In the early years of the 19th century, the town of Passage West played an important role in the commercial life of Cork City. By this time, Passage West was growing into a busy little township, a long street with somewhat dirty lanes off it and a busy seafront with dockyards where ships were being built and repaired. The main road from Passage West to Raffeen was up over the Carrigmahon hill to Ballyfouloo and then via Strawhall down to Raffeen. The route from Monkstown to Passage West also went up over Carrigmahon. The first post office in the town was opened in Passage West in 1806. Passage West served as the central dispatch for letters to Passage West, Monkstown and Cobh.
Monkstown served as one of the main military embarkation and disembarkation points in Cork Harbour during the 18th and early 19th centuries. Monkstown Castle was used as a barracks, accommodating 450 soldiers. Soldiers coming from Cork would march through Rochestown and through Rathanker to Monkstown, followed by their lamenting relations. The sorrowing families were stopped by a barricade of armed soldiers at the bridge at the top of the Glen road. This bridge has since been known as Hullabaloo Bridge. Similarly, the corner of Castle Terrace and Carlisle Place was called Hullabaloo Corner because of the outcry so often heard there.
Wealthy Cork residents began to discover Passage West and Monkstown as pleasurable summer resorts. A bathing house was established in June 1807 on the site of the present Garda station near Ferry Point. A special stage coach ran from Cork to these warm and cold sea baths three times a day.
In 1812, a new stage coach service started operating between Cork and Passage West. Known as jingles, these were little horse drawn cabs carrying four passengers under a covering hood. The trip to Cork cost 2s 6d. Some 100 or so jingles used to travel between Cork and Passage West each day. Two years later, a jaunting car started running between Monkstown and Cork. The trip to Cork took one and a half hours.
The increased interest in Passage West and Monkstown hastened a concurrent interest in river transport between the city and harbour towns. The ferry operating from Passage West was extended to Monkstown and boats were run to the nearest point on the opposite side. Military activity in the area decreased as passenger-carrying paddle steamers began to ply the river and harbour for trade.
One of the first and the most famous of these paddle steamers was launched at Passage West. Both the Anderson family and Andrew Hennessey each ran shipyards on the site of what is now Fr. O’Flynn Park. In 1815, Hennessey launched the City of Cork, the first paddle steamer constructed in Ireland. Built for a Cork businessman for the run between Cork and Cobh, the City of Cork was 26.2 metres long and her 12 hp engine gave her a top speed of 61/2 knots. A luxurious saloon was available aboard, as were sea water baths should passengers so desire.
In the following year, the Waterloo was launched by Hennessey for two other Cork businessmen. She differed from the City of Cork in that she was powered by a single-cylinder engine. Because the engine had been manufactured in Cork by the Cork Hive Ironworks, the Waterloo was the first steam boat of totally Irish manufacture.
Both the City of Cork and the Waterloo ran in opposition to each other for many years. The tiny City of Cork survived until 1850, although it is said that she became so slow that she was once stopped by a shoal of jellyfish. A second cylinder was added to the Waterloo’s engine in a later rebuild. She was finally broken up in 1865.
Passage West played an important role in the commercial life of Cork City in the first half of the 19th century. Although the river Lee ran all the way to Cork City, it was not of sufficient depth upstream of Passage West to be navigable by ships. Consequently, ships were often anchored off Passage West, cargoes were discharged and either transshipped to Cork in lighters or carried overland to the city. Likewise, emigrant and passengers ships frequently used Passage West as an embarkation/disembarkation point.
Although one of the first jobs of the Harbour Commissioners when formed in 1813 was to start dredging the river upstream of Passage West, it would take many years before adequate depth was available for any ships of greater than 400 or 500 tons. The people of Passage West began to recognise the commercial opportunities presented to them. In 1813, a ship’s chandlery was set up. By the late 1820s, Passage West was the busiest anchorage in Cork Harbour but the repair facilities were totally inadequate for the volume of shipping. Vessels requiring other than minor repairs had to sail to Milford or Portsmouth. Furthermore, there were no proper landing facilities for either cargo or passengers.
