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Celebrating Ireland's Floating Heritage

Celebrating Ireland's Floating Heritage

Home arrow Vessels arrow BBE arrow Boatyards & Boatbuilders III - Cork, Drogheda, Portadown & Waterford
Boatyards & Boatbuilders III - Cork, Drogheda, Portadown & Waterford PDF Print E-mail
23 February 2009



The builders of our nineteenth and early twentieth century boats evolved during the iron and steam era and encompassed both foundries and large ship builders. We are fortunate that there are examples of these people’s skills and ingenuity still on our inland waterways, but in investigating these enterprises one wonders, where are all the rest.
Where did the many lighters, small steam tugs, yachts and barges which form part of our industrial heriatge, end up?
The following is in no way an in-depth study of the businesses featured, but provides some background on the world of boat building at each of these yards during this era.

Passage Dock Company, Cork

The Royal Victoria Dockyards and the Passage Docks Shipbuilding Company at Passage West in Cork were a success story of the 19th century, located on a busy trade route between the old and new worlds and with the facilities to build wood and iron vessels, powered by sail and steam.
The dockyards and quays were built in 1832 by H&W Brown on 8 acres, with one dry dock, another was built later. The importance of the dockyards at this time was due to the River Lee’s shallow channel, vessels over 150 tons were unable to navigate up the river to Cork. Cargoes and passengers were discharged at the docks, and then taken into the city on lighters, carts and carriages.
As well as building ships, it was ideally situated for repairs to sailing and steam vessels on their trading routes from Northern Europe across the Atlantic. The facilities at the dockyards were large, with a 60 metre high mast-house and a moulding and joiners loft.
It had three engine houses, a chandlery and a pitch-house complete with furnaces and vats. There were seventeen smithy fires, three large furnaces and metal cutting machines. There were also warehouses where ships could unload and store their cargoes while repairs were carried out on their vessels. The town had three hotels and twenty-four pubs.
It was also the last major port on the way to North America, where ships could be provisioned. [Sirius, built in Scotland for the London to Cork route, was the first Steam ship to cross the Atlantic to New York. She left Passage West in 1838 with 40 passengers on board, captained by Richard Roberts a Corkonian. She ran out of fuel just short of her destination, but Roberts refused to give up and completed the passage still under steam, by feeding furniture and spars into the furnace.]
By the 1860s the Docks were running at their peak, with over 250 ships discharging freight there in one year. It weathered a general slump in ship-building ten years later and changed hands a couple of times. The yard kept busy with boat building and repairs on various types of vessels big and small, commercial and recreational from all over the
world. The Cormorant light-ship was built here in 1878 with an iron frame overlaid with teak (known today as Lady December and moored in Kent) and in 1882 the yard’s first of many Iron vessels, the Dingadee, was built for the Australian Steam Navigation Company. In 1890 the paddle steamer America was reconstructed here. In 1895 the Royal Yacht Britannia had repairs and cleaning carried out at the yard and in the same year, Horse Boat 53 was built here of riveted iron, followed three years later by Horse Boat 17.
But by the end of the century, the approaches to the city had been dredged and new quays built in the city, so Passage West lost its importance as a major port. Today, the larger Victoria dry dock is still intact and Passage West has been designated a conservation area. There are plans afoot to develop it as an expansion of Passage West's town centre and to incorporate a mix of retail, commercial, service, civic and residential uses.
Grendons of Drogheda
Thomas Grendon & Company opened on the South Quay in Drogheda in 1835 and at its height in the mid nineteenth century occupied a site from Old Graves Lane to Ship Street, employing 600 people. If there was iron involved Grendon’s had a solution creating bridges, water tanks, drain covers, farming implements, lighthouse equipment, buoys, ships, steam boats, barges, train engines and some brass works.
They built Dominic's Bridge in Drogheda, the lattice railway bridge across the Royal Canal, the Obelisk Bridge across the Boyne at Oldbridge and many more bridges at home and abroad. In 1866 they constructed the Diving Bell used to create Dublin port and Alexandra Basin, which continued to be used until 1958.
They were the only commercial makers of broad-gauge steam locomotives in Ireland, and built around 50, supplying the Great Northern Railway, the Midland Great Western Railway, the Dublin to Kingstown Railway and most of the railways in Ireland between the years 1844 and 1885. One of their locomotives is in Brazil.
Frederick St George Smith who was a partner in the company, had a shipyard near the foundry, from where boats could be launched. Grendons built the steam tug The Fox in 1865 and the steam tug The Bat in 1866, both 61ft by 13ft, for the Grand Canal Company. One of their ships was the Glenocum, 146ft x 22ft, built in 1875 with a 75hp, 2 cylinder, steam engine. The schooner The Mouse, 70ft by 16ft with a 7ft hold, was launched in 1878, broadside into the river.
It’s unclear why the end of the foundry occurred sometime in the late 1880s, but in October 1890 all the implements and machinery was sold by public auction at the plant. The end of an era but today we can still see some of their innovative works around the country.
Portadown Foundry
One of the places building lighters in the northern counties was Portadown Foundry, located on the banks of the Upper Bann, an ideal central location because the road, canal and railway all met there. The Newry Canal linking the Bann and Lough Neagh created a route to Newry and Belfast.
