In 1900, there was talk of Harland and Wolfe coming to Monkstown and, although there was much enthusiasm for the project, it never materialised. The Royal Victoria Dockyard in Passage West had begun a policy of salvaging and reconstructing vessels. For a time, this was successful.
An extension of the CB&PR railway to Monkstown and onward to Crosshaven obtained approval in 1896. However, the line did not open to the public until 1st August 1902. It had been a difficult construction project. Rather than disturb the dockyard, the line was to cross the main street in Passage, run alongside the Beach Road in a 450 metre long tunnel and come back down to the water’s edge at Ferrypoint. Excavating the line and tunnel at what is now the Cut and Cover into Monkstown was also troublesome.
The Sandquay at the centre of Monkstown village was constructed using waste material from the Cut and Cover. The old Passage railway station was converted into workshops, while the new station was built opposite the convent. New stations were also built at Glenbrook and Monkstown. While all this was being undertaken, the whole railway line from Cork was converted to a 3-foot narrow gauge system.
The line was further extended through Raffeen to Carrigaline in 1903 and the entire Cork to Crosshaven railway was officially opened on 1st June 1904. By the summer of 1909, 13 trains were running each way on weekdays between Cork and Monkstown. Of these, 11 ran to and from Crosshaven. The trip from Monkstown to the city took 25 minutes. Monkstown Golf Club was set up in 1908 to try to attract some of the railway passengers to the area.
Although the CB&PR was successfully operating five steamers at the time, the Glenbrook pier was removed in the early 1900s. Today, all that remains are some steps and railings and a single pole which marks the spot on which the pier stood.
Despite its varying fortunes, the Passage dockyard was highly regarded both at home and abroad. The Channel Dry Dock Shipbuilding & Engineering Co. was sold in 1906 and the new Queenstown Dry Docks Shipbuilding and Engineering Co. was formed. Market changes affected its fortunes again in 1908 and in mid-1909 a liquidator was appointed. The business and property was put up for auction. No bids were placed. When put on the market again in 1911, there was equally little interest. Eventually, the property was bought by Oliver Piper, the former company’s managing director. He set about re-establishing the concern as the Queenstown Dry Docks Shipbuilding and Engineering Co. Ltd. By August, 300 men were working at the dockyard.
It was Oliver Piper himself who brought Winston Churchill, the First Lord of the Admiralty, on a guided tour of the Royal Victoria Dockyard when he came to view Cork Harbour in the summer of 1912. It was hoped that the visit would result in Admiralty work for the dockyard.
But Admiralty work was slow in coming and, although there were many ships needing repair, Piper decided to diversify. He established a large saw-mill which, by mid-1913 was employing 60 men and boys. Sadly, a fire on the morning of 28th August destroyed the factory and all its contents.
The Irish Volunteers were a paramilitary organisation established by Irish Nationalists in that same year, the aim of which was to secure rights and liberties for the people of Ireland and to help enforce the imminent Home Rule Act. When World War I broke out in 1914, the organisation split in two. One group under the leadership of John Redmond supported the British war effort and encouraged the Volunteers to support the call to restore freedom to “small countries”. They became known as the National Volunteers. The other group, led by MacNeill, was in the minority. Because they believed efforts were best applied to restoring freedom in one small country, they retained the name Irish Volunteers.
The Passage volunteers supported John Redmond. Lodgings for many of the army recruits from Munster to the British war effort were found in and around Monkstown. One of the main encampments was on the hillside between Raffeen and Shanbally. Another encampment was situated in the glen at Monkstown. More troops were put up in the granary at Ferrypoint. For a time, the Adelaide schoolhouse at Glenbrook was used as a temporary military hospital. Before their departure, the recruits were given some training in battle tactics. They practised trench digging near Monkstown Castle and the remains of trenches are evident beneath briars between the castle and the old graveyard to this day.
When the United States entered World War I, their navy took over duty from the Irish navy on the south coast of Ireland. The American destroyers, when not at sea, were anchored in Monkstown Bay and the smaller submarine chasers were anchored off Passage.
There were hardships during the war years. The CB&PR ran the train service at a loss. A bright light in the lives of the people of Passage West was the establishment of St. Mary’s Young Men’s Hall at Chapel Square. A hall for community use in Passage had been spoken about for some time and, in November 1916, it was officially opened by the Bishop of Cork. The cost of the site and construction totalled £1,300. While this was quite a large sum at the time, it was paid off by subscriptions, collections, bazaars, concerts, private donations, concerts and dances.
