Let’s not forget our shipping in docks revamp

As our docklands undergo a radical transformation, MAURICE O’BRIEN harks back to the days when the area was a hive of trading activity — and says we should retain some of those commercial links while we plough ahead with plans for the future
Let’s not forget our shipping in docks revamp

TRADING HUB: A busy docklands scene at Cork’s Penrose Quay in January, 1929

HORGAN’S Quay in Cork city is a hive of construction activity. A crane swings high over the former goods yard near to the waterfront where new builds will include a hotel, office block, urban accommodation and leisure centre.

As with nearby Penrose Quay, this is all part of a wider landscape transformation along the docklands.

Horgan’s Quay was an integral part of our once busy city port. Large vessels lay at its wharf, loading or unloading. Fruit ships, known popularly in Cork as the ‘banana boats’, berthed at the quay from the late 1960s until the early 1980s.

The London-registered Brecon Beacon, the then longest ship to dock at the quays, moored here in 1966 before transferring across stream to the South Jetties. The renowned Texas Clipper, a U.S. passenger liner turned cadet training ship, visited Horgan’s Quay on two occasions and hundreds of Corkonians boarded on her open days. Naval ships on courtesy call availed of this quay and welcomed aboard an eager public.

The tide of time may have eroded the fact that Horgan’s Quay is named after John J. Horgan (1881-1967), a remarkable man who for all of 49 years was a member of the Cork Harbour Commissioners. In 1955, he delivered a talk to the Statistical and Social Inquiry Society of Ireland. In the course of it he addressed a question being voiced even in the 1950s — namely, whether all port activities should be relocated to the lower harbour.

Mr Horgan had this to say: “Certain vociferous critics believe (in)… closing the Upper Harbour or River Port, deepening the quay accommodation at Cobh, and concentrating all portal services there. These people have neither considered, nor perhaps even realised, that such a policy would involve the virtual closing down of Cork city and the transference of its inhabitants and industries to Cobh, a feat worthy of Aladdin himself.”

For reasons that were certainly valid in his day, Mr Horgan was against such a move.

Cork had been a city port for centuries, originally servicing imports and exports as far upstream as the Coal Quay on the north channel and Sullivan’s Quay on the south. A majestic waterway, unparalleled in scenery and with a well dredged channel links Loch Mahon to the city. It was unthinkable until recent years that the Cork Quays with all their related infrastructure would be dismantled.

Adjacent to Penrose Quay was the location of the B&I Line whose ship Innisfallen provided three sailings a week from there to Fishguard, carrying many an emigrant in the days when the sea was the only travel mode from Cork to the U.K.

The South Jetties were the unloading point for coal and grain, the latter conveyed to the towering silos nearby. One of the silos, that of R. & H. Hall, has been marked for preservation to identify the former land use of the area.

Myriads of men worked as dockers and the quays were a huge source of employment and a prime contributor to city life. This contribution was not just in terms of economy but also of culture. The visuals of such a busy port were a daily delight to onlookers. The sight of a large ship turning in the river, assisted by tugboat and under the watchful eye of the Harbour Master standing on the quayside, was unforgettable for ship spotters or even casual strollers along the open docklands.

All ports tend to move downstream over time and in 1969 the new car ferry service to South Wales begun from purpose-built docks in Tivoli. This was followed at Tivoli by a container ship terminal which presently accommodates vessels up to around 150 metres in length.

The development of the deep-water berths at Ringaskiddy for still larger ships and the transfer there of all ferry services brought the port further downstream.

The Port Development Plan envisages the relocation of virtually all port activity from the city and Tivoli to extended docklands under construction at Ringaskiddy. While Tivoli jetties are still busy, shipping at the city quays has already dwindled to a fraction of former tonnage.

Ship size and cargo type have changed ports and Cork is no exception. The question remains as to whether it is appropriate to relinquish the city port altogether, thus closing an era which has been central to city life.

Having no commercial shipping upstream from Blackrock Castle would represent a radical change in maritime affairs in Cork.

It seems desirable that some shipping be retained at the city long term. Small to medium general cargoes could certainly be accommodated.

Given the rich heritage of Cork Harbour, there are opportunities for well-equipped tour vessels to be based at the quays and for cruise ships up to a certain length to be attracted to the city docks.

The Port Marina at South Custom House Quay is a welcome development and the sight of sail in the upper river is something to be encouraged. A combination of these elements would not replace the once thriving dockland, nor would it necessarily be wise to do so.

It would, however, retain a valuable dimension in a city whose coat of arms proclaims it to be: Statio Bene Fida Carinis; A Safe Harbour for Ships.

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