Many associate the countryside with peace and quiet, with fresh air and birdsong, with rest and relaxation: It’s what draws so many people to West Cork. But the countryside is also a working place which has its own cycle of ploughing, planting and harvesting; the sight and smell of hay being cut in the summer and bales evenly spread in the fields waiting to be collected adding to its charm. Tractors and harvesters are vital to progressive farming making previously daunting and backbreaking tasks effortless. But as rural Ireland continues to develop and expand its infrastructure, a growing concern is creeping into this idyllic setting: In the pursuit of farm development and expansion, the ever-increasing use of rock-breaking machinery is becoming commonplace. With the use of heavy machinery previously only seen on this scale on major construction sites, many natural and semi-natural areas unsuitable for farming are now being converted to farmland. This advancement comes with a cost, as Aga Mitka and other residents living near Johnstown village, three miles from Inchigeelagh found out, when relentless noise from rock-breaking activities taking place on a nearby farm made their daily life a misery.
Aga Mitka and her neighbours live in a scenic and very peaceful area overlooking Lough Kilhanna and surrounded by the Sheehy Mountains. It is because of its natural beauty and tranquility that many, such as Aga who bought her smallholding in 2011, have chosen it as their home. In recent years however, this tranquility has been vanquished by relentless noise coming from rock-breaking activities taking place on a nearby farm. Initially thought to be a short-term project, as weeks turned into months and months turned into years, the continuous quarrying intensified and the noise got progressively worse, effectively destroying the peaceful existence of residents.
The impact of the hydraulic hammers against solid rock generates shockwaves that reverberate through the air and through the ground interfering with water levels, affecting structural integrity of buildings and permanently changing Irish landscape.
The effects of rock breakers are not limited to the rock they hammer. The echoes of their actions reverberate far beyond the intended target, spreading discord throughout the surrounding areas.
Exposure to high levels of noise has been linked with numerous health issues including stress-related illnesses, sleep disruption, hypertension, hearing loss, and cardiovascular disease (World Health Organization).
But it is not only human beings who fall victim to the transgressions of noise pollution. The natural world pays a heavy toll for the discord of industrial progress. Animals dependent on their auditory sense for communication and survival find their lifestyles increasingly compromised. Disruption of mating calls, feeding patterns, and navigation systems has dire consequences for various species, potentially leading to ecological imbalances that ripple through entire ecosystems.
After pleas with the farmer and complaints to the EPA and Cork County Council got the residents in Johnstown nowhere, Aga lodged a complaint directly to the district court. Under section 108 of the Environmental Protection Agency Act,1992, anyone has the right to make a noise nuisance complaint to the District Court; the fee is €25 and there is no requirement to employ a solicitor. On October 11, 2023, Judge James McNulty in the Macroom District Court, after hearing the case, ruled against the farmer, issuing a cease and desist order, and a week later Cork County Council followed with an enforcement notice. “We were tremendously relieved and delighted that our lives could now return to normal, and we could once again enjoy our countryside homes,” says Aga.
However, only four days after the court order, Coillte commenced quarrying stone for a forestry lane construction within 300m of the homes concerned and only 100m away from the nearest house. “While this is thankfully a once-off short-term project, it’s disappointing that no alternative solutions were considered,” says Aga “especially in such a densely populated area and taking into account that exposure to noise over 85 decibels can cause permanent damage to hearing.”
Residents say they were not considered or directly made aware of the planned works, with the site notice (on which breaking rock was not mentioned) placed on a quiet boreen where most would not travel.
Because of the absence of proper legislation governing noise pollution from activities like rock-breaking and land reclamation on farmland, situations like this will not only continue to disrupt human life but also pose a significant threat to the environment.
“This highlights the issue that there are no controls in place to limit noise in residential areas and, while the option of the District Court is open to everyone, one cannot live their life taking everyone to court to exercise their right to a peaceful living,” says Aga.
To help preserve the peace of the Irish countryside, Aga and local residents have set up a petition calling upon local government bodies and environmental agencies to implement licensing regulations for rock-breaking machinery operators and urging for regular monitoring of these sites.
To sign the petition visit: