The Poolbeg lighthouse and the South Wall extension

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 ! ”

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The Pigeonhouse

At the point then known as ” the pile ends,” where the original line of wooden piles ended, and the Pigeonhouse now stands, the port authorities erected a massive wooden house, strongly clamped with iron, to serve as a watch house, store house and place of refuge for such as were forced to land there by stress of weather ; and between this place and Ringsend, a number of boats used to ply in summer, conveying pleasure-seeking citizens of that day to what had grown to be a favourite rendezvous while the works were in progress. A man named Pidgeon who lived in the wooden house and acted as caretaker of the works and tools, finding the place become such a public resort, fitted out his quarters as neatly as possible, and, assisted by his wife and family, made arrangements for supplying meals and refreshments to visitors. He also purchased a boat to hire to his guests, had it painted and finished in an attractive manner, and as he dealt with only the best class of visitors, his rude hostelry soon grew to be a noted resort of distinguished citizens and wits, while the owner found himself on the fair road to fortune. His house came to be known to all the Dublin folk as ” Pidgeon’s House,” or the Pigeonhouse, and even after he and his family had gone the way of all flesh, and the old building, having served its purpose, had fallen into decay, the name was perpetuated in the title of the stronghold that in after years rose over its ruins.

When the Packet station was established here, it was found necessary to build the Pigeonhouse harbour, where the packets landed and embarked passengers, for whose accommodation a hotel was erected in 1790. After the transfer of the regular service to Howth, the Pigeonhouse harbour continued in use as an occasional landing place, especially for the Liverpool packets. The Pigeonhouse Packet station in time becoming superseded by that at Howth, the Government in 1813, purchased the hotel and other buildings, and commenced the construction of the Pigeonhouse Fort, which ultimately cost over STG100,000. The hotel formed the nucleus of the structure, and the submarine mining establishment, batteries and other additions were erected by the War Department. In its later years the Fort gradually lapsed into disuse, and was finally dismantled
and sold to the Dublin Corporation in 1897 for STG65,000.

The Pigeonhouse fort appears to have been built partly for the purpose of a repository for State papers, bullion, and other valuables in time of disturbance, and partly for defence of the Port ; and in its earlier form, the construction of formidable batteries commanding the passage of the wall from the city, indicated that its designers were more apprehensive of an attack from land than by sea. In anticipation of a prolonged siege, efforts were made to obtain an independent supply of water for the garrison by the usual process of sinking tubes, but notwithstanding the assistance of eminent experts who were brought over from England for the purpose, and the expenditure of immense sums of money on the operations, the influx of salt water through the sandy soil baffled all attempts and obliged the Government to abandon the project.

In The Dublin Chronicle of 3rd August, 1790, we read :—

“On Friday morning twenty-seven poor haymakers attending at the Pigeonhouse in order to be put on board ship for England, were seized by a press-gang and put on board a tender — the commander of the press-gang telling them at the same time that if they were able to mow hay, they could have no objection to mow the enemies of their country, and they should have passage, diet, &c., gratis.”

It is therefore not surprising that in another issue we learn : —

Yesterday morning, at an early hour, a coach, in which some recruits were being conveyed to the Pigeonhouse in order to be embarked for England, was attacked at Ringsend by desperate banditti armed with swords and pistols, who after wounding the soldiers that accompanied the coach, rescued three of the men from them.

The Dublin Chronicle of 28th January, 1792, referring to a breach which had been made by a storm in the South Wall, says : —

“Yesterday, his Grace the Duke of Le’.nster went on a sea party, and, after shooting the breach in Jie South Wall, sailed over the Low Ground and the South Lotts, and landed safely at Merrion Square. . . . Eoats ply with passengers to Merrion Square.”

Although the original account of this occurrence mentions the South Wall, it doubtless means the wall or embankment on the south side of the river along Sir John Rogerson’s Quay, where a breach would have caused an inundation of the South Lotts, enabling boats to ply as far as what is now the lower end of Holies Street, near Merrion Square.

Sir Charles Hoare in his Tour in Ireland refates some interesting experiences of his visit to Dublin:—

“Monday, 23rd June, 1806. Sailed from Holyhead in the Union Packet, Captain Skinner, and after a rough and tedious passage of twenty three hours, landed at the Pigeonhouse, from where a vehicle, very appropriately called ‘ the Long Coach ‘ (holding sixteen inside passengers and as many outside, with all their luggage) conveyed us to Dublin, distant about two miles from the place of landing.”

He states that in addition to the duty which was exacted after a troublesome examination at the Custom House on the South Wall, he had to pay no less than twelve different officers of Customs. After leaving the Custom House, he had to dismount from the vehicle and cross the bridge on foot, as it was considered to be in too dangerous a condition to drive over with a full vehicle. There is nothing commanding in this approach to Dublin ; a number of narrow
passes and bridges barricadoed, still remind the traveller of the late rebellion.”

He adds that a most daring attack upon the long coach above alluded to, was made a short timepreviously by a gang of armed banditti, who obliged the passengers to dismount, and then plundered them one by one, while on another occasion the officer carrying the mails was fired at. Sir Charles Hoare suggests that “a horse patrole” should be furnished by the Government to escort the coach from the General Post Office to the Packet station.

The process of exacting fees and payments on various pretexts, from the passengers at the Pigeonhouse, was known to the initiated as ” Plucking the Pigeons.”

