It was not until the Carlisle Pier, or the Mailboat Pier as some call it, was opened in 1859 that Dun Laoghaire harbour was considered complete. Since then, and until the advent of the new HSS terminal in 1996 the arrival and departure of the Holyhead service at the Carlisle Pier was always an important event for Dun Laoghaire people - it being a favourite pastime to walk the piers to watch the 'mailboat come in'.
To the Victorian passenger the London-Dublin link must have been a most impressive operation. Arriving at Holyhead by train, the passenger simply walked across the platform and boarded the awaiting steamer for a three hours and forty-five minutes crossing to Kingstown. There awaiting the steamer at the end of the gangway was the Dublin train. And efficient it was too for a fine of 34/- was imposed for each minute the mail was delayed!
But while the pier may have been impressive to those disembarking straight from steam to train, for those faced with a wait of any duration it was quite a different matter. In its original state, the new pier offered no more than a very simple shed-like structure, barely covering the railway platforms.
Hansard shows that on 03 August 1885 Mr Maurice Brooks asked the Financial Secretary to the Treasury, Whether he is aware that, in certain conditions of the wind, considerable avoidable inconvenience is caused to the Irish travelling public, including numerous Members of Parliament, by the lack of protection and shelter from rain and storm when shipping and landing as passengers between Kingstown and Holyhead; whether he is aware that the contractors for the carriage of Her Majesty's Mails between Holyhead and Kingstown have repeatedly applied for works to be carried out at the Carlisle Pier, Kingstown, and the Royal Mail Packet Jetty, Holyhead, which they state to be necessary for the protection of the Mail Packets, and for the shelter and convenient landing and shipping of Mails and passengers; and, whether he can state what steps he proposes to take to meet the wants complained of?
The Secretary to the Treasury, Sir Henry Holland, responded "Sir, no complaints have been made, except by the Packet Company, of the lack of protection to passengers at this harbour; and, so far as I am aware, there is no obligation upon the Government, either by their contracts or otherwise, to provide improved accommodation for passengers there. As regards the second part of the Question, I answered a similar one a week ago relating to Holyhead. In the case of Kingstown, the Packet Company, if they think there is any risk, should apply to the Board of Works in Dublin, in whom the harbour is vested, and who would, no doubt, ascertain whether the present state of things affords reasonable security to the mail packets."
The issue was raised again in May 1893. Hansard shows that Mr MacCartney said, he "wished to know whether there was any provision in the Estimates for the completion of the roofing of the Carlisle Pier where the mails were landed, and whether the work would be carried out this year? He had now been drawing attention to this question for several years. It took him three Sessions to find out what Department was responsible for the work, and having ascertained that it was the Treasury he had next to convince the Postmaster General that the mails suffered damage by being landed on the unprotected pier in bad weather. The amount required for the completion of the covering was very small indeed. The sum required for this very necessary work was not large—about £2,000, he believed."
Again, on 5 March 1895 Hansard records Mr W Field "I beg to ask the Secretary to the Treasury whether he is aware that 35 men have been recently discharged at Kingstown Harbour; and that only about five of those men received the allowance usually granted to men in the employment over 15 years, although many of the employees were in the work for a much longer period; whether those cases are under consideration; and whether certain work requires to be done at Carlisle Pier and other places? The Financial Secretary, Sir J.T. Hibbert replied, "Twenty men have been discharged at Kingstown since May 1894, of whom 13 had 15 years' service. Of these seven were discharged for age or infirmity, and have received gratuities. The remaining six were, discharged in consequence of alterations in the system which rendered their services unnecessary. It has been decided after consideration that the Treasury has power to give gratuities in such cases, and it will be done. There is work being done by the Board at Carlisle Pier and elsewhere in Kingstown, but the number of hands employed is sufficient for it.
The above note suggests that work was finally underway to replace the early railway shed on the pier with a large and more substantial structure to offer greater shelter.
A further note on 16 Deceber 1899 offers a questions from Mr Patrick O'Brien. "I beg to ask the Secretary to the Treasury whether he has any objection to grant a Return of the Amounts expended respectively on the Admiralty Pier at Holyhead, and on the Carlisle Pier, Kingstown, in connection with the last and present Holyhead and Kingstown mail contracts?" Mr Hanbury responded "I will give the honourable Member the particulars now. The amounts expended, so far as it is possible to distinguish them, have been —upon the Admiralty Pier at Holyhead, £49,187, on the Carlisle Pier at Kingstown, £16,461. The annual expenditure on dredging Kingstown Harbour amounts in addition to £1,000 or £1,200."
This last note suggests the work had been completed by 1899.
Almost 25 years later, in January 1924, the Earl of Mayo raised in Seanad Éireann the "need for improving the present inadequate accommodation for passengers arriving at and leaving Dun Laoghaire Pier."
