The houses in the town were built in the Georgian style. They were three stories high with a basement. On the outside, instead of brick, there was stucco, a type of plaster. All the houses had to be painted in the same colour and had to be painted at the same time. All the houses were able to take advantage of the magnificent sea views.
One of the first squares of houses was Clarinda Terrace, built in 1860. The majority of houses, as you can see from the names, were terraced. The few detached ones, such as Echo Lodge (the former Dominican convent), Corrig Castle, The Slopes, Stone View and Gortleitragh have been demolished or converted into apartments.
However, not all the houses in the town were magnificent. There were poor cottages squeezed in spaces around York Road, Glasthule and Georges St. Lower. Cholera was also present. A distinguished resident of the town, Charles Haliday, campaigned to rid the town of these and to create a proper sanitation system but in wasn’t until the end of the century that the new houses were built. In 1894, a sewage works was built at the west pier, which is still in use today.
The poor people were not ignored however. Voluntary groups created The Bird’s Nest, an orphanage for children between 5 and 12, St. Joseph’s Orphanage which trained its orphans for industrial work, and The Cottage Home which began as a day-care centre for young children of poor parents.
One of the important tourist attractions of Dun Laoghaire is the National Maritime Museum. Unfortunately, this is only open between April and October. It is housed in the former Mariner’s Church, a Church of Ireland church that closed in the 1980s because there were not enough parishioners to keep it and the other Church of Ireland church, Christ Church, open. It was a large church and was able to hold over a thousand people, mostly seamen from the British navy. It is appropriate that the history museum is housed in a historical church, even more so, because it is the only use for the church.
Yachting in Dun Laoghaire has made the town famous, internationally. Established in the early 19th century, the harbour was an ideal place since in never dried out at low tide like Bullock and Howth harbours. During the 1840s, the Royal St George Yacht Club and the Royal Irish Yacht Club were established. They served the élite in the titled and landed classes. The seasonal regattas were spectacular with military bands and fireworks. The Kingstown regatta took place in August. The other yacht clubs are the National Irish Yacht Club and the Irish Motor Yacht Club.
It is proposed that a new marina be built in the harbour. This would destroy the attractiveness as two rock breakwaters would create a car park for 600 assorted boats. No longer would the boats be seen tied to buoys.
The first small ships to use the harbour were the mail packets. They carried important government correspondence, mail and passengers to Dublin. They used Howth until 1826 when they moved to Dun Laoghaire where the railway could take them to Dublin in 15 minutes. The most famous mail-boats were the four ships built for the City of Dublin Steam Packet Company in the 1860s – the Leinster, Ulster, Munster and Connacht. They could make the journey in 3* hours. They were replaced in 1896 by four propeller ships. The Leinster was sunk by a German torpedo in 1918, killing 501 people.
Another tragedy in the harbour was the loss of Captain Boyd, the commander of the British naval guardship, who died while trying to save to crew of a coal boat which was breaking up on the back of the East Pier. The lifeboat service in the harbour had been operational since 1810.
Bathing was also popular for health and pleasure. There had been two places, one for men and another for women, in Dunleary, which were removed in 1836 when the railway was built. The baths in Dun Laoghaire are situated near the People’s Park but have been closed for some years.
The Kingstown Town Commissioners was set up in 1834 to manage the town’s public affairs. They organised the building of the town hall in 1880. This is now the county hall and administers the Dun Laoghaire-Rathdown district. The Commissioners also converted the disused site of the quarry and old Martello Tower into the People’s Park in 1890. In it, they built ornamental fountains, a redbrick gate-lodge and a building that is now a tearoom. In 1899, they built the fire station, which has now been closed down and moved to Baker’s Corner, a storehouse for the Urban District Council, a stable for horses, a public washhouse and baths.
Nowadays, much of the splendour of the time has been destroyed, by fire, age, or by the public. When the pavilion, an entertainment centre, was converted to a cinema (the Forum) in the early 1900s, the perfect Victorian Image of the town was destroyed. The fine Victoria Fountain was destroyed in 1981 in an anti-British demonstration. The Cabman’s Shelter, built in 1912 was demolished in 1997. None of the elaborate shop fronts in George’s Street have survived and the public clock that once stood above Findlaters was taken down when the shop was taken over by Penny’s. The former Dominican convent, Echo Lodge, was demolished when the Bloomfields shopping centre was built. The houses in Gresham Terrace were also demolished when the shopping centre was constructed. And all around the town, new modern buildings are springing up. Should we not do our best to preserve this wonderful heritage?
The Railway Preservation Society of Ireland