Turtle Bunbury

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THE DOCKLANDS - Custom House Characters

FROM 'DUBLIN DOCKLANDS - AN URBAN VOYAGE' (2008), BY TURTLE BUNBURY

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Above: James Gandon.

James Gandon (1743 – 1823)

In 1781, Gandon was preparing to move to St Petersburg to work for Catherine the Great when Commissioner Beresford gave him an offer he could not refuse – Dublin’s Custom House. The London-born Huguenot, winner of the Royal Academy’s 1768 Gold medal, had mastered neo-classical architecture under Sir William Chambers. Gandon subsequently planted his roots in Ireland, designing numerous civic structures such as the Four Courts and the original Carlisle (now O’Connell) Bridge, and many private mansions, perhaps most notably Abbeville House for Beresford, later home to Taoiseach Charles Haughey. He lived on Mecklenburg (now Railway) Street for many years. He died in Lucan in 1823.

Edward Smyth (1749 – 1812)

Smyth’s career break came when he secured the post of ornament-carver for Henry Darley, chief stone-cutter at the Custom House. Assisted by sculptor Benjamin Schrowder and others, he created the fourteen beautiful riverine keystones, as well as the female figures of Industry, Commerce and Plenty, and the Royal Arms at either end of the building. He also made most of the sculpture at Gandon’s Four Courts. Edward and his son John Smyth were successively Masters of the Dublin Society School of Modelling and Sculpture. They lived at 36 Montgomery Street where their neighbours included another young sculptor, John Henry Foley.

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Above: Napper Tandy

James Napper Tandy (1740 – 1803)

Tandy’s association with the Docklands stems from his leading a mob in a short-lived protest against the construction of the Custom House in 1781. An ironmonger by trade, Tandy was a member of the Merchant’s Guild and served 18 years on the City Assembly. He was a popular figure for working class Dubliners and may be seen as one of the pioneers of trade unionism. In 1791, he co-founded the Society of United Irishmen with Wolfe Tone and others. He subsequently fled to America where he remained until 1798. In that year he landed a French corvette in Donegal but then fled to Hamburg where he was captured and imprisoned. Released at the personal request of Napoleon, he died in Bordeaux in 1803.

Trivia: Napper Tandy is a Cockney rhyming slang for brandy.

Hon. John Beresford (1738 – 1805)

Commissioner Beresford was the second son of the Earl of Tyrone of the Curraghmore family. He represented Co. Waterford in Parliament from 1761 to 1805 and was Commissioner of Revenue in Ireland for nearly 22 years. In August 1781 he laid the foundation stone of the Custom House, which venture he brought to fruition by recruiting Gandon. He was William Pitt’s principal adviser in Ireland during the 1780s, for which he became known as ‘the King of Ireland’. In 1797, he and his son John Claudius Beresford were prominent among those warning the government of imminent rebellion. He supported the Union and died in 1805. In his private life, he had seven sons and ten daughters by two wives.

John Rennie (1761 – 1821)

Born on a farm near Edinburgh, Rennie was just 23 when he built his first aqueduct and quickly became one of the foremost engineering experts in Britain. In 1801, the Directors General of Inland Navigation in Ireland invited him to examine Dublin Bay, with a particular focus on its harbour and the troublesome bar. The Scotsman described the situation as one of the most difficult he had yet encountered. In 1821, he conceived the Custom House Docks but died that October before they were completed. He also orchestrated the construction of new harbours at Howth and Dun Laoghaire, recommended the building of the Bull Wall (which happened 20 years later) and, amongst numerous other suggestions, proposed a huge wall to run from the South Wall as far south as Blackrock. Rennie was buried in St Paul's Cathedral, London.

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Above: John Rennie and his son, Sir John Rennie.

Sir John Rennie (1794 - 1874)

Sir John was the second son of John Rennie, above. He served as his fathers principal assistant and took over the business in 1821. He completed the Custom House Docks and also designed and built Stack A (now the chq building). He is known globally as the architect of the London Bridge that was famously sold to an American entrepreneur in 1968 and rebuilt in Arizona.

Joseph Mallagh (1873 – 1959)

The preset-day Butt Bridge was designed and built by Joseph Mallagh, chief engineer to the Port and Docks Board for over a quarter of a century. Born in 1873, he was educated at the Monaghan Collegiate School and Queen’s College Galway. As a young man he was employed in miscellaneous waterworks improvement and water supply schemes in Co. Down. In 1905 he was appointed Engineer to the Sligo Harbour Commissioners, a post he held for ten years in which time he created many notable tidal works. Following John W Griffith’s controversial retirement in 1916, Mallagh was appointed chief engineer in Dublin Port. As well as Butt Bridge, he oversaw the construction of several deepwater wharfs and dock warehouses, the installation of automatic fog signalling apparatus in harbour lighthouses, extensive dredging works and other improvements. Under his direction, Dublin became one of the first ports to adopt the echo sounding method for the hydrographic surveys of the harbour. He was President of the Institution of Civil Engineers in 1930 – 31. Old age obliged him to retire in 1940 but he continued to act in a consultative capacity until his death, aged 86 at his home in Donnybrook, Dublin, in 1959.

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