For the summer of 2017 at least, it looks as though Dun Laoghaire Harbour is going to remain free of the threat of the installation of a new liner berth. W M Nixon reckons this provides a unique opportunity for town and harbour to come together as they may have done once upon a time, but have failed to replicate for many years. He provides the background, and makes some suggestions.
The trouble with Dun Laoghaire is that there’s nowhere else quite like it. There isn’t really a truly comparable totally artificial harbour anywhere else on this scale set on the edge of a city, in the midst of an area of general affluence and recreational expectations. It is arguably unique. Nowhere in the world is there a similar setup from which those who hope to manage Dun Laoghaire Harbour effectively might learn lessons on how to make a viable proposition of their port and its future.
Although the original asylum harbour was built by engineer John Rennie and others in majestic style, at the time it had only one simple purpose – to provide shelter for unwieldy sailing ships when Dublin Bay was storm-beset and Dublin Port with its very shallow bar entrance was inaccessible.
The original plans show a sublime indifference to the existence of the little old harbour of Dunleary immediately to the west of the proposed location of the vast new structure. And the little port there has long since disappeared under high value property development to an extent which the early harbour planners cannot have begun to imagine.
For the idea was not that this would be a port. On the contrary, it would only be a place of temporary shelter in which vessels of importance – particularly those on British government business - would be secure until conditions improved. It was not envisaged that there would be any significant shoreside contact during their short time in what very quickly became Kingstown Harbour.
For of course, no sooner was a harbour under construction, than a town began to develop beside it. It was notoriously un-planned, so much so that fifty years later a critic mocked its name of Kingstown – conferred with a Royal visit in 1821 – by pointing out that far from being a King’s town, it was rather more of a republic of selfish building anarchy.
At the beginning – which we now date to 200 years ago, with the first stone officially laid on May 31st 1817 - significant shoreside development had not been intended. As historian Hal Sisk has pointed out, at no time did the official plans include anything so basic to a proper port town such as warehouses, let alone shipyards or even boatyards. But the basic existence of the harbour in its earliest form by the late 1820s saw the first regatta being staged in 1828. Recreational sailing and the harbour have been intertwined ever since. And the irresistible growth impulse of Kingstown was underlined by the arrival of the railway from Dublin in 1834.
We take that date of 1834 for granted, but in terms of world railway history, it was very early indeed. And it in turn roped Kingstown into other unplanned developments. As long as the entrance to Dublin port remained dangerously shallow, Kingstown had all the advantages for the rapid development of the cross channel ferry trade. It was all done initially on an ad hoc basis, but it worked for the ferries, while the already proven attractions of the place as an innovative recreational sailing location made it central to world sailing development by the 1860s and 1870s.
So for most of the two hundred years whose history we’ll be celebrating in July, Dun Laoghaire/Kingtown has been struggling with the fact that the basic concept of the harbour - which by its monumental and historic scale still dictates what can be done with it today – was planned with virtually no attention paid to the sea/land interface.
Ideally, when the harbour was being built, at least as large an area ashore should have been set aside on the adjacent land to provide for a proper harbour town. But nothing remotely like this was done, and the railway was brought in by the easiest possible shoreside route, thereby putting another barrier between the growing town and the harbor. As a result, the town/harbour relationship has always been problematic. This is particularly so when allied to the fact that areas of conspicuous affluence are almost cheek by jowl with what seem like semi-deprived areas by comparison.
On top of all this, there’s the eternal problem of paying for the harbour’s maintenance. It was superbly built in the first place, but it would be an insult to those early engineers, and their incredibly industrious workers labouring under dangerous conditions, if we failed to maintain the harbour properly in a manner which respects its original concept, while continuing to give it validity for contemporary life.
Since the ferries pulled out to re-locate entirely in Dublin Port, taking their guaranteed income stream with them, the struggle has gone on between those who wish to develop any potential the harbour might have for a cruise-liner port of call, and those who feel it should be seen more as a sort of maritime version of the Phoenix Park. They envisage it as a vast breathing space, ultimately maintained by public funds if there’s a shortfall between the income generated by recreational use, and the routine maintenance and administration expenses.
