Before the 1800s, Passage West was a small fishing village. The town centre was between Penny’s Dock and the Town Hall. The oldest house in the town stood on the site where the Convent now stands.
Some time in the 1730s, a church was built at Leemount, Pembroke. This was the church which the Catholics of Passage attended until its closure in 1791, when the present St. Mary’s was built.
Evidence of industrial activity from this time still remains. During the 18th century, there was a mill near Horsehead in Passage. There was also a mill at Pembroke during the 1760s. Little is known about these mills and it is possible that they were one and the same. Delea’s Mills stood at the roadside next to the entrance to Ardmore House. Although no trace of a mill can be found, a stream still flows here and the area was known as Delea’s Mills until recent times.
A large flour mill was located at Raffeen, with associated stores and kilns. The waters of Monkstown Creek were much deeper then than they are now and boats could travel right up to Raffeen to load their cargo. An oil mill and an oatmeal mill were also established at Raffeen in 1772. During the summer, there was sufficient water to drive only one pair of grindstones for about four hours each day. However, during the winter, both grindstones could be driven for a full 12 hours. Consequently, the mill was idle for about 6 months of the year.
Mr. Parsons of Pembroke House set up Toureen fair and market in 1763. The market was held every Saturday in Chapel Square on the site of what is now the Catholic Young Men’s Society (CYMS) Hall. The fair was held on 1st May and 25th July at an annual rent to Mr. Parsons of 13s 4d. Around this time, Toureen Terrace was known as Mariner’s Row because it was here that seafaring captains used to reside while their ships were anchored in the West Channel. The name Toureen reflects the bleaching or drying practised on the adjacent green.
During the mid-18th century, shipping activity in the West Channel began to intensify. Before voyaging to America, many sailing ships anchored off Passage, sometimes for a number of weeks. Because the shipping channel between Passage and Cork was so shallow, large ships began to use Passage for the discharge of cargo which would then be transshiped to Cork. Around this time, evidence of small-scale shipbuilding and repairing in Passage begins to emerge. Small repairs would have been carried out by crew-members while at anchor off Passage. Larger repairs, however, would need workshops and craftsmen. There is little doubt but that the business generated by the shipping trade hastened the development of Passage. Before the end of the 18th century, the town began to respond to commercial development and five public houses, a shop, a haberdashery, a blacksmith were established and a range of skilled craftsmen set up business. By this time, Passage was like a little sea port.