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Taking A French Ferry Trip Down Memory Lane Also Recalls Busier Dun Laoghaire Harbour Times

4th November 2017
Amidships close-up of the distinctive yellow-hulled Côte d'Albâtre berthed in Newhaven, UK. The 2006 built ferry is the leadship of a pair of sisters still in Transmanche Ferries livery but operated by DFDS (France) on behalf of several public bodies. Past ferries on the English Channel route albeit under Sealink/SNCF had been deployed as backup ships on Irish Sea routes among them Dun Laoghaire-Holyhead. The novelty factor of different ferries operating out of the Irish port is long gone and in particular declined during the Stena HSS fastcraft era which itself ceased operating in 2014. Amidships close-up of the distinctive yellow-hulled Côte d'Albâtre berthed in Newhaven, UK. The 2006 built ferry is the leadship of a pair of sisters still in Transmanche Ferries livery but operated by DFDS (France) on behalf of several public bodies. Past ferries on the English Channel route albeit under Sealink/SNCF had been deployed as backup ships on Irish Sea routes among them Dun Laoghaire-Holyhead. The novelty factor of different ferries operating out of the Irish port is long gone and in particular declined during the Stena HSS fastcraft era which itself ceased operating in 2014. Credit: Transmanche Ferries/DFDS (France) facebook

#TheFrenchConnection - As previously reported, Brittany Ferries seasonal service for 2017 closes this weekend, however Afloat looks at another French service albeit on the English Channel that historically also has ferry use related links with Ireland, writes Jehan Ashmore.

Beforehand of such connections, the Cork-Roscoff route will resume in April 2018, a year that notably will mark the Breton operator's 40th season on the Ireland-France connection and in which again is to be served by Pont-Aven. On completion of today's final crossing, traffic figures for this season are planned to be published.

Also after Pont-Aven arrival in Brittany tomorrow, the 40,000grt cruiseferry is then scheduled to take annual maintenance in the latter part of this month followed by relief duties on one of the operators France-UK routes, Portsmouth-St. Malo. The route regular, Bretagne, also served as a former cruiseferry on the Irish route is to undergo winter dry-docking maintenance.

It is on the English Channel route that former Irish ferry, B&I Line's Connacht that first began a career in 1979 on the Cork-Swansea route, would almost a decade later serve Brittany Ferries following a sale to the cash-starved Irish state-run ferry company. The Verolme Cork Dockyard built ferry was renamed Duchesse Anne, however reappeared in Irish waters off the then former VCD shipyard at Rushbrooke, having operated Cork-Roscoff and a short-lived Cork -St. Malo service. The veteran vessel these days plies the Adriatic between Italy and Croatia for operator Jadrolinija.

T is for Travel and Transmanche

Further east of St.Malo in the neighbouring province of Normandy is where a single route operation is marketed as Transmanche Ferries, trading name of previous operator but now run by DFDS (France) on behalf of Conseil Général de la Seine-Maritime. The operation is contracted out as a public service obligation route served by the custom built 18,000grt sisters, Côte d'Albâtre and Seven Sisters. The pair ply the most geographically direct route that retraces the old classic London-Paris link between the UK and French capitals.

Despite the geography, the route has struggled in terms of traffic, given the relative proximity of the short-sea premier Dover-Calais route served by two major operators, P&O and ironically by the Danish shipping giant DFDS. In addition to alternative rail services with EuroTunnel. Figures for Transmanche over the first six months of 2017 showed a 6.3 drop in passengers to 201,144, while freight further declined by 6.9 equating to 851,000 tonnes.

In July, a night-time trip was taken with Transmanche on board Côte d'Albâtre. This was to recall childhood memories on the Newhaven-Dieppe then under Sealink /SNCF operations that involved taking crossings twice on French-flagged Valencay during successive summers of 1981 and 1982. It was in that first year, that it is also recalled the former North Channel Larne-Stranrear ferry, Caledonian Princess, a turbine steam powered ship dating to 1961, which was laid-up on the Ouse. The river with a fishing fleet, flows out of the English east Sussex ferryport (see: Irish firm / windfarm story from this year).

Ships of Sealink Support Dun Laoghaire Services

Retaining to the geographical connections, the most direct route between the UK and Irish capitals is Holyhead-Dublin, and also to Dun Laoghaire until Stena Line ceased crossings in 2014. One of the precedessing operators, Sealink/British Rail was likewise of the B+I, state run by the UK goverment and this involved running a considerably larger route network and fleet given also English Channel and North Sea services.

