Brendan Devlin’s technical ability, vision, interpersonal skills and innovative methods achieved a huge amount on behalf of the people of Cork, and many of the works he completed will act as monuments and testaments to his exceptional service in the engineering sector.

Brendan Devlin

The death took place on July 9, 2020, of CB (Brendan) Devlin, former Cork county engineer after a short illness.

A native of Coachford, Brendan resided at Newberry, Mallow, for the past four decades. He is survived and sadly missed by his widow Vera, whom he married in September 1960, children Gerard, Anne, Kieran, Carl, Vincent and Finola, brother John, sister Felicity, daughters and sons-in-law, grandchildren, former colleagues and friends.

CB (Brendan) Devlin, former Cork county engineer

Born in 1935, Brendan graduated with a Bachelor of Civil Engineering from University College Cork in July 1956, following in the footsteps of his father Cyril, who was area engineer in Coachford and had worked for Cork County Council from 1931.

Brendan became a member of Cumann na nInnealtóirí in 1960 and of its successor, the Institution of Engineers of Ireland in 1969. He received his Chartered Engineer title in 1962 and became a Fellow (CEng FIEI) in 1990.

He began his career in 1956 working for Dublin Corporation and then for the Office of Public Works from 1958 until 1960, working on the Boyne Catchment Arterial Drainage Scheme. In April 1960, he joined Cork County Council (North) as resident engineer on the Cork-Dublin Road at Fermoy.

In 1961, he joined Kilkenny County Council as assistant surveyor responsible for the Castlecomer area. In 1964 he became assistant county engineer, general purposes, with Mayo County Council, gaining promotion to acting chief assistant county engineer in 1967.

In June 1971 Brendan moved to Donegal County Council as chief assistant county engineer with responsibility for machinery and materials, with considerable involvement in surface dressing operations. He filled the role of acting chief fire officer until 1974.

Responsibility for council’s engineering, planning, design and infrastructure works

Brendan was appointed deputy county engineer with Cork County Council in April 1978, assigned to the northern division, with responsibility for all the council’s engineering, planning, design and infrastructure works, over an area equivalent to Co Limerick.

Under his supervision huge progress was made on sanitary services in the division including major water supply schemes at Charleville, Mitchelstown and Ballyclough, sewerage schemes at Fermoy and Charleville, a flood relief scheme at Kanturk and the first modern engineered landfill.

'The engineering profession serves by providing infrastructure to enable the public to better go about its daily business'

Brendan’s work embodied the dictum that the engineering profession serves by providing infrastructure to enable the public to better go about its daily business.

He was by nature an innovator and always very resourceful when utilising available resources both locally and in industry. These traits were well illustrated, by how working closely with his engineering staff, he solved the long-standing water supply deficit that existed in the division. 

He used the services of local hydrogeologists, well drillers familiar with the area and pump contractors to provide groundwater from the high yielding Old Red Sandstone, limestone and gravel aquifers to supply many towns and villages.

Aquifer protection zones

Aquifer protection zones were established to prevent pollution of the water source. The legacy today is that 80% of the water supply in north Cork is derived from these aquifers requiring minimal treatment.

Following damage to Mallow and Fermoy by severe flooding of the Blackwater in 1980 and realising that arterial drainage works were several years away, Brendan implemented a flood warning system to facilitate self-help and mutual aid in the areas likely to be affected.

The system relied initially on two flow monitoring stations on the river upstream of Mallow, linked to the telephone network. Their status could be remotely interrogated and they could provide a warning message to a few predefined phone numbers. Subsequently automatic rain gauges were installed in the river catchment.

Pioneered first use of wet mix macadam

Brendan pioneered the first use of wet mix macadam as a road base and strengthening material in the southern counties, having gained experience in its use in Donegal.

He achieved excellent results, both on new road construction and in pavement overlays on the rural road network. He recognised the suitability of locally sourced limestone aggregates for the production of wet mix macadam and arranged for his engineers to work with the local quarries to produce a product that met specification. 

He was one of the first to acknowledge the environmental benefits of cold mixed bituminous materials and provided significant opportunities for the trial of these materials, sharing his experience through his active membership of the Institute of Asphalt Technology.

Brendan imported into Co Donegal, the first snowplough used outside Leinster and did the same in north Cork. He was to the fore in utilising the most modern of road making and maintenance machinery, with north Cork being one of the first to have computerised bitumen spraying equipment and self-propelled velocity patchers, which are standard nowadays.

Cork-Mallow road among finest achievements

In any review of Brendan’s achievements, it is the Cork-Mallow road that takes prime position. On becoming deputy county engineer, he was given specific responsibility for this improvement project.

Cork-Mallow Road N20 Phase 2 Opening, October 21, 1994. L-R: Brendan Devlin, Michael Smith (Minister for the Environment), Paula Desmond (Cathaoirleach, Cork County Council), Noel Dillon (county manager).  

With 100 plus bends on the existing road, this was indicative of the difficult terrain over which any new route would traverse. There had been strong opposition from landowners and business interests to all Cork County Council’s previous improvement proposals.

As a result, it was the only national route radiating from Cork city, where virtually no improvements had been carried out.

Brendan gave a huge personal commitment to the task over almost two decades, supported by a dedicated project team based at the council offices in Mallow.

Technical ability, vision, interpersonal skills and innovative methods

His technical ability, vision, interpersonal skills and innovative methods were key factors leading to the opening of the first 3km of the new road, south of Mallow by May 1981, continuing through to the completion of the entire 33km to Commons Road in Cork city, in October 1994.