In 1833, William Brown began construction of a dry dock between the Beach Road and the sea. Named the Victoria Dock after Queen Victoria, it could accommodate one 1,200 ton ship plus two smaller vessels. Its construction was a major feat at the time. Because of tidal changes, much of the work had to be carried out under water. In 1834, a forge, rigging and sail lofts and stores were established adjacent to the Victoria Dock. By the end of 1836, about 20 schooners had been launched at the yard. Infrastructural improvements continued. In 1835, two new sections of road were authorised: Glenbrook was to be connected with Monkstown and Monkstown with Raffeen. A major task was cutting and laying the road through one of the Harbour’s most picturesque features: the Giant’s Stairs at Monkstown. This was a natural rock formation at the site of the present Monkstown railway tunnel and, prior to the road project, was described as “12 – 14 projecting rocks, rising one above the other like a flight of steps.
The problem of alighting ships was solved in June 1836, when a stone quay was built at Passage West by the St. George Steam Packet Company. Designed by well-known architect, George Pain, Steam Packet Quay could accommodate ships at all stages of the tide. Passengers no longer had to be carried in rowing boats to ships in the river.
Improved accessibility to Cork City increased the popularity of Passage West and Monkstown as a holiday resort. A row of beautiful marine villas in the Elizabethan style were constructed close to the shore at Monkstown for use as bathing lodges by well-to-do Cork families. In 1838, a new leisure and health establishment was developed on the river side of the new Glenbrook to Monkstown road. Marketed as the Royal Victoria Monkstown and Passage West Baths, these became very fashionable. Gardens and a promenade were developed at the Baths in the 1840s and fireworks displays were held regularly. Around this time, Passage West was thought to be a place conducive to good health:
“Its salubrity is attested by the longevity of the inhabitants; it is said to be no uncommon circumstance that people of 80 years of age are in rude health and earning their livelihood by labour; few have suffered during the visitation of contagious diseases; and, out of a large population, during the prevalence of choldera, in 1832, only 60, and those very aged and infirm, were afflicted.”
For many years there had been talk of establishing a railway link between Cork and Passage West. However, this did not materialise until the mid-1840s, when an agreed route was selected from the city to Blackrock, through cuttings and over embankments to Rochestown, along a scenic riverside causeway to Horsehead and then along a newly-constructed quay to the Steam Packet Quay at Passage West. The Cork, Blackrock and Passage West Railway (CB&PR) opened for full public service on Saturday 8 June 1850. Because the city station was quite far downstream and the Passage West terminus did not extend to Monkstown, the company ran river steamers concurrently with the railway to offer customers a full service. An omnibus from the Passage West terminus also offered a connection to Monkstown.
Despite all this excitement, there was hardship in Passage West. The Great Famine of 1845 hit Passage West and Monkstown badly. Although the poor of the town were normally supported by private charity, a special Relief Committee was set up in 1846. A soup kitchen was opened at the corner beside Penny’s Dock. This corner was subsequently known as “Soup House Corner”. An application for some of the government’s Indian meal was successful; this was ground at both the Carrigline and Raffeen mills. In fact, during the famine years, the mill at Raffeen used to grind about 50 sacks of Indian meal each week. A temporary 75-bed fever hospital was opened near Strawhall in 1847. The hospital was successful in its treatment of patients but became required again in 1849, when an outbreak of cholera hit Cork City. Of the 87 cholera patients treated at the hospital during this time, 35 died.
William Brown’s dockyard was going from strength to strength, offering invaluable employment to the people of Passage West and much further afield. Workers used to board the CB&PR at Cork to come to the dockyard in Passage West. In 1849, when Queen Victoria was visiting Cork Harbour, the Browns were given official permission to name their concern the Royal Victoria Dockyard. The dry dock itself, called the Victoria Dry Dock, could accommodate six vessels of about 150 tons each and ships repaired had included the largest steamers belonging to both Cork and Dublin companies. In the early 1850s, William Brown decided to extend his business by enlarging the Victoria Dry Dock By the mid-1850s, the Victoria dock had been extended to 350 feet. A second new dry dock, called the Albert Dry Dock, was built. The Albert Dock was the first of its kind to use a new and original design – a slide gate running on a rail. By this time, departments at the yard included sail and rigging lofts, block and pump makers’ workshops and all kinds of up to date equipment. Over 300 people were employed daily.
