The Hydro, Tramore. Source: archiseek.com.
Ireland in the early 20th century was in the midst of the modern movement. As a young state, the country was seeking to build an image of prosperity, growth and contemporary style both at home and abroad. Modern architecture was building momentum through the years of the Irish Free State, from 1922 to the declaration of the republic in 1949. Improvements in electricity supply, transportation and health provision were becoming apparent throughout the country.
The Irish Pavilion designed by Michael Scott for the 1939 World Fair. Source: irishtimes.com.
Outside the capital, progress in the modern movement went largely unnoticed. Perhaps not as widely publicised as Michael Scott’s Irish Pavilion for the 1939 New York World Fair, Tramore’s ‘Hydro’ building in Co. Waterford quietly celebrated modernism in the South East.
Tramore in the 18th century was a small fishing village off the coast of Waterford. Soon it began to expand into a popular seaside spa and resort. The promotion of sea water and coastal climates to cure certain afflictions was thanks to 18th-century British Physician, Dr. Richard Russell, who encouraged patients to bathe in seawater. Doctors would advise their patients to go to Tramore to heal their bronchial and rheumatic ailments using sea water and salty air. These health benefits continued to influence the development of the town up to more recent times.
The Hydro, built in 1948 by Irish Architect, Patrick Sheahan, functioned as a baths throughout the 1950s and 60s. It housed a number of thermostatically controlled sea water baths, a lounge and a restaurant, while also employing a physiotherapist, chiropodist and masseuse. A considerable luxury for locals and tourists alike.
The Hydro, Tramore. Source: Waterford County Museum.
The building was typical of the modern style – white painted stucco exterior and fully glazed curtain walls at the entrance, married with the curvilinearity of the atlantic facing lounge. The asymmetrical elevation made for a striking landmark on the Tramore promenade. The large signage and uniform glazing contributed to its attractive composition. The interior was said to be equally as delightful with all baths, ‘splendidly equipped and tiled in green with the surrounds in creams.’ (Munster Express, 24th October 1947).
As soon as it opened the Hydro was positively received, local newspapers hailing the baths as, ‘the most modern in these islands.’ The baths was lavishly equipped, ‘with everything that has been so far invented for the convenience and comfort of the patrons.’ (Munster Express, 24th October 1947). Also featured was a lawn with a putting green, a fountain, and a pitch and putt course.
Advertisement featured in the Munster Express, 1st October 1948 when the baths first opened.
Alas, the curative establishment didn’t catch on quite as expected. The Hydro went through a number of transformations, from hotel, tearooms and snack bar until it eventually lay abandoned in the 1980s. It fell into tragic disrepair to the point where residents complained that it tainted the pleasant walk down the promenade with its neglected state. Since its demolition in 1992, many a planning permission has been sought, between fairgrounds, hotel developments and other seaside activities. The site remains unused to this day.
The Hydro site in its present form, 2016.