If you’ve come to this page after walking from Connolly Station to Newcomen Bridge and then to Cross Guns Bridge, as described on this page, welcome back.
In 1790 the Earl of Westmoreland, the Lord Lieutenant, laid the first stone of a lock at Phibsborough, at what is now Cross Guns Bridge. At the time, the lock and the bridge were named after the Earl, and the Ordnance Survey map of 1907/11 still shows his name (you can switch to the Historic 6″ map, from around 1840, and the Historic 25″, around 1900).
But even the OS map of 1837/44 shows the lock as the fifth, with four more (nos 4, 3, 2 and 1) between that point and the Royal Canal Docks, and another lock, a sea lock, between there and the Liffey. So why did the Earl start at 5 rather than 1?
The answer is that the terminus of the Royal Canal, as originally conceived, was not at the Liffey but at the Broadstone. Indeed, in evidence to the Railway Commissioners, whose Second Report was published in 1838, the Royal Canal Company Engineer, Mr Tarrant, said that the canal had two branches: one went to Longford while the other “branch from the Broadstone level is 2 miles, when it enters the River Liffey”. The line to the Liffey was clearly of less importance; the harbour at the Broadstone was close to the city markets and to many institutions including the Richmond Penitentiary, the Richmond Lunatic Asylum, the North Dublin Union Workhouse, the Female Penitentiary, the Linen Hall and the Queen’s Inns (it’s useful to look around the area on the older Ordnance Survey maps). There was a Royal Canal Hotel at the Broadstone and that was where the (passenger-carrying) passage-boats left from.
As it happens, the Royal Canal Company quickly realised that there was more money to be made from grants for extending the canal to the Liffey, and on 10 April 1809 William Gregory, Secretary to the Directors General of Inland Navigation, certified that
The Extension of The Royal Canal to Coolnahay (six Miles beyond Mullingar) with the Harbour and Aqueduct near Dublin, and the Docks and Communication with the Tide Water in the Liffey are finished.
The phrase “Broadstone Branch” suggests that it was less important than the line from Royal Canal Docks (the Spencer Dock was a later addition, north of the Royal Canal Docks); that’s why I’ve used the phrase “Broadstone Line”. And, thanks to Dublin Corporation, most of the route has been preserved and can still be visited today.
This photo was taken from a car on Whitworth Road, looking (more or less) south. The red and grey building is Dakota Court, a block of flats, which is covering much of the old junction between the Broadstone Line and the Docks Line. Whitworth Road is separated from Dakota Court by the railway and the Royal Canal.
Incidentally, Whitworth Road runs alongside the Porterhouse North pub, north of Cross Guns Bridge, one of the very few Irish pubs that serves any good beer … although there is much to be said for a pint of Guinness in the Gravedigger Kavanagh’s.
Looking south across canal and railway at Dakota Court from Whitworth Road
Having driven a little to the west, turned south to cross Cross Guns Bridge and turned left (east) on to Royal Canal Bank, we can look further east along the front of Dakota Court. The Royal rises particularly steeply from sea level at the Liffey until Blanchardstown: apart from the sea lock (now being restored), there are twelve locks, eight of them doubles (staircase pairs in British canalspeak; in Ireland a double counts as one lock). There are three of them in the stretch from Cross Guns Bridge (behind us here) to Binns Bridge, less than half a mile away to the east. We’re looking at No 4 (you can see the black and white beams) while No 5, opened by the Earl of Westmoreland, is behind us, above Cross Guns Bridge.
Dakota Court flats conceal the junction’s east bank
The flats were built over the eastern edge of the junction with the Broadstone Line. That’s particularly regrettable because there was a dry dock on the bend.
There doesn’t seem to have been any provision for a bridge across the start of the Broadstone Line. Any horse-drawn boat travelling to or from the Docks at the Liffey would have had to either travel at least half way down the Broadstone Line or use the north bank as the towpath between Cross Guns and Binns bridges. If anyone knows how this problem was solved, please let me know.
Dakota Court down to 4th Lock
The western side of the junction is better defined and, as the name of the road is Royal Canal Bank, we can be assured that we’re in the right area. The grassy area was, I suspect, where the canal ran.
The west bank at the junction: Royal Canal Bank (looking south)
There are pay-and-display parking spaces down past the grassy area, so let’s drive down there and park the car. Looking back north from the parking area, we see a white building where the canal used to be. Note also that the road nowadays crosses the canal line here; just out of sight it turns sharp right and climbs to the North Circular Road.
