Ireland's sailing, boating & maritime magazine

Dun Laoghaire's Watersport Campus Plan is a Boon for Marine Leisure Scene

30th April 2020
Dead space at Dun Laoghaire Harbour left by the departure of the ferry can be partly filled with a new public watersports facility to bring more people into the sport of recreational sailing and boating Dead space at Dun Laoghaire Harbour left by the departure of the ferry can be partly filled with a new public watersports facility to bring more people into the sport of recreational sailing and boating Credit: Peter Barrow/Simon Coate

A business stimulus for Dun Laoghaire after COVID-19 may well lie in government approved plans for a national watersports campus in the town's harbour. It comes at a time when town officials seek to regenerate the 200-year-old harbour and give it new purpose after the Holyhead ferry set sail for the last time five years ago

As Afloat reported in January 2020, Dun Laoghaire Harbour's marine leisure users joined Dun Laoghaire Rathdown County Council to create a new watersportfocus at the south Dublin harbour, the country's biggest boating centre. The 'National Watersports Campus' application was developed following discussion with Dun Laoghaire Rathdown County Council (DLRCoCo), Irish Sailing, the four waterfront clubs, INSS, DBSC and DLCC and also with other NGB’s - Diving, Rowing, Triathlon, Swimming and Canoeing who came together to lift the profile of sailing and boating in the south Dublin suburb.

Dún Laoghaire Harbour Swim RaceThe annual Dún Laoghaire Harbour Swim Race - is a 'blue riband' race on the Open Sea Calendar in Ireland Photo: DLR

The potential for a twofold increase or more in the boat stock at Dun Laoghaire exists if DLRCoCo can provide the missing infrastructure to promote the marine leisure industry, according to the new maritime blueprint unveiled by the town in its application to the Large Scale Sports Infrastructure Fund (LSSIF).

But despite having the capital's population of 1.4m on its doorstep and some world-class boating facilities, boat ownership remains stubbornly low both on Dublin Bay and around the coast with only one person in 171 owning a boat.

Red Bull diveThe Red Bull diving spectacular brought the Dublin crowds out to Dun Laoghaire Harbour

Boat ownership ratio

The ratio of our European neighbours is UK 1:100, France 1: 66, Netherlands 1:30 and Germany 1:108. Ireland might be an island nation, yet its low boat ownership is explained away by poor coastal infrastructure and the lack of a necklace of marinas around Ireland but that's not the case at the country's biggest boating centre where other factors are restricting marine leisure growth.

Hobbler Coastal rower 9126Dun Laoghaire Harbour is home to a great coastal rowing scene Photo: Afloat

In the study, The Potential for Growing Marine Leisure on the East Coast, (ISMS 2006) an estimate of the size of the Irish national boat park at 27,926 boats was established. This gives Ireland a boat ownership ratio of 1:171 or one boat per 171 people. This is the internationally recognised method of calculating the size of the national boat park (ICOMIA) This figure is surprisingly low given that Ireland is an island nation, especially when compared with our European neighbours. UK 1:100, France 1: 66, Netherlands 1:30, Germany 1:108 

Irish national sailing school6Learning to sail at Dun Laoghaire

New public slipway

The aim of the Dun Laoghaire Campus project is to provide a vital missing infrastructure to address this ratio deficit. For example, there is no public slipway accessible at all stage of the tide between Dublin city and Bray in County Wicklow or public boat storage facility.

The campus also seeks to provide a marketing framework to make boating more accessible to the general public. When combined with other current plans in the harbour to use the old ferry terminal as a new state of the art business hub it makes the Council's plan an appealing prospect.

Dun Laoghaire Marina Dun Laoghaire Marina - the town facility has the capacity for over 800 boats and is the biggest marina in Ireland

Marine jobs 

The benefits of such an increase in marine leisure might be obvious to the Dun Laoghaire waterfront as outlined by one leading Dun Laoghaire mariner here but there are other spin-offs for the harbour town too in the creation of the sort of jobs that cannot be shipped abroad.

Think of the former Pfizer plant in Dun Laoghaire; the cost to the Exchequer of each of those 210 or so jobs and the ease with which they upped and left when the Pharma pulled out of the town back in 2011.

For a similar investment, DLR can develop 200 jobs that would stick to Dun Laoghaire Harbour like limpets because this is where their natural advantage would exist.

These employers would not only be in the old-style hunter-gatherer lifestyles (e.g. inshore or sea fishing) but in activity-tourism and niche manufacturing and services.

MGM Boat hoistThe MGM Boatyard hoist in Dun Laoghaire's Coal Harbour lifts the Dublin Port pilot boat for maintenance

As a working, for instance, a sail-making firm was established in Crosshaven, in Cork Harbour in 1974. It s still there, a thriving small Irish business that designs and exports sails all over the world.

It grew thanks to the enterprise of a local initiative by Royal Cork Yacht Club to develop festivals and events such as the world-renowned Cork Week regatta.

Marine skills courses

The Dun Laoghaire campus envisages how the harbour could be used as incubators for sailmakers, riggers, marine electronics and mechanical workshops. Of course, if such efforts bore fruit, it could then lead to employment opportunities and further education courses training young people in marine skills for use locally.