As referred above, Pont-Aven is to relieve Bretagne this winter and in times past, pooling of ships for repositioning was commonplace for Sealink and its partners, among them the SNCF, French state railway as alluded was a partner on the Dieppe-Newhaven route. A sister of their Valencay, the elder Villandry was in 1983 laid-up in Calais but was deployed on the Holyhead-Dun Laoghaire route as the St. Columba (custom built in 1977 for the route) had been plagued by engine trouble.

The St. Columba with just one engine struggled to maintain crossing times alongside seasonal support from St. David, this led to back-up at the height of the summer season with Villandry chartered in to assist on the Irish Sea. Efforts to restore St.Columba back into service during that busy August, proved short-lived, as the engine broke down after only a day back in service. The incident even drew the attention of the national media headlines, as widespread distruption ensued forced Villandry to return until St.Columba's issues finally resolved three days later.

Afloat will have more on the St. David which unwittingly became embroiled in an industrial dispute during an incident with rival B+I Line that took place more than a quarter century ago. 

Also recalled was the presence of Villandry in Dublin Bay while rounding the South Burford bouy during the vessels brief stint on the Ireland-Wales which was made more apparent given the dispatch of a French flagged ferry. Other ferries had too been deployed down the years on routine deployment but they were UK flagged ferry counterparts based elsewhere on Sealink's English Channel services. This included those serving the Channel Islands and in which appeared fleetingly in the 1980's BBC TV detective drama 'Bergerac'. 

The use and frequency of such ship pooling continued with Sealink's successor, Sealink British Ferries (SBF). Not forgetting, that for just two years a Dun Laoghaire-Liverpool service ran and in which a thoroughly enjoyable round trip was made in 1989 to and from Merseyside. The longer sea route never really took off with former Channel Islands stalwart, Earl William carrying out final sailings in early 1990. This route asides to Holyhead was the last among others that linked Dun Laoghaire, and so joins a list of services that almost three decades later are becoming less of the collective public memory.

End of an Era: Ferries Replaced by Stena HSS fast-craft 

The scale and novelty factor of such ferries using Dun Laoghaire Harbour was however gradually declining by the time Stena Line took over SBF in the early 1990's. What really put an end to this practise of ferry pooling resources be it deployed to boost capacity, cover dry-dockings and engine failures, was Stena's introduction in 1996 of the pioneering High-speed Sea-Service (HSS) fast ferry craft, HSS Stena Explorer.

During its heyday, the HSS Stena Explorer during peak-season ran five Dun Laoghaire-Holyhead round trips on the near 60 nautical mile route and taking just 99 minutes. This compared to St.Columba's more leisurely 3 hours 30 minutes passage time.

The nearest the Dun Laoghaire-Holyhead route experienced in any form of change to normality during the HSS near two decades service was when much the smaller 'Lynx' fastferry craft were re-introduced. They covered annual dry dockings of the HSS craft and operated exlusively during certain shoulder seasons as part of efforts to stave off high running cost of the craft when laid-up.

Much that that HSS had its positives, as an avid ferry enthusiast, the end of the conventional ferry era made the ferry scene far quiter but should be returned as a working port. Such custom had provided to pay the bills that assisted in the maintenance costs of the harbour's popular public amenity, the piers!

Future of Harbour: Plans Await And Are Proposed  

It is now more than three years since that final historical HSS Stena Explorer sailing took place in September 2014. The prospect of Dun Laoghaire Harbour Company (DLHC) restoring the link to Wales, through an open E-tendering process to seek a new operator on a seasonal-only basis however appear to be realistically diminishing. This coupled with the recent news by DLHC to redevelop the ferry terminal into a Harbour Innovation Campus.

A major unresolved issue also surrounds Dun Laoghaire Harbour Company's proposed development to construct a dedicated cruise-berth jetty as currently much larger deep drafted ships have to anchor offshore. The plans for the single cruise-berth project proved highly controversial. The environmental lobby compaign group, Save Our Seafront (SOS) in April won its legal case against the decision to grant planning permission by An Bórd Pleanála. 

In response to the court decison, DLHC issued a statement on its cruise berth plans by maintaining its 'Cruise berth facility is on track' as An Board Pleanála seek further information from the state company. The full ramification of this decision were then being fully analysed but the DLHC statement in full is available to consult through this link. 




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 for sailing and boating from the port, making it Ireland's marine leisure capital with a harbour fleet of over 1,200-1.600 pleasure craft.

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

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