There has been an operational Ferry across the Liffey since a Royal Charter for one was issued in 1665. This was then made official 30 years later by King Charles II. In the beginning the service was run by private operators who had rowboats providing the service until a motorised ferry was introduced in 1921. Because of the increase in cost to use the new motorised ferry, a lot of people boycotted the service despite it being far more reliable now.
For hundreds of years, the Liffey ferry was the main crossing over the river Liffey. It carried Dockers and ordinary people across the river to their days work on ships and in factories for tuppence and later a tenner. Each journey took 3-4 minutes and the ferry carried around 30-40 passengers. The main ferry crossing started at the Ringsend slipway and ended across the river, near where the Point Theatre stands today. This trip took about five minutes. Another earlier service ran from near the old gasometer across to near Spencer Dock. The boats plying from Ringsend were licensed to carry 60 passengers and a crew of two. The passengers were mostly dockers and people who worked in factories on the north side of the port.
When they crossed the river, they were open to the elements because only in the latter years of the ferry did the Corporation put up canopies on the boats.
The first ferry of the day left Ringsend at 7.30 am and it went backwards and forwards all day until the last sailing at 7pm. The service operated Monday to Saturday but rarely, if ever, on a Sunday. In the old days, when dock work was casual, hundreds of men turned up twice a morning, once at 8am, then again at 10am, to see if they would be picked for a day’s work.
This Service ended on the 21st of October 1984 when the East Link Bridge opened and Dublin. In this year Dublin also lost one of its most famous and loved characters Luke Kelly from the Dubliners. “Well in 2019 the two decided to grace Dublin with their presence again all be it in a different form altogether” Luke is now located in two places: he’s sitting singing at St. Stephens Green and his famous face, with his bright red hair, is located just a stone’s throw away form where he grew up in Sheriff Street.
In Ulysses in 1904, James Joyce writes “beyond New Wapping Street past Benson’s Ferry, along the three masted schooner Rosevean from Bridgewater with bricks.” Benson’s Ferry refers to a solicitor who had obtained the licence for the old rowing boat service after the death of the previous licensee. For several years he caused delays in the introduction of the motorboats and then havoc by undercutting them before he was forced to cease operations.
There is a famous song called “The Ferryman”, written by Peter St. John and sang by the Dubliners and it’s a true favourite of many in Dubliners.
The Ferry much loved by James Joyce the ferry features in many of his writings and forms the centrepiece of his controversial story “The Encounter” in the Dubliners collection. The original No.11 features throughout the 1982 video of the iconic Phil Lynott song, “Old Town”, the first song played on Irish Commercial Radio and something of a modern anthem for the city.
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