Dredging the Docks, 1963

Since Galway Docks were first constructed, they have undergone many changes. In the decade before the last world war, when transalantic liners were regular callers at the port, and when a fairly thriving coastal trade was being carried out, plans were prepared for the port so that Galway might cater more efficiently for sea traffic. There was a major scheme to build the Dún Aengus dock, the new pier, and to deepen the channel from 1937 to 1939. This meant the removal of thousands of tons of mud, soft materials, and granite. Most of this material was dumped near Hare Island. The work took longer than it should, mostly because of industrial disputes, but it was finally completed in 1939. Two units of the contractor’s equipment, a rock breaker and a floating crane, lay in the Commercial Dock throughout the war years.

In the 1950s, there were two docks, the larger one being the Commercial Dock with its own entry gates near the end of Long Walk. The smaller but deeper Dún Aengus Dock was nearer the railway station.

In the early sixties, it was becoming evident that further improvements were needed. This would really be a continuation of the earlier works. These improvements would include the deepening of the Commercial Dock, the surveying and dredging of the channel, the provision of cargo transit buildings, the need to build false quay walls, the replacement of the Dún Aengus dock gates, and a lot of road resurfacing. Much of the silt taken from the bottom of the docks was found to be wholly composed of sewage sludge. The port was one where travellers' greetings were exchanged beside 'the most ugly pile of tumbledown sheds imaginable and awful heaps of rusted ironworks, rotted wood, and junk scattered about in grass-grown and weed-grown areas that everywhere told of stagnation'.

So on September 5, 1963, the Minister for Transport and Power, Erskine Childers, ceremonially pulled a lever that would set in motion the operations that would complete the £340,000 stage 2 of the harbour development scheme. Zinc had been discovered in Tynagh and the company in charge, Irish Base Metals, finally gave its preference to Galway as its export port. The company would bring between four and five hundred tons of concentrates per day to Galway port by truck and built circular buildings, approximately 60 feet in height, with a storage capacity of 12,000 tons.

And so the biggest clean-up the docks had ever seen began. There were regular blasts of dynamite and a seemingly endless traffic of enormous carriers hauling rocks and rubble away which gradually improved the whole area, and made the port a lot more efficient. The era of unloading cargo from ships on to horses and carts was about to change.

Our photograph from 1963 shows the floor of the dock with a rockbreaker on the left at work and a crane behind a pile of boulders about to load one of those rock-carriers. The building on the corner top left of the photograph belonged to a Mr CC Copeland who was a member of the Harbour Commissioners. The building on the corner opposite was Faherty's Pub, later to become known as Delargy's. Eddie McGivern lived in one of the houses next to it.

Listen to Tom Kenny and Ronnie O'Gorman elaborating on topics they have covered in this week's paper and much more in this week's Old Galway Diary Podcast.

 

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