Jehan Ashmore

Dun Laoghaire Harbour has it origins as a ‘harbour of refuge’ − built to provide essential shelter for sailing ships using Dublin port. Captain Bligh of Mutiny on the Bounty fame regarded Dublin Bay as one of the most dangerous in the world. 

Built of granite from a quarry in nearby Dalkey, the harbour took 25 years to construct. Once completed in 1842 it acquired the accolade of being the largest artificially built harbour in the world.

'Eithne' (1893) tacking in Dún Laoghaire Harbour in 2008. Owned by Séan Cullen and Neil Keaveney and currently undergoing restoration, her penultimate owner was the late Capt Kevin O'Neill, assistant Dún Laoghaire Harbour master (1990). Photo Gillian Mills

‘Eithne’ (1893) tacking in Dún Laoghaire Harbour. Owned by Séan Cullen and Neil Keaveney and currently undergoing restoration, her penultimate owner was the late Capt Kevin O’Neill, assistant Dún Laoghaire Harbour master (1990). Photo Gillian Mills

Dun Laoghaire, or the ‘fort of Laoire’ was also known as Kingstown for a while when the town was renamed in honour of a Royal visit in 1821.  It was also an important base for the Royal Navy’s ‘guard ships’ during the 1800s.

The harbour has also known tragedy, and unwittingly has a place in history for all the wrong reasons. In 1918 the City of Dublin Steam-Packet’s R.M.S. Leinster was struck by U-Boat torpedoes during WW1 and sank with 501 lives lost off the Kish Bank. The event is recognised as the greatest sea tragedy in Irish history.

With its all-embracing harbour arms − the harbour juts majestically into Dublin Bay, offering the mariner a myriad of uses for both commercial and leisure activities. The harbour is a port for the ferry service to Wales and is also a very popular boating centre and general recreational amenity.                                                                                         

Marine gateway
Development of the harbour as a marine gateway is the responsibility of the Dun Laoghaire Harbour Company − a statutory commercial body also responsible for general operations and management. Commercial interests support the long-term maintenance of the harbour.

Apart from shipping sourced revenues, the company accrues funding from shore-based activities that go towards refurbishment and upkeep. One such project nearing completion is the resurfacing of the East Pier, which provides one of the most popular walks for Dubliners.

This month the harbour’s key anchor-tenant, Stena Line, celebrates its 10th anniversary operating the HSS (High Speed-Service) to Holyhead. Introduced in 1996, the route became the first to operate the world’s largest multi-purpose fast ferry catamaran, Stena Explorer.
Guiding lights
Dun Laoghaire is also home to the Commissioners of Irish Lights (CIL) who are responsible for providing navigational aids throughout Irish waters. The authority maintains coastal buoys, automated major floating aids and lighthouses. The CIL vessel Granuaile is seen regularly in the outer harbour where a tug brings back and forth small buoys from the marine depot.

A major re-development of the CIL’s marine engineering maintenance depot is underway with the construction of a headquarters built on the existing site. The existing office premises in Dublin will eventually relocate to Dun Laoghaire.

The project is contracted to Bowen Construction Ltd and the building designed by Scott Tallon Walker Architects is to have a low profile to minimise visual impact in the harbour. In order to prevent disruption to the marine depot, the project will be conducted in three phases and is expected to be completed by July 2007.

Plans by the Dun Laoghaire Harbour Company to re-develop the Carlisle Pier site remains a much unresolved issue. In March 2003 the winning tender was awarded to Dublin–based heneghan.peng.architects and project company Urban Capital. Failure by the consortium to submit additional plans as set by the conditions of the planning process has brought a halt to the project.

The design comprises a hotel, apartments, retail, leisure uses and a ‘floating-stage’ positioned at the end of the pier with public access. A central planning condition stipulated the inclusion of a cultural component, which the company proposed would be a national marine life centre.

Considerable opposition was voiced over all four short-listed plans on the basis that they were unsympathetic to the Victorian design of the town and were heavily weighted towards commercial rather then ‘popular’ benefit.  

A 10-hectare site on Crofton Road comprising workshops and stores has been sold for a mixed development of offices, apartment, retail units, car-parking and will include a public plaza. Work on this project at Harbour Square is expected to be completed in two years. As a condition of the development, states that the listed headquarters of the harbour company, which is beside the site, is to be restored.

