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A Saltwater Foray

A Saltwater Foray

Alison Alderton ventures onto tidal waters to cross Dublin Bay.

In 1800 there were proposals to link Dublin with the seaside resort and port of Dún Laoghaire by an 8km canal. Surveyed by William Jessop, costs were high and the idea was shelved. In 1833 William Cubbit re-addressed the subject proposing a lateral canal running along the shoreline of Dublin Bay.

Despite being a cheaper solution, with the arrival of the railways this was soon dismissed. To reach Dún Laoghaire by boat today involves a salt water foray and as more boaters embark on the Green & Silver route, Ireland’s first waterway loop, many are now taking time out when reaching Dublin to explore what lies beyond the canal’s lock gates.

Whether entering Dublin from the Grand or Royal Canal, boaters need to liaise with Waterways Ireland to access the tidal River Liffey as this is only possible at certain states of the tide.


View of the Liffey from Grand Canal Docks
It was a warm summer’s day when my barge and crew undertook the journey; leaving the safe confines of the Grand Canal Docks and motoring downstream, the city skyline created a spectacular backdrop as we passed the O2 Arena and The Wheel, the retired lightship, Kittiwake and beneath the East Link Bridge to Poolbeg Marina, in the heart of the working docks. We had booked a berth here opposite the cruise ship moorings and when we arrived Azura was in port.

Moored opposite cruise ship Azura in Poolbeg
From Poolbeg there are no tidal restrictions when entering the sea, making it the ideal location for coastal explorations. We chose to depart early on a beautifully calm morning informing Dublin’s harbour master of our intentions by VHF radio. With the all clear to depart, the Liffey carried us past busy cargo and container docks, the twin-towers of the power station which act as a well-known landmark for boaters and towards the open sea.

Passing container ships on the tidal Liffey
We raced alongside the Isle of Man fast-cat for all of a few seconds before being left standing in a bubbling wash of foam. Fishermen threw us waves as we passed Poolbeg Lighthouse perched at the end of the protective South Bull Wall and emerged into the wide expanse of Dublin Bay.

Poolbeg Lighthouse
Dwarfed by ferries and cargo ships we followed the marked channel to buoy number four before turning southwest and heading towards Dún Laoghaire.

Once clear of the marked channel, we were able to fish for mackerel and try to spot the resident pod of dolphins. Unfortunately we never did see them but smacks of jellyfish and flocks of diving gannets kept us entertained as did the amazing views of the Dublin Mountains. With calm weather, we decided to make the most of our time in the bay heading south along the coast passing Sandy Cove and on towards Sorrento Point.


Fishing in Dublin Bay
Finally, with an increasing breeze, we turned towards the safety of Dún Laoghaire, which is accessible at all times. Approaching we were surrounded by a flotilla of youngsters in sailing dinghies. Surprised at seeing a barge on the sea they had come to investigate and with a hail of questions excitedly escorted us into the harbour.


Dun Laoghaire Harbours west wall

We were allocated a mooring in the huge marina which has over 800 berths. Those for visitors are situated on the outside pontoons close to the fishing harbour. The comings and goings of the fleet and the inquisitive resident seals make it entertaining, though it is quite a walk to reach the main facilities and dry land where access in and out is by fingerprint recognition.

Fisherman and seal in Dun Laoghaire Harbour
Dún Laoghaire harbour was designed by Scottish engineer John Rennie and constructed using local stone from Dalkey Quarry between 1817 and 1842. Considered to be one of the finest artificial harbours in the world, it is easy to see why. It is vast, home to several prestigious yacht clubs and with the sun shining and the harbour busy it exudes a Mediterranean ambience.

Yachts in Dun Laoghaire Harbour
There is a pleasant walk along the seafront to Sandy Cove where the Martello Tower houses a museum dedicated to James Joyce. This, along with the nearby Forty Foot bathing place, feature in his much-praised book Ulysses.

Martello Tower and Forty Foot bathing place
The small town of Dalkey with its castle and heritage centre is also worth visiting, whilst the Dalkey Quarry can be reached by taking ‘The Metals’ a walkway following the original line of a funicular railway system used for transporting the quarried stone to the harbour.

While it may take a little effort to reach, with the correct type of craft, suitable weather conditions and some navigational research this Dublin Bay port makes an exciting diversion for boaters visiting Dublin via the inland waterways.

Useful Information

Dún Laoghaire lies on the south shore of Dublin Bay approximately 12km from the city centre. From 1821 to 1920 it was known as Kingstown

Navigation Issues:

It is vital that all inland waterway boaters contact their insurance company before embarking on any coastal exploration as certain terms and conditions may apply.

Dublin Port

An information booklet entitled “Dublin Bay Guidance Notes for Leisure Craft” can be downloaded in pdf form from the Information Centre section on the following website

For details on navigating Dublin Bay try:

Imray’s Irish Sea Pilot by David Rainsbury

Dún Laoghaire Marina

Dún Laoghaire Harbour Company

Inland Waterways Association of Ireland (IWAI) Dublin Branch

Poolbeg Marina

Waterways Ireland

For more general information on what to see and do in Dún Laoghaire try:

This article was first published in Towpath Talk, the UK’s number one read for all waterways users (July 2014) and is reproduced here with their kind permission.

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