Turtle Bunbury

Writer and Historian

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From 'Dublin Docklands - An Urban Voyageby Turtle Bunbury (MPG, 2008)


When the Grand Canal Docks opened in 1796, they were the largest docks the world had ever known. Within a few decades, they were in decline, the fall prompted by changing technology and the arrival of the railways. The elegant quaysides became the exclusive demesne of the Dublin Gas Company whose ever-eroding mountains of black coal and ash grey coke spilled across the landscape. Chemical factories, tar pits, bottle factories and iron foundries belched across the skyline. Bakers and millers worked their magic along the southern banks of the inner basin.

By the 1960s, the Grand Canal Docks were almost completely derelict. The nadir was probably 1987 when Hanover Quay was simply deemed too poisonous to sell. Extraordinary developments have happened since including the complete remediation of the area, the construction of untold millions worth of real estate and the arrival of several thousand enthusiastic new residents. The Millennium Tower, Hanover Quay and the Alto Vetro building particularly stand out. The Docks waters are now the preserve of canoeists, windsurfers and the occasional shower of young fellows leaping off McMahon Bridge. The Viking Splash Tours provide a suitably noisy disruption throughout the day. Swans are also frequently to be seen splashing across the water. The quaysides have been restored and converted into attractive campshires.

Grand Canal Square is one of the great landmarks of 21st century Dublin, combining big name architecture and landscape design, while there is much to be said for the all that has occurred in the area known since 2017 as SOBO, aka South of Beckett and Casey Bridges. Indeed, there is much about the entire Grand Canal Docks project to inspire optimism in these uncertain times. It’s a shimmering example of how, if you really push for something and secure the support of the central government, you can greatly improve the environmental, social and economic outlook of even the most downtrodden area.




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