Dun Laoghaire is situated near Dublin in Ireland. It began as a small fishing village, but since the 19th Century, it has become part of the sprawling suburbs of our capital city. Despite this, it has managed to retain some of its individuality.
Dun Laoghaire is a very historical town. It used to be a small fishing village located on a rocky coast near Salthill, which was renowned for its production of salt. The original village, called Dunleary was situated near the beginning of the present West Pier. The present inner harbour, known as the coal harbour, dates from that time of the 18th Century. It consisted of seventy dwellings or cottages and was a very compact little village. All that remains of Dunleary is a row of 15 houses, including ‘Purty Kitchen’ and the Coal Harbour Pier. However, during that time, there was also another pier which was in the form of a curve. That pier is now buried beneath the railway line. There used to be a sandy cove running up to the site of the former ‘Fun Factory’, which was closed recently. Now, all that land has been reclaimed and built on. In Dunleary during the 18th Century, there used to be a famous coffeehouse which was very popular with tourists and people on day-trips from Dublin. The small harbour used to dry-out at low tide but it was considered an important departure point for England. Dun Laoghaire is still an important port, however the present journey time of 1½ hours does not compare to the 22 hours then!
The death of Dunleary was started in the 1820s when the building of the harbour created a completely new town to the east, on the site of the present town. The first few buildings of the new town were constructed from the 1820s, although building of the harbour was started in 1815.
The harbour was only built to facilitate the trade in Dublin Port. At that time, the approaches to the Liffey were extremely dangerous. Many ships were grounded as there was only a narrow path through the sandbanks to the river mouth. It needed skilled captains to negotiate the dangers. Because of this, there was a huge waiting time. Ships were anchored out there for days before being allowed in. And, if that wasn’t enough for them, they had to brave fierce storms and gales that threatened to drive them onto the rocks.
So, it was decided that a place for the boats to stay was needed. Dunleary seemed a suitable place and the foundation stone was laid in 1817 by the Lord Lieutenant. King George IV visited Dunleary in 1821 causing the name ‘Kingstown’ to be formally adopted for the town. The visit of the King was recorded on the obelisk, which is now positioned in front of the Royal St. George Yacht Club.
The present name, Dun Laoghaire, was adopted again in 1920. This name was the Irish version of Dunleary meaning the fort of Laoghaire. In 1930, two small stones containing early decorations were dug up near the Coal Harbour, suggesting that the original fort was built there. This fort can’t be seen now, though, since a Martello Tower was built on top of it and then the construction of the railway destroyed them both. However, the National Museum said that the stones were of recent origin and that they were put there to prove that there was a dún in Dun Laoghaire. No one knows the truth.
The harbour consists of two huge granite piers. The East Pier is one mile long and the West Pier is even longer. It encloses a space of 250 acres and the two arms have protected ships in the most adverse of weather conditions except occasionally when northeasterly gales strike. It cost over one million pounds to build and more than 600 men were employed to construct it.
Dun Laoghaire was also an area for Martello Towers. These round towers were built under threat of an invasion by Napoleon in the early 1800s. Each one was built the same, and was positioned within firing distance of the next, along the East Coast from Skerries to Bray. On the top of each, there was a wall with a rail on top. The cannon sat on this rail and was free to point in any direction. Two Martello Towers were built in Dun Leary, one on the site of the supposed dún and one in the People’s Park. All have been destroyed. The original purpose of George’s Street, the main street of Dun Laoghaire, was to link the towers and the garrisons together.
The land in the centre of Dun Laoghaire was poor and partly used for grazing. Much of the land had been quarried with holes and stones on it covered with briars. The new town converted much of this to fine Georgian terraces, churches, yacht clubs and other public buildings.
The town grew between 1820 and 1840. George’s Street was quickly developed and also were the parallel streets Kingstown Parade, Rumley Avenue (now known as Patrick Street and Mulgrave Street) and Northumberland Avenue. The only building on Tivoli Road at that time was Carrig Castle, which was really a large house. The road itself was actually an old path between the castles of Bullock and Monkstown. During the 1830s, Granite Lodge, Primrose Hill, Tivoli Terrace, York Road, 2 schools and a Presbyterian Church were built. On the seafront, Crofton Terrace, Haddington Terrace, Victoria Terrace, Marine Terrace, Windsor Terrace and Martello Terrace were built. The forerunner of the Royal Marine Hotel, overlooking the harbour was built on Gresham Terrace.
The need for Dunleary to have a harbour of refuge from the tides and approaches of Dublin Bay finally saw some resolution in 1815 when the first stone was laid by Earl Whitworth the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland.
In all, the Harbour took nearly 40 years to complete and during this time 600 men were employed and the cost was estimated at one million pounds. The resulting Harbour enclosed a water area of some 250 acres. King George IV officially opened the Harbour in 1823 and Dunleary became Kingstown in his honour.
With the coming of the railway in the 1830’s Kingstown became a popular place to visit and to live in some of the lovely new terraces being built The Coal Harbour was an exceedingly busy place importing coal and in 1835 there were 20 registered yawls whose main trade was in importing coal from Swansea and Whitehaven in South Wales. By 1860, coal was the biggest business in the town and 1855 saw the Outer Coal Harbour constructed at a cost of £30,000, and in 1863 a railway siding was added in order to export pyrites from Avoca in Co. Wicklow to Wales and England. In 1859 the important Carlisle Pier was opened.
In 1827 the Harbour Commissioners had built a jetty to be used exclusively by the Admiralty’s Mail Packets. This Mail Service continued until 1850 when a new contract was made with the City of Dublin Steam Packet Company.
1861 saw the construction of a most attractive Lifeboat House on the Royal Slip at the foot of the Carlisle Pier. On Christmas Eve, 1895 while endeavouring to rescue the crew of the ‘Palme’ the lifeboat capsized with the loss of the entire fifteen man crew their names are recorded in a stone memorial.
A Harbour Master’s House was built in 1845. Twenty-five years earlier a stone house had been constructed for the Harbour Commissioners on Crofton Road with a commanding view of the Harbour this building was in latter years used as the residence of the Harbour Master.
A boom year for the area came in 1863 with the additions to the Harbour of a battery/fort, a coastguard station, a seaman’s home and a lighthouse and keepers cottages. An Anenometer to measure wind speed and direction was also part of the improvements. These buildings all show excellent workmanship.
For more than 170 year a Mailboat service has travelled between Dun Laoghaire and Holyhead in Wales. Even during World War I the Mailboat sailed. The ‘Leinster’ one of four boats plying the journey was torpeoded and sank 16 miles from Kingstown 501 died and 256 survived. The Mailboat continued uninterrupted service until the min 1970s. The new Car Fewrry Terminal was completed in 1969.
The Lifeboat still maintains an important and admirable service to all and presently a new Lifeboat Station is under construction.
The coal importation has ceased in Dun Laoghaire and the fishing industry has declined however an Ice House was built in 1972 on the Coal Harbour Quay and fresh fish can be purchased there by the general public.
In 1971 The World Fishing Championships were hosted by Dun Laoghaire and brought many visitors. Sailing is still an engrossing sport for many and is also enjoyed by many spectators during long summer evenings.