Although the Harbour Commissioners had built a pier at Monkstown in 1840, it was for private use only. In the 1850s, they set about developing a public landing place which could be used by the passenger river steamers. They chose to build a timber pier rather than a stone pier, believing that the latter would interfere with river navigation.
In the meantime, the Baths were going from strength to strength. They were further extended to include magnificent riverside gardens and a Turkish bath. In 1852, Carrigmahon House opened on the opposite side of the road to offer specialised hydropathic and homeopathic care. By 1858, this care also included a Turkish Bath. Demand exceed availability for the services at Carrigmahon House while, between June and October 1857, some 15,000 bathers visited the Baths at Glenbrook. In that same year, a new T-shaped timber pier was built at Glenbrook so that the steamers could service the Baths directly.
In June 1861, the Browns extended their dockyard by another 150 metres to the south. The works included stores, a steam saw mill and an extensive quay. The possibility of building a third dry dock was also being considered. The following year, 181 ships completely discharged at Passage West and 73 others partially discharged before going on to Cork. Passage West was at its peak.
A new steamer pier had been built at Crosshaven and, in the early 1860s, the status of Passage West and Monkstown as holiday resorts began to be affected by the public’s increased access to the open sea. The opening of the Cork to Queenstown (Cobh) railway in 1862 also eroded the importance of the Passage West ferry. The Harbour Commissioners were continuing in their efforts to dredge upstream of the West Channel and, by this time, ships of considerable depth were able to travel all the way to Cork City.
During the 1860s, the ordinary people of Passage suffered badly from inadequate water supply. The town was almost entirely dependent on a water outlet in the Toureen area of the town. Known as Spout Lane or Pump Lane, this was one of the oldest lanes in Passage. In the summer of 1865, the water shortage was so bad that fresh water had to be brought by train from Cork. Despite various attempts, there was little improvement until a scheme to provide Passage with water from a source near Rockenham was instigated in 1875. A tank and water fountains provided near Monkstown became connected to a supply from Parkgarriffe.
In 1871, the Royal Victoria Dockyard changed hands. The property was extensively developed and by early 1873, it contained every branch of trade necessary for building, repairing and fitting out of vessels of all classes, whether of wood or iron. In the same year, two granaries were built to house grain from ships undergoing repair. These were very profitable. The dockyard’s staff of artisans and labourers was the largest in Munster. The company also provided housing.
In 1875, a general depression in the shipping trade hit the dockyard. In 1876, the captain of a steamer was successfully sued for refusing to bring a cargo of corn upriver beyond Passage West. This marked the end of transshipping cargoes at Passage West. By the end of 1877, the dockyard company was in serious financial difficulty. Because the town was almost entirely dependent on the dockyard for employment, the poor of Passage West were badly affected.
Employment was still offered at the quarries. Ships of up to 17 tonnes used to travel from Monkstown to Raffeen to serve the extensive limestone quarries at the Board of Works road in Monkstown. According to local tradition, many of the headstones and material for the limestone vaults in the Monkstown graveyard were quarried at Raffeen. Limestone from Raffeen was also used in the construction of the deepwater quay at Queenstown (Cobh) during the 1880s. There were many limekilns in Passage West and Monkstown. Only one, at Bunkilla on the Strand Road, survives today.
In the mid-1880s, the Royal Victoria Dockyard was sold on again in mid-1880 to Sir John Arnott. The popularity of the Royal Victoria Monkstown and Passage West Baths had fallen to such an extent that the pier at Glenbrook fell into disrepair and was closed by the Harbour Commissioners. The fortunes of shipbuilding rose and fell over the following decade. In 1898, the dockyard changed hands again, this time purchased by John J. Jacob & Co. The Baths, by this time known as the Glenbrook Hotel, finally closed around the turn of the century.