Construction of the piers

As if to underline the danger of the coast and the need for a secure harbour in 1807 two troopships The Prince of Wales and the Rochdale were wrecked in storm conditions with enormous loss of life along the coast towards Blackrock and this acted as a further spur to the public demand for progress. The person chiefly responsible was a resident Norwegian master mariner and shipbroker named Richard Toucher who worked tirelessly campaigning to bring about the construction of a safe port. His Asylum Harbour was conceived as a refuge for sailing ships in trouble in Dublin Bay.

In 1815, eight Harbour Commissioners were appointed to supervise the building of a new harbour and work began on the east pier in 1817. By 1821 both east and west piers were constructed, although the work of reinforcing the east pier went on for another twenty years overseen by John Rennie. The estimated cost in 1817 for the harbour construction was £801,159, however it came in at £690,717.

The piers were built of rubble masonry by a technique of 'a pierre perdue' whereby the stones were thrown in and the action of the waves was allowed to consolidate the pile. All the stone for Dun Laoghaire was mined locally and a primitive funicular railway operated down from the quarries in Killiney. The rail trolleys were connected by a continuous chain and functioned by the force of gravity as the weight of the granite laden trolleys going down was enough to pull the empty trolleys up.

The Harbour Master for this most important period of the development of the harbour was William Hutchinson. From 1816 to 1874 he oversaw the change from fishing village to the principal port in Ireland for passenger service, from sail to steam powered ships. His foresight in his term regarding the construction of the Harbour, the lifeboat service, the opening of the harbour to steam ships for passenger service was of great importance in building the reputation of the port.

The construction of the Asylum harbour far to the east of the original creek encouraged a shift in the centre of the village. To mark the change the new town was re-named Kingstown to honour a visit of King William IV in his yacht The Royal Charlotte in 1821. The Irish Steam Packet Company moved its berths to Dun Laoghaire in 1826, working off the east pier beside the prisons hulks used for holding transportation prisoners.

The depth of the new harbour was deep enough to enable a 36gun or Indiaman ship, which required a 24ft bottom to safely berth. The eastern pier has a length of 3500 ft. (1.3km) and the western that of 4950 ft. (1.5km); the total area enclosed being 250 acres, with a varying depth of from 15 to 27 ft. which amounts to one of the finest artificial harbours in the world. Dún Laoghaire continued to function as a place of refuge for sailing ships but was well on its way to being a major passenger port, or as Stephen Dedalus muses in Joyce's Ulysses "-Kingstown pier, … Yes, a disappointed bridge".

By 1859 the port was much as it remained up till the introduction of the RoRo ferry terminal upgrade in 1965. Then increasing transportation of cars to and from Holyhead demanded an overhaul of the facilities in the harbour. In 1995 a state of the art ferry terminal was opened to facilitate the HSS highspeed ship.

Adverse weather conditions could still be a problem even after the building of the Asylum Harbour. The great storm of February 1861 wreaked havoc in English and Irish costal waters with thirteen colliers and brigs sunk inside Dun Laoghaire harbour. Three other vessels, two of them, the colliers Neptune and Industry were wrecked on the back of the East pier. It was not possible to launch the lifeboat in time to save the crews aboard the Neptune and Industry. Captain John McNeill Boyd who was attached to the Royal Navy guardship Ajax, went to the rescue of the crew of the Neptune. Captain Boyd and five of his crew formed a human chain on the seaward rocks of the East Pier in an attempt to drag sailors from the sea. Caught by a heavy sea all six men drowned.

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