'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.
The original East Wall community had a distinctly nautical bent, focused upon Dublin Port which lay directly to its east and the Royal Canal which cut its way through the streets in the 1790s. The arrival of the railways in the 1840s brought hundreds, if not thousands, of new residents to the community. Skilled and unskilled, Catholic and Protestant, rural and urban, the East Wall was soon swarming with men, women and children from all across the British Isles. Huge numbers arrived from the Irish countryside, fleeing the desolation of the famine, driven by the urge to survive. The large number of streets named after places in Wexford suggests a considerable presence from that county. Many from Ulster found work as engine drivers and railway men with the Great Northern Railway, with whom the playwright Seán O’Casey would later work. A mostly Protestant influx from England, Scotland and Wales found employment with the London & North Western Railway on the North Wall. Still more were to be found working as mechanics and ship-builders or queuing up along the docks of the Liffey, awaiting the nod of the stevedore. O’Casey’s father Michael came to the East Wall as a teacher. The Protestant 'swaddlers' got their church of St Barnabas in 1870. The Catholics attended St Laurence O'Toole's Church on Sheriff Street, opened in 1850, until St Joseph’s Church (known as ‘The Little Tin Church’) was erected on Church Road in the early 1900s. (The engineer Bindon Blood Stoney lived in the next door Fir Cottage).
While the railway provided considerable employment for the East Wall community, the great swathe of train tracks laid in the 1840s and 1850s served to isolate them from the rest of the City. These tracks cut the main arteries of Church Road, East Road and West Road off from direct access with the North Wall communities of the Sherriff Street neighbourhood. Now known as an East Wall stronghold, Church Road originally culminated just opposite St Laurence O’Toole’s Church in North Wall. As the railways and canals expanded, the southern end of Church Road was cut off from Seville Place. Adding to the sense of claustrophobia, the construction of the Great Northern Railway embankment removed North Strand’s once uninterrupted view of Dublin Bay.