22 Jan 2022

The troubled history of Dundalk Port

Local History

The troubled history of Dundalk Port

The story of the sinking of the S.S. Connemara passenger ship out of Greenore on a stormy night on November 3, 1916, which I wrote about a couple of weeks ago, has reminded me that the trade of Dundalk Port had long been the mainstay of the whole area around the town.

This connection reinforced by something I read about the notes left me by the late Tom McDevitte which I mentioned last week.

An interesting lecture by Professor Paul Gosling which I heard some years ago showed the local port trade to have been ongoing from at least the thirteenth century. He had related the story of a ship belonging to a merchant from Dundalk carrying a cargo of wine which was seized in the port of Carlisle by the agents of Edward 1 to provision his army which was subduing the Scots prior to the Battle of Bannockburn. Professor Gosling had detailed the sort of goods that being imported and exported from Dundalk around that period and these cargoes included livestock. The same was true of the period Oliver Cromwell's attack on Drogheda and later during the Williamite Wars around the time of the Battle of the Boyne.

Tom McDevitte, writing for the Dundalk Democrat, under the pen name 'Roamer', in February 1977, brought the same story up to the nineteenth century when he wrote ---

'The Dundalk Steam Packet Company began operations from Dundalk to Liverpool in September 1826, mainly for livestock and cargo but passengers were carried up to the end of the Great War in 1918.

Some of the cattle exporters were dissatisfied with the rates charged and a local man, Peter Russell, formed a another company, the Dundalk and Midland S.P. Company in 1856, providing a twice weekly service for cattle, cargo and passengers from Russell's Quay (which about where Mark Deary's Spirit Store licensed premises is today) from Dundalk to Liverpool. To put it mildly, the staff of the new company were so enthusiastic for traffic that they went out the road, beyond the town, met the cattle as they were being driven to the Port and, with the help of a few ash plants, “coaxed” them, on to their ship.

The Dundalk S.P. Co. retaliated by similar methods and even the directors (of both companies) were involved in fisticuffs at times. Eventually the Dundalk S.P. Company bought out their rivals but not before they had bribed the passengers with liberal liquid refreshments and brought the single fare down to sixpence.'

I wonder does that account remind readers for the old movie stories about the Mississippi gambling paddle steamers' trade of the same period?

I began my own working career with the old Connick's coal importing company, then owned by Kelly's of Belfast, at the Quays in the early 1950s. At that time 'Coal was King' in the local trade at the Quays but the Port was busy with other goods, including timber and molasses.

There was, however, still a considerable trade in livestock exporting by the B. & I. Shipping Company to Liverpool and the twice weekly cattle sales at the local auctioneers' sales yard at Quay Street was 'big business'.

This trade declined with the advent of the Common Market but, I wonder, could this livestock trade be revived again with the implementation of Brexit?

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