But for the moment, any further development has been postponed awaiting a court case. In it, the point is to be made that making the harbour accessible to functioning liners, with emission-spewing machinery working on a 24/7 basis, will have the effect of polluting the atmosphere in and around the harbour - particularly along the East Pier, the regular promenade for thousands of Dubliners in search of fresh air.
Apparently this point had not been made in the original hearings, so the result is that for the summer of 2017, Dun Laoghaire Harbour will continue as it is at present, with new areas of open sailing space available following the removal of the Stena installations.
In the circumstances, surely this is a golden opportunity for the organisers of the Volvo Dun Laoghaire Regatta 2017 to take a look at any section of their enormous and very varied entry list, and select classes which could be given the treat of having at least one of their races finish within the harbour?
Increased ferry traffic was just one of the reasons why the racing for larger craft was obliged to take place outside the harbour. For national and international events, the obsession with committee boat starts and finishes further dictated the move seaward. In Dun Laoghaire, it meant that the connection between the town and active highly-visible sailing became more tenuous than ever.
Yet if we look back to old photos of Dun Laoghaire when it was in the full pomp of its years of Kingstown yachting glory, it was the action in the harbour which brought the whole show to life, and gave everyone a sense of involvement. So let’s hope that the powers-that-be realize that the deferring – permanently we hope – of the proposed liner berth offers an opportunity. Liners Out, Sailboats Back In – that could be the slogan for 2017.
Of course we don’t expect that the really hot classes will agree to finish in-harbour. But there’s something about the Volvo Dun Laoghaire Regatta which attracts a significant segment of participants for whom a bit of fun is central to the sport, and indeed there are many who think that the real sport would be in having to make an in-harbour finish.
The Classics and Traditional Craft will be playing a significant role in this special year. In addition to a dedicated berth with lots of pontoon length being provided for them in the area off the National Yacht Club, the word is that on one day at least, they will have their start in the harbour, highly visible from the East Pier in the area immediately beyond the Carlisle Pier.
With boat types such as Drascombes coming as a fleet, the notion of the potential accessibility of sailing could be given an enormous boost. What could seem more approachable than the presence of Drascombe man Jack O’Keefe and his mates in friendly competition within the harbour, along with all sorts of other exotic craft such as the Shannon One Designs?
Water Wags, more than ever a part of Dun Laoghaire sailing and Dun Laoghaire Harbour. At this week’s launching of Volvo Dun Laoghaire Regatta ing of Volvo Dun Laoghaire Regatta 2017 in the National Maritime Museum, there was something very touching about the way that the only surviving boat of the original Water Wag class of 1887, the world’s first One Design, had been moved to the centre of the former Mariners Church. The little boat was there in pride of place as the great and the good of Irish sailing networked with each other as plans were revealed of the remarkable amount of behind-the-scenes work that goes into ensuring that this largest of all Irish sailing events runs smoothly.Not least of such exotica will be the
In the 1890s, there must more than a hundred of these little boats in and around the Greater Dublin area. Even Erskine Childers, with part of the summer of 1894 unfilled in his plans, arranged to have one carted up into the Wicklow Hills to the mountain lake of Lough Dan near the house of his mother’s family, so that he could go sailing when the mood took him.
Yet with the new larger boats introduced in 1900, the little old double-enders just faded away. Fortunately, someone noticed that an odd-looking little canoe-sterned dinghy with a centreplate case on the beach at Malahide was one of the original Water Wags. She was being used for the occasional fishing trip, and it had been a long time since the centreplate had been used for sailing.
She was saved in the nick of time, and is now kept fully rigged in the Maritime Museum. But as the Wag Class historian Vincent Delany assured me at the Volvo reception, she really is absolutely the only surviving original example of a boat which was once so numerous, and fundamental to the global development of sailing.
#dlharbour200 - To mark the 200th anniversary of Dun Laoghaire Harbour (formerly Kingstown) a summer of celebrations have been organised. The Dun Laoghaire Harbour Bicentenary Steering Group has announced its programme of activities to coincide with the milestone event.
