East Pier Battery
- The Defences
Probably dating to the eighteenth century, a military battery on the site of the present Dún Laoghaire baths became the subject of a letter from the Commissioners of Public Works in Ireland to the Board of Ordnance in London, in August 1842; “The Commissioners beg at the same time to suggest, that as this battery (No. 12) is in a state of complete dilapidation; that from its position, it is clear that it will never be used again as a means of defence, while such very superior situations are available on either side, such as the heads of the piers and Sandy Cove Point; and as it is rather an obstruction, the Board [of Ordnance] might perhaps not be averse to disposing of the entire property” (8). As is evident from fig. 34, this Glasthule Battery No. 12 was no longer strategically placed since the construction of the harbour. In a vignette to his Map of the County of Dublin of 1821 (fig 35), William Dúncan shows a scene of Kingstown. In the foreground is a Martello tower marked “No. 12” in the previous illustration, and the small walled compound marked, probable indicates Glasthule Battery No. 12, the predecessor of the East Pier Batter. The following year (1843) it was demolished to make way for an extension of the Dublin-Kingstown railway line which was built as far as Dalkey.
The need for an up-to-date defensive mechanism near the harbour was obviously still felt years later, when this notice appeared in The Times newspaper, 27 November 1857;
Government, it appears, have come to the determination of erecting defences for the protection of Kingstown harbour, for which purpose a circular battery is to be constructed on the east pier-head, armed with 68-pounders. The battery is to be commenced forthwith, and will be completed in about a year. By this means opportune employment will be given to the working classes during the winter months. (9).
The ground plan of the battery as built can be seen in a drawing entitled ‘Proposed Kingstown Battery on the East Pier Head’ (National Archives OPW 5HC/4/951) figs 37 & 38. A barrel-vaulted passage leads from the pier to the terreplein of the batter (ie the ground level). Fig 39. Immediately to the right are steps into a ‘Shifting Room’ with two rooms off it marked ‘Magazines’ (fig 40). Ammunition was stored in the magazines, prepared for use in the shifting room, and could be lifted to the upper battery by the derrick above the doorway (see figs 40 & 41).
Beside the Magazines, and continuing anti-clockwise, is the ‘Casemate’ (fig 42 & 43). A casemate is a vaulted chamber of masonry (fig 44) within the ramparts, in this case for defensive purposes, since it is equipped with an artillery embrasure overlooking the sea (figs 45,46 & 47). Next to the casemate is the ‘Filling Room and Expense Shell Store’ (figs 48, 49 & 50). The steps, part of which form the lintel of the filling room, lead to the upper battery with three gun platforms (clear in fig. 38). On the lower battery were three more platforms, now only two (figs 51 & 52).
The Artillery Store and Expense Magazine are directly opposite the battery’s vaulted entrance; two small rooms below the level of the terreplein (figs 53, 54, 55 & 56).
Adjoining the Officer’s and soldier’s waterclosets (figs 57 & 58), are the soldier’s quarters (fig 57), designed to accommodate 24 men (figs 59 & 60). Outside is the water tank with a capacity of 3,000 gallons (fig 61). At this south-eastern corner was the cook house, coal store, and ash pit, evident in fig. 38. The landing stage (fig 62) ran behind the officer’s quarter and into the guard room (fits 38,63 & 64). CIL made alterations and repairs to areas of the battery in 1950, particularly the corner between the soldier’s quarters and the officer’s quarter (fig 65).
In his ‘Official Railway handbook to Bray, Kingstown and the Coast’ (1860), GR Powell writes;
“Round the lighthouse has been lately built Kingstown Fort, a small but powerful defence should an enemy show himself within range. From its prominent position it commands the whole bay; it is completely manned, has many guns of large calibre, a powerful magazine, and a means of heating balls to a white heat. The walls round it are curved at the tops, so that any balls striking them, would glance away harmlessly.” (10).
