Justin Merrigan

From a very early age Dún Laoghaire Harbour has always held a strong fascination for me.

From the age of five when from the back of my father’s car I loved nothing more than to see one of the mailboats at rest on the east side of the Carlisle Pier, through the years until the day when I brought my own children to the harbour to view the operations of high speed craft, the harbour has been my very own place of tranquillity. More recently, in September 2003, I revisited the port from my home in Australia and, despite the addition of the new marina, it was almost as if I’d never left!

During my school years Dún Laoghaire Harbour was my playground. Friendly Harbour Constables and Sealink staff nurtured within me a deep interest in the port’s link with Holyhead, served by countless British Rail, Sealink and later Stena Line ferries. How privileged I was to be permitted to view the ferry operations at such close quarters!

This interest developed to the point where I embarked on a career in the ferry industry, firstly and briefly at sea before moving to port operations at both Dún Laoghaire and Dublin, and then moving to Australia as Public Relations Officer with Incat, builders of the Stena Sea Lynx, built for the Holyhead run in 1993.

I was first introduced to my favourite vantagepoint, the end of the Carlisle Pier, in 1980 at the age of ten. From here I was permitted to view the departure of the route’s penultimate steam turbine ferry, the Avalon. I was hooked!

From this vantagepoint I have since recorded on camera every ferry to have served on the route. And through the years and the various ships I have made lasting friendships with the many Captains, officers and crew members who maintained the crossing day in day out on a year round basis.

How I loved to stand on the end of the Carlisle Pier during the late 1980s and early 1990s, now with a basic understanding of the artform that is ship handling, and watch as the master brought his command gently into the berth. Of course, during the winter months it could be very different! With an easterly gale and low water the master’s every skill was tested as he brought the St Columba alongside, fighting the wind and keeping in mind propeller cavitation with reduced water under his keel.

The departure of the ship was always an exciting time. The pier was a hive of activity, especially in the last 20 minutes or so before sailing. What a scene it was.

The last passengers hurrying for the gangway, as tugmasters swiftly place the last pieces of unaccompanied freight on the vehicle deck. The Piermaster rushes across the causeway from the car ferry compound with the “papers” signifying all is on board and accounted for. Outside the pier gates wellwishers wait as their loved ones wave from the ship’s exterior decks and the gangways and car ramp are taken away.

A cry of “single-up” from the bridge wing and the first wires and ropes are released as a plume of black smoke erupts from the ship’s funnel. Now held by one rope fore and aft, the ship straining to get to sea, the master and chief officer appear on the bridge wing, radar scanner swishing above their heads. “Let Go – Right Time” and before the rope hits the ship’s side the bow thrust and twin screws are already lifting the huge ship away from the granite pier. Moving astern off the berth the ship turns her bow for the harbour mouth and disappears out into Dublin Bay, a course of 100 degrees taking her down to the South Burford Buoy once again.

On the pier an eerie silence always descended. For me it was always a strange experience, the pier, quiet now, when only 30 minutes previously so many people, maybe up to 2000 or even more, had passed through its gates.

Now the Carlisle Pier is quiet once again. But not for long it would seem and I am greatly encouraged to see that regeneration plans are proceeding well. It is my hope that the pier will be redeveloped with a strong understanding of its role since 1857 and will continue to remain a focal point in “My Harbour”.

Living in Hobart, in the Australian Island State of Tasmania, I look back with fondness on my days in and around Dún Laoghaire Harbour. Without hesitation I can safely say the harbour, and the people in it, shaped my life. Indeed my first job was in the port when during school holidays I worked as a boatman in the Royal Irish Yacht Club, ferrying members to their yachts moored in the harbour. Perhaps if the Incat-built Stena Sea Lynx had been deployed to any other Stena Line route in 1993 then I might not be living in the Antipodes!

Justin Merrigan has written other articles regarding the Dún Laoghaire Harbour ferry service, such as the St Columba from Justin Merrigans Sealink-Holyhead Web Site. And that’s not all, Justin has provided a Visual Ferry Gallery showing the many Ferries that have been deployed upon the Dún Laoghaire to Holyhead crossing.

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