Early in 1917, Oliver Piper sold the Queenstown Dry Docks Shipbuilding and Engineering Co. to the English shipping firm of Furness, Withy and Co. Ltd. A new limited company, the Queenstown Dry Docks Shipbuilding and Engineering Co. Ltd., was formed and Oliver Piper’s son was appointed managing director. By the end of 1917, some 800 workers were employed at Passage and Rushbrooke. By August 1919, the Albert Dry Dock had been extended into the river.
IRA headquarters instructed that Republican activity was to be kept at an acceptable level in Passage West because the dockyard offered such valuable employment. The IRA were also entirely aware that the dockyard’s workshops were a vital source of parts and equipment for the Republican Army. Workshop staff, particularly during the night shifts, manufactured parts and repaired weapons.
A treaty was signed in London on 6 December 1921. Its terms were ratified by Dáil Eireann on 7 January 1922. A provisional government was formed on 14th January and the evacuation of occupation forces began almost immediately. The rift between the pro and anti treaty forces increased and armed conflict began in Dublin in June 1922. The Republicans withdrew after a week to the southern part of the country. Two vessels, the Arvonia and the Lady Wicklow, were commandeered by the Provisional government and on Monday, 7 August, some 450 men embarked for Cork. The Arvonia made her way to Passage, where fire was directed at her from the Republican headquarters at the Granaries. The ship continued and a gangway was put ashore at the dockyard. Free State troops began to disembark and in the ensuing skirmish, one Free State solider was killed, one Republican was wounded and six Republicans were taken prisoner. Before long, the invading troops made their way through Dock Terrace, the granaries were captured and soon Passage and its vicinity were in Free State hands. The Republicans retreated inland and set up camp on the hills around Rochestown.
The advance on Cork began early the following day. An armoured car and a field gun were landed at the Passage dockyard. The road bridge at the Rochestown café was blown up at about 7 am and later Republicans seeking to delay the Free State advance destroyed one of the spans of the Douglas Viaduct with explosives. Raiders burned the station buildings at Blackrock, Monkstown and Passage to the ground. The signal boxes at these three stations and at Rochestown were also destroyed and the railway workshop in Passage was badly damaged. Their efforts were in vain and the Free State gradually advanced to Douglas.
The destruction of its property hit the CB&PR hard. Having lost money during the war, the company had hoped to be reimbursed for its efforts when the war was over. Under no circumstances could the rebuild of the railway infrastructure be funded by the CB&PR alone and, until government money was forthcoming, the railway was out of action.
By early 1924, all the damaged station buildings had been repaired. The station at Passage and Monkstown were reconstructed. The Douglas Viaduct had been replaced with a permanent steel bridge capable of carrying the heaviest engine. All that had not been rebuilt was the workshop in Passage. The trains were running again. However, there was little work to be had in Passage. The Haulbowline dockyard had closed. The summer was wet. This poor season marked the beginning of the decline of the CB&PR railway.
The Royal Victoria Dockyard was still struggling, despite Oliver Piper’s immense investment in the 1917 – 1919 period. Some ships came in from time to time but, for the most part, the Passage workers were destitute. Emigration was rife. In 1924, the government began paying a subsidy of ten per cent towards wages at the Passage and Rushbrooke dockyards. It was intended to be an incentive but, a year and a half later, the Public Accounts Committee deemed that because the payment was not for relief work, it should be discontinued. On 29th December 1930, it was proposed to wind up the Queenstown Dry Docks Shipbuilding and Engineering Co. Ltd. and the concern was put in the hands of a liquidator. A short time later, the Passage and Rushbrooke dockyards were both put up for sale and the machinery and equipment of the Royal Victoria Dockyard was auctioned in March 1931. It left poverty and destitution in its wake.
An article in the Cork Examiner remarked on the closure of the dockyard:
“The closing of the Passage West Dockyard was a tragedy for the localities, but the blow had been lightened by the fact that that very tragedy has made the district – which includes Glenbrook of course – what it never was before – a really restful and desirable place to live in. In the old prosperous times one could not sleep a wink at night with the clanging of hammers and screeching of cranes which kept up a continuous din that reached from Rushbrooke to Carrigaloe. Now the nights are as restful as the Venetian variety. But there is no doubt that Passage is poor. Visiting it the other day, I was made sad by the contrast it now presents to the gold mine and hive of industry it was during the Great War, when a number of the dock employees used to turn over from £10 to £12 a week between overtime and everything else. On Sunday I used to see them setting out in handsome and costly hired automobiles for a real good time in Cork. Today, alas, there are many who couldn’t afford a bus fare to the city and that is only seven pence return … Today one sees no more than a few fishermen’s boats at the slip and though the place is now called a town, I bet it looked more prosperous in the days when it was called a village.”