The statement as to the duration of the passage from Holyhead — twenty-three hours — may perhaps be considered an exaggeration, but a perusal of the newspapers of the period will show that this was not by any means an extravagantly long time for crossing ; indeed, our forefathers thought themselves rather lucky if the voyage was accompHshed in that time, instances not having been at all uncommon in stormy weather or with contrary winds where it extended to a week or ten days. When we consider the limited accommodation in these frail vessels, and the prolonged miseries of sea-sick passengers, can we wonder that none but the most enthusiastic travellers cared to leave their own shores in those days.

Perhaps, indeed, the vigour of the language with which Ringsend has been assailed by successive writers who landed there, may to some extent be accounted for, by the condition of these unfortunate travellers’ nerves and stomachs after the miseries of sea-sickness during a voyage of from eighteen to thirty hours duration in the packet boats of that period.

According to a diary kept by a Welsh gentleman in 1735, during a visit to Dubhn, the passage from Holyhead took nineteen hours, and on the return journey when the packet had got within a few miles of Holyhead, a contrary wind sprung up which obliged the officers to abandon all hope of reaching land on that side, and forced them to turn back to Dubhn where they had to wait several days before the wind was favourable. It is interesting to learn that the voyage cost IDS. 6d. — pretty much the same as at present — but when forced to turn back by stress of weather and make an extra voyage, as in this case, the cost of provisions only was charged. The passengers landed at Ringsend and paid is. a head to the boatman who took them ashore in his boat, and two of them hired a coach to drive them to the city, for which they paid 2s. lod. The passengers complained of being kept four hours waiting before, being landed.

Nathaniel Jeiferys in An Englishman’s Descriptive Account of Dublin (1810), gives the following amusing description of the proceedings at the Pigeonhouse landing stage, about a hundred years ago : —

” Upon the arrival of the packets at the Pigeonhouse, the passengers are conducted to the custom house ; and it would be a great injustice not to acknowledge that the manner in which the examination of the luggage is done (by giving as Httle trouble as possible to persons frequently fatigued by a tedious passage and sea-sickness) is very gratifying to strangers. As soon, however, as this ceremony is over, one of a less accommodating description takes place, which is the mode of conveying passengers to Dublin in the Long Coach. This carriage is upon the plan of those elegant vehicles upon low wheels, which are used on the road between Hyde Park Corner and Hammersmith in the neighbourhood of London ; and from the state of its repair and external appearance, it bears every mark of having retired on the superannuated list from that active duty, previous to its being employed upon its present service. This coach is usually very crowded, from the anxiety of the passengers to proceed to Dubhn ; and from the manner in which some of the company may easily be supposed to have been passing their time on board the packet ^from the effect of sea-sickness, the effluvia arising from twelve or fourteen persons so circumstanced, crammed together in a very small space, Hke the inmates of Noah’s Ark, the clean and the unclean, is not of that description which can at all entitle the Long Coach to be considered as a bed of roses. Three shillings for each passenger is the price of conveyance, and this is exacted beforehand. . . . The inconveniencies of this ride are, however, of short duration, for in about half an hour the passengers are released from this earthly purgatory by their arrival in Dublin.”

The average duration of the passage from the Pigeonhouse to Holyhead was eighteen hours, and from Howth only twelve hours, which was reduced to seven hours when steam packets were introduced.

The Pigeonhouse has undergone considerable alterations in recent years since it has become the generating station for the city supply of electricity, and the tall red-brick chimney which has been added is now a conspicuous feature in the Bay. Most of the old buildings still remain, but the Pigeonhouse of our boyhood days is gone — the sentries no longer guard its portals, its deserted courtyards and dismantled batteries echo no more to the tramp of armed men or resound with salvoes of artiUery. The monotonous hum of the dynamos has succeeded, and the whole place, though doubtless fulfilling a more useful purpose than during its mihtary occupation, possesses much less interest than it did as a link with old-time Dublin.

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RINGSEND, though now presenting a decayed and unattractive appearance, was formerly a place of considerable importance, having been for nearly two hundred years, in conjunction with the Pigeonhouse harbour, the principal packet station in Ireland for communication with Great Britain. The transfer of the packet service, however, to Howth and Kingstown in the early part of last century, deprived Ringsend of its principal source of revenue, and consigned it thenceforth to poverty and obscurity.

In its halcyon days it was a pretty watering-place, much frequented in the summer for sea-bathing by Dublin folk who wished to be within easy reach of town, and in the middle of the 18th century it was described as being “very clean, healthy and beautiful, with vines trained up against the walls of the houses. In after years it became the seat of several flourishing industries, long since extinct. It is difficult now to realise that such a grimy and dingy-looking place could ever have been a really pretty and pleasant suburb of the city, but such it was a hundred and fifty years ago, when it contained a number of picturesque high-gabled houses, with well-stocked gardens and orchards, a few of which remain, even at the
present day, Ringsend must have sadly deteriorated by i8i6, if we are to believe Lord Blayney’s description in his Sequel to a Narrative.

“On approaching the town [Dublin] you pass through a vile, filthy and disgraceful-looking village called Ringsend.”

Other travellers who landed there about the same period, speak of it in similar terms. The Dublin Weekly Chronicle of 15th October, 1748, contains the following quaint notice:—

“Poolbeg Oyster Fishery being taken this year by Messrs. Bunit & Simpson, of Ringsend, they may be had fresh and in their purity at Mrs. L’S ware’s at the Sign of the Good Woman in Ringsend aforesaid.”

It was soon discovered that the wall, although affording some shelter to shipping, did not extend far enough to protect the harbour adequately during storms and high tides, and accordingly it was decided to supplement the work by an extension of the original wooden piles and framework to the deep pool known as Poolbeg, near the eastern extremity of the South Bull, and about two miles further out in the bay. This further portion is not quite in line with the rest, but is deflected slightly to the northward so as to follow the course of the river.

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