The Opening Ceremony will be officiated by President Michael D Higgins & the groups Patron Minister Mary Mitchell O Connor on 31st May. Other featured events include an International Harbour Food Festival featuring over 25 unique vendors (4th & 5th June), The Kingstown 200 Classic Boat Race (8th July) and a live Viking Invasion re-enactment with longboats as seen on the hit TV Show ‘Vikings’ (20th August).
100,000 visitors are expected to visit the harbour this summer to participate in the free public events. The Dun Laoghaire Harbour Company in collaboration with a range of local stakeholders have put in place a schedule of exhibitions, workshops, lectures and events to mark the Bicentenary. For further information visit www.dlharbour200.ie
Gerry Dunne, CEO of Dun Laoghaire Harbour Company: said “the programme of events throughout the summer reflects the cultural and historical role the harbour has played not just in Dun Laoghaire but in its wider environs over the past 200 years”. Thanking all those who worked tirelessly on the project, Mr Dunne said “the Bicentenary will bring a welcome boost to the local economy and reinforce the sense of public pride in one of the country’s greatest landmarks”.
#CruiseBerth - An environmental Dublin Bay group’s challenge over an €18 million terminal berth for cruise ships at Dún Laoghaire Harbour writes The Irish Times will be heard later this year at the Commercial Court.
The Save Our Seafront (SOS) group opposes the planned development for reasons including that it was allegedly approved without proper identification and assessment of its impact on the environment and on recreational users of the harbour, including small boat users and on regattas.
An environmental impact statement failed to consider that people walk on the pier to enjoy fresh air and the view of the Dublin mountains, and to consider the effects on their enjoyment if a large cruise ship is obscuring the view and “emitting diesel and sulphur fumes”, the group said.
It also claims the potential impact on marine mammals, including otters and the Minke whale, was inadequately assessed.
Mr Justice Brian Cregan was told on Monday the sides had agreed the challenge, brought against An Bord Pleanála with Dún Laoghaire Harbour Company as a notice party, could be heard by the Commercial Court. The judge said the case was suitable for the court and fixed it for hearing on October 10th.
The harbour company sought to have the case fast-tracked for reasons including it regards the successful development of the cruise terminal berth as “an important element” in securing the port’s financial future, and to replace the loss of revenue resulting from the cessation of ferry services.
While it had hoped to have the berth open in time for the 2018 cruise season, construction had been delayed as a result of the case, it said.
For more on the story including the Habitats Directive and Rockabill to Dalkey Island special area of conservation, click here.
#UCDBall - Dun Laoghaire Harbour is set to host the revived UCD Ball this April.
More than 20 artists will perform across two stages at the ball, which will also feature a fun fair and a ‘gourmet food yard’ amid ‘a festival-like atmosphere’.
However, the venue remains subject to licence, and public submissions and/or observations can be made to Dun Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council up till this Friday 17 February.
#PortTransfer - The Dun Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council (DRCoCo) executive will undertake a full risk assessment into the transfer of ownership of Dun Laoghaire Harbour to the local authority, it has emerged.
The assessment process will aim to identify the best governance model for the harbour, following a meeting last month at which councillors unanimously agreed “serious risks” had been raised in the due diligence report into the harbour company’s position as commissioned by the council.
Following this assessment, a further report setting out the risks will be brought to the council along with an executive recommendation for the Minister for Transport based on the findings of both reports.
It’s also expected that the risk assessment may involve an engineering assessment of some aspects of the harbour’s infrastructure to determine whether there are liabilities beyond the scope of the original due diligence report.
DLRCoCo adds that no further commend will be made until the independent risk assessment is completed.
#PortTransfer - County councillors writes The Irish Times from all the main parties of Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown have expressed concern at potential financial liabilities involved in taking over responsibility for Dún Laoghaire Harbour.
The debate on due diligience issues as Afloat previously covered took place at a council meeting on Monday (last night). Councillors unanimously agreed “serious risks for the local authority” had been raised in a due diligence report commissioned by the council into the position of Dún Laoghaire Harbour Company.
Under the provisions of the Harbours Act 2015, (see National Ports Policy) responsibility for the harbour is due to be transferred from the Department of Transport to the local authority.
