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A Galway Port Scheme in Ulysses

16th June 2022
A model of the 1858 Indian Empire which was the largest ship up to that time to enter the port of Galway and her arrival was widely anticipated.
A model of the 1858 Indian Empire which was the largest ship up to that time to enter the port of Galway and her arrival was widely anticipated

In Ulysses Mr Deasy, headmaster of a private school, writes to the newspapers complaining that he knows of a cure for foot and mouth disease but nobody in authority will listen to him. Mr Deasy grandly compares his nebulous proposal to a major project from the 1850s which aimed to attract a growing transatlantic passenger traffic to Galway. Deasy calls to mind the “Liverpool ring which jockeyed the Galway harbour scheme” and describes himself as “surrounded by difficulties, by… intrigues, by… backstairs influence”.

The Galway Harbour scheme was no creation in a novelist's mind. Sixty years before Ulysses there was such a project and James Joyce was well informed about it. The project’s driving force was a dynamic priest named Fr. Peter Daly. Fr. Daly undertook various religious and welfare projects in Galway during the famine years and later involved himself in public life. He was a director of the Galway Gas Company and Chair of Galway Town Commissioners. As a board member of Midland & Great Western Railway Fr. Daly was instrumental in ensuring that the railway did not, as intended, end at Rahoon but reached Galway. He went on to ensure and oversee the construction of the then largest hotel in Ireland at Eyre Square.

Fr. Daly was also a member of Galway Harbour Commissioners and he sought to extend the new railway out to a proposed deep-water passenger facility at Furbo. He saw this as the final link in a chain which would allow ship-owners to offer a through-fare from Hamburg and points along the way across England and Ireland to New York. Such operators would have both a speed and a price advantage which would draw transatlantic traffic into Galway.

All his life Joyce was superstitious about dates and 16th June had special significance for him because it was on 16th June 1904 that he and Nora, his future wife, first walked out together in Dublin. That is why he places Ulysses in Dublin on 16th of June 1904 and why Bloomsday is celebrated around the world each year on 16th June. It is also why he was fascinated by the Galway Harbour scheme for which 16th June 1858 would prove portentous.

Later in Ulysses another voice speaks to the same subject when the putative Skin-the-Goat, keeper of the Cabman’s Shelter on Dublin’s Customs House Quay, laments the state of shipping in Ireland:

“ What he wanted to ascertain was why that ship ran bang against the only rock in Galway Bay when the Galway Harbour scheme was mooted…Ask her captain….how much palmoil the British Government gave him for that day’s work. Captain John Lever of the Lever line. -Am I right skipper? he queried of the sailor…”

A 1904 cabman's shelterA 1904 cabman's shelter

This is a reference the ship-owner John Orrell Lever who amassed profits chartering ships for the Crimean war and became interested in Galway for the development of a transatlantic passenger service to rival those of Liverpool and the ports of mainland Europe.

Several hundred Irish investors put up capital for his new company known as The Galway Line. The new service began in 1858 with Indian Empire which was the largest ship up to that time to enter the port of Galway and her arrival was widely anticipated.

On 16th June 1858, as two pilots were guiding her to port, Indian Empire grounded on the Margaretta Rock. Two and a half hours later, on a rising tide, the pilots managed to reverse her off and the steamship proceeded to anchorage with slight damage to her hull. She took on coal, cargo and passengers and on 19th June Indian Empire sailed for New York via Halifax.

However, on the day she had docked Captain Courteney, his crew and pilots were brought before an emergency meeting of Galway Harbour Commissioners. Rumours had begun to circulate about the grounding and a hostile crowd gathered. The pilots had to be protected by the police. Newspapers reported comments that the grounding was likely to turn out to be an attempt to wreck the ship in order to destroy the Galway harbour scheme. There was great discussion in public of plots, sabotage and especially “Liverpool gold at work”. Much was made of the fact that Lever had recruited the pilots in England. Reports were relayed outside Ireland as speculation lingered. Criminal charges were begun against the pilots. The sudden death of one of the pilots brought only more rumours and further press reports. Nowadays the position would be described as a publicity storm amplified by the absence of a media strategy and the credibility of the harbour project was diminished.

