Turtle Bunbury

Writer and Historian

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'Dublin Docklands - An Urban Voyage was commissioned by the Dublin Docklands Development Authority, and published in 2008. The following tale represents research I have undertaken for the project which may or may not have been used in the final book.


All activity within the Grand Canal Docks was supervised by the Basin Captain. He resided in a two-storey house by McMahon Bridge (formerly Victoria Bridge) on Grand Canal Quay. In a remarkable display of what you can do with a very small space, this house was replaced by the Alto Vetro building, a crisp, delicately proportioned 16-storey glass-fronted apartment block, designed by Shay Clery Architects and completed in 2008. It looks rather like a very tall chest of drawers, with all the drawers neatly pulled out. A particularly fine view of this building can be obtained from the MV Cill Airne anchored along the North Wall Quay.

Directly behind Alto Vetro is the Enterprise and Technology Campus purchased by Trinity College Dublin in 1999. According to the 1911 Census, this site formerly comprised a distillery, an abbatoir and a timber yard that ran to Macken Street (then Great Clarence Street). It’s principle building, The Tower, was built as a sugar refinery by the renowned theatre architect, Alfred Derbyshire and engineer Sir William Fairbairn. It was later occupied by the Hammond Lane foundry, which specialized in making manhole covers, galvanised baths, aluminium buckets (for slops) and enamel buckets (for freshwater). In 1978, the IDA Ireland (Industrial Development Agency) bought the Tower, preserving and restoring it as the centrepiece of their new Enterprise Centre. The restoration won a Europa Nostra award in 1983; the Tower itself is now a Design and Craft Centre. The Centre continues today under the auspices of Trinity College. In July 2018 Trinity unveiled plans for a new Grand Canal Innovation District, to bededicated to technology and innovation, which will be built on a designated site adjacent to Grand Canal Quay and Macken Street.

A campshire runs from Alto Vetro along Grand Canal Quay to the Treasury Building on Grand Canal Street. A boardwalk from this campshire leads to the Waterways Visitor Centre, built in 1993 for the Office of Public Works and nicknamed ‘The Box in the Docks’. Within this white metal-clad Modernist cube on stilts, people are invited to learn more about the history of the canal. Further south along the quay stands a cut-stone Victorian barley store or malthouse, built by Guinness in 1886, with a basin frontage of 100 yards. This may have replaced Brown’s Flour Mills, the second largest in the city, which was totally destroyed by fire in February 1885. In 1995, the malthouse was redeveloped by T.J. Cullen & Co into The Malting Tower, comprising two five storey office buildings and seven studio apartments. The well-regarded Bridge Bar & Grill (formerly Frank’s Restaurant) operates at ground level in a space that famously shudders whenever trains cross the Docks via the Grand Canal Railway Bridge, built by Andrew Handysize in the 1880s (check date).

At the southern end of Grand Canal Quay stands the Treasury Building, designed by Henry J. Lyons and completed in 1990. This is actually a reconstructed and re-clad version of the wonderfully functionalist Boland's Bakery built here in 1948 to a design by Belfast architect John Stevenson. The Bakery was notable for the giant lettering and a dramatic, wine-coloured curved wall, now replicated at the end of Macken Street. The 12ft high bronze figure climbing up Treasury’s main wall was prophetically called ‘Aspiration’ and sculpted by Rowan Gilespie, who also created the life-sized Famine sculptures by the Custom House.



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