THE maintenance of the South Wall extension beyond the Pigeonhouse, alluded to in the previous chapter, proved to be enormously expensive owing to the rapid corrosion of the timber foundations by the salt water, and besides, the structure was insufficient in bulk to shield the harbour effectually from the force of the waves when the wind blew from the south or south-east. Great quantities of the loose and shifting sands of the South Bull were constantly being blown or drifted across the breakwater into the river bed, materially interfering with its navigability, and seriously affecting the trade of the port.
It was accordingly resolved to replace the wooden piles on this portion by a solid stone breakwater of massive proportions, and so the Poolbeg Lighthouse was begun in 1761, and finished seven years later. The present granite causeway was then gradually built inwards towards the city until it had joined the earlier portion of the structure. In many places along the south side of the wall may still be seen remains of the original wooden piles.
At certain exposed points, to protect it from the violence of the sea, the sides were formed of blocks of granite, dove-tailed into eachother, so that no single block could be detached without breaking, and the intermediate space between the sides was filled with gravel for about half the height, above which great blocks of granite were laid in cement. The wall when thus constructed formed a solid causeway 32 feet wide at the base and tapering to 28 feet at the top. The only place where these original dimensions now remain is from the outfall
of the Pembroke Main Drain to the Poolbeg Lighthouse.
Towards the eastern end where the water is deep, the wall had
to be strengthened by iron clamps and bolts, while approaching
the Lighthouse, so great is the fury of the sea in a south-easterly
storm, that it was found necessary to raise it some five feet
higher, and to protect it for a considerable distance, by an aditional breakwater of huge boulders on the outside. How necessary this was, is shown by the rounded condition of many ei these great rocks, which are often tossed about like pebbles during easterly gales, and in some instances cast up on the wall itself. Even with all these precautions to ensure the stability of the wall, repairs are constantly necessary.
Few townsfolk have any conception of what a south-easterly storm means along the coast, and I would strongly recommend anyone who is not afraid of rough weather, to select a day when there is a gale from this point, and arrange to reach the Pigeonhouse about high tide ; it would be inadvisable to go further, but ample view can be obtained therefrom of the action of the sea along the wall.
Gerard Boate, writing in 1652, gives the following quaint description of the Port of Dubhn : —
” Dublin haven hath a bar in the mouth, upon which at high flood and spring-tide there is fifteen and eighteen feet of water, but at the ebbe and nep-tide but six. With an ordinary tide you cannot go to the key of Dublin with a ship that draws five feet of water, but with a spring-tide you may go up with ships that draw seven or eight feet. Those that go deeper cannot go nearer Dublin than the Rings-end, a place three miles distant from the bar, and one from Dublin. This haven almost all over falleth dry with the ebbe, as well below Rings-end as above it, so as you may go dry foot round about the ships which lye at anchor there, except in two places, one at the north side, half way betwixt Dublin and the bar, and the other at the south side not far from it. In these two little creeks (whereof the one is called the pool of Clontarf and the other Poolbeg) it never falleth dry, but the ships which ride at an anchor remain ever afloat because at low water you have nine 01 ten feet of water there. This haven, besides its shallowness, hath yet another great incommodity, that the ships have hardly any shelter there for any winds, not only such as come out of the sea, but also those which come off from the land, especially out of the south-west ; so as with a great south-west storm the ships run great hazards to be carried away from their anchor and driven into the sea ; which more than once hath come to pass, and particularly in the beginning of November, An. 1637, wl^en in one night ten or twelve barks had that misfortune befaln them, of the most part whereof never no news hath been heard since.”
The Pool of Clontarf is now called The Pool, and the other the Poolbeg, or little pool.
Poolbeg, which Hes in the channel between the Pigeonhouse and the Lighthouse, was in former times a recognised anchorage for vessels. In the accompanying reproduction of an old print of Dublin Bay, about one hundred and seventy years old, a fleet of large fishing vessels is represented riding at anchor there.
The Poolbeg Lighthouse is a handsome and conspicuous feature in the bay, in which it occupies an almost central position, though its picturesque appearance has been somewhat marred since it was painted black by the Port authorities some twenty years ago. It is nearly equi-distant from Dublin.
