The modern history of Dublin Port begins in the early 1700s, when a bank was constructed to protect the south side of the channel at the mouth of the harbour, enabling ships to reach the city even in high winds. This was replaced by the South Bull Wall in 1753 with the Poolbeg lighthouse added in 1767. During the eighteenth century, extensive land reclamation works saw Dublin the city take its distinctive shape, turning east and towards the sea, with walls and fortifications built to secure newly reclaimed land from the power of the tide and the surge of water in the Bay. By the end of the eighteenth century, the port was at the centre of Dublin’s maritime identity and the city was part of imperial networks of migration and trade. In 1800, Dublin was the third largest port city in Europe.
At this period, vessels landed at the end of the wall or the Pigeon House, and passengers, mail and other goods were rowed to the city in boats where they were met by local people seeking employment: scenes vividly described in Maria Edgeworth’s novel The Absentee (1812): ‘long and loud the battle for trunks and portmanteaus raged!’. In 1800 a North Bull Wall was constructed, following a survey of Dublin harbour by Captain William Bligh (of HMS Bounty fame). The rival developments of Kingstown (Dunleary) and Howth harbours in the nineteenth century and the growth of rapid growth of competing rail interests in the different ports saw Dublin Port competing for passenger trade but 2015 saw the final closure of the route from Dun Laoghaire to Holyhead.
A Victorian diving bell, designed in 1860 by the port engineer, Bindon Blood Stoney, proved a highly effective and innovative way of building dock walls with pre-cast concrete. The bell played a vital role in transforming Dublin from tidal harbour to deep sea port and visitors can now see the refurbished Bell on Sir Rogerson’s Quay and walk through its interior.
Currently the history of Dublin Port is cared for by its Heritage Director, Lar Joye, who, among many other initiatives, has made rare colour images of the life and workings of Dublin Port from the 1920s to 1960s free to view online.
(Image: Ian Mantel – Poolbeg Lighthouse – CC BY-SA 4.0)