However, Fianna Fail councillor Mary Hanafin said the due diligence report had identified “an urgent need for a risk assessment” in almost every area of the harbour company’s operations.
She said issues were raised about pension liabilities, legal costs, ownership of assets and liability for the repayment of grants which had been paid to the harbour company.
She told the meeting the grants could be as high as €112 million, and “the liabilities for clawback are absolutely potentially enormous”.
Fellow Fianna Fáil councillor Shay Brennan said taking over the harbour company could see its debts transferred to “every household between Dún Laoghaire and Dundrum”.
Fine Gael councillor John Bailey said the council wanted democratic control over the harbour, but not the liabilities of the harbour company - the scale of which he said was unknown.
He called for certified, audited accounts from the harbour company. “There is no way we are taking on this liability, I want the harbour but this is an absolute joke,” he said.
“Where are the audited accounts for 2015?”
Cllr Barry Ward of Fine Gael called for the dissolution of the harbour company before responsibility for the harbour is transferred to the council.
He said the council did not want a subsidiary company, because this would prevent “any oversight and governance” by the elected members.
He said the harbour company should be dissolved before the harbour comes under democratic accountability.
People Before Profit councillor Melisa Halpin also expressed concern over the due diligence report, saying councillors had been waiting 20 months to find out what the issues were.
She said there were “major questions” which remained to be asked in a risk assessment.
For more on the story including 'favouring dissolution' as discussed in the council chamber, click here.
According to The Irish Times, the council-commissioned due diligence report notes “ownership-related issues” with St Michael’s Pier, the former home of the Stena HSS ferry and a focal point for development under the Dun Laoghaire Harbour Masterplan.
These developments include a proposed berth for cruise liners that was approved in restricted form by planners in November, but currently faces the prospect of a High Court challenge by local environmental group Save Our Seafront, as reported yesterday on Afloat.ie.
The report also queries the valuation of certain property assets around the harbour, as well as a potential deficit in its pension fund — and debt to the European Union over Government grants.
Dun Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council is scheduled to debate the due diligence report this coming Monday (9 January), though the harbour’s chief executive Gerry Dunne said it contained “no surprises”.
The Irish Times has more on the story HERE.
As The Irish Times reports, the group, which is an environmental non-governmental organisation chaired by local TD Richard Boyd Barrett, claimed that the environmental effect of the proposed cruise berths were not adequately assessed by the Board.
Mr Justice Max Barrett granted the group leave to judicially review the Board’s decision on a number of grounds.
The court heard that independent environmental impact studies were inadequate and as a result the Board had not lawfully discharged its obligations under Irish and European planning laws.
Counsel for the group said the Board should have conducted an independent and separate assessment before having given its decision without merely relying on the information provided by the Dun Laoghaire Harbour Company.
The court heard there had been a failure by the Board to conduct surveys relating to the effects on summer and winter birds and the impact on the Minke Whale population, a species listed in the Habitats Directive, and as a result of which its decision was further flawed.
Mr Justice Barrett heard that the harbour company proposed to dump the dredge spoil from the navigation channel into the sea on the Burford Bank which was within the Rockabill to Dalkey Island special area of conservation, an off shore reef vulnerable to toxins.
The group also alleged that given the toxic profile of the dredge spoil the harbour board was obliged to consider the impact of the dumping of spoil in all local special areas of conservation in Dublin Bay and Rockabill which it had not done.
It stated in an affidavit that the harbour company had failed to consider the cumulative effects on marine mammals or sea birds from other proposed or permitted developments within Dublin Bay.
The newpaper has more on the story here.
#CruiseBerth - The Irish Times writes that a judicial review of An Bord Pleanála’s decision to approve facilities for cruiseships in Dún Laoghaire Harbour will be sought in the High Court on Thursday.
The campaign group Save our Seafront, which is taking the challenge, says last November’s decision by Bord Pleanála restricted the size of ships but still left open the possibility of the harbour being usurped by cruise liners.
The board granted permission to Dún Laoghaire Harbour Company for an €18 million development to build a new pier and dredge a navigation channel through the harbour mouth, as well as developing a turning circle outside the harbour. But the board ruled the size of ships permitted to enter the harbour should be restricted to 250m in length, rather than the 340m limit sought by the company.
