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Dún Laoghaire Harbour


In 1817, 200 years ago, the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, Earl Whitworth, laid the foundation stone for the building of a new harbour at Dunleary (the locality only became Kingstown in 1821). The harbour was originally envisaged as a place of refuge from bad weather and not as a port for landing goods and passengers. The original scheme was for the East Pier only, but Parliament agreed with the Engineer at the time, John Rennie, that a second pier be built. In August 1817, the contract for quarrying stone was awarded to George Smith. From the railway point of view, a series of inclined plane was constructed to bring stone from Dalkey Quarry to a location near the present Barnhill Road railway bridge. From there, a horse-worked ‘truckway” or “railroad” continued to Dún Laoghaire. Two tracks were laid down along the path beside the present day railway. This path later became known as “The Metals” and several road signs with this designation can be seen along the route, for example near Glenageary station.



On the inclines, each “train” had three trucks, each holding six tons of rock. The trucks ran on iron rails mounted on granite plinths and were held by a continuous chain, which ran around a friction wheel at the top and bottom of each incline. The weight of the full trucks going down the incline pulled the empty ones back up[1]. An operator regulated the speed of the friction wheel with a brake. A junction existed where the Metals met the start to what became the East Pier. The Metals continued past what is now Dún Laoghaire station to the edge of the Old Dunleary Harbour and on to the start of the West Pier. Stone was also quarried in Glasthule (on the site of the present People’s Park) and on a at the former Moran Park, now subsumed into the Lexicn (Library) development. The two Piers have a combined length of 1¾ miles with a foundation width of 300 feet.



The original terminus of the Dublin & Kingstown Railway was close to the location of the former Dunleary Crossing, which gave access to the West Pier. The then 4’8½” gauge line was opened on Wednesday 17 December 1834[2]. The line was extended to the present station by way of an embankment across the Old Harbour, on which the first train ran on 13 May 1837[3]. The cut-off area of the Old Harbour on the landward side of the embankment was later filled in, much of the material coming from the cutting of the extension of the railway to Dalkey. Approaching Dún Laoghaire, the line passed under two stone bridges, a single elliptical arch of 1837 spanning the double line railway and the “Metals” en route to the West Pier, and a three-arch bridge of 1854. These structures survived until the DART project of 1981-84. A small signal cabin on the Up side at Dunleary Crossing also fell victim to resignalling work for the DART and was closed in 1983. It had been a blockpost at the end of the automatic colourlight-signalled section from Merrion Gates.

In 1844, Kingstown station ceased to be a terminus, when a new line was opened to Dalkey. This was worked on the atmospheric system, but the final ‘atmospheric’ train ran on Wednesday 12 April 1854[4]. The line from Kingstown to Dalkey was reconstructed on the 5’3” gauge and reopened on 11 October 1855[5].

A single platform served Up and Down through trains at Dún Laoghaire and it was not until a major rebuilding programme was undertaken on 1956-57 that a new Up platform was provided, 470ft long and varying in width from 9ft to 22ft, along a new footbridge. What could be described as the “Crofton Road” sidings on the Up side were increased in number to four and were in the form of loops. These proved useful for storing trains sent down from Lansdowne Road during Rugby matches. Pre-1957, the siding to the Traders’ Wharf started from the Up loop and crossed both the Up and Down lines, but after the 1956/57 alterations, access was from the bay platform on the Down side.



   Initially mail vessels had difficulty berthing in certain weather and wind conditions, and the solution was to build the Carlisle Pier, which came into use on 23 December 1859. It was named was after the Earl of Carlisle, a popular Viceroy. It had two tracks and two side platforms. There were also two turntables, one serving as an engine release at the outer end of the Pier and the other near the level crossing at the landward end. Sizes are given as 23’6” and 17’3” in the Appendix to the Working Timetable dated 1 March 1935, but which one was the larger is not indicated. The Appendix also contains an instruction that certain coaches which exceed 60 feet in length were not permitted to run on the Carlisle Pier on account of the very sharp curve on the always singled track connection from the main line. Examples were composites 2107/8, 12-wheeler No. 861, Pullman Cars and Drumm Electric Trains. In the 1950s, the AEC railcars were also prohibited.



