Transport at Dún Laoghaire Port

Dun Laoghaire as it stands is inextricably linked to boats and trains. It is impossible to imagine its history of the last two centuries without reference to the developments in transport. They have shaped its physical appearance and character.

Up to the mid-eighteenth century Dunleary was a small village consisting of a few fisherman's cottages. It was situated in a gully up from a small cove on the southern shores of Dublin Bay. A stream running down from Monkstown Castle, the chief residence in the area, entered there into the creek, which dried out at low tide. The development of Dun Laoghaire as a major port had a slow start but was ultimately determined by its position along the coast so near to the mouth of the Liffey and the city of Dublin.

The shallow marshy nature of the Liffey's estuary, with its shifting sandbars and the difficulty of its approach dependant on the winds and tides, before the Georgian river walls were built, put the emphasis of Dublin shipping on Howth and Dalkey. In 1786 control of Dublin port was transferred from Dublin Corporation to a new authority- the Ballast Board which was controlled by merchants and property owners. The Ballast Board was also given control over "Dun Leary" harbour - modern Dun Laoghaire - and Dalkey Sound, on the southern approaches to Dublin.

In the early eighteenth century sailing packets plying between Ireland and Wales began to moor off the coast near here. Dun Laoghaire began to cater for the through-flow of ship passengers who disembarked into small fishermen's boats It also at this time acquired an increasing use as a watering place by ladies in summer. Esther Johnson (Swift's Stella) visited the area in about 1710. Although not as fashionable as other places along the coast, it was a recognised place for "sea air", as opposed to Dalkey's amusements. Dun Laoghaire was recommended for its honest residents and ale, but such luxuries as meat or wine were not available. A coffee house, which became a local feature on the bluff over the village, was built some time before 1756 on the road to Dublin.

Mercantile interests in Dublin began to look at Dun Laoghaire as a location for an improved harbour for the ships moored offshore awaiting the tide. Many of these had to wait days before they could get up the Liffey to berth and off load their cargo. It was a dangerous spot and ships frequently had to slip or cut their cable and stand out to sea in stormy conditions. In fact a practice grew up that people would go out and remove the buoy off the anchors of ships that had slipped their cable, and noting its position claim a reward for finding it later.

"The bay of Dublin has perhaps been more fatal to seamen and ships than any in the world, for a ship once caught in it in a gale of wind from ENE to SSE must ride it out at anchors or go on shore, and from the nature of that shore the whole of the crews almost invariably have perished. Capt. Charles Malcolm of George IV's royal yacht." (from Dun Laoghaire Harbour, John de Courcy Ireland, p2)

The masters and crew of ships pressed to get their anchor back in such a dangerous position and sail on to their next destination would never report it                                                                          to the authorities. Steps were taken against this practice in 1801.

Around the turn of the nineteenth century a number of factors marked out Dun Laoghaire as a place for growth as a port, were there had formerly been a rocky wild shore with little fresh water or facilities. With the Act of Union, Ireland became an integral part of the British Empire and a safer connection was needed more than ever. Firstly, Captain Bligh in 1800 concluded a survey of Dublin Bay in an attempt to identify solutions to the problem of a safe anchorage for the city once and for all. This combined with the construction of Martello towers and batteries, after the scare of a Napoleonic invasion, with their connecting good military roads, led to the opening up of the Dún Laoghaire area.

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