of the signalling system  was the largest in Ireland at the time. To compliment this he designed the new station at Larne for rail passengers arriving and departing to Scotland and England.

 

He worked under and with the General Manager Edward John Cotton, both men had a vision for the railway network and the development of tourism, the combination of their joint vision and abilities developed the Belfast and Northern Counties railyway into one of the most unique railway systems of the time. Another innovation Berkeley Wise  was the pioneering and  introduction of r reinforced concrete for structures such as the Kinks Bridge at Whitehead.

 

Whitehead was developed into an excursion seaside town and to create this he designed and  constructed the Promenade, importing sand from Portrsuh by train to create the beach area. His next project took the path from the promenade  on along the shore to  Black Head , then up the cliff with a loop back round to the shore, along with a tea room known as the Sunshine House. One of the most unique, challenging and visionary project he undertook  here was the Gobbins Path Walk which followed the cliffs for two miles, an engineering masterpiece which became known throughout Europe.

 

The path was cut into the rock, through caves and over chasms. The steel cantilever and tubular bridges and steel walkways were built in Belfast and brought on barges to be lifted into place. The entrance to the path was through a hole cut in the cliff.  It was one of the most remarkable engineering achievements of its day. Today two of the headlands are named after him, Deane’s Head and Berkeley Point.  The full plan was to continue the path to  Heddle’s Port, a total distance of 3.5 miles but it never happened due to him taken ill, a short section was extended to the Seven Sister’s Caves with a suspension bridge.  The attraction was very popular more so than the Giant’s Causeway and attracted people from all over Ireland by train, it finally closed in 1940 and fell into disrepair.

 

Another fabulous building he designed was Portrush Railway Station which you can still see today, a tudor styled building with a clock tower, he upgraded the whole site to include three covered platform along with a Café / Restaurant  to facilitate the resort as a tourist location by rail.  Portstewart tramway terminus was another of his projects.

 

At  Glenariff  in the Glens of Antrim, the beautiful walks,  bridges  and viewing points along the gorges were all designed by Berkeley Wise including the tea room at the bottom and the little shelter below Ess-na-Larach waterfall which once had coloured glass through which to view the waterfall. The land was leased by the BNCR as  part of their tourism development. Visitors would be brought down by jaunting cart or open coaches  from Parkmore Railway Station at the top of the glen which was connected to Ballymena by a narrow guage railway.

 

Berkeley Wise made a significant contribution to both the railway system and the infrastructure for Victorian tourism, at the time and was highly regarded for his vision and mannerism. In 1906 he retired due to health issues and came to live with his sister at 18, Salisbury Terrace in Portrush, he died there in 1909 and is buried in the City Cemetery, Belfast.   He was a member of the Institution of Civil Engineers in London  for most of his life and also a member of the Institution of Civil Engineers of Ireland in which he was  Vice President from 1904 to 1906.

 

A very fitting tribute was printed in the Railway Engineer Journal about him : ‘  His designs were both original and artistic, and he always strove to make the stations under his charge as attractive as possible. He was a great lover of the beauties of nature, and he will perhaps be best remembered as one who made several of the beauty spots of a beautiful country easily accessible without in the least marring their natural charms. His kindly disposition and gentle manners made him deservedly popular.'

 

Some of the work he design and was responsible for are:   Dundrum Harbour -  Larne Harbour Railway Station  -  Glenarriff  Walk and Tea Room -  Whitehead Promenade and Blackhead Path  - • Portrush Railway Station   -  Ballymoney Railway Station  -  Greenisland Railway Station   -   Refurbish / Extension  Northern Counties Hotel, Portrush -  Carrickfergus Railway Station  -  Whiteabbey Railway Station   -  Jordanstown Railway Station   -   Trooperslane Railway Station   -    York Road Station and  Midland Hotel  -   Portstewart Tramway Terminus   -   Whitehead Station (extension)   -    The Gobbins Path, Islandmagee  -   Laharna Hotel, Larne   -   Limavady Railway Station   -    Antrim Railway Station   -    Ballymena Railway Station, 1904.

 

Art Ward