Turtle Bunbury

Writer and Historian

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'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.


From the northern dock, three handsome granite lock gates opened on to the River Liffey, meeting it right beside the confluence with the River Dodder. These were named for the three most recent Lord Lieutenants - the Camden, the Buckingham and the Westmoreland. The Camden was big enough for a contemporary warship to pass through, while, adjoining Great Britain Quay, the Westmoreland was suitably narrow for barges. The operation of these gates was supervised by a lock-keeper who lived in an adjacent house, rebuilt in the 1940s.


From 1915 until 1943, the lock-keeper responsible for the Grand Canal Locks was Paddy ‘Sonny’ Byrne. Born in 1869, his father was a deep-sea diver who drowned at sea. From 1893 until the outbreak of the Great War, Sonny was master of the Aja, a pleasure vessel that ran along the Grand Canal between Dublin and the Shannon for Mr, Sankey, ‘the Guv’nor’, one of the owners of the Grand Canal Company, and his guests. Sonny was subsequently appointed lock-keeper until he retired. He was offered a residence in the Lock Keeper’s cottage beside the locks but his wife Anne was so frightened their baby daughter might toddle into the water she refused to live there. Instead they lived above Kitty Whelan’s drapery shop in Thorncastle Street, Ringsend, opposite St. Patrick’s Church, where Spar is now located. Sonny died in 1953.


Three ‘commodious’ graving docks were constructed in the basin, close to the entrance locks. These were ostensibly for the building and repairing of commercial ships and barges belonging to the Grand Canal Company but naturally other vessels were also built and fixed here. The Dublin Dockyard Company operated it as a small-scale business until 1881. From 1913 to 1963, the docks were used by the Ringsend Dockyard Company (known as McMillan’s). Between 1925 and 1939, they built most of the forty-eight steel motor barges used by the Grand Canal Company. They also made barges for Guinness, Odlum Mills and other companies. Today, the Graving Docks are home to the Naomh Eanna (a much beloved old Aran Islands Ferry), inside of which the windsurfing gurus of Surfdock are based. The entire area is presently being redeveloped by the Ringsend community, bringing another neglected waterfront area back into focus.



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