"I am a constant traveller backwards and forward. I have arrived in the middle of the night; I have arrived on a winter's morning, and I have arrived when there have been spring showers which wet you as quickly as any rain that falls from Heaven. When you arrive at Dun Laoghaire on a winter's morning you find the pier is not properly lighted, that there are not sufficient porters to deal with the luggage and place it on the table for the Customs officers, and that there is a rush to get the newspapers into the city of Dublin. We are going to have what is called Tailteann Games this year. If people have to go through this sort of purgatory at Dun Laoghaire they will never visit the country again. It is also very difficult to get a porter to take luggage to your motor, and people who want to get to Cork by the 6.30 train miss the connection if they do not get to their motor quickly. The consequence is that they arrive at Cork in the early morning or have to sleep in Dublin, which costs money.
"All these disabilities can be dealt with. The pier itself ought to be closed in from the weather. I shall probably be told that that is impossible, that it would be blown away. It will not be blown away. You can put up proper protection for passengers in the same way as it is done at Holyhead where you can get out of the boat, have your luggage examined, and step into the train while protected from the weather all the time. At Dun Laoghaire the south-west gale from the Dublin mountains drives the rain right through the whole pier. I have seen elderly ladies there almost wet through, and an umbrella would be turned inside out immediately. People will be coming here to the Tailteann Games this year, and also you will have Americans and others passing through Ireland on their way to the Exhibition at Wembley. You will have to make arrangements to make travelling for them as comfortable as possible. I hope the Seanad will pass this motion, which I have brought forward in order to get these very supine railway authorities and the Board of Works to improve the conditions. The pier must be closed in if you want to attract visitors here. It is not an impossibility. People say it cannot be done because they are old fashioned. We do not want that sort of people; we want to progress."
It must be said the Pier changed very little over the years. It was not until the arrival of the new Hibernia and Cambria in 1949 that pressure was applied for improved shoreside facilities. This resulted in the construction of a passenger lounge along the length of the east side and around the end of the pier as a 'temporary measure' in 1953.
Dun Laoghaire's long serving Harbour Master, Capt James Carter, comments "From the old Office of Public Works files, I once read the building was basically a steel frame, wood cladding on the inside, asbestos on the outside, with a design life of 25 years - which would have taken it up to 1979." The same 'temporary measure' was still in use in 1996!
Despite this, on 30th July 1959 Seán Ó Donnabháin noted in Seanad Éireann that "The facilities at the pier have been greatly improved, but they are still not sufficient to meet the great influx of people coming by boat and travelling by train to Dublin. It is a big contrast with the splendour of the airport and the approach to Dublin for those who can afford to travel by air."
Amazingly, the passenger lounge referred to above was never adapted, it becoming nothing more than a covered walkway to the gangways while intending passengers remained outside locked gates until near sailing time.
On 7th June 1973, the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Finance announced to Dáil Éireann a new proposal for Dun Laoghaire Harbour.
"The car ferry terminal on the East Pier at Dún Laoghaire was provided in 1965 as a temporary measure pending completion of the permanent facilities at St. Michael's Wharf. In fulfilment of an undertaking given at the time of their construction, the temporary facilities are now being dismantled. The car customs building. fencing, Bailey Bridge, link span and syncrolift have been removed and the remaining features, the approach bridge and the outer of the two stem dolphins, will be dismantled this year.
"British Rail, who operate the mail boats and car ferries on the Dún Laoghaire—Holyhead route, propose to introduce multi-purpose ships to accommodate both passengers without cars, who are known as classic passengers, and those with cars. The vessels will continue to use the mail boat pier since operation from the car ferry terminal at St. Michael's Wharf would involve major difficulties.
"To meet the new situation, it is proposed to construct a ramp at the mail boat pier for the unloading of cars and also a causeway connecting the pier to the car ferry terminal. This causeway would be on the seaward side of one of the yacht clubs but would be at a low level and would not interfere with existing amenities. An opening would be provided for the passage of the yachts. While the entire cost of the project would be met from State funds, there would be recoveries from British Rail by way of rents for shore facilities and tonnage and goods rates. Preliminary consultations are in progress with the various interested parties, including the Dún Laoghaire Borough Corporation, in connection with the project."
During 1974 the causeway was constructed across the front of the Royal St George Yacht Club, linking the Car Ferry Terminal at St Michael's Pier with a new linkspan on the Carlisle Pier to enable car ferry traffic, and importantly the new St Columba (from 1977), to use the rail connected terminal. The causeway included a drawbridge for boat access to the club with the reclaimed infill being much needed yacht and dinghy storage.
On 7 December 1980 the rail line onto the Carlisle Pier was severed, due, it was said, to the inability of the new DART electric trains to negotiate the sharp curve onto the pier itself. Little time was lost raising the tracks and by January 1981 the cutting had been infilled to accommodate the buses that replaced the trains.
It was not until after Stena Line acquired the Sealink fleet in 1990 that an embarrassed Irish government invested in the moderisation of the entrance to the Carlisle Pier. It was however, too little - too late as by 1993 plans for the construction of a new ferry terminal at St Michael's Pier were well under way.
Before leaving Ireland for Australia in August 2000 I took a final walk around the buildings on the Carlisle Pier, then awaiting demolition. Photos coming soon.