'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.
This route between Dublin and London is one that has been travelled by many generations of Irish emigrants. It originated with the regular, official postal service from London to Dublin via Holyhead. In time this developed into a mail-coach service that also carried passengers. By 1819, this coach would depart London at 8pm and, favourable winds permitting, arrive in Dublin in the early evening two days later.
In August 1848, the Holyhead - Kingstown service began when the Chester & Holyhead Railway Company (C&HR) combined forces with the London & North Western Railway Company (LNWR) to commence an express railway service to London Euston, using the brand new line between Chester and Holyhead. Known as the ‘Irish Mail’, this link ensured Holyhead’s predominance as the pick-up point for the transfer of mails from London to four new paddle steamers, provided by the Admrialty, which operated between Holyhead and Kingstown (Dun Laoghaire). In 1850, the City of Dublin Steam Packet Company secured the monopoly on this steamship mail service. C&HR was subsequently asborbed into the LNWR who, in October 1861, transferred the main passanger terminal from Kingstown to a point just east of the Royal Canal on the North Wall Quay. The LNWR ships were painted with black hulls, white superstructure and buff funnels with a black top. The house flag was red with a white horizontal cross and a coat of arms at the centre. The end of the flag was V shaped.
By the 1870s, the LNWR was known as the ‘Premier Line’ and had become the largest joint stock company in the United Kingdom. In 1877, they made a concerted effort to improve their facilities in Dublin Port. A branch line was built to connect the Amiens Street (Connolly Station) network with the North Wall Quay, where the LNWR mailboats were moored. The connecting trains featured the same ‘blackberry black’ engines and ‘purple lake’ coaches as the larger locomotives operating across the Irish Sea. between 1890 and 1907, they also constructed the North Wall Railway Station for both goods and passengers. The station has a somewhat poignant association with the First World War. For many of those who served with the British Army during that period, this was the last Dublin building they passed through before boarding the troop ships and heading to the trenches. After the war, the station was converted to freight usage. It is now used by Irish Rail as a freight-handling depot and administrative offices. The elaborate Victorian canopy still exists over the curving section of the concourse, but without its glass.
Boat trains from Kingsbridge (now Heuston Station) came along the Liffey quays to North Wall Station and connected with the LNWR steamers. Increased traffic between the ferry and railway prompted the company to purchase a hotel just accross the road from the steamer berths. In 1883 they bought the Prince of Wales Hotel at the junction of New Wapping Street and the North Wall. (Its previous owner, Mr Kavanagh, also owned the celebrated Gravedigger pub, which still does a fine trade in Glasnevin). The original structure was built prior to 1866 but is not recorded on the first edition of the Ordnance Survey, published in 1847 (surveyed in 1838). At any rate, a new ornate hotel was built on this site and renamed the London and North Western Hotel. It opened in 1890 and provided much employment in the locality. The April 1901 census listed one Hotel Manageress (Emily Hickton), a book-keeper, two assistants, six housemaids, one hall porter, two cooks, one scullery maid, two waitresses, two hotel porters and one linen keeper. Amongst the four guests in residence that night was Sir Rowland Blennerhassett, 4th Baronet Blennerhassett, the then President of Queen's College Cork. (His wife was Countess Charlotte de Leyden). The immediate fate of the hotel after the LNWR ships abandoned the North Wall in 1908 is presently unknown, although it was still operating as a hotel at the time of the 1911 Census, under a different manageress, with what appears to be a full crew of staff, albeit with what appears to have been a solitary guest. It was occupied by British officers during the War of Independence and, according to local folklore, was a frequent target of the IRA. It became known as the British Rail Hotel after the nationalisation of the railways but ceased to be a hotel during the 1920s. It now contains offices of Irish Rail, including the architects department.
Just behind the hotel stands a handsome three-storey building known locally as the Wool Store (Photo) and constructed between 1847 and 1864. Orginally designed as a port facility, it was subsequently incorporated into the North Wall Station, although it was never directly accessible from the railway sidings. The ground floor was formerly used as stables by the LNWR. In the 1940s, it was referred to as the Wool Warehouse Stable, and it has been derelict since the early 1980s. There is talk of it being converted into a gymnasium.
Many young men from the East Wall and North Wall areas found work on the LNWR at this time. Often they joined the service at the age of fourteen. After two years they would be made permanent and called ‘juniors’. On reaching 21, they became 'traffic handlers' (labourers). Unlike other railway employees who had to buy their own uniforms, the LNWR staff were provided with free uniforms. In the early 1880s, the LNWR built a number of new houses on Mayor Street and along the east side of New Wapping Street. These houses were occupied by LNWR staff but had to be ‘surrendered on retirement’. In the 1901 Census, one such house is occupied by Michael Keely, a railway shunter, and his three children. His eldest son was a railway checker and there was a lodger, also a shunter. Perhaps more tellingly, of the ten family heads on New Wapping Street, only two were born in Dublin. The rest came from the Irish countryside and one from Scotland, indicating that the relatively unskilled life of a railwayman was one chosen by many agricultural labourers. 
By 1885, journey times on the London to Dublin night mail had been cut to ten hours and 20 minutes. However, the LNWR ‘express’ ships plying the North Wall – Holyhead route continued to compete with the monopolistic City of Dublin Company’s Kingstown service for both passengers and mail.
In the early 1900s, the Dublin Port & Docks Board raised the dues chargeable on the LNWR’s ships at the North Wall. In 1908, the LNWR took this as an excuse to abandon the North Wall and return to Kingstown. They soon became locked in a heated berthage dispute with the City of Dublin company which effectively continued until all four of the LNWR’s railway mailboats were requisitioned by the Admiralty as troop ships. The Hibernia was sunk in 1915. The City of Dublin company collapsed in 1919 and the LNWR took over their mail packet contract. The LNWR Traffic Committee recognised Kingstown's change of name to Dun Laoghaire in December 1920. In 1921, the British railway system was reorganised and the LNWR became the London, Midland & Scottish Railway Company (LMS). They continued to operate the Dun Laoghaire - Holyhead service until they were nationalised in 1948, ultimately forming the basis for Sealink. The LNWR cargo ships continued to operate to the North Wall after 1908, as it did under all its successors-in-title, including Stena Sealink. Car ferries were introduced to the Dun Laoghaire - Holyhead service in 1965 and have been sailing twice daily, when weather permits, ever since.
Possible Caption: The twin screw SS Hibernia was one of four express steamers based in Holyhead which carried passengers and freight each night to Dublin’s North Wall and each day to Kingstown on behalf of the London & North Western Railway Company. In 1915 she was sent to join the Royal Navy fleet where it became HMS Tara. She was torpedoed and sunk by German submarines off the Mediterranean coast of Egypt on 5th November 1915. A replacement Hibernia was built for the LNWR in 1920.
With thanks to Michael Holland (University Curator, UCC Cork) and David Pennington (librarian and archivist of the LNWR Society).