Friday 24 November 2017

Sailing: Dublin's forgotten gem regains sparkle

WM Nixon

It's the east coast's own gateway to the Atlantic. The Grand Canal Harbour in the heart of Dublin's vibrantly reviving docklands area south of the Liffey provides access across the heart of the country to the River Shannon at Shannon Harbour.

From there, it's only a short voyage down river and across Lough Derg to the beginnings of the ocean at Limerick. Up river, you can 'make westing' by taking the waterway near Shannon Harbour to Ballinasloe. Once upon a time, there was a feasible scheme to join Dublin all the way to Galway by canal and river, but the arrival of the railways put paid to that.

But back on Dublin Bay, there's this very accessible basin right in the heart of town, and great things were expected of it on its gala opening on April 23, 1796, making today its 215th birthday.

A thousand guests partook of a lavish breakfast in marquees erected on the dockside and John Macartney, chairman of the Grand Canal Company, was knighted on the spot by the Viceroy.

So significant was the celebration that the courts rose to permit the judges and m'learned friends to attend. It was reported that 150,000 members of the public witnessed the scene.

Things have been quieter for the past two centuries around the Grand Canal Dock (originally known as Ringsend Dock). It reached its nadir when it found itself right in the midst of the gasworks end of town.

But these days the place is becoming quite the trendy spot with the Liebeskind-designed Grand Canal Theatre, good restaurants, apartments and office blocks.

And still at the heart of it is this very usable area of water surrounded by convenient quaysides. The basin never went out of use, but it became the sort of place where boats could be laid up for the winter at a modest fee -- many never went to sea again.

But with Waterways Ireland arguably the most successful and active cross-border statutory agency in the country (they re-opened the Royal Canal in full last year after decades of closure), the Grand Canal Dock is acquiring fresh vitality.

At the end of June, to coincide with the Docklands Festival, Waterways Ireland will be hosting the new Inter-County Sailing Championship. A flotilla of 1720 Sportsboats will be provided, so you don't need a boat to enter -- you just need a crew of five representative of your county.

You'll need to know how to helm a 27ft keelboat in a fairly confined but eminently sailable area of water, but as it's the first staging of an attractive idea, everyone involved will be on a steep learning curve.

Later in the summer, towards the end of August, the east coast fleets of the Irish Cruising Club will be holding a muster in the Grand Canal Dock. This gathering will include boats which have voyaged round the world, so they don't have to prove their seafaring credentials to anyone.

It's indicative of the re-emerging stature of the Grand Canal Dock that events of this calibre are homing in on a forgotten gem of the city's waterfront.

Irish Independent

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