Dublin Docklands - An Urban Voyage’ is a work in progress, commissioned by the Dublin Docklands Development Authority, and due to be completed in the autumn of 2008. The following tale represents research I have undertaken for the project which may or may not be used in the final book.
Although the quest for deeper berthage made the Custom House Docks increasingly redundant, Custom House Quay remained active throughout most of the 20th century. A considerable blow to the locality came in May 1921 when Oscar Traynor, commander of the Dublin Brigade of the IRA, led an assault on the Custom House, destroying the historic building. (The memorial to commemorate the IRA men who died in the attack on the Custom House in 1921 was made by Breton sculptor Yann Renard-Goulet. It features a bronze figure of Eire, with a dying soldier, and was unveiled by President Sean T O’Kelly on Sunday 20th May 1956).
Reconstruction began in 1926 and continued until 1930. Meanwhile, in nearby Stack A, the warehousing of tobacco under bond became one of the biggest operations of the 1920s and 1930s. This partially compensated for the dramatic reduction in the amount of grain stored at the docks after the Merchants Warehousing Company had set up its silos in the port in 1914. In 1941, the government established Irish Tea Importers Ltd as a purchasing agency and the Custom House warehouses were soon storing large quantities of tea chests, as well as providing services such as blending for particular merchants.
Following the bombing of North Strand by the Luftwaffe in May 1941, FW Bond, assistant chief engineer to the Port and Docks Board, built both over-ground and underground air raid shelters in the grounds of the Custom House itself. The timber jetties either side of the entrance to George’s Dock were simultaneously replaced by modern masonry quay walls.
In 1950, the Board sold the lands at the north of the Docks adjoining Sheriff Street to the Department of Posts and Telegraphs who established a new Central Sorting Office there for Dublin. Another portion of the docks was conveyed to Coras Iompair Eireann for a new central bus station while the site of the Old Dock was transferred to Dublin Corporation to create the Memorial Road link between Amiens Street and Beresford Place.
Interest in the docks was briefly relit by an architectural competition held in 1954 to design a new central headquarters for the Dublin Port and Docks Board. This was to be sited within the Custom House Docks complex. However, the lousy economic climate - combined with forceful voices urging the Board to relocate in the deep-sea area of the Port - scuppered the plan. After a short stint in Gandon House beside Busaras, the Board’s new headquarters – Port Centre - was built in the old Liffey Dockyard on Alexandra Road.
In the summer of 2008, George’s Dock became the location of Ireland’s first ‘urban beach’, complete with palm trees, cabanas, beach umbrellas, a sand-castle building area and suitable refreshments. Visitors were encouraged to practice yoga and tai chi, play chess, volleyball and boules or just kick back and watch the world roll by. One of the most impressive sculptures was a giant version of Gulliver built by Duthain Dealbh beneath the Triumphal Arch. The sculpture was part of the ‘Dublin: One City, One Book’ project led by Dublin City Libraries and supported by the Docklands Authority, The Sunday Tribune and Vintage Classics. George’s Dock is also the location for musical and theatrical events throughout the year.