According to the Heritage Boat Association, the Guinness jetty on the Liffey was built in 1873, but the first steamer, the Lagan, was built in 1877. The Guinness Storehouse‘s fact sheet confirms the 1873 date, but is vague about when the first boats were built. So why the four-year gap? Why would Guinness build the jetty before it had the boats to use it?
At the half-yearly meeting of the proprietors of the Midland Great Western Railway Company, held on 7 September 1876, the Chairman (Sir Ralph Cusack) said that the largest trader on the Royal Canal (owned by the MGWR) was about to retire from business because of ill health. Sir Ralph said:
[…] it might be very inconvenient to persons in the country, who carry on the canal materials that are not exactly suited for a railway, such as coals, timber, slates, bricks, etc. […] it is therefore our intention to commence — perhaps in a small way at first — carrying with a couple of boats on the canal, so as to relieve the railway of this rough kind of traffic, and at the same time to benefit the country through which the canal runs. [Irish Times 8 September 1876]
Sir Ralph said that the company had ordered a small steamer:
We don’t propose that the steamer shall carry goods, but we propose to have a few small tugs similar to those used by Sir Arthur Guinness on the Liffey to draw laden boats. […] we will begin in a small way and see what way the thing will do. We cannot lose very much by it. We are getting one small tug, and I suppose we will get another.
So in 1876, one year before the Lagan was built, Guinness was using dumb barges, towed by small tugs, on the Liffey.