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Kish Lighthouse's Golden Anniversary Reflects Car-Ferry Era But Not to 'Sea' HSS Service

14th November 2015

#Kish50HSSgone - An exhibition in Dun Laoghaire celebrating the Kish Lighthouse 50th anniversary on Dublin Bay is currently on display, however the Stena Line HSS service to Holyhead which was withdrawn only last year has been outlived by the iconic lighthouse, writes Jehan Ashmore.

The venue for the Kish Lighthouse exhibition (until 21 November) is at the National Maritime Museum of Ireland located almost directly opposite of the present day iconic landmark of the LexIcon Library that overlooks the East Pier.

In addition the LexIcon as a new civic building has commanding sweeping views of the harbour, Dublin Bay and to the Baily Lighthouse on Howth Peninsula. Further offshore on the horizon stands the Kish Lighthouse all 31 metres high. The lighthouse replaced a lightship that likewise of the new lighthouse was manned until automated in 1992. The current character of the light exhibited has a range of 22 nautical miles.

Back onshore, Ireland’s most popular pedestrian pier, the East Pier is featured as part of the historic Pathé news footage (see above) as the Kish Lighthouse is ‘floated’ out of Dun Loghaire harbour from where the uniquely constructed structure was built. The design for the Commissioners of Irish Lights was of that of a concentric circular concrete tower based from similar yet smaller models in Sweden, and was towed from the harbour some seven nautical miles offshore to the Kish Bank.

The departing lighthouse structure under tow from the harbour even now looks futuristic and likewise to when I recall witnessing the first arrival of the Swedish owned yet Finnish built HSS Stena Explorer. She made her debut just over three decades later after the lighthouse began service. The fast-ferry was sold this Autumn and is currently under tow while bound for a new career in Turkey, which as previously reported leads to query her future role? given that her owners operate 'floating' generating powerships!

Returning to the Pathé news reel, (some 30 seconds in) on the left side of the screen can be seen white buildings on the East Pier. They belonged to the harbour's first albeit temporary car-ferry terminal (another controversary! of the time). The facility was completed a year before the installation of the Kish Lighthouse in 1965. The terminal's appearance comprised of metal constructed halls more akin to factory warehouses! In fact the terminal building extended almost the entire width of the East Pier!... click for Photo.

It was during that year's summer that the introduction of the first roll-on roll-off 'carferry' on the Dun Laoghaire-Holyhead route begin service with a resounding success. The traditional 'mail-boats' maintained a year-round service based out of the Carlisle Pier. From there cars were crane-hoisted on board for many years, however tourism interests lobbied for a carferry service from the early 1960's.

This led to Dun Laoghaire Harbour’s first ferry terminal with a ro-ro linkspan that protruded from the East Pier Jetty. The facility was inaugurated by the Irish-Walsh route’s first purpose built car-ferry, the unimaginatively named but pioneering Holyhead Ferry 1. The new carferry was delayed entering service from her builders and instread the English Channel based Normannia opened the seasonal 'car' service. 

Normannia originally a passenger-ferry had been converted to carry cars was eventually replaced by Holyhead Ferry 1 that season. The Scottish built stern-only carferry loaded and offloaded vehicles while berthed at the East Pier linkspan, though this structure located off the jetty has long since been demolished.

The berth at this East Pier Jetty until recent years has long been associated with the customary visits of Irish Naval Service patrol ships, however this part of the pier is to undergo a reincarnation. That been as previously reported on Afloat, the Dun Laoghaire Harbour Company’s ‘Urban Beach’, a €2.5 million heated floating swimming pool inspired by the 'Badeschiff' in Berlin.

The project will involve a converted river barge at the East Pier following last year’s planning permission granted by An Bord Pleanála. The planning authority is to make a decision (see SOS protest) following oral hearings into DLHC’s single €18m cruise-berth in January 2016. DLHC cited should a suitable ferry operator be found it would not be until 2016 and that the Ireland-Wales service like the HSS service would be run on a season-only basis.

Seven operators responded earlier this year following an invite from DLHC for those expressing an interest to operate such a service, however this would not involve the idle Stena HSS berth at the terminal on St. Michaels Wharf. The same site dates back to the original purpose-built terminal dating from 1969 that replaced the facility on the East Pier.

Dun Laoghaire Harbour's only remaining ferry berth (last used several years ago by a smaller Stena 'Lynx' fast -ferry) is also located on the Wharf. This linkspan facility adapted from a conventional carferry berth was also in use by Stena tonnage until the early 1990's.

The future role of the St. Michaels Wharf ferry terminal is now centre stage given DLHC's proposed cruise-berth is to connect to the terminal's former HSS vehicle marshalling bays where cruise passengers would use awaiting coaches and taxi's. At the same time, there are plans at the same site put forward by the Dun Laoghaire Combined Clubs for a National Watersports Centre. 

