Tag Archives: Portobello

The Dublin gondola

Letter in the Irish Times here.


A superb boat or gondola has been recently finished at the Grand Canal, and is painted and decorated in a most elegant manner. It is of a smaller size than the packet boats, and intended for convenience or pleasure of the directors of that great national and useful undertaking, in order to make occasional excursions therein on the different lines of that navigation — it now lies in one of the harbours near the city Bason.

Saunders’s News-Letter 20 April 1795

The elegant gondola which we mentioned to be lying at the Canal Harbour, and to be intended for the use of the Directors, we learn is not for the use of those Gentlemen, but to carry passengers from and to Portobello, to and from the first lock to meet the passage-boats (as lately advertised) and to gratify with a short voyage on the Canal, from Portobello to James’s-street Harbour, such persons as, having no call of business or pleasure towards the county of Kildare, have not otherwise an opportunity of enjoying that gratification, which latter use of the boat is now making by many persons every fine day.

Saunders’s News-Letter 23 April 1795

From the British Newspaper Archive run by Findmypast Newspaper Archive Limited, in partnership with the British Library.

Grand Canal passage-boat

Here is an account, published in 1862, of what it was like to travel from Portobello, in Dublin, to Ballinasloe by the Grand Canal Company’s passage-boats — and of why rail travel was much to be preferred.

Sending gunboats

From the Newcastle Courant 8 December 1843:

WARLIKE PREPARATIONS. — The Penelope steam-frigate has arrived in Kingstown harbour, loaded almost to the water’s edge with large gun-boats. They are intended for the Upper [ie non-tidal] Shannon, and the large lakes formed by that river in its progress towards the lower branch. A considerable number of persons were collected on the banks of the canal to witness their being towed to Portobello from the basin at Ringsend. They are immense boats, with great beam, capable of carrying two guns, and accommodating a large body of men. They are double banked, and each pulled by twelve rowers. As floating batteries they are most formidable, and furnish an important, as well as a novel, addition to the armament already existing in this country.

Grand Canal: propulsion

This is a point that I do not recall seeing before. It arises in a short report from the Freeman’s Journal of 17 July 1876.

SAVED FROM DROWNING. — On Saturday evening a man named Patrick Fitzsimons, while employed with others in getting a canal boat through the lock of the Portobello-bridge, fell into the basin and sank. He rose to the surface in about a minute, and was apparently exhausted, for, after a vain attempt to hold on by the projecting ledge of the boat, he went down again. There now seemed to be great danger of the man’s life being lost, but some of his companions held out one of their long “sweep” oars towards the place where he sank, and when he came up the third time he succeeded in grasping the oar and holding on till he was taken out of the water. He was then in a very weak state, and it appeared very plainly that when he fell into the basin he was not in the best condition to protect himself from accident.

I suspect that the last phrase means that he was drunk. But what is more interesting, at least to me, is that a canal boat was equipped with oars. I do not recall having read that anywhere. But we know little about the design, equipment and operation of nineteenth century canal boats. Oars would certainly be useful for moving around basins and on rivers like the Liffey, but how were the oars pivoted and how many men did it take to row a loaded canal boat?

Steam on the Grand Canal 1877

Freeman’s Journal 25 April 1877


Yesterday Henry L Harty, Esq, county coroner, held an inquest on the body of Patrick Savage, aged 75, who was found drowned in the Grand Canal at Portobello on Monday. The jury found that deceased was found drowned, having a fracture of the skull and jaw, and four ribs; but there was no evidence to show how the injuries were caused. One of the witnesses, named James Rea, of Reilly’s Cottages, Clanbrassil-street, said that previous to his seeing the body floating, a canal boat passed down the canal, and also a small steamer. This, the coroner said, might have caused the injuries.


Dublin City Public Libraries have some nice photos available online. The section on the Port of Dublin includes 1926 aerial photos of the Guinness wharf and of Spencer Dock (not busy) and Grand Canal Dock (including the section beyond the railway line, now filled in). There is also a photo of a steam barge at the Guinness wharf. In the Commercial Dublin section, I saw two businesses beside the Grand Canal, Ever Ready Batteries at Portobello and Gordon’s Fuels at Harold’s Cross.

Dredging Dublin

WI’s funds haven’t altogether run out: it’s looking for contractors to dredge the Circular Line of the Grand Canal between Suir Road and Portobello, and to do so to the “original bed level”. That will be welcomed by boaters. Details here.

Old boats

I’ve set up a new page on which I intend to collect pics showing older Irish inland (and estuarial) working boats. I’ve started it off with a copy of the posting (below) about Portobello and a photo of a yawl at Clonmel; this is a page that will have material added as I come across it.

Nineteenth-century Irish canal boats

Illustrations of early Irish inland waterways vessels are relatively scarce. The drawing below shows the sterns of two of them.

Portobello Harbour 1882

This is from The Graphic of May 13, 1882, and shows the lighting of tar-barrels in Portobello Harbour, on the Grand Canal in Dublin, to celebrate the release from prison of Charles Stewart Parnell and two colleagues.

The layout of the harbour in around 1900 can be seen on the OSI Historic 25″ map. Where were the vessels tied? What are the buildings in the background? What can be said about the vessels? Presumably wooden horse-drawn barges, but they look rather narrow to me. Comments welcome.

The harbour itself is, alas, no more.