A new pier train went into operation between Westland Row (now Pearse) and Dún Laoghaire Pier from 4 July 1966. It comprised ex-GNR stock as follows: 47N (J11 Brake/Compo), 63N, 78N, 75N (all K15s), and 185N (K23). The K15 Standards had their toilets removed and seating ncreased to eightly. All these vehicles were built in the period 1936-1943 by the GNR(I), length over buffers 62’ 0”.

On 6 January 1969, the 18:40 Pearse-Pier was worked by C227 with bogie van 1117, luggage van and the 1897 set with a heating van on rear. The 19:10 was worked by an A class. The 15:50 from Galway was B160+B190+10 bogies+HV, whilst the Heuston train was worked by an A class. On Good Friday, 4 April 1969, the 07:10, 07:45 and 07:50 from the Pier were worked by C Class locos while the 07:38 to Heuston was worked by A50. The 07:50 was described as the “Letter Post” and consisted luggage van 2754 only. The 09 50 “Parcel Post” was C215 with 5 horse boxes and a guard’s van. On this day, there was a second sailing from Holyhead at 05:30, due in Dún Laoghaire at 09:00, but which only arrived at 10:45. There were 3 trains off the Pier, the last one being C215 with 1890 only. 

The Heuston to Pier, which originated in Cork, was always interesting, and B102 was the motive power on 21 April 1969. The following night it was worked by B234, recently re-engined. There were many other examples of Sulzer workings noted throughout 1969.  July and August were particularly busy months, and there were extra sailings with Pier trains running up and down during the day. An interesting working was the extension of the 16:15 Waterford to Heuston through to Dún Laoghaire Pier, for example on 4 August 1969 when B165 + LV + 8 bogies reached the Pier at 20:11. It was not unheard of for either the 14:50 from Westport or the 15:05 from Sligo to also work through, carrying emigrants returning to Britain. Some of the trains were too long for the loop on the Pier and they would reverse to the main station to run round. Another interesting operatoin, particularly when the weather was hot, was to send a boat train on from Dún Laoghaire to Bray to form a relief train to Dublin. On occasions, a C class loco was used, which was risky as this class was notoriously unreliable.

Rail services to the Carlisle Pier came to an abrupt end after Friday 10 October 1980, the final train being the 19:05 from Heuston. Over that weekend, a revised signalling and track layout in connection with the DART project[6], ran over time and was not ready for services on Monday morning. Serious delays resultedIn order to help sort out the situation, it was decided to exclude the Pier siding from the scheme, and the points were clipped and scotched out of use. However, it was always the intention to cease service to Carlisle Pier and the end came only slightly earlier than planned.

 In 1989, the NIR 17:00 Enterprise from Belfast to Connolly was extended through to Dún Laoghaire station. It worked through most days until 30t September 1989, but there was little traffic offering. So ended a short-lived but interesting service.



In August 1848, the Admiralty packets were transferred from Liverpool to the new Holyhead – Kingstown route and four paddle steamers were provided for the service, Hibernia, Scotia, Anglia and Cambria, thus establishing the pattern of Mail Boat service for more than a century. In 1969, the Mail Boat would arrive at 03:15 and depart at 20:45. The regular ships were the Hibernia and Cambria, ordered by the LMS in 1946 from Harland and Wolff of Belfast. These 4,900-ton ships entered service in April and May 1949.