Cork-Mallow Road N20 Phase 2 Opening, October 21, 1994 – First drive through by Minister and Cathaoirleach of Cork County Council and VIPs

The project was sympathetic to the natural landscape traversed, with extensive tree planting, landscaping and development of wildlife habitats and walks on lands where soil, excavated from the project had been deposited, in the Fens near Blarney.

These were unique innovations at the time. He also leveraged the 1% arts grant to commission various sculptures along the route representing the history and lifestyle of the region including the Great Irish Elk, the Milk Churns and the Horses and Riders.

Managed engineering function for entire county

In May 1993, Brendan was appointed county engineer based at County Hall, and continued in this post until he retired in 2000. He was responsible for the management of the engineering function for the entire county and a valued chief technical adviser to the county manager. He played a central role in the development of strategic plans and programmes for the Cork region and county.

Cork-Mallow Road N20 Phase 2  Taking Shape in 1991 looking northwards  towards the location at which it now crosses the Cork-Dublin railway line at Glencaum

Among the many projects he led were Cork County Council’s first waste management plan, which became a blueprint for subsequent regional plans, its first sludge management plan and the council’s policy on implementing the regional and local roads restoration programme.

Furthermore, Brendan managed several major infrastructure schemes including the Midleton sewerage scheme, completion of the N20 and major road improvement projects on the N8, N22, N25, N28, N71, R600 and R582.

Brendan co-operated with Cork Corporation in many joint ventures including urban planning and waste management. He represented Cork County Council on the steering groups for the Jack Lynch Tunnel and Cork main drainage scheme, working closely with the then city engineer, the late Liam (WA) Fitzgerald.

At forefront in encouraging and promoting innovation in environmental matters

Brendan was to the forefront in encouraging and promoting innovation in environmental matters and what we today would call, sustainable best practice.

He actively supported the establishment by Cork County Council of Ireland’s first energy agency in Mallow. This led to many EU funded research and development projects, which are now being implemented 30 years later.

Speaking in Barryscourt Castle after opening of Carrigtwohill bypass, November 14,1994

He presented papers at several international EU experience exchange conferences on both renewable energy and energy efficient and also in his role as the council link with the Energy Cities network.

Brendan was always cognisant of the particular heritage of an area and encouraged local residents or businesses wishing to maintain, develop and promote amenities in their districts. 

Cork County Council staff who worked on Phase 2 of the Cork Mallow Road N20 between 1989 and 1994 with Brendan Devlin on the left on the second row (seated)

He believed county councils could actively facilitate such work; another facet that nowadays has become central to the remit of local authorities.

Brendan submitted and presented many papers over his professional career to conferences /seminars arranged by An Foras Forbartha, Cork Chamber of Commerce, the Department for the Environment including the Local Authority Engineers Spring Show Conference, the Institution of Engineers of Ireland and the Irish Branch of the Institute of Asphalt Technology to name but a few. 

Sherkin Island Marine Station

He was a regular speaker at the annual International Environmental Conferences hosted by the Sherkin Island Marine Station.

At a retirement function for a colleague in February 2010, Brendan Devlin on left on front row

Brendan's leadership style was based on teamwork, long before this became widely popular in organisations. He was a trusted and sincere colleague and mentor to his staff, always available to advise and support them. He took great pride that many of them were promoted to senior positions in local authorities.

Major road projects

A list of the major road projects with which Brendan was involved while county engineer between 1993 and 2000 are set out below.

  • The construction of the East Cork Parkway from the old Dunkettle roundabout to Carrigtwohill and the design of the Youghal bypass on the N25;
  • The realignment of an 8 km section of the Cork- Bandon Road bypassing the village of Halfway;
  • The realignment of the N22 Cork to Killarney Road from the Kerry county boundary to Sliabh Riabhach;
  • The construction of the N28 Slí Carraig Donn from the Cork South Ring Road to Carr’s Hill and significant pavement and widening works on the same route, between Shannonpark and Ringaskiddy;
  • Major special road pavement improvements on the old Cork-Dublin Route N8, which extended the capacity and pavement life of the route until completion of the entire M8 motorway in 2009, which set a blueprint from which many facets of current pavement improvement schemes have evolved;
  • The construction of 1.6km of new road on regional route R600 across the Browns Mills and Belgooly Estuaries on the Cork approach to Kinsale including the Dan Desmond and Frank Hurley bridges;
  • The Millstreet to Macroom regional road R582 through Keim quarry;
  • Traffic calming schemes at numerous locations across the county.

Brendan retired in February 2000, after a public service career that spanned 44 years, as glowing tributes poured in from Cork county councillors, council management and his colleagues.

They praised his tremendous work on behalf of the people of Co Cork, noting the many works he had completed, which would act as monuments and testaments to his sterling service.

At the another function with Brendan second from the right and his successor as Cork county engineer, Ned Flynn, second from the left

Following his retirement, Brendan shared his expertise and experience generously with both the public and private sectors.

He maintained a continuing interest in new technology, particularly the complexities of renewable energy.

An Bord Pleanála availed of his expertise in assessing a few complex high-profile large-scale developments across the country, including the 60km M3 (Clonee to north of Kells) motorway and the IKEA store at Ballymun.

He continued until early in 2020 providing his time to Engineers Ireland assessing and interviewing candidates for the title of Chartered Engineer.

The late CB Devlin, former Cork county engineer, was laid to rest in St Gobnait’s Cemetery, Mallow, on July 11, 2020, just a few hundred metres from his lasting legacy, the N20 Cork Mallow Road.

May he rest in peace.

MOB and TS