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Old B+I Line Office to Become Part of Mixed Dublin Docklands Redevelopment

5th November 2017
Dating to 1909 is an old head office of the former British and Irish Steam Packet Company which became better known as the B+I Line. The building on Sir John Rogersons Quay, forms as part of a site under redevelopment in the southside of the Dublin Docklands quarter. Dating to 1909 is an old head office of the former British and Irish Steam Packet Company which became better known as the B+I Line. The building on Sir John Rogersons Quay, forms as part of a site under redevelopment in the southside of the Dublin Docklands quarter. Photo: JEHAN ASHMORE

#TheB+ILine - Following Afloat's focus on the former City of Dublin Steam Packet, the series continues with other Dublin based Irish Sea 'steamer-packet' companies and their legacy of architectural heritage and ferries, writes Jehan Ashmore.

The ornate crest of the City of Dublin Steam Packet Company is found on the preserved facade that belonged to a former building where the head office stood for 100 years on 15 Eden Quay. It is from this building that its successor, the British and Irish Steam Packet Company (B and I) established in 1836, had also carried out business along with other locations that included a downriver site across the Liffey along Sir John Rogersons Quay.

At this quay is where the former B+I steam-packet office which is a listed three storey building is currently undergoing redevelopment in Dublin's Docklands. The red brick building includes the date 1909 and also carved in stone but above the first floor is the company name 'British and Irish Steam Packet Co. Ltd'. Noting a further second top floor is incorperated in the roof.

Developer, Marlet is working at the 1.7 acre site of the disused steam packet building that includes an adjoining corner site on Lime Street where demolition and site clearance has been underway. The site represents the last available in the southside of the Docklands special development zone (SDZ) where Marlet according to the Irish Times plan to construct offices and 100 apartments at an estimated cost of €100m. 

The old B+I building will be a reminder to the once fourishing shipping trade in this part of inner city port that lined the Liffey until regular shipping declined in the early 1990's. This was in the trade of shipping stout to Britain using a pair of Guinness tankers, The Lady Patricia and Miranda Guinness. The brewing family have a connection with the origins of British an Irish S.P.

The British and Irish Steam Packet was formed by Dublin shareholders and among the original investors, Arthur Guinness, son of the founder of the now world famous stout brewed upriver at St. James Gate. At the end of 1836, the B and I opened a service connecting both the capitals of Dublin and London which took four days. The passage in both directions included an en route call to Plymouth, which later changed to Falmouth.

The Relationship With P&O 

Another new company was formed in 1837, The Peninsula Steam Navigation Company which had on its board, members of the City of Dublin Steam Packet (successor B+I Line). This relationship led to the formation of The Peninsular and Orient Steam Navigation Company, in what we know today as the world famous 'P&O'.

The company which was sold off in modern times is actually divided into two completely separate businesses, P&O Cruises which are a subsidiary of US cruise giant Carnival Corporation base in Miami, Florida. As for the other 'P&O' that refers to P&O Ferries which are owned by Dubai Ports (DP World). In this 180th anniversary year, they operate services that include those on the Irish Sea, Dublin-Liverpool and Larne-Cairnryan.

Returning to earlier times, major changes for the steam-packets were to follow both in terms of ships and the companies that run them. Firstly, the transition from paddle steamer to propellor made operations more reliabe and efficient and notably the outbreak of World War One. This led to a massive upheavel in the shipping world as in 1919 several Irish and British companies amalgamated to form Coast Lines Ltd.

Both the City of Dublin S.P.Co and the British and Irish S.P.Co became part of the group that was Coast Lines. So ending the era of the City of Dublin S.P. Company. Its successor the British and Irish S.P.Co became the Irish state owned and renamed B+I Line in 1965 having been sold by Coast Lines.

The Sir John Rogersons Quay office were not the only premises of the B+I as allluded as when the port developed downriver during the 1960's new offices were constructed close to the port's first ro-ro ferryport terminal, the latter since demolished. Currently on this site stands Terminal 2, where Stena Line provide services to Holyhead. Predecessors, Sealink British Ferries and Sealink/British Rail were then the rivals of the B+I Line.

Under state ownership, B+I operated several Irish Sea ferry routes linking Dublin to Liverpool and also later to Holyhead and between Cork and south Wales. Firstly, using Swansea then a switch to Pembroke Dock. The longer Celtic Sea crossings out of Cork were however abandoned with the Irish port changed in 1980 with a new Rosslare-Pembroke Dock route.

B&I Line 150th Anniversary & New Look

In the year of the company's 150th anniversary, a rebranding exercise took place during 1986 with a new look. This subtly involved replaced the company's trading name '+' symbol to that of an ampersand, hence the B&I Line emerged along with a new corporate livery scheme for the ferries.

The first ferry to recieve the new livery of three shades of blue, is personally recalled having observed the M.V. Leinster (built 1981) arrive into Dublin Bay from the Seaforth Welding Co. The business no longer remains though ex-employees established Merseyside Ship Repairers (MSR) located in Bootle Docks, Liverpool. 

The major refit costing the Irish taxpayer included new passenger facilties, however the news was not widely welcomed as the decision to have the contract in a UK yard was controversial. Previously, ferries had used an Irish facility at Dublin's dry-dock. Under different ownership, the strategic dry-dock closed earlier this year as the site is to facilitate part of Dublin Port's ABR project. 

State Sale to Private Ownership: ICG 

A container shipping division of B&I was also operating services from Dublin and Cork to mainland continental Europe at the time the Irish Government owned company was acquired in 1992. The ailing state shipping company was privitised by the Irish Continental Group (parent company) of Irish Ferries.

The sale of B&I Line led to a dramatic transformation as ICG launched a major capital investment in the ordering of new tonnage. This involved disposing ageing smaller tonnage and replaced by a succession of much larger custom built ferries to serve on the Irish Sea.

Such investment continues as Irish Ferries 55,000 gross tonnage newbuild, W.B. Yeats is currently under construction and due for delivery next year in July. The giant cruiseferry is to be launched on the Dublin-Cherbourg service during the summer, adding increased capacity and sailing frequency. In addition from September, W.B. Yeats joins Ulysses on the Dublin-Holyhead route. 

Published in Dublin Port
Jehan Ashmore

About The Author

Jehan Ashmore

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Jehan Ashmore is a marine correspondent, researcher and photographer, specialising in Irish ports, shipping and the ferry sector serving the UK and directly to mainland Europe. Jehan also occasionally writes a column, 'Maritime' Dalkey for the (Dalkey Community Council Newsletter) in addition to contributing to UK marine periodicals. 

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