In 1931, the site of the Royal Victoria Dockyard was bought by a new company, Haulbowline Industries Ltd (HIL). The Harbour Board supported the HIL shipbreaking venture by reducing tonnage dues on metal from scrapped ships. The company still specialises in the trade of scrap iron and today, some loading and unloading of cargo is also carried out at the dockyard.
On 31st May 1932, the Cork to Monkstown section of the CB&PR closed. The company found itself unable to compete with cars and the omnibus supported by government policy of using taxation to maintain roads. Despite public outcry for retention of the Cork to Monkstown section, the last train ran along the CB&PR line from Passage West to Cork on 10th September 1932.
In many ways, it is only in the last few decades that Passage West has ceased to reel after the closure of the Royal Victoria Dockyard. There was little change in either Passage or Monkstown until the 1960s. A number of voluntary movements were set up by the people of Passage to help themselves. The Credit Union was started in 1968. It continues to go from strength to strength and has recently moved into a new, purpose-built building located centrally at Chapel Square. In 1979, a group of volunteers established the Passage Association for Care of the Elderly (PACE) to cater for the aged who were unable to prepare meals for themselves. First based in the CYMS Hall in Chapel Square, PACE moved to a new premises in the rear of the Town Hall in the mid-1980s. Today, there are 65 volunteers working with PACE on behalf of the elderly of the area.
In recent years, Passage and Monkstown have become popular residential areas and much sought after by developers. Although the quays and the site of the dockyard remain, the towns have moved on. Pembroke House, situated in a magnificent wood at the Cork side of the town, had been an integral part of Passage West since its construction in 1749. In 1971, the estate was sold and, the following year, the house was demolished. The site was used for construction of the Pembroke Wood housing estate. In 1980, material excavated from the side of the Board of Works road was used to fill the Ringaskiddy basin in preparation for the new car ferry terminal. During these excavations, the cholera hospital which had served so many during and after the Great Famine of 1845, disappeared. In 1983, Haulbowline Industries Ltd. filled the Albert Dry Dock as part of a reclamation project. The railway footbridges had been auctioned in 1943 by the CB&PR. Only one remained, at Marina View in Passage West. This last footbridge was removed to facilitate the construction of new townhouses on Beach Road. During the construction of the same development, public access to the northern end of the railway tunnel was cut off and the entrance to the tunnel blocked off. The site of the railway station in Monkstown is now a car park.
But as Passage West and Monkstown enter the 21st century, much of the past remains to be enjoyed. The disused railway line from Hop Island to Steam Packet Quay and from Glenbrook to the southern end of Monkstown has been developed into a delightful riverside walk. The water tower once serving the railway stands adjacent to the Town Hall, as does the stile over which railway passengers used to step when they got off the train. Some short length of the narrow gauge line is still evident at Toureen. A heritage trail now runs for a length of 2 miles through Passage West and Monkstown along the old line of the Cork, Blackrock and Passage Railway. Starting along the Hop Island - Passage West embankment, it continues along the route of the old line through Passage West and Glenbrook as far as the Cut and Cover at Monkstown. Twelve stop points along the 2-mile length of the trail mark the railway infrastructure remaining to this day.
Monkstown Castle, now derelict, still stands at the top of the Monkstown glen. Although the roof and floors have fallen, the walls are intact. The fine architecture of the 18th and 19th centuries has been noted by Cork County Council, who has designated most of the main streets of Passage West and Monkstown as Architectural Conservation Areas. Carlisle Place, once a military barracks, has been subdivided into residential houses. A plaque commemorating the visit of Queen Victoria in 1849 is fixed to the wall of the Royal Victoria Dockyard; that same wall is peppered with bullet holes from the guns of the 1920s.
From fishing hamlet to shipbuilding capital, from harbour ferry to port of Cork, from military base to holiday resort. Since the beginning, there have been two constants in the development of Passage West and Monkstown: proximity to Cork City and proximity to the sea. These constants remain and are now one of the keys to Passage West’s new role as bustling satellite to a burgeoning city hinterland. But being aware of the past brings a more wholesome appreciation of the present as these towns stride towards a new and exciting future.