The chairman of Save Our Seafront, local TD Richard Boyd Barrett of the Anti-Austerity Alliance-People Before Profit, said the development approved by the board could still result in a significant loss of amenity to existing harbour users. He said the board’s decision did not properly take into account the environmental implications of dredging and other aspects of the plan.
Save our Seafront is to ask the court to grant a judicial review of the decision on the basis of two points.
To read more including an Environmental Impact Study (EIS) of proposed development click here.
Afloat.ie’s W M Nixon is usually quick off the mark about firing in historical references on just about any sailing topic. With the Christmas season upon us, we asked him for a report from Dun Laoghaire in 2050, and to go with it he then secured a different opinion from one of Dun Laoghaire’s most experienced international sailors and administrators, which you’ll find at the end of this WMN think-piece.
Ever since Dun Laoghaire Harbour became a UNESCO Living Heritage Site back in 2044, the old granite pond has been in a sort of state of supervised animation, albeit beautifully maintained and lovingly preserved. Fortunately, the more recent category of “living heritage”, introduced by the UN in 2031, allows for certain developments within the spirit of the environment. But nevertheless the improvements in facilities which were undertaken in Dun Laoghaire before the “cultural clampdown” have proven to be beneficial for its continuation as Ireland’s premier sailing centre.
The title of “Premier Sailing Centre” was part of the deal in 2044. With the population of Ireland stabilised at a comfortable level of 7.5 million, it was clear that the natural advantages enjoyed by Cork Harbour would ensure the continuation of its official position as the Senior Yachting Port on the island. But the sometimes almost ludicrous levels of growth of the greater Dublin area meant that as the 21st century rolled along, the east coast was economically dominant.
However, in order to keep the highly-trained and arguably over-educated individuals who run the modern “invisible industries” from taking attractive offers career opportunities overseas, the local councils were obliged by government to provide the sort of facilities and infrastructure which such people expect in order to give them an interesting and enjoyable way of life at an international standard of recreation.
Thus although global warming has not been as marked as was expected back in 2012, there is no doubt that Ireland is now comfortably warmer than it was in the late 20th Century. This has led to an increase to the number of people who want to sail in home waters instead of following the familiar old trail to the overly-hot Mediterranean. Thirty years ago, the Med was untenable for civilized living during August. But today, the hyper-hot phase takes in all of July and most of September as well.
Yet at these times Ireland has been serving up some wellnigh perfect summers, and the season has been extended well into September and October. However, there’s no getting around the fact that the Autumn daylight hours get much shorter, and it has to be accepted that while the gnarled old veterans of the vibrant Irish Sea Offshore Racing Association may enthuse about the special joys of sailing on balmy moonlit September nights, for the vast majority of cruiser sailors, night passages are avoided if at all possible. Thus the national policy of creating good recreational ports at convenient distances has been a backbone of the development of leisure boating in all its forms.
The existence of good improved ports within easy reach of Dun Laoghaire has heightened the strength of its placing as the supreme sailing centre. Most have now forgotten the long struggle to get Wicklow into the position where its river harbour fulfilled its true potential as an attractive and picturesque facilities-filled port of call, with good berthing for visitors. But in 2050 we are looking back over 15 great years in which the mini-cruise to Wicklow, and a warm and comfortable welcome when you get there, is a frequent and much-enjoyed ritual.
Looking to the north, it was equally challenging for the locals in Skerries to create a yacht harbour which blended well with the established character of a highly individual little port. But that too was achieved to add to the Dun Laoghaire day visit or overnight options, all in turn adding to Dublin Bay’s special status, which has been heightened by the extraordinary success in purifying the waters of the River Liffey.