Kingstown, and Howth, and commands extensive views of the whole shores of the bay, with an unbroken panorama of the mountains on the south. Howth with its heather-clad hills» its bright green fields and rugged reaches of sea cliffs, looks particularly attractive from this point.
An interesting effect of the isolated position of this spot which can hardly escape the notice of the casual visitor, is the impressive silence which prevails here on a calm summer’s day, though surrounded on all sides by evidences of bustle and activity. Occasionally the stillness is broken by the rythmical beat of some steamer ghding gracefully past, as she leaves or enters the port, or at intervals one may faintly distinguish the whistle of a far off train so softened by, distance as to mingle with the cry of the sea birds and the gentle plash of the water
against the rocks.
The lighthouse when originally constructed, presented an entirely different appearance from what it does at the present time. It was not so high as the existing structure, it sloped much more rapidly towards the top, and was surmounted by an octagonal lantern with eight heavy glass windows. A stone staircase with an iron balustrade led to the second storey, where an iron gallery surrounded the whole building. The alteratio.. to the present form was made in the early part of last century, and was, beyond doubt, a decided improvement so far as the appearance of the structure is concerned.
The foundations consist of immense blocks of stone and cement, bound together with massive iron bands, interwoven so as to form great cages ; and the base thus formed is strengthened by sloping buttresses all round.
Returning along the Wall, we take the turn on the left alono- the Rathmines and Pembroke Main Drain embankment, which has reclaimed from the sea a considerable tract now being laid out as a public park.
The most conspicuous object in this neighbourhood is the belfry tower of St. Matthew’s Church, before alluded to, which is still in good preservation and is thickly mantled with ivy.
The strand at Irishtown w^as at one time noted for its cockles and shrimps, the shrimps being found in great quantities at certain states of the tide, but after the severe winter of 1741, known as ” The hard frost,” they completely disappeared and never since returned to this coast. The cockles, however, still remain for those who have the courage to eat them, and occasionally yield a rich harvest to the professional cockle pickers. Going to Sandymount on Sunday to pick cockles was a favourite amusement of the Dublin folk a hundred years
Cranfield’s Baths, for many years a well-known institution in this neighbourhood, were established by Richard Cranlield, who died at Irishtown in 1859.
In former times the tract along the sea from Ringsend to Sandymount was known as Scal’d Hill, or Scald Hill. In the middle of the 1 8th century there was a village called ” Brick- ” field Town ” on the site now occupied by Sandymount Green, deriving its name from Lord Merrion’s brickfields, which extended along the shore from there to Merrion. A well-known inn called ” The Conniving House ” then stood
where the modern Seafort Avenue West, meets the shore. It was a famous old hostelry, noted for its dinners of fish and its excellent ale, and is referred to as follows in The Life of John Buncle, Esq. [Thomas Amory], Vol. I., p. 87 : —
” I set forward (ist May, 1725), and in five days arrived from the western extremity of Ireland at a village called Rings-end that lies on the Bay of Dublin. Three days I rested there, and at the Conniving House, and then got my horses on board a ship that was ready to sail, and bound for the land I was born in, I mean Old England. . . . The Conniving House (as the gentlemen of Trinity called it in my time and long after) was a little publichouse, kept by Jack Macklean, about a quarter of a mile beyond Rings-end, on the top of the beach, within a few yards of the sea. Here we used to have the finest fish at all times ; and in the season, green peas and all the most excellent vegetables. The ale here was always extra-ordinary, and everything the best ; which with its delightful situation, rendered it a delightful place of a summer’s evening. Many a delightful evening have I passed in this pretty thatched house with the famous Larry Grogan, who played on the bagpipes extreme well ; dear Jack Lattin, matchless on the fiddle, and the most agreeable of companions . . . and many other delightful fellows who went in the days of their youth to the shades of eternity. When I think of them and their evening songs ‘ fVe will go to Johnny Macklean’ s to try if his ale be good or not’ Ifjc, and that years and infirmities begin to oppress me, what is Hfe ! ”