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.
History of the Port: https://www.dublinport.ie/about-dublin-port/history-of-port/
Finola O’Kane, ‘The City of Dublin’: https://www.bl.uk/picturing-places/articles/the-city-of-dublin
Dublin Port Archive: https://dublinportarchive.com/
Fishguard is a coastal town in north Pembrokeshire, overlooking Cardigan Bay. Its name in Welsh, Abergwaun, reflects its position at the mouth of the Gwaun river; its name in English derives from the Old Norse Fiskigarðr – ‘fish catching enclosure’ – and reveals the town’s long history as a trading port. Goods such as limestone, coal, slate, wool and foodstuffs all passed through its harbour.
The prosperity of the port attracted the attention of raiders: in 1779 the privateer Black Prince captured a local ship, demanding £1000 ransom. When the townspeople refused to pay up, the privateer’s crew bombarded Fishguard, damaging local houses and St. Mary’s Church (which was subsequently renovated and is home to some fine stained glass windows). Castle Point Old Fort was built in response to this episode: it was from here that the Welsh fired cannon at French forces in the ‘Last Invasion of Britain’ in February 1797. Led by the Irish-American William Tate, the French ‘Légion Noire’ landed at Carregwastad Point on 22 February. They were about 1400 strong, but badly organized, and surrendered unconditionally on Goodwick Sands after three days.
Two hundred years later these events were commemorated in a 100-foot long tapestry created by the community, now displayed in the Town Hall. As the old port declined in the nineteenth century, the arrival of the railway in 1906 brought transatlantic liners to nearby Goodwick (Gwdig), where a new harbour was built and from where Stena Line now runs its passenger service to Rosslare. Fishguard was also home to the Welsh writer D.J. Williams (1885-1970), and the picturesque quayside at Lower Town famously featured in the films Moby Dick (1956) and Under Milk Wood (1972).
Holyhead is the largest town on Holy Island, Anglesey. The town is best known for its role as a major seaport and it boasts an over 200-year old ferry link with Ireland. Although Holyhead remained a comparatively small fishing village until around 1800, the area was settled as far back as the Neolithic as can be seen in the many remains of circular huts, burial chambers and standing stones. In the fourth century, a Roman military outpost was established here. Archaeologists think this fort may have had connections with Segontium, located in what is today’s Caernarfon. In the sixth century, the now abandoned camp changed its purpose as Saint Cybi founded a church and monastery. Over the following centuries, the town grew around this site and the Welsh name of Holyhead, Caergybi, subsequently traces its Roman and early Christian origins.
At least since the seventeenth century, Holyhead served as north Wales’s main port for sailing to Ireland. The completion of Thomas Telford’s post road, the opening of his Menai Suspension Bridge, and the arrival of the railway in the first half of the nineteenth century considerably boosted the growth of the town. In 1819, the first steamships were employed in the transport of mail and passengers between Holyhead and Kingstown (today Dún Laoghaire), this making the service more reliable and increasing the traffic across the Irish Sea. It therefore became necessary to develop a new, much larger harbour that was also able to give refuge to up to 1000 ships in the event of bad weather. The result was the construction of Holyhead breakwater, which with its 2.7km remains the UK’s longest seawall.
History of Holyhead Port: https://holyheadport.co.uk/about-holyhead-port/history
History of Holyhead, Anglesey Info: https://www.anglesey.info/holyhead/
Holyhead: Stories of a Port: https://holyheadstoriesofaport.com/2020/04/
Pembroke Dock (Doc Penfro) and adjacent Milford Haven (Aberdaugleddau) both developed in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries from small village settlements, Paterstown and Hubberstown, on the banks of the Cleddau river. The vast natural harbour of Milford Haven was the point of departure for multiple invasions of Ireland, including those under Henry II and Oliver Cromwell, and the place to which Richard II returned from Ireland to meet his defeat by Henry Bolingbroke in 1399. Milford, on the north side, was founded as a new town in 1793 by Sir William Hamilton and his nephew Charles Greville, who invited a number of Quaker families from Nantucket to settle there and run a whaling fleet; from 1800 a naval dockyard was established there, building ships throughout the Napoleonic wars.
In 1814 the Royal Dockyard was transferred across the river to Pembroke Dock (initially known as Paters Dock), and a new town grew up around it. Royal navy ships were commissioned and built there for over 100 years, with the last one, the Oleander, launched in 1922. The base nonetheless remained a Royal Dockyard until it was transferred to the Milford Haven Port Authority in 2007. During the twentieth century Pembroke Dock was an important base for the RAF, and became the most significant centre for flying boats (sea-planes) in the world. In 1940 the Luftwaffe attacked the Dock, bombing a series of nearby oil-tanks and causing a massive conflagration.
This overwhelmingly military history has left a striking architectural legacy of admiralty buildings, Martello towers, barracks, a naval chapel and large-scale hangars (one of which saw the creation of the ‘Millennium Falcon’ built in 1979 for the Star-Wars film The Empire Strikes Back). Today, Pembroke Dock houses the Irish Ferries passenger service to Rosslare.
A brief History of Pembroke Dock, Pembroke Dock Heritage Centre: https://www.sunderlandtrust.com/about-us/brief-history/
History, Pembroke Dock Town Council: https://www.pembrokedocktc.org.uk/history/
Rosslare Harbour, or Cuan Ros Láir in Irish, meaning ‘harbour of the middle peninsula’, sits on the south-east corner of Ireland, a suitable location for marine connections with Wales and Europe.
Rosslare Port’s history begins relatively recently with changing geographical and transport systems leading to the creation of the new harbour. Previously, the adjacent Wexford town and New Ross were the maritime centres of the region since the medieval era. Although the area has a rich maritime association with a RNLI station since 1838 and the much older Rosslare Fort, which guarded Wexford Harbour, was abandoned to the sea in 1925, although its remains have surfaced in recent years with shifting sand banks.
The advent of the railways in the mid-19th century transformed the way goods and people moved enabling new connections to be created within Ireland and across the Irish Sea. It is due to these developments at Rosslare became a port. In the 1890s, the Fishguard & Rosslare Railways & Harbours Company, a joint venture between the British Great Western Railway and the Irish Great Southern & Western Railway created the integrated rail and ferry systems generating new commercial, migration, and tourism routes. Rosslare Harbour town developed around the port supporting the new waves of traffic.
The increasing popularity of cars and trucks in the 1940s and 50s furthered Rosslare’s role as vital node in international transport to and from Ireland. In 1968, the port became Ireland’s newest gateway to Europe with the start of the Le Harve ferry route. While low-fares airlines have impacted the sector, goods transport and seasonal tourism has ensured, Rosslare Europort is now the second busiest port in the Republic of Ireland, with new prospects opening in light of Brexit.