Dublin Port Emigration in the Early Twentieth Century

Dublin Port in the early twentieth century was a place of great change, business and for many, their last view of Ireland before reaching foreign shores.


Dublin port during the early twentieth century was a place of great business trade and work. Having been refurbished in the 1800s to give way for more shipping of trades and goods, the port had become a huge employment area for most of Dublin. According to Dublin Ports website, under their ‘history’ section, the port itself was quite infamous in the centuries before for shipwrecks due to the unprotected harbour it offered incoming ships, meaning many of these vessels couldn’t land in the port for several weeks during particularly harsh winter periods. Great construction took place to fix this common issue and the areas commonly referred to as ‘South and North Bulls’ were built. The Poolbeg lighthouse was also built at this time to replace a very primitive floating light that had rested in the waters around the port to warn incoming ships of their arrival. At this point in time, passengers and goods would dock at the South Bull and would be rowed in boats into the city. This was a major renovation for the Docklands areas and significantly contributed to this areas rapid growth in prosperity, as it meant that ships could now dock in all weathers and would maintain the integrity of the vessel and its passengers, whether they be livestock, goods or people. Attached is a photo, sourced from Dublin Ports own website, of what Dublin Port what have looked like early on, with it to the left of O’Connell Street in this photo.

As well as the trade that was going on with goods, Dublin Port was an area that many passed through whilst emigrating to another country to find a better life. According to The National Archives recently digitised exhibition entitled ‘Early 20th Century Ireland-Dublin’, in the years between 1890-1901, 430,393 people are estimated to have used this port as their last stop in Ireland before leaving the country, with less than 10,000 of these people actually being residents of Dublin. This shows exactly how influential the renovated Dublin Port was to the rest of the country, with so many people travelling from opposite ends of the country to use the port and its goods. At this time, as was common, it is easy to justify that most of these passengers would have been sailing to Britain for a chance at a better life. At this point in time, there would have been up to 80 sailings from Dublin Port to Britain a week, with almost all of them filled.

Although emigration up to the point of the early twentieth century was usually recorded in the country of entrance rather than the country of departure, records from Dublin Port of leaving passengers have been found. These records boast many countries of arrival apart from Britain, as they are based on the BT 27 (The Board of Trade Outwards Passenger Lists) held at The National Archives and include long-haul voyages to destinations outside Britain and Europe. According to these records, a common area of arrival was the West Indies, Canada, the United States of America and France. Attached to this are three such of these examples, which I will explain in more detail.

The passenger listing above was for a woman under the name of ‘Mabel Garrett’ who was travelling from Dublin Port in February of the year 1922. Mabel was travelling from Dublin Port and was due to dock in New Orleans on her arrival in America, where she intended to reside in the city of Los Angeles, California. This would have been done through Port Talbot in Wales. According to the information that is available through this passenger list, Mabel was 44 years old at the time of her departure, with the sheet above stating her last permanent fixed address was in Belfast, Ireland.

Another of these such documents is the passenger list of one Mr and Mrs. John Horner, who undertook their voyage on the 17th June, 1914. Unusually, their voyage was not for emigration purposes, but for a 13 day trip. This would have been highly unusual at the time but also shows the extent of travel that came and went from Dublin Port. This would have been a strenuous journey for Mr. and Mrs. Horner by ship, but this would have been made a lot easier by not having to travel to Britain initially to then continue on their journey to Canada.

This final document is another example of a passenger list from Dublin at this time, with the only information we have from this passenger being their surname and their port of arrival – Chateauveax and Hobart, Australia. This passenger left in the year 1909 and took the incredibly long and difficult journey to Australia by ship, which would have taken weeks, with Dublin Port being their last sight of Ireland for many years. It is also fascinating to note that the ship is French and that Ms. Chateauveax was actually the Captains wife and was accompanying her husband, who was manning the ship to Australia. This goes to show the exact level of travel that passed through Dublin Port every day.