Tag Archives: great south wall

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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