'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.
Three hundred years ago, the tidal marshlands of the River Liffey rose along much of the landscape we now call Docklands. During the early 18th century, the Ballast Office made concerted efforts to reclaim some of these lands by embanking the shores of the main river channel. One of the earliest attempts was an embankment, dating to between 1716 and 1725, which ran almost directly in front of where the Custom House stands today. The mound, comprising two black stone walls filled with sand, was originally known as ‘Dublin Key’. It was 60 foot wide at the top, and sloped from a height of 12 feet along the river front to 8 foot on the inside wall. When James Gandon surveyed ‘Dublin Key’ in the 1780s, he derided it as an inferior work, incapable of keeping the tidal waters out. He proposed that a new quay be built in front of the Custom House. Gandon’s wish was Gandon’s command and the Custom House Quay was effectively complete by 1792.
With the Custom House and its Quay opened for business, development of the surrounding neighbourhood began in haste. Headed up by Beresford, the Revenue Commissioners built the first of three deep-water Custom House Docks along the east side of the Custom House. Completed in 1796 and later known as the ‘Old Dock’, this dock may have been designed by Gandon. It measured approximately 124m north to south and 60m east to west. A swing-bridge, which enabled people to cross over the dock entrance, was located approximately where the north entrance of the Talbot Memorial Bridge is today. In 1927, the long disused Old Dock was filled to make way for Memorial Road and, ultimately, forms the basis for parts of Busaras and the AIB building at the IFSC.
The new Custom House Quay and its Old Dock provided useful berthage for vessels seeking to pay the Revenue Commissioners their dues at the Custom House. One of the landmark features was a triumphal arch, built in 1813 as the formal entrance to the quay, which celebrated the expected victory over Emperor Napoleon. Bounded by new railings and gates, this elegant arch was designed by John Rennie Senior and placed at the east end of Eden Quay. By the turn of the 20th century, it was located at the bottom of the old bus and taxi ramp outside Connolly Station. In 1988, the arch was carefully taken down and relocated to its present site beside CHQ where it has become a useful Docklands rendezvous. The reconstruction was carried out by a local team of young people, under a FAS Community Youth Training Programme supported by CHDDA. In April 2002, it was officially unveiled by Taoiseach Bertie Ahern and dedicated to Pat O’Shea for service to community development. A rather more practical landmark came in 1814 when the new public walkway of Eden Quay was completed, providing the Custom House Quay with direct access along the riverfront to Carlisle Bridge (now O’Connell Bridge) and the bustling activity of Bachelor’s Walk beyond.