We know that Joyce was very taken with this tale and it is especially interesting that in Ulysses he leaves the final word on the subject to a sailor, Able seaman Murphy:

That worthy, picking up the scent of the fagend of the song or words, growled in wouldbe music, but with great vim, some kind of shanty…

- The biscuits was as hard as brass,
And the beef as salt as Lot’s wife’s’ arse.
O Johnny Lever!
Johnny Lever O!

Joe Kenny

About The Author

Joe Kenny

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Joe Kenny is a retired accountant who is active in various Joyce reading groups in the Dublin area.

He's a former director of the world-famous Sweny's Joycean Pharmacy in Lincoln Place.

He currently runs an online Joyce Reading Group for people outside Dublin and/or overseas seeking access to Joyce's works.

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Galway Port & Harbour

Galway Bay is a large bay on the west coast of Ireland, between County Galway in the province of Connacht to the north and the Burren in County Clare in the province of Munster to the south. Galway city and port is located on the northeast side of the bay. The bay is about 50 kilometres (31 miles) long and from 10 kilometres (6.2 miles) to 30 kilometres (19 miles) in breadth.

The Aran Islands are to the west across the entrance and there are numerous small islands within the bay.

Galway Port FAQs

Galway was founded in the 13th century by the de Burgo family, and became an important seaport with sailing ships bearing wine imports and exports of fish, hides and wool.

Not as old as previously thought. Galway bay was once a series of lagoons, known as Loch Lurgan, plied by people in log canoes. Ancient tree stumps exposed by storms in 2010 have been dated back about 7,500 years.

It is about 660,000 tonnes as it is a tidal port.

Capt Brian Sheridan, who succeeded his late father, Capt Frank Sheridan

The dock gates open approximately two hours before high water and close at high water subject to ship movements on each tide.

The typical ship sizes are in the region of 4,000 to 6,000 tonnes

Turbines for about 14 wind projects have been imported in recent years, but the tonnage of these cargoes is light. A European industry report calculates that each turbine generates €10 million in locally generated revenue during construction and logistics/transport.

Yes, Iceland has selected Galway as European landing location for international telecommunications cables. Farice, a company wholly owned by the Icelandic Government, currently owns and operates two submarine cables linking Iceland to Northern Europe.

It is "very much a live project", Harbourmaster Capt Sheridan says, and the Port of Galway board is "awaiting the outcome of a Bord Pleanála determination", he says.

90% of the scrap steel is exported to Spain with the balance being shipped to Portugal. Since the pandemic, scrap steel is shipped to the Liverpool where it is either transhipped to larger ships bound for China.

It might look like silage, but in fact, its bales domestic and municipal waste, exported to Denmark where the waste is incinerated, and the heat is used in district heating of homes and schools. It is called RDF or Refuse Derived Fuel and has been exported out of Galway since 2013.

The new ferry is arriving at Galway Bay onboard the cargo ship SVENJA. The vessel is currently on passage to Belem, Brazil before making her way across the Atlantic to Galway.

Two Volvo round world races have selected Galway for the prestigious yacht race route. Some 10,000 people welcomed the boats in during its first stopover in 2009, when a festival was marked by stunning weather. It was also selected for the race finish in 2012. The Volvo has changed its name and is now known as the "Ocean Race". Capt Sheridan says that once port expansion and the re-urbanisation of the docklands is complete, the port will welcome the "ocean race, Clipper race, Tall Ships race, Small Ships Regatta and maybe the America's Cup right into the city centre...".

The pandemic was the reason why Seafest did not go ahead in Cork in 2020. Galway will welcome Seafest back after it calls to Waterford and Limerick, thus having been to all the Port cities.

© Afloat 2020

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