Irish Ships and Shipping

DROGHEDA  DOCKS  in the 1940s and 50s

by Warren Nelson

In the drab post WWII years before children had the electronic means of entertaining themselves into unreality Drogheda Docks was a wonderland of activity, noise and smell. We lived on the Chord Road and could be in dockland in minutes simply by descending Catherine Steps, eighty or ninety stone steps. The docks were 'open' and with no regard for modern safety standards we children could go wherever we liked.

Small self-contained steam cranes bustled along their own rail tracks by the quayside unloading coal in large bins from black colliers, it was all rattle and the hiss of steam and the glow of the fires under their boilers. Other ships unloaded general cargoes, large sacks containing unknowable chemicals and compounds, machinery, crates of whatever and constantly there were beams of cotton yarn for the local textile factories, with empties waiting to go back to Lancashire as the full ones came off the ships.

 But the biggest, noisiest and smelliest trade in those years was in cattle for England and horses for the Continent. It seemed as if every animal in the surrounding counties was being exported to feed post-war Europe. The large holding-pens ('lairage') would fill up prior to sailing day and we lived with the lowing of cattle, day and night, a lot of the time. Then a day of frantic activity as cattle were driven loose on the docks and up heavy gangways into the ship's side, horses went more quietly.  For a while after the war there was a trade in old bulls, we watched this with a mix of curiosity and a little apprehension. The dockers draped old sacks over the bulls' heads so that they couldn't see, and in that way could be driven more easily.  On one occasion I saw a bull escape, this turned mild apprehension into definite fear, blindly he careered around for a while and then fell (dived!) into the river. Resourcefully someone organised a row boat and 'swam' him across the river to Ship Street on the southern side where the road has a slipway into the river.

    Invermore   Dundalk in the backround and the Lady Boyne in the foreground.    

Out of those years a handful of ships are memorable to me. There was the Invermore from Arklow, she must surely have been the last sailing ship, of hundreds, to come into Drogheda as a working boat. I remember asking the crew what they were carrying and they said "Bananas"  . . . . Well it's what you'd tell an eight year old boy isn't it?  I suspect with hindsight it was probably fertilizer or such like. A mysterious presence at Drogheda's docks was the hulk of the Lady Boyne, a ship from Victorian times that lay abandoned on the river. She was reputedly made of concrete, which I believe, and, it was said, had sailed to China, which I doubt.  

Regular arrivals at Drogheda, possibly week about, were the Dutch ships, Theano and Trito  they brought copra (coconut pulp) to the Oil & Cake Mills as an ingredient for cattle feedstuff. And what a strong sweet smell pervaded the town when the copra was being handled.  What I remember about them is that they were almost the width of the river in length, they berthed on the south quays and when either of them were turning you could almost reach out and touch it from the north quays. Talking of Dutch boats a small incidence comes to mind, a Dutch boat was tied up at the quayside, complete with its Dutch red, white and blue flag, and alongside a small 'choir' of  patriotic Irish boys were singing:

          Green, white and yellow, Good old Irish fellow

But I expect it was lost in translation on the Dutch sailors.

The one ship that conjures up memories of Drogheda docks for anyone in the war years was the B+I Dundalk

I think she was a weekly visitor on the Drogheda - Liverpool run. Black and white, dumpy and busy and still new looking then (she was launched in 1939) with her lime to soapy-green funnel, she served us well. I hope there are others who will be able to tell stories of her war-time crossings. Apart from remembering all the activity when she was in:  the general cargo and the cattle trade, for which she had especially large doors in her side, I also have one personal memory. My father, how I don't know, was a friend of her Captain and he gave my father a beautiful model yacht, blue and white with silk sails. It was about a metre long and, wonderfully, the hull was carved out of a single piece of wood with a deep lead keel.  My father said that the Captain had time to carve it during all those tedious crossings.  Finally I remember in later years, possibly well into the 1950s a local man was killed in an accident with a hawser on the Dundalk while she was docked in Drogheda.

  Dundalk   Model of the M. V. Dundalk build by Warren Nelson 2007    

I attended Drogheda Grammar School and the School adopted the Irish Shipping's Irish Rose, possibly through the interest of John De Courcy Ireland who was a teacher there in those days. We were brought up to Dublin for a visit and shown all over the ship, but as a boy I remember the orange juice and biscuits we were given more than any technicalities. I moved from Drogheda in my late teens and the port has, of course, grown greatly in throughput and complexity since then, but I have one final humorous little picture of the port in my mind. Sometime in the late 1950s or early 60s the Harbour Commissioners got a new dredger, the Tredagh, in place of the old steam driven one. All the local industries presented the new boat with gifts of one sort or another to mark its launch, and the Greenmount and Boyne Linen Company  gave one of their best shiny white damask tablecloths. Can you picture the crew  covered in river mud sitting down for dinner at a table resplendent with a white damask cloth?      

©Warren Nelson 2006

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