However, in 1969 the car ferry Holyhead Ferry 1, which had made her maiden voyage on 19 July 1965, was also in service, and gradually the foot passenger became less relevant compared  to vehicular traffic. HF1 was to have been the first drive-on/off car ferry on the Dún Laoghaire-Holyhead route, although service actually started 10 days earlier with the Normannia. Initially, the car ferries used used a "temporary" terminal on the East Pier while the mail boats remained at the Carlisle Pier, replaced by a new facility at St Michael’s Wharf which opened on 14 April 1969[7]. During 1969, HF1 was assisted by the Caledonian Princess and the Dover.

In September 1975, the Cambria and Hibernia mail boat sailings finished and the car ferries took over completely from the classic traditional service. The at that time very big 8,000 ton St. Columba, built in Denmark, arrived on the Irish Sea in April 1977. In 1995, the HSS Stena Explorer high-speed fast ferry was introduced, with a capacity of 1,500 passengers. It was totally different concept in sea travel and usually completed the sailing to Holyhead in 99 minutes. From 2011, it dropped to seasonal service only, from April to September. By 2014 passenger numbers had dropped to 200,000 per annum, which was not sustainable, and HSS service finished in September of that year, bring to an end passenger shipping services from Dún Laoghaire after some 155 years.    



At the Dublin end of Dún Laoghaire station, a connection was laid in 1863 to the “Traders’ Wharf”. The purpose of this Pier was to deal with sulphur ore for export, originating in Co. Wicklow. On exiting the station are, the single track siding crossed a road by way of a level crossing, with a loop at the Irish Lights premises, before entering the Wharf, with tracks at each side of the Wharf, although only one track is shown on some maps. The Coal Quay was was not rail connected, but had been served by the “Metals”. The pictures on page 358 shows that the loco off the 15:15 passenger train Amiens St- Dún Laoghaire had time to shunt the sidings in Dún Laoghaire before returning at 16:30 to Amiens Street.

It is probable that later in the day a loco off a Pier train would work the “Dún Laoghaire Goods”. The late Geoffrey Wigham recorded this goods in later years passing Sandymount around 21:00. In earlier times, the Up Enniscorthy goods was allowed time at Dún Laoghaire to possibly shunt Traders and St Michael’s Wharf sidings. The tracks on the Traders’ Wharf were lifted in 1966[8]. One of the two tracks through the Irish Lights Yard was lifted in 1968[9] to make way for a roadway to be used by a mobile crane for handling buoys. Final disconnection of this track was in 1978.

Turning now to the 1836 Mail Wharf, which became Victoria Wharf in 1849, and St Michael’s Wharf later still, there were early plans for a rail connection, but it was only 1891 that tracks were laid[10]. This siding was removed in 1966 to make way for the 1969 car ferry terminal. The area was subsequently used for the HSS service but is nowadays out of use.



Dún Laoghaire remains an important station for commuters on DART services. At peak hours, some diesel railcar services from north and west of Dublin serve this station, as do Rosslare line trains. It is also a starting point for some peak DART services, e.g. currently the 16:37, 17:03 and 17:22 start from the bay platform which is substantially on the site of the 1837 station. During the day, an ICR for the 13:30 Pearse - Drogheda stables in the bay platform because of the shortage of siding accommodation in the Pearse Station area.


[1] Rob Goodbody, The Metals from Dalkey to Dún Laoghaire, (Dún Laoghaire Rathdown County Council, 2010), 37

[2] Kevin A Murray, Ireland’s First Railway, (Irish Railway Record Society, 1981), 30.

[3] Ibid, 42.

[4] Ibid. 61.

[5] The Times, 13 October 1855.

[6] Journal Vol 14, No 84, February 1981, 153.

[7] Irish Times, 15 April 1969.

[8] Kevin A Murray, Ireland’s First Railway, (Irish Railway Record Society, 1981), 231.

[9] Irish Railfans News, Vol 14, No 4, October 1968.

[10] Journal Vol 26, No 187, June 2015, 291.

Copyright © 2018 by Irish Railway Record Society Limited
Revised: May 17, 2018 .