The billion dollar hole

Dave Wilson recounts the terror-filled tale of the unsung hero who joined two nations together underneath the sea.

<b>The seaweed is always greener, in somebody else’s lake.You dream about going up there, but that is a big mistake. – Under the sea. (Ashman, Menken).</b>

It was the biggest and most expensive civil engineering project ever envisaged. Two countries separated for as long as anyone could remember by a forty mile stretch of sea would finally be linked together by an undersea tunnel.

Although both countries had made some half-hearted attempts at digging such a tunnel many decades before, there had always been one problem or another that had scuppered the deal. Either it was a fear of invasion from the ‘foreigners’, or it was a lack of funds.

But finally, when the threat of war had passed, and the governments of both countries had saved enough money in their respective piggy banks to finance the dig, the billion dollar hole was given the green light.

Key to the success of the project was the design and deployment of two large boring machines called ‘moles’ that would make their way towards one another from the shores of the respective countries, happily extracting the sod until they were just 100m apart.

Then, one would be dismantled while the other would swerve off into the rock and abandoned, leaving the last few metres of the tunnel to be dug out by a team of extremely patriotic Irishmen with a penchant for Tri-Nitro-Toluene and jackhammers.

And so it was. Once the moles had done their duty, the Irishmen moved in. With great gusto, they blasted and hammered until finally, one eventful morning, one of them actually broke through to the other side. There were cheers and hoots as the news of the event passed down the ranks of the other hardworking men.

But the celebrations stopped pretty darn quickly as soon as the report reached the Directors of the tunnelling company. With great alacrity, they ordered the tunnel to be evacuated as swiftly as possible and then quietly instructed a small team of plasterers to discretely patch up the hole, carefully recording its exact location.

Then they retreated to the boardroom. And, over several bottles of Taittinger Comtes de Champagne Rosé, they took turns drawing straws in an exercise to determine which one of them would ‘officially’ breakthrough onto foreign soil.

Once the exercise had been completed, the winning director was escorted down to the chalk face where he was duly decked out in the appropriate mining clobber and handed a jackhammer. Proudly, he broke through the façade in front of a number of gullible hacks and snappers from the national papers that had been rushed in to witness the historic event.

Now, the tunnel has been finished. And a fast rail line built inside it allows citizens of the two once warring nations to move between their capital cities in a matter of hours. But as they glide under the sea, not one of them gives a passing thought to the Irishman who made the first breakthrough. And no-one asks any questions about why his friends were so interested in the TNT either.