Goods especially linen left Portadown for Newry and Belfast and in turn imports came into Portadown using the waterways. Mr Woolsey initially formed the foundry in 1844, it was taken over by the Bright Bros in the late 1800’s and by James Williamson in 1912.
The Foundry was located on the east side of the Bann with the Town Quay and Shillingtons on the west bank. In the beginning the lighters built here were horse drawn and sail driven so they could navigate the canals and the wider parts of the rivers and Lough Neagh. Starting in 1911, many of the new lighters were built with Bolinder engines and some of the old horse drawn lighters were retrofitted with Bolinders.
There is some confusion here on the name. The 1888 Directory for Portadown lists Iron Founders, Bright Brothers on Bridge Street. But the 1910 Directory lists Portadown Foundry Company on Bridge Street, and Bright Bros Saw Mill, Coal Mill and Timber Merchants on Bridge Street. It appears that at some point between 1888 and 1910 the organization owned by the Bright Bros ran into financial difficulties and a new company was formed with additional owners and David Bright as their Managing Director. The deduction is they reverted to the name Portadown Foundry at this point. Apparently David Bright resigned in 1911 and James Willamson took over as MD. The following year Williamson bought out the other directors and registered the company name formally as Portadown Foundry Limited. The conclusion might be that for the majority of its 100 plus years existence, it was known as Portadown Foundry.
However, if this just adds to your confusion and you have an interest in the Portadown Foundry, all will be revealed in the not too distant future. In Feb 2009 the Edenderry Cultural and Historical Society announced their plans to embark on a new project to research and write a book on the Portadown Foundry. We look forward to reading it.
Neptune Iron Works
Waterford has attracted over the years some amazing entrepreneurs, who using the large natural port with its connections inland to the Three Sisters, created businesses importing and exporting raw materials and products. Way up there on this creative list is David Malcomson, who in 1825 with his sons, created a cotton industry (spinning, weaving, bleaching and dying) in Portlaw as an addition to their already established corn mills, further up the Suir in Clonmel. At its peak the Portlaw concern employed 1800 people. The factory’s receiving dock was on the River Clodiagh, so they built a canal to link the River Clodiagh with the Suir. The raw materials used in the process could be brought up river by barge from Waterford, and unloaded straight into the factory. The finished product was taken down river, loaded onto ships in the port and exported throughout the world.
To support their enterprises in the mid 1830s, they were involved in the establishment of the River Suir Navigation & Canal Company which deepened the river to Clonmel ensuring 200 ton vessels could make the trip to provide transportation for the 23 mills in the town. They also started the Waterford Steam Navigation Company and owned or had interests in other ship companies around the world. To support the ships, the parent company then known as Malcomson Bros under the leadership of the eldest son Joseph, established in 1843 the Neptune Iron Works, a ship repair yard. This in turn expanded to become a ship building company.
The Neptune Ship Yard was located between Canada St and Scotch Quay. From 1849 the yard was under the direction of master shipbuilder John Horn and later in 1870 his son, Andrew Horn. John Horn in 1826 started his career on the Clyde with Robert Napier, known both as the father of steam ship building and for the excellent training he gave those who worked for him.
The Neptune Iron Works built over 40 steam ships and employed 1000 people at its peak. As a result the Malcomsons were deemed to be the largest steam ship owners in the world, at one time owning over 70 ships. Part of the Neptune success was due to the fact that in the late 1840s they started to build steam ships with propellers rather than paddles which were more common. While many of the ships were celebrated for being large, they built vessels of all sizes and all were known for the strength of their iron hulls and their excellent steam engines.
The first ship they built was called SS Neptune, 172 ft long, built for the London to St. Petersburg route. They were impressed in St Petersburg when she arrived and Czar Nicholas saluted her from the State Barge and exempted her from all port fees for life. Over the years names like the SS Avoca, Cella, Iowa, Indiana, Cordova, William Penn and many others left the yard to travel the world.
Joseph died in 1858 and William, a younger brother took over. However, by 1870 the core business had started to collapse for various reasons including the American civil war which had a negative effect on cotton imports and to some bad decisions and investments. But the greatest effect was due to the bankruptcy of the Malcomsons’ bankers. To meet their many liabilities the fleet of ships had to be sold in 1877.
The Neptune Iron Works continued under the direction of Andrew Horn, building steam yachts and other craft, but was over time trimmed down to a workforce of just 32 and it was eventually closed in 1882.
The steam yacht Coquette was built for the Malcomsons themselves and was seen at many regattas and outings on the Three Sisters in the mid 1800s. In 1872 they built the steam yacht, The Phoenix, which can still be seen today at regattas on the Shannon. The last vessel to be built at Neptune Iron Works was the steam yacht Maritana in 1882. It was 77 ft and was said to have a magnificent fit-out, winning the prize for elegance at the Cowes Regatta in 1884.
© EOL 2009


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