Remnants of another ro-ro linkspan on Carlisle Pier still visible, ceased use in 1996 when Stena Adventurer (ex. Stena Hibernia / St. Columba of Sealink British Rail ) was replaced by the Stena HSS. The revolutionary fast-ferry was also a pioneering venture on the route for almost two decades.

The old ro-ro's concrete berth's structure with operations hut can be seen from the Royal St. George Yacht Club albeit the corresponding linkspan is gone should you peer through the railings that bound the pier's car-park.

This part of the Carlisle Pier is the closest the public can access when small sized cruiseships have berthed since the trade returned to the harbour in recent years. While larger deeper draft cruiseships anchor offshore, notably the last caller of this season was the newbuild Mein Schiff 4.


Published in Dublin Bay
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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Dun Laoghaire Harbour Information

Dun Laoghaire Harbour is the second port for Dublin and is located on the south shore of Dublin Bay. Marine uses for this 200-year-old man-made harbour have changed over its lifetime. Originally built as a port of refuge for sailing ships entering the narrow channel at Dublin Port, the harbour has had a continuous ferry link with Wales, and this was the principal activity of the harbour until the service stopped in 2015. In all this time, however, one thing has remained constant, and that is the popularity of sailing and boating from the port, making it Ireland's marine leisure capital with a harbour fleet of between 1,200 -1,600 pleasure craft based at the country's largest marina (800 berths) and its four waterfront yacht clubs.

Dun Laoghaire Harbour Bye-Laws

Download the bye-laws on this link here


A live stream Dublin Bay webcam showing Dun Laoghaire Harbour entrance and East Pier is here

Dun Laoghaire is a Dublin suburb situated on the south side of Dublin Bay, approximately, 15km from Dublin city centre.

The east and west piers of the harbour are each of 1 kilometre (0.62 miles) long.

The harbour entrance is 232 metres (761 ft) across from East to West Pier.

  • Public Boatyard
  • Public slipway
  • Public Marina

23 clubs, 14 activity providers and eight state-related organisations operate from Dun Laoghaire Harbour that facilitates a full range of sports - Sailing, Rowing, Diving, Windsurfing, Angling, Canoeing, Swimming, Triathlon, Powerboating, Kayaking and Paddleboarding. Participants include members of the public, club members, tourists, disabled, disadvantaged, event competitors, schools, youth groups and college students.

  • Commissioners of Irish Lights
  • Dun Laoghaire Marina
  • MGM Boats & Boatyard
  • Coastguard
  • Naval Service Reserve
  • Royal National Lifeboat Institution
  • Marine Activity Centre
  • Rowing clubs
  • Yachting and Sailing Clubs
  • Sailing Schools
  • Irish Olympic Sailing Team
  • Chandlery & Boat Supply Stores

The east and west granite-built piers of Dun Laoghaire harbour are each of one kilometre (0.62 mi) long and enclose an area of 250 acres (1.0 km2) with the harbour entrance being 232 metres (761 ft) in width.

In 2018, the ownership of the great granite was transferred in its entirety to Dun Laoghaire Rathdown County Council who now operate and manage the harbour. Prior to that, the harbour was operated by The Dun Laoghaire Harbour Company, a state company, dissolved in 2018 under the Ports Act.

  • 1817 - Construction of the East Pier to a design by John Rennie began in 1817 with Earl Whitworth Lord Lieutenant of Ireland laying the first stone.
  • 1820 - Rennie had concerns a single pier would be subject to silting, and by 1820 gained support for the construction of the West pier to begin shortly afterwards. When King George IV left Ireland from the harbour in 1820, Dunleary was renamed Kingstown, a name that was to remain in use for nearly 100 years. The harbour was named the Royal Harbour of George the Fourth which seems not to have remained for so long.
  • 1824 - saw over 3,000 boats shelter in the partially completed harbour, but it also saw the beginning of operations off the North Wall which alleviated many of the issues ships were having accessing Dublin Port.
  • 1826 - Kingstown harbour gained the important mail packet service which at the time was under the stewardship of the Admiralty with a wharf completed on the East Pier in the following year. The service was transferred from Howth whose harbour had suffered from silting and the need for frequent dredging.
  • 1831 - Royal Irish Yacht Club founded
  • 1837 - saw the creation of Victoria Wharf, since renamed St. Michael's Wharf with the D&KR extended and a new terminus created convenient to the wharf.[8] The extended line had cut a chord across the old harbour with the landward pool so created later filled in.
  • 1838 - Royal St George Yacht Club founded
  • 1842 - By this time the largest man-made harbour in Western Europe had been completed with the construction of the East Pier lighthouse.
  • 1855 - The harbour was further enhanced by the completion of Traders Wharf in 1855 and Carlisle Pier in 1856. The mid-1850s also saw the completion of the West Pier lighthouse. The railway was connected to Bray in 1856
  • 1871 - National Yacht Club founded
  • 1884 - Dublin Bay Sailing Club founded
  • 1918 - The Mailboat, “The RMS Leinster” sailed out of Dún Laoghaire with 685 people on board. 22 were post office workers sorting the mail; 70 were crew and the vast majority of the passengers were soldiers returning to the battlefields of World War I. The ship was torpedoed by a German U-boat near the Kish lighthouse killing many of those onboard.
  • 1920 - Kingstown reverted to the name Dún Laoghaire in 1920 and in 1924 the harbour was officially renamed "Dun Laoghaire Harbour"
  • 1944 - a diaphone fog signal was installed at the East Pier
  • 1965 - Dun Laoghaire Motor Yacht Club founded
  • 1968 - The East Pier lighthouse station switched from vapourised paraffin to electricity, and became unmanned. The new candle-power was 226,000
  • 1977- A flying boat landed in Dun Laoghaire Harbour, one of the most unusual visitors
  • 1978 - Irish National Sailing School founded
  • 1934 - saw the Dublin and Kingstown Railway begin operations from their terminus at Westland Row to a terminus at the West Pier which began at the old harbour
  • 2001 - Dun Laoghaire Marina opens with 500 berths
  • 2015 - Ferry services cease bringing to an end a 200-year continuous link with Wales.
  • 2017- Bicentenary celebrations and time capsule laid.
  • 2018 - Dun Laoghaire Harbour Company dissolved, the harbour is transferred into the hands of Dun Laoghaire Rathdown County Council