Within this improving environment, Dun Laoghaire Harbour has became something of a pace-setter in its achievement of genuine environmental and facilities improvement while adding interesting new facets to its overall character. Once it had been accepted that cruise liners of only 250 metres or less would be allowed to use the harbour, real vision came into using the slightly-extended St Michael’s Pier for their berthing needs. It was found that the guests on board the smaller cruise liners include a higher proportion of people who really do wish to interact with the port they’re visiting, whereas it has been noticed that the behemoth cruise liners which now fill Dublin port’s cruise berths for nearly six months of the year – with the growing Christmas trade an interesting addition – tend to have people who live in “the cruise bubble”, spending little locally, and scarcely interacting at all.
Admittedly there was one case where the 250 metre limit was disregarded in Dun Laoghaire, but that was after popular clamour to allow the superb re-creation of the Titanic – despite her being 19 metres over-length - to visit just two years ago, in 2048. Mongolian-owned and Vietnamese-built, the new Titanic is a much better piece of work than the previous Australian re-creation job of 2018, and the facts of her ownership and place of build speak volumes about the changes in global business activity and industry patterns we’ve experienced during the first half of the 21st Century.
With the cruise liner area of activity so neatly defined with the compact yet effective berth at St Michael’s, the area immediately to the west was turned over to the needs of a Municipal Watersports Centre. But it proved to be a costly project, with huge financial over-runs, and a take-it-or-leave-it attitude among staff amid criticism that it was classic case of what’s everybody’s business is nobody’s business.
So pride was swallowed, and the Irish National Sailing School was enticed out of its established base in the inner harbour and persuaded to take on the running of the Watersports Centre. While it hasn’t been an easy business to turn round, the local, national and international regard in which it is now held speaks volumes for the dedication and special skills of those involved.
With the INSS ceasing to dominate Coal Harbour activity, the move towards creating the vision of an Inner Harbour Village could be implemented. When you see the Inner Harbour as it is in 2050, with its attractive quayside mix of appropriately-sized characterful houses, restaurants, bars and speciality shops, it’s difficult to remember that less than thirty years ago, most of it was deserted and dead at night.
It took a mighty effort of collective will to make the change possible, but it fitted in well with the revitalization of the entire western end of the Dun Laoghaire waterfront. With increasing computerisation, the reduction of physical space required for its traditional activities meant that a large part of the iconic Irish Lights office building found a new purpose, effectively becoming the HQ of Maritime Ireland, the “go-to centre” for everything to do with boats including the offices of the Irish Sailing Association.
Immediately west of the Irish Lights Building, the old Coastguard Station is now the most easterly part of the “new-old” Inner Harbour Village, while to the north of it the modern MGM boatyard has had its borders more clearly defined. As for the ancient boatyard on the quays around the what used to be known as the Coal Harbour, the traditional users of that have long since been accommodated in the new yard to the west of the Dun Laoghaire Motor Yacht Club where – luxury of luxuries – there is now even access to covered space.
The freed-up quayside space around the Inner Harbour was much larger than casual observers had thought, and the planners and architects were told to “think Roundstone, think Baltimore, think Glandore, think Cobh waterfront”. In other words, a place which was formerly almost a social vacuum became a new yet classic Irish fishing/sailing village which the planners knew would function very well in the Dublin context, as they already had the successful example of Howth’s cosmopolitan West Pier area to see what would work and what wouldn’t.
To add interest to this new and buzzing harbourside “community within a community”, the renowned Skol ar Mor boat-building school in South Brittany was invited to take over premises in the heart of the Inner Harbour Village. This busy Irish offshoot of a French organisaton which first achieved international fame by building classic Irish wooden boats such as a Water Wag, a Shannon One Design, a Howth 17 and a Dublin Bay 24, has now become an “anchor resident” beside Dun Laoghaire’s Inner Harbour. It provides incalculable social benefit with its proven programme of training in classic and traditional skills, while its festive launching ceremonies for the latest creations have become a community highlight.
Yet in adding this completely new life to the southwest corner of the harbour, the planners didn’t overlook the needs of the more visible southeastern corner. A significant step had been taken when 2016 Olympic Silver Medallist Annalise Murphy agreed that her winning Laser Radial, known as Good Egg and brought home to Ireland from Rio thanks to all sorts of quiet work behind the scenes, should go on permanent display in the Lexicon Library in Dun Laoghaire.
