A revealing piece of Leitrim and indeed Ireland’s history can be found on a lonely hillside near Drumkeeran. It is the original and now unused water station for the town which was built in 1939 by the county ‘Board of Health and Social Assistance’. For the first time it brought much needed clean and fresh water to the inhabitants of the town and those along its route. The people there still talk about its purity and taste as well as the health it brought to them.
Interestingly from the Guide’s perspective, they also mention how they remember having a much wider consciousness and awareness of their world and reality at this time. It would be argued by some that this was to gradually change for them and the rest of the country during the 1960’s and 1970’s due to the introduction of fluoride to public water supplies.
In 1957 the Department of Health established a Fluorine Consultative Group which recommended fluoridation of public water supplies. This was felt to be a much cheaper way of improving the quality of children’s teeth than employing more dentists at the time. The ethical approval for this was given by the “Guild of Saints Luke, Cosmas and Damian”, established by the Catholic Archbishop of Dublin, John Charles McQuaid. This led to the Health (Fluoridation of Water Supplies) Act 1960, which mandated compulsory fluoridation by local authorities. Implementation of fluoridation was held up by preliminary dental surveying and water testing, and a court case, Ryan v. Attorney General. In 1965, the Supreme Court rejected Gladys Ryan’s claim that the Act violated the Constitution of Ireland’s guarantee of the right to bodily integrity. By 1965, Greater Dublin’s water was fluoridated; by 1973, other urban centres were. Dental surveys of children from the 1950s to the 1990s showed marked reductions in cavities parallel to the spread of fluoridation. Today in the Republic of Ireland the majority of drinking water remains fluoridated; 71% of the population in 2002 resided in fluoridated communities. The fluoridation agent used is hydrofluosilicic acid (HFSA; H2SiF6). In a 2002 public survey, 45% of respondents expressed some concern about fluoridation including issues such as dental fluorosis, poisoning and narrowing of consciousness. More information on this subject can be accessed here. (Stephen Rennicks)