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Thieves Force Pigeons To Take Flight

Pigeon house road in Ringsend takes its name from John Pigeon, who was an employee of the old Dublin Ballast Board back in the 18th-century. The original Pigeon House was a blockhouse used for the storage of wreckage and as a repository for tools and materials. The blockhouse was built sometime around 1760 and Pigeon became caretaker there in 1761. His duties included acting as watchman over the Ballast Board's properties and he was allowed to live in the blockhouse with his family.

At that time the cross-channel packet ships moored at the blockhouse, and Pigeon, his wife and daughter soon established a trade providing passengers with refreshments. Because of his connection with the blockhouse, the building came to be known as Pigeon's House, a name that exists to the present day.

Pigeon further supplemented his income by providing services to the many day-trippers visiting the South Wall at weekends. Along with his son Ned, Pigeon would pick up visitors at Ringsend, row them down as far as the blockhouse for food and drink and take them back to the village afterwards.

One night, four men tricked their way into Pigeon's house and attacked him and his wife. Young Ned was badly injured in the struggle, but he managed to escape and raise the alarm. On his return, he discovered that the thieves had taken everything of value and damaged the family boat beyond repair.

Shortly after the incident, John and Ned were out fishing in their boat when one of their hooks snagged on an object which turned out to be the body of one of the assailants. The Pigeons later heard that the thieves had quarrelled and one of them had been killed. John Pigeon died soon after the incident in 1786, and Ned died shortly after that.

Pigeon's daughters, Mary and Rachel, were left to look after themselves. Although their experience of seamanship was limited, they continued to row travellers up and down the river. One evening, following a shipwreck near Ringsend, the sisters took part in the rescue. They managed to save three people -- including a father and his young son -- from the cold waters of Dublin Bay. Mary eventually married the father of the child, who was a wealthy widower from Philadelphia. It is not clear what happened to Rachel, but it is believed that she followed her sister to America where she married, never to return to Ringsend.

In 1787, the Ballast Office made plans for the enlargement and refurbishment of the blockhouse. Two rooms were reserved for the Board's use and two others were given to the Inspector of Works, Francis Tunstall. The other rooms were allocated to contractors working in the area and to a Mr Patrick O'Brien and his wife. The O'Briens were housekeepers to the Board. They received no wages but were allowed to sell alcohol to passengers, as the Pigeons had done.

A few years later, the Board decided to build a larger hotel to cater for the growing number of passengers at the South Wall. This building -- known as the Pigeon House Hotel -- was in place by 1795. Mrs Tunstall ran the hotel which was renowned for its good food and hospitality. One frequent visitor described it as being "much frequented by good fellows for gay dinners". It remained open until 1848 when it was converted to a military fortress and garrison by the government.