Major boating centre
Dun Laoghaire is Ireland’s leading boating centre and the harbour’s strong sailing tradition is reflected by the four waterfront clubs sharing a combined history of over 800 years!  

The yacht clubs have a proud record of sailing accolades and last year hosted a combined four-day Dun Laoghaire Championships Regatta. The event was described as ‘Dun Laoghaire Week’ with 500 boats participating. The organisers are to continue with the regatta on a bi-annual basis and will promote it as an international boating event.

The marina of 500 berths has been a huge success since its inception in 2001, according to the general manager, Hal Bleakley.  “We have a waiting list for over 130 boats,” he said.

Dun Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council granted an amendment to an existing planning permission by the harbour company for phase two of the marina (to extend capacity by 200 berths at a cost of €3m). This has been appealed to An Bord Pleanala by the Commissioners of Irish Lights.

Activities and services
Two sailing schools on the West Pier operate from the Marine Activity Centre alongside the Dun Laoghaire Sea Scouts.

Other activities include diving; skiff rowing; sea-kayaking, power boating and boat-angling charter activities.

The harbour has two public slipways at the Coal Harbour (beside the public boatyard) and at Rogan’s Slip at the East Pier. These slipways are possibly the last remaining public access points into Dublin Bay and are heavily guarded by the general users of the harbour.  

Dun Laoghaire is also the base for the Irish Sailing Association, the Irish Underwater Council and the seafood development agency, BIM, which overlooks the local inshore fishing fleet berthed at the Coal Harbour.

Most importantly to all seafarers is the RNLI-station, which is one of the busiest in the country and is located at the East Pier.  
No commentary on Dun Laoghaire Harbour or indeed things maritime would be complete without reference to Dr John de Courcy Ireland, the distinguished maritime historian and former Honorary Secretary of the lifeboat station. Among his vast range of activities he was a leading founder member of the Maritime Institute of Ireland (and its maritime museum) in the town.

Joint programme to develop marine-leisure industry
The Irish Sea Marine Sector (ISMS) is an EU-Interreg IIIA Programme jointly between Ireland and Wales with total funding of €800,000. The Irish side of the three-year programme which started last year (based in Dun Laoghaire) is primarily to stimulate development of the Irish Sea into a leading European marine leisure market.

The Irish lead partner is the Irish Marine Federation and fellow partners are the Marine Institute, Dun Laoghaire Harbour Company, Irish Sailing Association (ISA) and the Dun Laoghaire-Rathdown County Enterprise Board. The Irish footprint covers most of Leinster and Co. Waterford. The Welsh lead partner is North Wales Water Sports and four county councils covering north Wales.  

As part of the programme a Cruise In Company of leisure craft, accompanied by a Yachtmaster, will sail from Wales and to Dun Laoghaire in June.

The ‘cruise’ according to a spokesperson for the Irish Sea Marine Sector “is to generate a greater level of activity and interest for those who have not visited both sides of the Irish Sea, as well as having a social dimension”.

Welsh visitors will participate in a Dublin Bay Mini-Cruise from Killiney Bay to Malahide; in turn an Irish Cruise-In Company will visit the attractions of Anglesey and north Wales. An Irish-Welsh Watersports for All directory, which includes ‘cruising routes’, has been published as part of the programme.

Following a conference organised by the ISMS last year to discuss issues in the marine-leisure industry, a business training programme was instigated.

“This gives companies a grounding in business skills that they may not necessarily have had before and is aimed at all within the industry − from junior level up to senior management,” explained a ISMS spokesperson. The course is a Certificate of Management in Marine Industries in which 10 marine businesses have participated so far.

Another issue is the very low level of female participation within the marine-leisure industry. There are proposals to establish a sailing course for women and to identify areas to assist more women to enter the sector. It is hoped that irrespective of gender, all persons would undertake professionally recognised courses to enter the industry.

In conjunction with the Irish Sailing Association (ISA) the programme also aims “to provide sailing courses for inner-city children who wouldn’t have any access to the water normally”. The sailing scholarships will be held during the summer at Skerries and Sutton, and run until 2007.