Tag Archives: great south wall

Dublin Bay and the Bounty connection

The recent spell of good weather has allowed many people to enjoy the waters of Dublin Bay, whether it be swimming, sailing or just walking beside the stretch of blue calm. Recently, on a clear day, I saw the billowing, colourful sails of yachts and the churning wake of speedboats as many people enjoyed the spray on the warm afternoon. The bay has a special attraction for all marine fans, although many are probably unaware of its dark history and of the man who helped improve the lot of Dubliners long ago.

Great South Wall

Great South Wall

Dublin Bay looks very benign today, but it was not always the case. Up until the end of the 18th century it was notorious for the number of ships that foundered and were destroyed in its fickle and dangerous waters. Most of the damage caused to ships was as a result of the shallow waters and silting sandbars at the mouth of the Liffey. These presented a major problem to successful navigation by ships in waters that were, in places, often only 6 feet deep. The construction of the Great South Wall went some way to improving the situation, but it was only part of the solution.

The increasing trade and the loss of the ship Hope of Rhode in 1798 put the Dublin Port Authority under pressure and it had to resolve the problem. They asked the British Government for help, and in September 1801 the Admiralty sent one of their best cartographers to investigate the problem, and thus, Captain William Bligh entered the pages of Dublin history. He was a man with him a colourful past, and a history of navigating and surveying some of the most exotic places in the world. He was born near Plymouth, England on 4th October, 1754, and sailed around the world with Captain James Cook (1772-74). On that voyage he impressed Cook with his surveying techniques, and the detailed maps he prepared were used by sailors for years.

Captain William Bligh

Captain William Bligh

Bligh eventually was given command of his own ship, HMS Bounty, in late 1787. He was instructed to sail to Tahiti and collect breadfruit plants for transportation to the West Indies. It was planned that they would be used as a cheap source of food for the slaves that were being brought from Africa by British traders. However, due to prolonged bad weather the crew were forced to stay for months on the paradise island, where indiscipline eventually led to disaster. Soon after collecting their cargo and heading off across the Pacific, a mutiny, led by the first mate Fletcher Christian, broke out, and Bligh and eighteen sailors were cast adrift in a ship’s launch. Under Bligh’s command, and using his brilliant skill as a navigator, he and all men sailed for forty-one days across 3,618 miles of dangerous waters to safety on Timor.

Bligh returned to England, and in 1791 he was cleared by a court-martial of any blame for the mutiny. Later, he resumed his naval career and, during the 1790s as captain of HMS Providence, he returned to Tahiti and brought breadfruit plants to the West Indies.

And so it was in the autumn of 1801 that Bligh arrived in Dublin where he used his considerable knowledge in surveying the treacherous waters of the bay. He spent three months preparing his report in which he proposed the construction of a North Wall, that would mirror the Great South Wall, and increase the speed of the water flow and improve the natural scouring process. Although his proposal was not acted upon immediately, its main points did inform a later investigation and the subsequent construction of the now familiar Bull Wall, although at a slightly different angle to the shore at Clontarf than what he had proposed. His contribution to the improved efficiency of the tidal flow and the resulting increase in commerce and safety of travellers has been appreciated ever since by all the users of Dublin Bay.

Bull Wall Bridge

Bull Wall Bridge

 

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Pigeon House – Refuge from the storm

Pigeon House

Pigeon House

By the mid-1750s entry to and from Dublin Bay was a hazardous operation and the city governors decided something drastic needed to be done to improve the situation. So a plan was drawn up to construct a wall into the bay that would stop the silting up of channels and provide a safe place for passengers to board.

Great South Wall

Great South Wall

This work to build the Great South Wall took over thirty years and was complete in 1795 with safer passage for travellers and an improvement in trade. During the lengthy construction John Pidgeon was the caretaker of the storehouse for the equipment used during the building, and he began selling refreshments to travellers who often waited for days until the weather improved to travel. As a smart businessman he also offered trips around the long wall which was one of the longest in the world when completed.

Twin Towers

Twin Towers

Business improved and Pidgeon (the ‘d’ in his name was dropped a long time ago) built a small hotel to cater for the needs of the growing number of travellers. In 1793, years after John Pidgeon had died, a new building was erected and operated for many years. This building still stands and lies in the shadow of the twin towers of the Poolbeg Station. Not long afterwards with the whiff of revolution in the air and the 1798 Rebellion a recent memory a fort was constructed near the hotel and it became known as the Pigeon House Fort. Today, the canon guns outside the entrance to the ESB power station were originally facing out to sea anticipating a possible French invasion that never came.

