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Boatyards & Boatbuilders II - Dublin PDF Print E-mail
20 February 2009

 

Finding information on the various boat, barge and ship builders in Dublin over the past 150 years is not straightforward. It has been gleaned from many sources, including the book Cool Metal Clear Water, the Miramar Index, engineering documents and from some of the Wise Ones. [For those of you who are not HBA members, the Wise Ones are those who are the font of all knowledge on our waterway’s floating heritage].

So here are answers to part of the puzzle and many questions. If you can add anything to this, do contact us.
 
Dublin – the development from River Estuary to Port
 
One of the difficulties historically in getting ships into Dublin was the conditions in the then harbour; it required constant dredging, was wide open to wind and storms and even at full tide would only take ships of 100 tonnes. But starting in the 1700’s this was improved; the reclamation programme began, first by building walls and draining within these walls from what is now O’Connell Bridge out into the bay. The North Wall was built and the North Lotts land reclaimed by 1730, then the East Wall was built by 1760. To accommodate the projected increase in ships a new Custom House and Quay was built further east. The North Wall Quays were further extended for shipping with deep water berths in the late 1800’s and this process of extension, deepening and reclamation has continued to accommodate today’s shipping.
 
Ringsend on the south side of the river was the traditional centre for boat building, long before the establishment of the facilities at the North Wall. But conditions there were not ideal, so by 1727 a 3000 ft South Wall had been constructed along the Liffey to the Dodder River and Poolbeg, it was then extended out into the bay, the South Bull Wall. By 1760 a bank had been built along what is now the South Lotts Road and the area between here and the Dodder reclaimed. Within this space was built a large L-shaped basin or ‘wet dock’ in two parts, 16 acres in the outer and 8 acres in the inner basin, and along one side were three Graving Docks. At the opening on Apr 23rd 1796 there was the great ‘Floating Dock’ celebration, 60,000 people are reputed to have turned out for the opening. It was an amazing industrial feat, described by a contemporary as capable of ‘containing 800 sail of merchant ships’. Ships came in through the three locks and then were able to unload onto the docks in the Grand Canal Basin, to be hauled in barges or lighters along the canal or further up the river. According to Lewis by 1825 the City of Dublin Steam Packet Company was operating 52 trade boats on the Grand and the Royal Canals.
 
Ship & Boat Building
 
By the mid 1860’s, there were two areas devoted to the building of iron vessels in Dublin port; ships and large barges were built on the north side, and smaller boats and barges on the south side. Repairs could be carried out in both locations, depending on the size of the vessel. The fact that some of the companies were involved in both locations and their names changed over time, adds to the confusion, when investigating the sources.
 
Yards on the North side
 
 
 
The Graving Dock on the North Wall, completed in 1860, measured 412 ft (125m) by 70 ft (21m), and could accommodate the Holyhead Paddle Steamer. This dock was in use almost continuously until 1989 when it was filled in but in the late 1990s was fitted with new lock gates and re-opened, but filled in again in 2008. Another Dock of 630 ft (202m) by 80 ft (25m) was built and became operational in 1957. (Ships Monthly Volume 37 and Dublin IWAI Dry Dock Opening 1957). It was filled in 2009.
 
 
In extrapolating information from the Miramar Ship Index and the information available on Guinness barges, the following companies were building ships and large barges on the north side of the Liffey from the mid 1800’s to the mid 1900’s.
 
 
Company
Start
End
Wood
Iron
Steel
Tonnes
Walpole, Webb & Bewley
1864
1869
X
X
 
170 - 1500
Bewley & Webb
1869
1870
 
X
 
same
Ross, Stephens & Walpole
1870
1876
 
 
 
 
Ross & Walpole
1876
1913
 
X
?
< 100
Dublin Dockyard Company
1902
1923
 
 
X
180 - 3000
Dublin Vickers
1926
1938
 
 
X
105 - 1300
Dublin Shipbuilders Ltd
1920
1929 **
 
 
 
?
Liffey Dockyard
1953
1962
 
 
X
450 - 1500
 
The Graving Dock at the North Wall was initially leased to the shipbuilding firm, Walpole, Webb & Bewley, with an address of 15 East Wall, listed as being on 8 acres. They became Bewley & Webb and are reputed to have gone bankrupt in 1870, with their last ship launched in March 1871, according to Miramars.
 