From East pier to West Pier the waterfront clubs are:

  • National Yacht Club. Read latest NYC news here
  • Royal St. George Yacht Club. Read latest RSTGYC news here
  • Royal Irish Yacht Club. Read latest RIYC news here
  • Dun Laoghaire Motor Yacht Club. Read latest DMYC news here


The umbrella organisation that organises weekly racing in summer and winter on Dublin Bay for all the yacht clubs is Dublin Bay Sailing Club. It has no clubhouse of its own but operates through the clubs with two x Committee vessels and a starters hut on the West Pier. Read the latest DBSC news here.

The sailing community is a key stakeholder in Dún Laoghaire. The clubs attract many visitors from home and abroad and attract major international sailing events to the harbour.


Dun Laoghaire Regatta

Dun Laoghaire's biennial town regatta was started in 2005 as a joint cooperation by the town's major yacht clubs. It was an immediate success and is now in its eighth edition and has become Ireland's biggest sailing event. The combined club's regatta is held in the first week of July.

  • Attracts 500 boats and more from overseas and around the country
  • Four-day championship involving 2,500 sailors with supporting family and friends
  • Economic study carried out by the Irish Marine Federation estimated the economic value of the 2009 Regatta at €2.5 million

The dates for the 2021 edition of Ireland's biggest sailing event on Dublin Bay is: 8-11 July 2021. More details here

Dun Laoghaire-Dingle Offshore Race

The biennial Dun Laoghaire to Dingle race is a 320-miles race down the East coast of Ireland, across the south coast and into Dingle harbour in County Kerry. The latest news on the Dun Laoghaire to Dingle Race can be found by clicking on the link here. The race is organised by the National Yacht Club.

The 2021 Race will start from the National Yacht Club on Wednesday 9th, June 2021.

Round Ireland Yacht Race

This is a Wicklow Sailing Club race but in 2013 the Garden County Club made an arrangement that sees see entries berthed at the RIYC in Dun Laoghaire Harbour for scrutineering prior to the biennial 704–mile race start off Wicklow harbour. Larger boats have been unable to berth in the confines of Wicklow harbour, a factor WSC believes has restricted the growth of the Round Ireland fleet. 'It means we can now encourage larger boats that have shown an interest in competing but we have been unable to cater for in Wicklow' harbour, WSC Commodore Peter Shearer told here. The race also holds a pre-ace launch party at the Royal Irish Yacht Club.

Laser Masters World Championship 2018

  • 301 boats from 25 nations

Laser Radial World Championship 2016

  • 436 competitors from 48 nations

ISAF Youth Worlds 2012

  • The Youth Olympics of Sailing run on behalf of World Sailing in 2012.
  • Two-week event attracting 61 nations, 255 boats, 450 volunteers.
  • Generated 9,000 bed nights and valued at €9 million to the local economy.

The Harbour Police are authorised by the company to police the harbour and to enforce and implement bye-laws within the harbour, and all regulations made by the company in relation to the harbour.

There are four ship/ferry berths in Dun Laoghaire:

  • No 1 berth (East Pier)
  • No 2 berth (east side of Carlisle Pier)
  • No 3 berth (west side of Carlisle Pier)
  • No 4 berth  (St, Michaels Wharf)

Berthing facilities for smaller craft exist in the town's 800-berth marina and on swinging moorings.

© Afloat 2020