The white building from the car-park
If we walk back north, past the white building, we get a better view of the line of the canal.
Looking north up the line of the canal from behind the white building
Mountjoy Prison is to the right: it’s where, according to Brendan Behan, the old triangle went jingle-jangle along the banks of the Royal Canal. There is a side entrance into the complex here; the photo below is taken from the lane leading towards that entrance, looking north …
Looking north from halfway up
… while the next one is from the same place, looking south, towards the white building again. I think that the dockyard was in to the left at this point, with two dry docks: these were in addition to the dry dock at the junction.
Looking south from halfway up
A quick peek into the prison. I think that the building on the right is a fairly new car park (it’s not on the Google Maps photo, which shows an open car park instead) and that it’s covering the dockyard.
Looking east from halfway up
There’s a mix of old and new houses on the west side of Royal Canal Bank …
Looking west from halfway up 1
… with several lanes leading up through them.
Looking west from halfway up 2
Return to the car-parking area and, facing south, take this lane up to the North Circular Road. Turn around and look back north, to where we’ve just come from.
Looking north up the lane 1
And to the west, we can look along the North Circular Road towards Doyle’s Corner (if it’s still called that).
Looking west to Doyles Corner
What we’re standing on is (or was) Blacquiere Bridge (Sir John Blacquiere was a director of the Royal Canal Company). Google Books will find Ireland Illustrated: from original drawings by George Newenham Wright, 1831, and you can see a drawing, from this bridge, of two turf-boats moving on the Broadstone Line. This is a second shot looking north up the lane, with a corner of the Phibsborough Library on the right.
Looking north up the lane 2
Here is the Library itself: an elegant building, beautifully fitted out inside with wooden shelves and a wooden area for the staff just inside the door. It was very busy when I visited it, but the staff were nonetheless helpful to a stranger. Shortly after it opened in 1936, it was issuing an average of 900 volumes daily, with up to 1500 on Saturdays. We can deduce, I think, that this section of the canal was filled in before 1936, and Ruth Delany in Ireland’s Royal Canal 1789–1992 The Lilliput Press Dublin 1992 says it was infilled in 1927.
Looking north at the Library in the Canal
Library opening hours
This building is to the east of the bridge: note that the Royal Canal Bank, having crossed the canal, emerges beside this building.
The north-east corner of the bridge
Royal Canal Bank nameplate
Here’s a photo taken from outside the library looking south towards Blacquiere Bridge. Had the canal not been infilled, this shot would have shown the water under the bridge (but then the photographer would have got wet).
Looking south from the Library
The next shot is taken from the (north side of the) bridge itself, looking south. The big wall on the right was the State Cinema.
In September 1933 the Lord Mayor of Dublin, Alderman Alfie Byrne TD, opened “Dublin’s new play centre”, a “boon for city children”, a “tasteful park that had now been laid out by the Corporation on what was some six years ago a canal waterway.” It included an enclosed area for children up to the age of fourteen, where they could play in safety. The Carnegie UK Trust had contributed £500 and the keys were presented to Mr Charles E Jacob, Hon Treasurer of the Civics Institute. The making of the park had provided work during a period of high unemployment — and the scheme preserved the line of the canal.
Looking south from the bridge
You can’t drive in from the North Circular Road, but you can walk down the steps by the side of the cinema. There is access for vehicles from further south.
The wall of the cinema dominates the steps
The linear park runs along the left side of Royal Canal Bank.
Royal Canal Bank south of the bridge
Here’s a shot looking back up north to the bridge.
Looking north to the bridge
The whole thing is beautifully kept: a credit to Alfie Byrne and his successors.
Looking south along the linear park
Geraldine Street comes in from the east, dividing the park.
Looking east to Geraldine Street from the Royal Canal Bank
Looking back north along the linear park from Geraldine Street
Looking south along the linear park from Geraldine Street
To the east is the entrance to one of Dublin’s little-known gems, the Blessington Street Basin, completed in 1814, which supplied the north side of Dublin with water drawn from the Royal Canal. It also supplied Bow Street Distillery (originally owned by Haigs and later by Jamesons) until well into the twentieth century. I gather that its tranquillity may have been threatened at one stage ….
The entrance to the Blessington Street Basin
If you spot this remarkable house, you’re opposite the entrance to the basin.
House opposite the basin
The photos of the basin need no commentary.