[Question: There’s a gap in these records between 1870 and 1876. What was the exact name of the company occupying this site during this time? From the Civil Engineering publications, we know there was a Stephens, Ross and Walpole involved but not the order of names, Stephens retired in 1876. Were they the builders of Guinness’ first fleet of Liffey barges numbered 1 through 9, which were launched beginning in 1873? Also, Guinness had 6 steam barges operating on the canal by 1872, who built them? Who built the Liffey ferries?]
 
Ross & Walpole built most of the second fleet of barges for Guinness, numbers 12 through 21. They also built boilers and engines, architectural frames and features for buildings, large metal tanks (as seen in Lockes of Kilbeggan in 1887), railway wagons and bridges, including the swivel predecessor to the McMahon Bridge in 1900, but some of this work was at a second site.
 
The Dublin Dockyard Company Ltd, North Wall, was established in 1902 with yards covering an area of 11 acres and employing over 1000 people. The Dublin Dockyard Company was owned by Vickers (Ireland) and built Guinness' third fleet of 80 foot barges from 1927 to 1931.
 
In 1920, Dublin Shipbuilders Ltd had 11 acres at Alexandra Basin, North Wall. They also took over repairing works at Ringsend Dockyard Company, as a going concern. According to a contemporary description “this is a new yard on the most up to date lines”. [Question: There are no ships listed under this name so did they launch their ships under the Dublin Vickers name?]
 

Yards on the South Side
 
By 1796, three Graving Docks were available on the south side in the Grand Canal Basin in Ringsend, the largest 180 feet long by 60 feet wide. However, one was closed in 1851 and the space used as a coal yard.
 
 

 

Company
Start
End
Wood
Iron
Steel
Tonnes
Dublin Dockyard Co
1851
1881
 
 
 
 
Vickers (Ireland)
1877
1937
 
X
X
48 to 62
Ringsend Dockyard Company
1913
1963
 
 
X
60 to 62
Dublin Shipbuilders Ltd
1920
1929
 
 
 
?

 

 
The Dublin Dockyard Company had a lease on the basins from 1851 until 1881 and managed the two smaller graving docks.
 
Vickers (Ireland) was a subsidiary of Vickers-Armstrong Ltd, but according to Miramar they launched their ships under the Dublin Vickers name on the north side of the Liffey.
 
Ringsend Dockyard (Dublin) Limited in the Grand Canal Basin was identified as McMillan’s by many and the boats built here were known as McMillan boats, after the company's main director and chief builder - a Scot who arrived in Ireland, from Paisley, in 1903. This company built all kinds of floating craft in steel and wood and were also ship repairers and manufacturers of steel for constructions. In their advert they point out that they have two private dry docks, one 150 feet long the other 90 feet long. They also refer to the public graving dock north of the Liffey.
 
 
 
[In 1920, Dublin Shipbuilders Ltd were said to have taken over repairing works at Ringsend Dockyard Company, as a going concern. Who are they and what did they build or repair? Note: Pat Sweeney in Liffey Ships pubnlished in 2010 states Dublin Shipbuilders was placed in liquidation in 1920 but did not cease to exist until 1929. The Ringsend Dockyard Company took over the lease of the three dry docks from them in 1928.]
 
 
EOL 2009
Thanks to Michael Slevin for additional information on the Dublin Graving Docks, added in Feb 2011. Liffey Ships and Shipbuilding by Pat Sweeney, published in 2010, gives in-depth information on the building of all types of vessels in Dublin. See Publication and Reference section on how to order this book.

 

Last Updated ( 30 January 2013 )
 
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