The place also made its literary mark on a young James Joyce. In his first great work Dubliners he tells of two boys playing truant (no doubt he was one of them!) as they went to the exotic building and the long wall that stretched seemingly forever into the bay in his short story An Encounter:

We arranged to go along the Wharf Road until we came to the ships, then to cross in the ferryboat and walk out to see the Pigeon House.

The guns stayed silent

The guns stayed silent

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Poolbeg – Dublin’s Twin Towers

Great South Wall and Dublin Bay

Great South Wall and Dublin Bay

One thing leads to another, and the construction of the Great South Wall in the middle of the 18th century led to the erection of the Twin Towers at Poolbeg.

Ships arriving in Dublin Bay encountered a number of dangers; namely, a shallow estuary which was not only heavily tidal but also very exposed. It did not offer much safety, and many ships and crew were lost in sight of land. By the mid-1750s it was decided to construct a wall to stop the build-up of damaging sandbanks, and to dredge the south side of the river.

Construction began around 1760 with the large one-ton stones being quarried in Dalkey and then ferried to the site.  The distinctive, red Poolbeg Lighthouse was added in 1820.

Poolbeg Lighthouse

Poolbeg Lighthouse

During the wall’s  construction a storehouse for materials was built, and caretaker’s dwelling beside it. John Pidgeon, the caretaker, began to provide food, drinks and a bed for travellers, and soon the place became known as the Pigeon House. (It has nothing to do with the feathered kind!)

Twin Towers from Sandymount Strand

Twin Towers from Sandymount Strand

A military barracks was built close by after the 1798 Rising, and it stayed in use until 1897 when Dublin Corporation bought it as the site of the city’s first power station. Over the years the site has been developed, and in 1971 the first of the towers was constructed, followed in 1973 by its almost identical twin, which at 681’ 9” (207.8m) is one foot taller.

Although not much appreciated at that time the chimneys have become, possibly, Dublin’s most iconic landmarks and can be seen from almost any part of the city. They appear on T-shirts, TV shows, movies, videos, are painted by artists, have been celebrated in verse, photographed from all angles and, of course, a friendly sign to travelers arriving and leaving. They were decommissioned by the ESB in 2010. Recently, there have been proposals to demolish them, something which many people vehemently oppose. They are our Twin Towers and I, like lots of Dubliners, hope that they survive. SOS – Save Our Stacks!

SOS - Save Our Stacks!

SOS – Save Our Stacks!

 

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To the sea

To the sea - the walk ahead

To the sea – the walk ahead

The air was warm, the breeze gentle, and the tang of the salty air invigorating. It felt that summer had definitely arrived, as I slung my camera over my shoulder and headed for the Great South Wall.

It was my first visit here since the autumn when the day was bright and the breeze blustery. Today, thankfully, was totally inviting, and my arrival in mid-morning meant that there were only a few walkers enjoying the beautiful weather. And, of course, the unique scene and images of Dublin.

The building of the Great South Wall began in 1715 when it was authorised by the Dublin City assembly. It was built in response to the problems caused by silting at the mouth of the River Liffey, which prevented large ships from landing. Most of the wall is constructed from large granite blocks brought from the quarries in Dalkey, and it was, for a time, the world’s longest sea-wall. Building took many years, and the red-painted Poolbeg Lighthouse at the tip of the wall was constructed in 1820.

Poolbeg Lighthouse - looking great

Poolbeg Lighthouse – looking great

The view from the lighthouse – 360 degrees – of Dublin, is fascinating, especially for those who have never stood there before. You are in the middle of the bay, almost equi-distant from Howth and Killiney, with only ships travelling in and out of Dublin Port for company. It is a new way of looking at the city, and one not to be missed, especially on a bright, sunny day. 

Fantastic sky over Clontarf  (pic taken from Great South Wall)

Fantastic sky over Clontarf (pic taken from Great South Wall)

At the start of the wall is the Pigeon House, which was named after John Pigeon who ran a small hotel (built between 1793-95) that catered for travellers who had to be ferried to and from their ships. Sadly, it has nothing to do with the myriad of pigeons about the place! However, there are plenty of birds and animals to be seen as the GSW is now a Special Protection Area (SPA), and the adjacent Irishtown Nature Park is popular.

Being out on the water, and you do feel that you are floating on Dublin Bay, is a wonderful feeling and something that this hidden gem always delivers.

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