Writes Leo McMahon
Well worth visiting at any time, Passage West Maritime Museum reopens next Wednesday, May 19th and an absolute must is its new exhibition ‘200 Years of Royal Victoria Dockyard’.
Twenty-eight stunning posters highlight remarkable stories over the centuries associated with ship building, repairs, scrapping, cargo trading, special projects and other activities at the dockyard located in the original Port of Cork and birthplace of Ireland’s steamship industry. The special feature of the exhibition is a magnificent model of the dockyard with dry docks as it would have looked in 1922 crafted by Kevin O’Connor.
Dockyard activity in Passage West grew rapidly from the late 1700s as increasing numbers of large ships came to anchor for the loading and unloading from barges that sailed up and down the Lee to and from the then shallower city quays. One poster shows that in 1872 alone, over 220 vessels discharged or loaded off Passage West.
There were several ship building yards in the area during the boom years of the late 19th and early 20th century and the former Royal Victoria Dockyard is a permanent reminder of that period.
Great credit is due to Jim Murphy and Robert Allison for collating the information for the beautiful posters designed by Joe Healy who devoted many hours colorizing the many interesting photographs.
Pic Committee-A Haulbowline Industries social committee (l-r) front Mick Gorman, Con Lynch, Danny O'Riordan. Back Johnny Coughlan, Tony Depuis, Sonny Hanlon, John Smith and Jim Murphy. Pic: Joe Healy
The first proprietors at the site in 1812 were Henry and William Brown (later joined by John and Henry Craig), who built dry docks in 1833 and 1855 and whose legacy, along with Sir John Arnott, included Dock Cottages and a library for its workers. Queen Victoria named the dockyard on a visit to Cork in 1849 as denoted by a plaque to be seen on the wall at Dock Street.
Subsequent owners were John J Jacobs and Co (1898), Queenstown Dry Docks, Shipbuilding and Engineering Co headed up by Alexander McOstrich, Oliver Piper, John and Joseph Jacobs (1909), Oliver Piper (1909), Furness Whithy and Co (1917) and William Beardmore and Co, Glasgow (1929).
From 1935, it was run by Haulbowline Industries established by Austin Orlando (A.O.) Hill, who prior to that, worked on the scrapping of the liner ‘SMS Celtic’ which sank off Roche’s Point in 1928. It was continued after his passing in 1972 by his long serving manager Con Lynch who was joined by A.O.’s sons Landy (Orlando) and David Hill and later grandson Roger Hill.
The exhibition charts the different roles of the dockyard) from the 19th century onwards including the building, repair or scrapping of commercial vessels cable ships, barges, paddle steamers, dredgers, tenders, trawlers and naval ships.
Several well known vessels associated with the harbour and dockyard are also featured including the harbour tender and excursion vessel ‘Morsecock’ and the barge ‘4E’ built in Passage West in 1895 and still in service today at Lough Derg. There’s also a poster about the landing of Free State troops at the harbour on August 8th, 1922 during the Civil War.
In a locality that was otherwise suffering decline, Haulbowline Industries provided valuable employment to many Passage West and Cork Harbour families over many decades and boasted a vast array of skilled workers including burners and crane drivers.
In addition to ship breaking, salvage and export of scrap, there was exporting or importing of herring, salt, grain, animal feed, woodchip, timber and other products plus warehousing.
Haulbowline Industries was also engaged in a number of notable outside projects concerning the new Parnell Bridge in Cork in 1971, the Gas pipeline linking Mahon and Little Island in 1975, repair of the River Barrow Bridge, the NET (later IFI) fertilizer plant at Marino Point in 1977 and even the scrapping of a Dutch passenger plane that crashed at Shannon in the 1954 and the ill-fated Delorean cars made in Belfast in the ‘seventies. All are featured on the posters.
There’s an excellent selection of photographs of dockyard employees at work and socially, which will rekindle many happy memories, especially a group one taken in February 1955 with snow on the hill of Carrigaloe in the background.
Howard Holdings acquired the extensive dockyard site in 2006 for a mixed property development that failed to transpire and since 2015 it has been leased to the Doyle Group/Burke Shipping.
Several permanent exhibits associated with the dockyards, kindly donated to the maritime museum, are also on view, These include the bow of the ship ‘Irish Elm’ by John O’Connor and a framed collage of photographs from 1899 plus tools of shipyard workers.
For anyone with even the slightest interest in or association with Cork Harbour, ‘200 Years of Royal Victoria Dockyard’ is a must see exhibition. It illustrates the truly rich and almost forgotten heritage of the Lower Harbour which thankfully is being promoted and preserved at the maritime museum overseen by a voluntary committee that opened in 2018 with the support of Cork County Council and others.
The committee is very grateful to various sponsors (who will be acknowledged) and supporters of the exhibition which will run for about two months. It will be followed later this summer by the exhibition ‘War of Independence Local Heroes’.
Passage West Maritime Museum is open from next Wednesday, May 19th. Check its Facebook page for opening hours. Admission €2. Members and ‘Friends’ welcome.