• Sunday , 17 November 2019

What lies beneath – hidden depths at Grand Canal Harbour

Undated photo of Grand Canal Place prior to fillling in. (Source: archiseek.com) Undated photo of Grand Canal Place prior to fillling in. (Source: archiseek.com)

Closing the view at the end of Echlin Street is a tall rubble stone building with boarded up windows. From a distance, lingering traces of the painted on ‘Grand Canal Co.’ can still be seen below the eaves. As we approach, we become aware that the ends of the building are curving away from us. The road, which curves along with this same line, is called Grand Canal Place. These tantalising hints are the last remaining vestiges of a not so distant past, now under threat. This structure, formerly an experimental malt-house for the nearby Guinness brewery, was built in the mid-19th century. The curvilinear plan follows the unusual semi-circular profile of the 18th century Grand Canal Harbour directly behind it. The curved part of the major basin was the third and final section of this busy harbour. In between the different sections were ancillary buildings associated with the harbour activities. The curved malting building was the highest quality of these buildings, with dressed granite quoins.

The Grand Canal harbour behind James’ Street was primarily used by the burgeoning industrial developments in the area. The neighbourhood around the site of the harbour had long been associated with industry, as it was along the James’ Street-Thomas Street ridge that the first attempts at a city water supply had been located, in the 12th century. The city basin was near the harbour, and used the canal as a supplementary supply of water. The abundant supply of water in this area led to the development of a host of industries, from weaving to brewing.  The arrival of the canal and harbour was the catalyst for the subsequent growth of this quarter of the city. The development of the Liberties owes a lot to the work done over centuries, first by the monks of the abbey of St. Thomas and later by the City Corporation, to bring a fresh and reliable supply of water into the city. Later, the construction of the canal meant that these industries could transport goods between the Liberties and the rest of the country. The basin, canal and harbour were a key factor in the development of the Liberties, and of Dublin. The industrial character of the area cannot be fully read without taking these into account.

1846 view of Dublin. (Source: 3rd Volume of the Irish Historic Towns Atlas) 1846 view of Dublin. (Source: 3rd Volume of the Irish Historic Towns Atlas)

The harbour and the canal spur up to the first lock were only filled in during the 1970s, although the curved section and middle section had been filled in 1960. The site is now covered in low density industrial and commercial warehouses, many of which are believed to integrate parts of the historic fabric. A casual walk about the site today will find stones of the old canal wall peeking out through the concrete.  Much of the original material of the canal remains in situ, merely covered in concrete, waiting to be rediscovered.

Planning permission was granted in 2009 for a major redevelopment of this site, for a multi-storey complex covering most of the extents.  The curved malt-house is a protected structure, and so must be retained in the proposed development, but it will be dwarfed by the proposed mixed-use blocks of up to twelve storeys.  The development will destroy any remaining historic fabric and irreversibly alter the character of the locality.  In a place in need of quality open spaces,  it would be a tragedy to miss the opportunity to retain and respect the original water ways, and create a unique new hub round these historic building blocks, which are so significant to the area and to the greater city.



Delany, R. (1973) The Grand Canal of Ireland: Inland waterways histories. Dublin: David and Charles.

Howley Hayes Architects (2009) Grand Canal Harbour: Conservation report and impact assessment. Dublin City Council planning reference 3955/09.

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