Maintaining Dunmore East Harbour

For this latest guest blog, I’m delighted to welcome back David Carroll, who shares more memories of his childhood in Dunmore East in the 1950’s & 60’s. In a similar vein to his previous blog on the village, and his recollection of the ship wreck of the St Austell, David gives us a no nonsense account of the village at the time, the geography, characters and what life was like on a daily basis. I’m sure you will enjoy it.
A recent visit to the National Maritime Museum of Ireland, based in the Mariners Church, Haigh Terrace, Dun Laoghaire brought memories flooding back of my idyllic childhood spent living in the harbour at Dunmore East.  They were triggered by a photograph of a diver, his helmet and diving suit. The information panel beside it included the following:
“Bob Lewis. A diver and stonemason with the Board of Works in Dun Laoghaire Harbour for more than 38 years, Bob Lewis was the last person to use this diving suit. His pump man was Michael John Molony. Lewis would not allow or trust anyone else to do the job. At the time there was no phone to speak with the surface. The diver had to signal with a series of pulls on a rope known as a life-line.”

However, it was not only at Dun Laoghaire harbour that Bob Lewis worked as a diver, he also came to Dunmore East. Both harbours came under the auspices of the Office of Public Works (O.P.W.) or the Board of Works as it was also called. Howth harbour was another and along with Ardglass and Donaghadee in Northern Ireland, these five harbours were designated as Royal Harbours before partition.
In the 1950s, a great deal of repair work was carried out on the foundations of the Dunmore East pier at the back of the lighthouse. Bob Lewis did all the underwater work. As the photograph below shows, work was also done in the harbour, particularly around the steps near the lighthouse. Here, a crowd would gather to watch, including myself. Once the diver went below the surface, there was not a whole lot to see but this did not deter sightseers still looking on.     
Diver Lewis preparing to dive.  Photo credit Theo Harris
The photo captures Bob Lewis and his support crew preparing to dive from the pontoon at the lighthouse steps in the harbour. The man in the cap must be his trusted pump man Michael John Molony and also assisting on the deck of the pontoon is Connie Fancy Power from Portally. The man in the shirtsleeves is Stephen Mullally from Killea. The man under the canopy, with the white shirt collar is, I am almost certain, Patsy Fancy Power from Killea, brother of Connie.
The author, David Carroll, standing
Beside the diving suit. 
The ‘Passage and Dunmore Jottings’ from the Munster Express(1) of 1955 reported as follows:  “Harbour Pier Repairs. The harbour pier at Dunmore East, which has been undermined by the sea, will shortly undergo repairs by the Board of Works. Stones and concrete are being pressed into holes’ and crevices.”
What I remember about Bob Lewis is that he was what I would call now, a very austere person. This, I suppose, was not surprising considering the dangerous nature of his work. Another thing, that I can recall, is that he always insisted staying, while working in Dunmore, with George and Maisie Roche.
A little bit like the certainties in life, death and taxes, there were two things that were certain about my childhood growing in Dunmore each summer. One was that the kittiwakes always came back and the SS Sisyphus, the Board of Works bucket dredger would turn up! In reality, it probably did not come to dredge the harbour every year but it always felt as if it was always present in the harbour during summer months.

S.S. Sisyphus at Helvick, Co. Waterford.   Photo credit- Waterford Co. Museum
The poor old Sisyphus was a much-unloved vessel. It had a different type of operation than the Portlairge that dredged in the Port of Waterford. The Sisyphus had a system of buckets linked by chain that lowered down through the bow and the mud was lifted, somewhat inefficiently, into the buckets and deposited in the hold as they turned over.  The Sisyphus was of course a steam ship and I can clearly recall looking at clouds of smoke, through my father’s binoculars, bellowing from the funnel as it came around Hook Head making its way towards Dunmore.
When the dredger worked in the harbour, it was a chaotic scene. A myriad of cables were laid in all directions from the ship to the shore keeping the vessel in place.  The clattering sound of the buckets was deafening in the harbour and, needless to say, lots of dirty smoke filled the air.
Sisyphus at Dunmore accessed from and repaired by Brendan Grogan
The master of the Sisyphus was called Kelly and he was from Arklow. However, the rest of the crew were from Dun Laoghaire. One of the mates was a big man called Maguire and he was a keen soccer fan. He came to Kilcohan Park one Sunday with my father and myself to see Waterford play and he introduced me to one my heroes, Tommy Taylor, the Waterford goalkeeper. I was absolutely thrilled as this was the first time that I had actually met a footballer in person. Tommy Taylor’s work had often brought him to Dun Laoghaire harbour where he had got to know some of the dredger crew.
At the end of the summer, there was always great consultation between the master of the dredger and my father, the Harbour Master, as regards weather forecasts. The dredger would not sail unless the sea was flat calm and the forecast for the following days was good as well.  The dredger had been built on the Clyde in 1905 but looked very old and decrepit by the 1950s. She never looked like a vessel that could withstand a battering at sea. The Sisyphus remained in service until sometime in the 1970s. Apart from a photograph of the crew of the Sisyphus, no artefacts are on display in the National Maritime Museum. An engine from another O.P.W. dredger, Saxifrage was preserved and is on display but sadly, the Sisyphus ended up in the scrapyard of Hammond Lane Foundry.
The efficiency and productivity of the Sisyphus was put into context a few year later, in 1963, when the W.D. Seven Seas, a suction dredger arrived in Waterford Harbour from the U.K. to dredge Duncannon Bar.  The contrast between the two vessels could not be greater. My father told me at the time the Seven Seas would dredge the entire Dunmore harbour in a single day.


At a later stage we will return with David to the Dunmore of his era with a look at the visitors that came to the port at the time.  I want to sincerely thank David for this mornings piece and also, as it happens, his regular correspondence and support in promoting the harbour area.  Next months guest blog will come to us from Catherine Foley, with an excerpt from her new book “Beyond the Breakwater”.  Regulars will enjoy it I know, particularly those with Passage East connections. If you would like to contribute a piece to any of my guest blog Friday’s (last Friday of each month) please get in touch to  All I ask is that the subject matter be linked in some way to the maritime heritage of the three sisters or the coast on either side, and 1200 words approx.  I will source photos and links to the piece and promote via my usual channels.

(1) Munster Express 19 June 1955

Thanks to Brian Ellis for his support to David with this piece.  Brian works voluntarily with the National Maritime Museum in Dun Laoghaire. 

I publish a blog about Waterford Harbours maritime heritage each Friday.  
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2 Replies to “Maintaining Dunmore East Harbour”

  1. I am the Grandson of Bob Lewis and would love to speak to the author of this piece.

  2. A valuable content. My husband and I run a diving center in Cyprus. We want to offer something more than diving to our customers, something different, thought provoking, unique and absolutely appealing. Open to any ideas? Complimentary refreshments already a given…

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