Last week we had the opportunity to visit one of Northern Ireland’s most unique attractions: Portadown Post, a Cold War bunker buried underground on the outskirts of Portadown.
The bunker’s curator, Alastair, gave us a tour of the site and talked us through what life was like for those stationed in the bunker.
It’s accessed using a ladder under a hatch in the ground, and Alastair told us that a woman in her 80s managed it in recent years! With that in mind, we descended some 15ft into the ground, and stepped into another time.
“The bunker was designed for three people to be stationed here for three weeks at a time, and they would have been totally self-sustained,” Alastair explained. “A draw of air is always coming through, and it never gets damp.”
Although now run by solar energy, originally, 12 volt batteries were used to power the bunker and all the equipment inside. There would have been a 5 watt filament bulb for light, with some extra natural light filtering through the hatch during the day.
The bunker was officially closed in 1991, and in 1998 Alastair approached the landowner with an enquiry to restore the bunker. With permission granted, Alastair set about the task of acquiring the equipment which once functioned in the bunker.
“This was a master post with a radio, meaning information could be relayed from here,” Alastair told us. “All the current equipment has been sourced and repaired to working condition - the radio communication, the 4 minute warning equipment, the police warning points above ground. The original phone line is there which you can use to set off warnings from above ground to below ground.
“A bomb power indicator would register the size of the explosion, while a ground zero indicator would take the flash of any explosion, and burn it onto photographic paper to be read. Those stationed in the bunker would have to come out and change the paper, record the readings, send the findings to headquarters at Thiepval Barracks, and then come out every 5 minutes to check the radiation levels.”
A Teletalk (a loudspeaker telephone) was used to communicate with other bunkers, and has been restored and brought online again to connect with other bunkers within the modern network.
There is a dedicated community who maintain and look after around 80 bunkers in the UK, and two more in Northern Ireland have also been restored. The site for the Portadown bunker was most likely chosen for its height above sea level (110ft) as well as its proximity to other bases in the area.
Alastair explained that bunkers were operational in the Republic of Ireland too. “They had coastal watchers going the same job. Two original telephones from World War 2 have been found in bunkers, identical to the ones the Royal Observer Corps used, and every group exercise involved the south of Ireland.”
The Portadown Post is open to visitors and interested groups. Get in touch with Alastair to find out more, and experience this piece of modern history.
You can reach Alastair by phone: 07921167775 or by email: firstname.lastname@example.org