The Blessington Street Basin 1
The Blessington Street Basin 2
Looking north along the western edge of the basin
Looking towards the south bank of the basin
Looking south-east across the basin
The north-west corner
The north-east corner
Approaching the southern end of the Royal Canal Bank
The line curves towards the (former) aqueduct and the Broadstone
In 1845, the Midland Great Western Railway Company (MGWR) bought the Royal Canal. Doing so allowed it to run its lines beside the canal, which it did most of the way to Mullingar, without having to conduct lengthy negotiations about wayleaves with individual landowners. The company built a terminus at the Broadstone, with a pontoon bridge (which was moved out of the way when boats entered or left the harbour) to provide passengers with access to the station.
In 1877, the company did away with that nuisance by filling in the harbour and adapting the Foster Aqueduct to provide access to the station from a new road, later called Western Way. The canal traders were provided with a turning circle and a wharf on the east side of the former aqueduct and they no longer used the Broadstone.
Triangular patch (part of turning circle?) north of Western Way
The Foster Aqueduct itself was removed in 1951 to allow road-widening, but you can stand on Western Way and try to imagine what it looked like.
Landmark building on the far side of Western Way
Landmark for pedestrian exit to Western Way
Alternatively, you can go to Constitition Hill and visit the Broadstone itself.
Broadstone Avenue off exit to Constitution Hill
I wouldn’t want to suggest that anyone should travel a little further south, turn right and just drive in to the open car park in front of the Broadstone: after all, someone probably owns it. You could walk up this ramp-plus-steps instead.
Pedestrian access to the Broadstone from Phibsborough
At the top, there is a stone edge (the further line of stone in this photo). Could it possibly be a remnant of the line of the canal leading in to the harbour? It’s difficult to be certain from the old maps, but it looks as if the canal widened out somewhat after it had crossed the aqueduct. It then headed south-west before turning south and broadening into the expanse of the harbour, which stretched almost as far south as the Queen’s Inns. There is a copy of an 1818 painting of the harbour on the National Library’s website (HT Michael Slevin).
Possible edge of canal harbour 1
Possible edge of canal harbour 2
There is a statue where I think the aqueduct came in.
The statue on the aqueduct
This next photo is taken from near the statue, looking across to Western Way. The line of the canal is in behind the nearer set of buildings.
Looking from the Broadstone across the absent aqueduct
Turning back inside the harbour area, this photo looks more or less to the south, probably down the harbour. The MGWR terminus building is behind the photographer.
Looking down the harbour
The Broadstone terminus was just one — admittedly the most imposing — of several railway buildings that took over the site. In a way, its splendour proclaimed the victory of the railway over the canal. But its glory was not to last. In September 1929, it was announced that, following the purchase of the Irish Omnibus Company by the Great Southern Railway, the Broadstone terminus was to become a bus garage, with most trains being transferred to Amiens Street. Eventually the trains left altogether.
MGWR HQ 1
MGWR HQ 2
MGWR HQ 3
Back down to street level for another few photographs. This is I think the western abutment of the aqueduct (or part of it).
Street-level view of western abutment (from south)
Street-level view of the statue
Stone beneath the pebbledash
And this is looking across the widened road to where the canal was.
Street-level view of the far side of the aqueduct
Then back up the ramp-and-steps …
The ramp and steps back up
… for a final look at the Broadstone. I know it was responsible for killing a canal, but surely the MGWR building deserves better than this: locked away, practically invisible, and with its immediate surroundings detracting from its appearance. Perhaps these people have the right idea.
Farewell to the Broadstone
My January 2010 review of Ruth Delany’s and Ian Bath’s updated book on the Royal Canal is on the Irish Times website.
There is an account of the Broadstone’s history on the Irish History Podcasts site. You can download a PDF description of recent archaeological excavations, with results relevant to an understanding of the harbour, here.
If you are following the suggested walking route around the Dublin canals, go to this page, which will take you from the abandoned line of the Royal Canal to the abandoned line of the Grand Canal, with some comments on pubs, swimming and Guinness barges along the way.
Another Royal Canal walk, from Dunsink to Broombridge, is described — with a free downloadable podcast — on this site.
If you are down wid da kidz in da technological hood, and know what QR Codes and NFC Tags are, and have one of those newfangled telephone devices, be aware that you get get more information as you visit some places along the Royal Canal; and if you’re still, like me, trying to get to grips with the non-existence of telephones with dials, you can print information in advance from Canals of Dublin, which explains all about the scheme.