It was a gesture which did more to unite the town, the harbour and the sailing world than anyone would have thought possible. And in due course, the powers-that-be agreed that it had been an error not to make the Lexicon’s narrow north-facing wall entirely of glass. This was put right to provide everyone with one of the best views of Dun Laoghaire Harbour and Dublin Bay, with the legendary medal-winning Laser floating serenely suspended within the midst of the vista.
Meanwhile, down on the nearby waterfront, the concept of the expected Diaspora Centre on the Carlisle Pier found itself increasingly out of tune with Dun Laoghaire’s newly upbeat mood. An opinion group, “No More Monuments to Misery”, may have started as very much a minority interest. But support built up surprisingly quickly in favour of the idea that instead of marking yet another sad aspect of our past, it was time to celebrate the here and now, and the best of future prospects, with a bit of a lively museum thrown in.
Thus the Carlisle Pier’s transformation into the stylish Yesterday, Today & Tomorrow has been fascinating to behold. Some of the oddest yet most attractive aspects of Irish life are celebrated here in a changing exhibition which has won international museum awards, yet - as those running it are quick to point out - it’s not really a museum in the traditional sense at all.
You have to go there to fully appreciate it, and for sailing people the absolute winner is the array of simulators of sailing experience. Admittedly for half the time the America’s Cup racer simulator isn’t working because of technical problems, as it’s too advanced even for the electronic wizardry of 2050. But not to worry, far and away the two most popular simulators are the Dublin Bay 25, based on a class which first raced in 1898, and the Fireball dinghy, which may first have surfaced 87 years ago in 1963, but it can still be found in some enthusiastic pockets of Irish sailing, and it lives forever in Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow in Dun Laoghaire.
That the sailing community and anyone else can enjoy simulated sailing in the exhibition may explain the extraordinary fact that in 2050 the harbour still supports its array of classical waterfront yacht clubs. The barely-remembered economic crisis which started around 2008 and bounced along for at least six years may have brought some of them to the brink. But what is remembered is that when their backs were against the economic wall, the loyal members of the clubs rallied round to save them from a seemingly terminal situation.
Of course they’ve had to adjust to changing times. Indeed, the way that Irish yacht clubs can adjust to changing circumstances while still seeming to stay the same has been the topic of dozens of doctoral theses. Whatever, they’re still there, and they’ve even managed to have long-planned roof restorations completed so that the harbour’s multifarious sailing activities can be observed from an improved vantage point.
With the acceptance in 2018 that Dun Laoghaire Harbour should be seen as an amenity like the Phoenix Park rather than something from which every possible cent of income can be squeezed, the healthier atmosphere of a well-run not-for-profit organization permeates the place, and the diversity of modern boats – squeezed complete out of machines at the touch of a button - is reflected in ownership patterns with about half the boats group or club owned, but there’s still a significant cohort of private owners.
The boats themselves are not quite as extreme as had been anticipated thirty years ago. While readily available foiling boats are certainly a significant part of the scene, particularly at the high performance level, in 2050 their impact is much the same as the impact of multi-hulls forty and more years ago. When sensible yet undoubtedly fast multihulls became readily available, their adherents expected everyone to follow. But their unexpected additional costs and accommodation limitations tempered the general enthusiasm, and as foiling boat enthusiasts were to find, the reaction of your ordinary sailing Joe and Josephine was that if they were in such a hurry, why didn’t they just get an aeroplane in the first place? Why not leave the majority of sailors to enjoy themselves in the sheer pleasure of sailing, in which speed plays a part, but it’s only a part - it’s not the be all and end all.
In fact, for ordinary sailors perhaps the most significant change during the first half of the 21st Century has been the growing importance of improved electrical and storage battery technology. For most of us other than classic engine collectors, the internal combustion engine is a distant memory. The necessary basic power for a modern boat, both those with sails and without, is in the new generation of batteries which seem to get smaller and lighter for the same output with every passing year.
It is the greater ease in the use of outboard motors which has been of most benefit to today’s demographic of participants, in which sailing centenarians are now so frequent as scarcely to arouse comment. As for those who harbour nostalgic thoughts about the “good old days” of noisy heavy outboard motors on the transoms of chubby inflatable dinghies, the Yesterday, Today & Tomorrow exhibition includes the complete 2010 “fitting the outboard on the tender” experience, which can be undertaken in its full horror, confident in the knowledge that the onsite permanent staff includes a chiropractor and a physiotherapist.
