Intertidal Infrastructural.

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Stone Beacon on the River Boyne   [Peter Goulding, Pete’s Irish Lighthouse]

Session Chair: Dr. Elizabeth Shotton

Dr Elizabeth Shotton is currently Director of Research, Innovation and Impact in the UCD School of Architecture, Planning and Environmental Policy. She teaches in construction technology and design studio, with an emphasis on sustainable building and development, at both undergraduate and graduate level. Elizabeth’s research interests are closely linked to teaching, with a focus on the sustainable use of material resources through advances in materials, construction technologies and design processes. She is currently working on an IRC funded project Minor Harbours, examining the evolution of maritime engineering in small harbours along the east coast of Ireland from the seventeenth century to the present.


‘Keeping commerce afloat and thieves at bay: Ireland’s ‘wet docks’ as sites of 19th century intertidal infrastructure and social engineering’

Professor William M Taylor, School of Architecture, Landscape and Visual Arts, University of Western Australia.

Docklands in Irish port cities redeveloped for housing, offices and retail typically reveal little of their history as sites of former industry and associated social, political and environmental dynamics at the water’s edge. Redevelopment tends to aestheticize dock waters, requiring becalmed reservoirs for capital and consumers of condominiums and the odd jet-ski.  Nonetheless, here, as elsewhere in northern Europe, the sites contain the remains of 19th century engineering works, including monumental quays, locks and ‘wet docks’ whereby intertidal zones were once radically transformed to facilitate commerce of a particular kind.  Wet docks were artificial basins, enclosed and commonly securitised, into which ships could be moved at high-tide and kept afloat behind barrages, locks and warehouse walls.  Thus, greater numbers of vessels could be accommodated in ports at one time, trade enlarged, and cargoes handled in a controlled and ‘commodious’ manner, protected from the vicissitudes of tides, winds and waves of thievery—or so it was believed.

The principle model for the infrastructure came from developments in the East End of London during the late Georgian era and exemplars such as the walled basins on the Isle of Dogs (opened in 1802), Blackwall (1806), and Wapping (1815). The subject of celebrationist or ‘progressivist’ histories of London’s port in the early 20th century—interpreted as harbingers of modern urban planning and functional architecture—the wet docks were contentious in their day, proving to be spaces of contested authority and confronting a marine environment that proved resistant to control.  In Ireland, wet docks were either proposed and rejected or completed, as in Dublin, with the St. George’s Docks built on the north side of the Liffey (1821), Belfast (1837), Cork (1850) and Limerick (1853).  This paper seeks to describe circumstances encouraging or impeding the importation of the intertidal infrastructure from London to Ireland.  Circumstances include the enlargement of the design expertise of engineers and architects involved in dock construction in Britain’s empire. They include the challenge posed by wet docks to the monopolistic privileges of some stakeholders involved in shipping and seaside commerce and the rising power of others such as government chartered dock companies and their shareholders.   Wet docks were also one element in a rapidly evolving moral equation governing relations between port communities, labour and material goods.


‘Encouraging the Making for a Safety for Ships…’: Ballycastle Harbour, County Antrim.

Livia Hurley, University College Dublin.

This paper tells the story of Hugh Boyd’s creation of a new harbour to serve collieries, salt-pans and glassworks on the shoreline at Ballycastle. The remnants of these artefacts are just about tangible today and, like much of Ireland’s coastal edge, they constitute those worn down elements imperceptible from the landside but still forming the imprint of a seaward architecture and archaeology.

In the zeitgeist of the so-called ‘improvement’ era and the age of the Ascendancy, Boyd’s ambition was to break the cartel of Whitehaven coal merchants in Dublin through the development of the Ballycastle Colliery, Salt Works & Company, cutting seams into the cliff-face at Fair Head and new salt-pans below Devil’s Churn. Timber piers and landing stages along the colliery shore were connected by a horse-drawn tramway to a harbour and inner dock, built in 1748 by the engineer Thomas Steers with input from Thomas Burgh and substantial grants from the Irish parliament. Like Donaghadee’s early seventeenth-century harbour, Ballycastle was constructed with wooden box-piles and rubble masonry, eventually devastated by shipworm and replaced in solid stonework by the architect Christopher Myers in 1760. Boyd’s glass industry and bleach greens capitalized on its success but the harbour’s decline was ultimately as rapid as its triumph; disinterested inheritors and the loom of Belfast forced its demise, silting up as a mudflat by the end of the century. Memorialized in local culture, a reminder of its absence is heightened and revealed at the ebb of the tide.

Drawing from a range of sources spanning maps, drawings and estate correspondence, this story charts the mayfly existence of the little harbour as well as its later iterations, and records the residue of the forgotten industries before their final erosion and surrender to the sea.