Ireland's sailing, boating & maritime magazine

Without a Harbour Czar, Dun Laoghaire’s All at Sea

14th November 2017
Dun Laoghaire Harbour – The massive ‘asylum harbour’ as it was originally known, when construction started 200 years ago, is located 11.2 kilometres southeast of Dublin on the southern shore of Dublin bay. It has an enclosed water area of approximately 215 acres. Its two breakwaters, known as the East Pier and West Pier are 1,290 metres and 1,548 metres in length respectively. This 2007 photograph by the late aerial photographer Peter Barrow shows the now gone Stena Car Ferry on its berth. Four yacht clubs are situated across the harbour water front from East to West. Within its walls, there's also a sailing school, a wharf for trawlers at the inner coal harbour, a Commissioner of Irish Lights depot, a boatyard and an RNLI lifeboat station. Built in 2001, the town marina, in the middle harbour, can berth up to 800 boats Dun Laoghaire Harbour – The massive ‘asylum harbour’ as it was originally known, when construction started 200 years ago, is located 11.2 kilometres southeast of Dublin on the southern shore of Dublin bay. It has an enclosed water area of approximately 215 acres. Its two breakwaters, known as the East Pier and West Pier are 1,290 metres and 1,548 metres in length respectively. This 2007 photograph by the late aerial photographer Peter Barrow shows the now gone Stena Car Ferry on its berth. Four yacht clubs are situated across the harbour water front from East to West. Within its walls, there's also a sailing school, a wharf for trawlers at the inner coal harbour, a Commissioner of Irish Lights depot, a boatyard and an RNLI lifeboat station. Built in 2001, the town marina, in the middle harbour, can berth up to 800 boats Credit: Peter Barrow

Other cities are developing their waterways in imaginative ways but Dublin still can’t get it right writes David O'Brien

Take the DART out to Dun Laoghaire today and on arrival at the station, the Iarnród Éireann announcer says: 'Dun Laoghaire - change here for ferry services.' Except from 2011 only a seasonal car ferry operated around Christmas time, and from 2015 there has been no car ferry at all. It's a small detail that reveals how disconnected the harbour has become.

Back in 2011, an artist's impression envisaged a regenerated Dun Laoghaire harbour with a cruise berth, an urban beach and a 'flotel'.

dunaoghaireharbourplanAn Artist's impression of the harbour published by the Harbour Company in 2011

Six years later, many say such fanciful notions are all washed up. The harbour remains empty of commercial shipping. The new harbour owners, Dun Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council, are dragging their feet on what's next. Hardly befitting of the harbour town's bicentenary year, is it?

What's more, as if to symbolise how bereft of marine ideas the State harbour company has become, last month's latest attempt to cash in on the country's housing crisis with – wait for it – waterborne homes is set to run foul of existing harbour users.

But that latest slip-up is a drop in the ocean compared to the overall problems facing the great granite harbour. Dun Laoghaire's waterfront is a national monument but also a monumental challenge.

The hope, of course, it that the just-released plan of converting the old ferry terminal into office space can at least bring some life to the port.

Two Dublin-based businessmen are reported to be investing up to €20 million in the former ferry terminal to create 'a hub for technology, marine and design businesses'. It shows a new and enlightened approach by the Dun Laoghaie Harbour Company to using the vacant space which, it is claimed, could bring up to 1,000 people into the harbour area.

Creating office space is one thing; stimulating the market to create marine jobs is quite another.

Yet harbour stakeholders should do all they can to support what sounds like a positive move, because until now the only thing to show for the doomed 'master plan' is the removal of the sheds on Carlisle Pier, a cruise line debacle that has pit neighbour against neighbour and run up an estimated €2 million in consultancy fees. What is arguably the town's biggest asset is still being treated as a white elephant. After all the money spent on the masterplan, not one sod of turf has been turned.

The best suggestion that the harbour's primary users can come up with is hardly adequate, either. In the absence of a suitable paying tenant, boaters are saying the State will just have to foot the bill for harbour maintenance, 'just like they do for the Phoenix Park'.

Others have mooted, is that a bill worth footing? The purpose for which Dun Laoghaire Harbour was built is no longer required, so would it be cheaper to knock it down than maintain it? That's just one of the outlandish comments circulating in the south Dublin town due to the state of flux at Ireland's biggest boating centre

Bizarre things have happened before. For example, in 1995, Dun Laoghaire Harbour Company filled in over 15 acres of the harbour to facilitate the construction of a new berth for the 'revolutionary' Stena HSS ferry. It was a move that gave the Swedish ferry company a monopoly in the port because no other ship could use the specially constructed mooring. Today, just 25 years later, Stena is gone, the HSS is gone, the berth is gone – but 15 acres of the harbour's precious waterspace remain filled in.  

