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Remembering Dun Laoghaire

In February 2015 Stena Line annouced their withdrawal of their Dun Laoghaire link with Holyhead. For the first time in almost 180 years, the harbour was left without a ferry service and was without its historic link with Holyhead. 
For almost 180 years Dun Laoghaire was linked with the Welsh port of Holyhead. Take a look back at some of the scenes that were part of the everyday life of this magnificent harbour.

From a very early age Dun Laoghaire Harbour has always held a strong fascination for me; when I was just five years old sitting in the back of my father’s car I loved nothing more than to see one of the mailboats at rest on the east side of the Carlisle Pier.


During my school years Dun Laoghaire Harbour was my playground.  Friendly Harbour Constables and Sealink staff nurtured within me a deep interest in the port’s link with Holyhead, served by countless British Rail, Sealink and later Stena Line ferries.


How privileged I was to be permitted to view the ferry operations at such close quarters!  


This interest developed to the point where I embarked on a career in the ferry industry, firstly and briefly at sea before moving to port operations at both Dun Laoghaire and Dublin, and then moving to Australia as Public Relations Officer with Incat, builders of the Stena Sea Lynx, built for the Holyhead run in 1993.


I was first introduced to my favourite vantagepoint, the end of the Carlisle Pier, in 1980 at the age of ten.  From here I was permitted to view the departure of the route’s penultimate steam turbine ferry, the Avalon.  


I was hooked!


From that vantagepoint, and that moment, I went on to record on camera every ferry to have served on the route.  And through the years and the various ships I made lasting friendships with the many Captains, officers and crew members who maintained the crossing day in day out on a year round basis.


How I loved to stand on the end of the Carlisle Pier during the late 1980s and early 1990s, now with a basic understanding of the artform that is ship handling, and watch as the master brought his command gently into the berth.  Of course, during the winter months it could be very different!  With an easterly gale and low water the master’s every skill was tested as he brought the St Columba alongside, fighting the wind and keeping in mind propeller cavitation with reduced water under his keel. The departure of the ship was always an exciting time.  The pier was a hive of activity, especially in the last 20 minutes or so before sailing. 


What a scene it was.


The last passengers hurrying for the gangway, as tugmasters swiftly placed the last pieces of unaccompanied freight on the vehicle deck.  The Piermaster rushing across the causeway from the car ferry compound with the “papers” signifying all is on board and accounted for.  Outside the pier gates wellwishers waiting as their loved ones waved from the ship’s exterior decks and the gangways and car ramp were taken away.


A cry of “single-up” from the bridge wing and the first wires and ropes released as a plume of black smoke erupted from the ship’s funnel.  Held by one rope fore and aft, the ship straining to get to sea, the master and chief officer appeared on the bridge wing, radar scanner swishing above their heads.  “Let Go – Right Time” and before the rope hits the ship’s side the bow thrust and twin screws are already lifting the huge ship away from the granite pier.  Moving astern off the berth the ship turned her bow for the harbour mouth and disappeared out into Dublin Bay, a course of 100 degrees taking her down to the South Burford Buoy once again.  


On the pier an eerie silence always descended.  For me it was always a strange experience, the pier, quiet now, when only 30 minutes previously so many people, maybe up to 2000 or even more, had passed through its gates.


Now the harbour is quiet once again.  


Living in Hobart, in the Australian Island State of Tasmania, I look back with fondness on my days in and around Dun Laoghaire Harbour.  Without hesitation I can safely say the harbour, and the people in it, shaped my life. Indeed my first job was in the port when during school holidays I worked as a boatman in the Royal Irish Yacht Club, ferrying members to their yachts moored in the harbour. The Irish National Sailing School and Viking Marine also provided enjoyable employment. I am proud too to have served on the crew of the harbour's RNLI lifeboat.


Perhaps if the Incat-built Stena Sea Lynx had been deployed to any other Stena Line route in 1993 then I might not be living in the Antipodes!


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