A lot of marine businesses already exist in the harbour in a micro way, currently employing up to 100 people, most of whom work out of vans without proper premises but there is no formal marine cluster that could unite these efforts. 

VDLR RegattaThe biennial Dun Laoghaire Regatta attracts as many as 500 boats to the Harbour, up to one third coming from outside Dublin Bay Photo: Afloat

Dun Laoghaire Regatta

In 2010, The Irish Marine Federation (IMF) published a case study on the socio-economic significance of the 2009 Volvo Dun Laoghaire Regatta. The biennial event attracted an entry of 449 entries and is the biggest regatta in Ireland. Over four days, the study (carried out by Irish Sea Marine Leisure Knowledge Network) found the event was worth nearly three million to the local economy.  But that is only four days in 730, leaving much scope for further harbour based maritime events.

motor boat Dun LaoghaireMotorboating off Dun Laoghaire's East Pier Photo: Afloat

If campus plans take-off the potential to grow the marine leisure industry in Dun Laoghaire Harbour is significant. Attracting new people into the sport would, of course, be a significant lift for existing industry efforts such as the pioneering work of marine entrepreneurs in the boatyard, the marina, the chandlers, the sailing schools and the yacht clubs as major harbour employers. State-backed support would add heft to what is effectively a local industry hiding in plain sight to so many in the town.

Laser MastersThe harbour clubs host many international sailing regattas including the Laser Masters World Championships Photo: Afloat

The feasibility study – backed by 40 different harbour users including the four waterfront yacht clubs – envisages linking existing clubs and facilities as a campus to promote the sport of boating. As well as providing missing infrastructure it envisages a new municipal watersports building on the town's vacant Carlisle Pier.

Before COVID-19 hit, Afloat's WM Nixon said in January, that Dun Laoghaire was moving into a new era with a fair wind for the National Watersports Campus, let's hope that fair wind is still blowing. Team

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National Watersports Campus, Dun Laoghaire

Dun Laoghaire Harbour Stakeholders combined forces in 2019 to promote a project to improve the Harbour’s infrastructure resulting in improved access, job creation and greater tourism potential. 

A grant application to government made by Dun Laoghaire Rathdown County Council (DLRCoCo) assisted by stakeholders was successful with the announcement of a €400k feasibility study grant from the Large Scale Sport Infrastructure Fund (LSSIF) in January 2020.

It meant plans for the €8m National Watersports Campus at Dun Laoghaire Harbour got the green light from Government and came a step closer to reality.

The project recognises deficits in the current set up in the harbour, proposing the construction of an all-tide publicly-accessible slipway (none currently in the Greater Dublin Area) as well as a marine services facility, providing a much-needed home for the supporting industry. 

The campus also seeks to provide a marketing framework to make boating more accessible to the general public.

The benefits of such an increase might be obvious for the Dun Laoghaire waterfront but there are other spin-offs for the harbour town in the creation of the sort of jobs that cannot be shipped abroad.

Centre for Community Watersports activity and public slipway

  • High-Performance coaching centre
  • Flexible Event Space for hosting national and international events
  • Multipurpose Building
  • Campus Marketing and Promotional Centre
  • Accommodation for Irish Sailing and Irish Underwater Council
  • Shared NGB Facility
  • Education Centre for schools, community groups and clubs
  • Proposed site – Carlisle Pier

Watersports Campus FAQs

Similar to the National Sports Campus in Abbotstown, the watersports campus will provide quality, public, recreational and high-performance facilities for the many watersports participants. The Campus will considerably enhance the services currently provided by more than 30 clubs and activity centres to over 50,000 annual users of the harbour.

The passing of control of the harbour to DLRCC, the public appetite for a community benefitting project and the capital funding for sports infrastructure in the Project 2040 National Plan have aligned to create an opportunity to deliver this proposal.

Dun Laoghaire Rathdown County Council (DLRCC) and the Irish Sailing Association (Irish Sailing) are the project leads, endorsed by the National Governing Bodies of other Irish watersports and clubs and activity providers.

The National Sports Policy, published in 2018, established the Large Scale Sport Infrastructure Fund (LSSIF) to provide Exchequer support for sports facility projects. In some cases, these may be projects where the primary objective will be to increase active participation in sport. In other cases, these may be venues where the focus is more related to high-performance sport.

Government has allocated at least €100m over the term to 2027 to successful applicant projects.

The Watersports Campus was one of seven successful applicants for Stream 1 funding allowing planning to commence on the project design and feasibility. €442,000 has been granted in this phase.

NThe project will provide for a municipally-owned public access facility to include a small craft slipway that is accessible at all stages of the tide (currently none in public ownership in the greater Dublin area), storage and lock-up resources, watersports event management space, a high-performance centre and NGB accommodation.

The project aims to enhance the profile of Dun Laoghaire as a major international venue for maritime events, shows and conferences. Establish Dun Laoghaire as the 'go-to place' for anything marine – generating revenues Create employment in the county - attract businesses, visitors and events. Grow the market for watersports Promote the services of activity providers to the public. Complement the plan to develop Dun Laoghaire as a 'destination.'

As of January 1 2021, The Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport has approved the applicant project and DLRCC are expected to appoint a team to further advance the project.

©Afloat 2020

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