Looked at overall, it says much about the genius of the engineers and builders of Dun Laoghaire Harbour that in 2050, people see this most artificial of harbours as part of the natural landscape. Thus the instinct to maintain its character is stronger than ever. And there’s no doubt that when a ship or a yacht with classic good looks comes to call, Dun Laoghaire effortlessly provides the perfect setting.
Thus although it is long since forgotten by most, those with very long memories will recall the crazy idea to have a sort of barge permanently moored at the former East Pier Berth in order to provide a “beach experience”. The idea of a crudely artificial swimming pool taking up space within a classic harbour seems unbelievable now, particularly as the old derelict public swimming place was within a stone’s throw. Yet such was the case. But miraculously the threat was seen off, and the East Pier Berth was restored such that once again it is first choice for visiting Tall Ships and vessels which take your breath away, such as the classic three-masted schooner Shenandoah, still going strong after all these years and a very welcome visitor to the old granite pond on Dublin Bay.
However concludes W M Nixon, as my views are those of someone from somewhere other than Dun Laoghaire, and one who is still very much a visitor when he calls in the knowledge that it is infinitely better to visit it by sea, the visions of one who has been born and bred in Dun Laoghaire sailing, and yet has worldwide experience of sailing and sailing facilities elsewhere, are probably of much more relevance. We’ve been given the following glimpse of 2050 on condition that the visionary remains strictly anonymous….
“As I launch my foil-assisted Olympic dinghy at the Annalise Murphy International Centre of Sailing Excellence (AMICSE), which occupies what used to be the Carlisle Pier, I use the voice recognition scheme to determine the conditions I want to use for this training session at one of the big practice bays that occupy the east side of the pier.
“Summer, Mombasa”, I say, instructing the wave and wind generator to mimic the conditions expected at the 2052 East African Olympic Games (single host cities having been done away with in 2032). Immediately the fans and wave generators kick into action, while the simulator screen displays the Kenyan coast. I train alongside half a dozen sailors from northern Europe, attracted to Dun Laoghaire by the realistic simulation system, the low cost accommodation floatel moored at berth 4, and the gym facilities available in St Michael’s Village, the prestige development overlooking the cruise terminal.
After a hard upwind session, I pay a visit to the recently re-located Maritime Museum occupying the premises once used by the National Yacht Club. This innovatively designed building, now connected by a stunning Calatrava bridge to the Lexicon, is linked to the historic vessels that line the East Pier, part of a world famous collection of maritime artefacts.
Time for lunch, and I take the short walk to what used to be the Royal St George Yacht Club, now the home of dinghy sailing in Dun Laoghaire. Working closely with the AMICSE, the Irish National Sailing School have developed a municipal centre that introduces more than 100,000 young people to watersports every year under the governments “Island Nation” programme, whereby every eight year old in the country learns Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths (STEM) through their practical application to sailing.
St Michael’s Village looks well, with the Irish registered cruise ship “Diaspora 1” alongside the berth, her sails furled for the time being. I am reminded as I proceed westwards, that the changes in the harbour have not come without overcoming considerable opposition, particularly on the site of the Royal Irish, now housing the Council Chamber for the combined entity of Dun Laoghaire Rathdown and the harbour.
Perhaps the greatest development has been the merger of all the watersports clubs in Dun Laoghaire and their occupation of former Irish Lights building and the coastguard cottages, providing all the services a modern club should, from crèche to fine dining, fitness to gaming, as well as waterfront access. While the marina has been least amended recently, all the keelboats in the harbour are serviced from the enlarged MGM yard, with the large fleet of one design foiling cats stacked along the north side of the coal quay.
Tonight will see me returning to Dun Laoghaire for some fine dining at the choice of restaurants in the renovated Coal Harbour area, but first I might get a swim in the open air Olympic sized facility at the back of the west pier, where global warming has allowed for year round use without the aid of heating.”