Dun Laoghaire Harbour hey dayDun Laoghaire Harbour in its heyday, a vibrant ferry port. For more than 170 years a 'mail boat' service travelled between Dun Laoghaire and Holyhead in Wales. Even during World War I the mail boat sailed, and it continued uninterrupted service until the mid 1970s. The new car ferry terminal was completed in 1969 and the ferry service, boosted in the 1990s by the HSS fast ferry, operated here until 2015

It’s obvious to all now that there's no silver bullet for Dun Laoghaire Harbour. Any hope rests, as it always did, in marine-related projects that can take advantage of the giant structure’s original intention. It needs someone with the gravitas, business nous, but most of all passion for the harbour that can turn the tide on its future.

Sounds like a tall order? Yes indeed, except that exact scenario is already playing out at another port in Ireland.

No viable plan for harbour's future

One of the problems is that the State is looking at the harbour only as built infrastructure: a site to cash in on, rather than a place with massive amenity value.

Public representatives have roundly criticised the harbour company on many fronts, but equally, is it not unfair to ask that company to produce an amenity plan when it is not charged to do so?

With 1.5 million people living on its doorstep, resulting in significant demand for marine leisure facilities, it is to our shame that there is no viable plan for Dun Laoghaire Harbour's future.

Dublin's proud boast is that it now offers not one but two world-class sports arenas in Croke Park and the Aviva Stadium. For decades to come, millions of fans will be entertained in the facilities, a tribute to the vision of the men and women who pushed for their development.

But these are not the biggest sports arenas in Dublin. That distinction goes to another site that now needs a generous amount of vision and development: Dublin Bay.

dun laoghaire harbour aerial 2Dun Laoghaire Harbour is the gateway to the city's playground, Dublin Bay. The seaside town comes complete with a unique harbour, world-class yacht clubs and transport links, all just six miles from Grafton Street. Photo: Michael Chester

Dublin's stadiums normally feature 30 people on the field of play. In Dublin Bay, that number runs into the thousands. Dun Laoghaire Harbour is, in effect, the gateway to the city's largest sports ground.

Every weekend, the area of water between Howth Head and Dalkey is filled with sailors, divers, swimmers and fishermen, to say nothing of the hordes that simply run or walk by its shores. This resource is unique: no other European capital has this kind of natural sports amphitheatre on its doorstep.

But Dun Laoghaire, one of the world's largest man-made harbours. now faces a massive challenge. And how it is addressed may well hold the key to whether or not Dublin becomes a true capital of sport.

The harbour could be a major European marine activity centre, encompassing a variety of marine activity both commercial and leisure, including maritime research and oceanography. What's required is a vision to shape this harbour for the next 200 years and let the people of Dublin push the boat out.

People should be able to use the harbour as an active facility, and it must be possible for them to do more than just walk on its piers.

Dun Laoghaire harbour marinaThe high cost of pleasure craft berth rental rates paid to the harbour company are crippling marine leisure growth at Dun Laoghaire marina, the country's biggest boating centre

Amazingly, however, Dun Laoghaire Harbour Company offers almost no maritime activity that engages the general public, even though it is landlord to the country's largest marina – a state-of-the-art facility – and collects rent from 500 private boat owners.

It has lost its anchor tenant and has not replaced it. It is about to be taken over under new legislation and run by the local county council. Whatever official structure eventually lays claim to it will require marine expertise to properly engage with its original intention: marine use.

Instead of looking at the harbour as a site to be exploited commercially (for which, read ‘apartments’) those in charge should look for new ideas by creating a waterfront forum, with the local yacht clubs and the existing commercial operators, to promote the harbour's massive potential for high-yield marine tourism, at the very least.

There are real benefits in this, particularly for the neighbourhood. For example, the country's largest sailing event, the Volvo Dun Laoghaire Regatta, held in the harbour biennially since 2005, generates €3 million in revenues for the town. But it's not just a regatta, it's a rolling manifesto of what Dun laoghaire sailing could achieve if it pulled together.

It has been a long-standing criticism that the town centre is physically disconnected from the harbour by the railway line that runs in front of it. The council is completing cover-over sections of the line, a move to encourage more people down to see what's happening on the water, and this cannot come soon enough.

With such investment, it should be possible for local retailers – a sector in decline in the town, which, in recent times, has seen one in five shops boarded up – to pitch at the needs of the harbour and visiting ships. That was always the hope if plans to attract cruise liners had come off, but what's also required is to develop the sort of jobs that cannot be shipped abroad.

