In the early 1800s, the only way passengers and cargoes could be discharged from ships to the Passage West shores was by rowing boat. In the mid-1830s, the St. George Steam Packet Company purchased a plot of ground and a small quay. The distinguished architect, George Pain was commissioned to design a new stone quay, facilitating the easy discharge and landing of passengers and cargoes. Both George Pain and his brother, James, came from London to Ireland to supervise the construction of Lough Cultra castle in County Galway. They stayed to work as architects in this country, their finer designs as a team including Mitchelstown Castle, Dromoland Castle and the Court House in Cork. Amongst the churches in Cork designed by George Pain are Holy Trinity, St. Patrick’s, Carrigaline, Blackrock and Frankfield. Pain also undertook the redesign of the North Cathedral after it was destroyed by fire.
The new stone quay which Pain designed for Passage West was opened in June 1836. Ships could be brought right alongside it, even at the lowest ebb tide. Its construction deprived the Passage boatmen of the income they derived from ferrying passengers to and from ships.
In 1850, the Cork, Blackrock and Passage railway line was brought to and ended at Steam Packet Quay. It was here that the original Passage West railway station was built.
By the late 1850s, there was still no proper landing place for the general public, who were obliged to use the strand. As the building of the Cork to Passage railway ended public access to the foreshore, a condition under which the company were allowed build on the strand was that they should construct an 800-foot long quay which would be available for public use.
This quay, Railway Quay, was constructed in 1851, but the public passageway under it was found to be inadequate: it was merely five feet high. At high tide, the passageway flooded and at low tide, it was filthy. As a result of a public outcry, in 1859 the railway company provided a 5 metre wide access by Steam Packet Quay.
In 1862, the Harbour Commissioners spent a great deal of money on repairing Steam Packet Quay quay and, in the process, left little trace of the old quay. Subsequently, the quay was used almost exclusively by steamers.
Steam Packet Quay and Railway Quay are today rarely used today for their intended purpose. Railway Quay is in good condition, but Steam Packet Quay is neglected and is falling into disrepair.