Dublin Port Company today hosts the launch of The Dublin Docker, Working Lives of Dublin’s Deep - Sea Port, an illustrated book which recalls the era when thousands of men unloaded and loaded the ships by hand on Dublin Docks. The authors of the book Aileen O’ Carroll and the late Don Bennett excavated the archive of the Dublin Dockworkers Preservation Society to discover a wealth of photographs, spanning the mid-nineteenth century to the 1970s.
The Dublin Docker manages to capture the dockers’ arduous labour and the energy of Dublin Port. These evocative images bring the social history to life, complementing the voices revealed in interviews with the dockers themselves.
Dock work was physically hard and dangerous; coal was unloaded with a “Number 7” shovel which could lift up to 26kg of coal. Grain was shovelled into sacks, the dockers avoiding the fat rats which feasted in to the hulls. Timber beams and bags of cement were carried off on shoulders. Metal ore would make tongues go green.
Although the work was tough the humour which abounded among the dockworkers is evident through the colourful nicknames the men bestowed on one another; RubberLegs Gaffney, StakeLoaf Cummins and Professor Flood. The dangerous work lent itself to strong comradeship amongst dockworkers with the days broken up by song competitions and slagging matches.
For some dock work was the only option in lean times, with students and builders making their way down the docks in the summer months. In the 1960s it is recorded that 2,000 men were employed directly on Dublin docks.
The Dublin Docker is a history of the dockers and their deep-woven connection to the city. How they negotiated working hours and pay, the changes that came with epochal events – the Dublin Lockout, the First World War, the Easter Rising and War of Independence – and the innumerable myths and ‘dark stories’ that shrouded their image.
Commenting on the book Eamonn O ‘Reilly, Chief Executive, Dublin Port Company, said: “The Port has such a rich and vibrant history, we are thrilled to be able to support The Dublin Docker, which gives a voice to those men that were the lifeblood of the Port for so long. With the appointment of a Heritage Officer we can now bring more stories like this to life and honour the work of those that lay the foundation of what the Port is now and is set to become.”
Speaking at the launch, the co-author Aileen O’Carroll said: “As a Port city, Dublin owes much to the labourers who strove against the heavy-duty tide of imports and exports; a league of thousands who were hired on a day-to-day basis for generations, defining the bustle of Dublin city centre. The Dublin Docker is an illustrated history that determines the dockers’ and stevedores’ importance as an industrial subculture within the Dublin that they navigated.”