Think of the 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. For a similar investment, we could have developed 200 jobs that would stick to Dun Laoghaire like limpets because this is where their natural advantage would exist.

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

As a working 'for instance', a sail making firm was established in Crosshaven, Co Cork 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.

Dun Laoghaire has no such marine cluster. Derelict harbour buildings could be used as incubators for sailmakers, riggers, marine electronics and mechanical workshops. These businesses already exist but in a small way, currently employing up to 100 people, most of whom work out of vans without proper premises.

Dun Laoghaire is falling behind

In spite of Dun Laoghaire Harbour's position as the largest boating centre, it is now falling way behind other Irish ports. Dun Laoghaire sailing interests also need to set out a stall for the future.

The East Pier is a golden opportunity for a regulated commercial activity, but this potential is limited by the absence of services on the pier such as adequate water supply and power outlets. Major work was carried out on this pier in the past few years, but services were ignored.

Another opportunity is an adequate landing stage. The experience of other ports with cruise liner traffic is that once the big ships arrive, smaller ones usually follow. There is a market for super yacht/mega yacht boats. These were calling and using the Dublin City Mooring facility on the River Liffey until it was closed, and have now mostly stopped calling to the East Coast altogether.

A suitable landing stage could also be used for events such as boat shows, all centred around the Carlisle Pier.

In addition, there are currently no opportunities for the general public to try sailing or boating without having to take a sailing course or join a club. The French system of publicly owned boats available to hire at a small cost allows easy sailing opportunities for schools and the general public.

And it's a system that could be successfully transferred to Dun Laoghaire because, against the odds, a commercial sailing school manages to operate in the harbour without any State support and many obstacles.

Research, and the experience in France and elsewhere, points to the need to establish a maritime activity centre as hub to nurture new marine businesses.

Investing in the harbour in this way could allow Dun Laoghaire to provide an ideal base for tall ships to winter and do regular maintenance. There is only one small area given over to boat yard activities in Dun Laoghaire, yet there are over 1,000 boats based in the harbour.

By allowing the expansion of yard facilities, a fully-functioning boat yard could provide full-time employment for a large number of people.

In the move from commercial port to leisure harbour, the combined marine leisure groups – such as the well-established yacht clubs with over 5,000 sailors, the maritime museum, marine trade and other users – could band together and move forward as a united users group rather than competing interests.

One example of this is the staging of a national maritime festival along the lines of SeaFest, first staged in Cork Harbour in 2015 and now an annual fixture in Galway. 

In July 2010, Dun Laoghaire Rathdown County Council spent over €1m on the Festival of World Cultures. The budget figure overran by €400,000. If this level of funding is available, surely the town's maritime culture could feature, too? After all, this is the council that found €36m to build a library to overlook the harbour in the teeth of recession. 

It would be an ideal opportunity to put to good use the new 8,500 sqm space presented by Carlisle Pier, the country's only exhibition space in the middle of the sea.

If that sounds like pie in the sky, it really shouldn't seem so far out of reach, as it’s this kind of thinking that’s going on elsewhere in the country.

In Cork Harbour, a politician there who can see the potential in the blue economy has been pushing buttons to promote maritime interests.

Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney, a sailor and a former Minister for the Marine, has been instrumental in securing significant marine funding to develop the €20 million Beaufort Centre. It’s the final piece of a jigsaw that makes Cork Harbour a world-renowned marine research and development location, helping to unlock Ireland's maritime and energy potential.

It's been the same in Galway, where the Marine Institute is based and has developed world-class marine expertise. These efforts have come about under the stewardship of John Killeen, chair of the institute and an experienced sailor.

Coveney and Killeen are 'harbour czars', passionately and cleverly pushing the maritime agenda because they can see how it can benefit the local and national economies.

So where is Dun Laoghaire Harbour's world class marine research centre? Where is Dun Laoghaire Harbour's slice of the Government marine budget pie? Where is Dun Laoghaire Harbour's czar?

We've got a favour to ask

More people are reading than ever thanks to the power of the internet but we're in stormy seas because advertising revenues across the media are falling fast. Unlike many news sites, we haven’t put up a paywall because we want to keep our marine journalism open. is Ireland's only full–time marine journalism team and it takes time, money and hard work to produce our content.

So you can see why we need to ask for your help.

If everyone chipped in, we can enhance our coverage and our future would be more secure. You can help us through a small donation. Thank you.

Direct Donation to Afloat button

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