The shot furnace mentioned is not evident in either the ‘Proposal’ drawing of 1857 (OPW 5HC/4/951), or the more reliable drawing’ as executed’ of 1861 (Dept. of Marine). However the War Office map of Kingstown harbour East Pierhead of 1862 (corrected 1883) marks “Shote Furnace and Passage” (fig. 66). The ‘passage’ is presumably joining the landing steps to the entrance passage, with the area off the ‘passage’ being the ‘Shot Furnace’. Later maps omit the furnace eg. Fig 42; suggesting that it had been blocked up. Gun shot would be heated in a furnace, taking over an hour on average to reach ‘white heat’. Figs 67, 68 & 69 explain a shot furnace design of 1843, built in a fortification in Malta. Essentially, the cold shot was inserted at ‘a’, this particular model holding a maximum of 63 balls. The fire was in the area marked ‘k’, which obviously only heated to ‘red’ or ‘white’ heat (as desired) those shot immediately over the flames. Three small doors (‘f’), when opened, allowed one shot each to roll onto the stone trough (‘i’) ready to be loaded and fired. The results of trials with this model (figs 67-69) stated; “after 61 minutes from the lighting of the fire, the foremost shot were ‘white heat’, and blazed instantly in a block of red pine..This furnace, after 70 minutes from the first lighting of the fire, furnished shot at intervals of 40 seconds (ie three shots in two minutes) all of which were of the same white heat” (11).
The 1857 drawing ‘Proposed Kingstown Battery on the East Pier Head’ (National Archives OPW 5HC/4/951) refers to the armament to be installed in the battery (fig 70). It reads; “3 x 68-Pounder Guns over Casemates on dwarf traversing platforms pivoted in rear 4 x 32-Pounders on in a Casemate. 1 x 24 Pounder on Garrison Carriage to bear into the Harbour”. The ordnance in permanent fortifications was generally former ships artillery, and so a little outmoded by the time of its installation. As a result, those in the East Pier Battery in the 1860’s may have been Bloomfields or Millars. “A Vessel has usually a great superiority over a battery in the number of guns she can bring to bear upon a given point; but the advantages of the battery are, that the guns are fired from a steady platform..a batter cannot be set on fire like a ship, moreover, a battery possesses the numerous advantages which choice of position can give” (12)
(10) GR Powell ‘Official Railway Handbook to Bray, Kingstown, and the Coast’ 1860. P.52. (11) H Straith ‘Treatise of Fortifications and Artillery’ 1850. P. 728. (12) Colonel Chesney ‘ Observations on the Past and Present State’ P. 417 / 8.
The three 68-pounder guns on the upper battery are visible in a turn-of-the-century photograph of the structure (fig 71). 68-pounder guns were not of one model, but usually adaptations, even ‘experiments’. The heavy ordnance of these guns suited their position facing out to the horizon; “These heavy calibres, with solid and even with hollow shot, command a considerable range, with an accuracy of fire perfectly astonishing” (13) and “The objects against which the guns of coast batteries are employed being generally movable, very great accuracy and rapidity of fire are essential” (14).
On the lower battery were three 32-pounders (see fig 72,73 & 74). As mentioned, another 32-pounder was in the casemate (figs 47 & 75). On the terreplain are two arched gun embrasures. The ‘Proposal’ drawing of 1857 indicates only one (fig 38), but since this was altered to two by the time of construction, one can assume that there were 2 x 24-pounder guns which overlooked the harbour. Smalled splayed embrasures allo in this part of the parapaet (fig 76) would have facilitated short-range rifle fire into the harbour. Incidentally, the 24-pounder gun at the base o the East Pier (fig 77) is Russian, not English, and has no connection with this battery.
Finally, a word about the platforms for these large-calibre guns. The 2 x 24-pounders on the terreplein, and very likely the 32-pounder in the casemate, were resting on ‘garrison carriages’, such as fig 78. Inevitably the discharge of the shot will force the carriage to jerk away from the direction of fire, after which it was rolled back to its original position for the next shot. No other mobility was possible, or necessary when firing through an embrasure. However, the six other guns were mounted on dwarf traversing platforms with rear pivots (figs 79,80,81 & 82) “Where rapidity of fire is not needed, the common ground platform of wood or stone may be used; but for quick firing at vessels in motion, the dwarf traversing platform is the more suitable” (15).
Tow hollow-soled trucks run on the iron racers, allowing virtually a 180 degree range as well as a choice of elevation (fig 83).
(13) H. Straith “Treatise on Fortification and Artiller” 1850. Page 692.
(14) Colonel Chesney “Observations on the Past and Present state of Fire-arms” 1852. Page 417.
(15) Colonel Chesney “Observations on the Past an Present state of Fire-arms” 1852. Page 417.
Very little documentary evidence regarding the ‘history’ of the battery exists, since its past is relatively uneventful. Its main role has been the firing of gun salutes, today being one of the two in the state (the other is on Spike Island, Co. Cork). It never saw enemy action or acted defensively. In the ‘Kingstown Directory and Guide’ of 1905, the remark on the East Pier is: “At its sea end is a large Fort, now stripped of its armament” (16). Two years later, bedecked in fairy lights as was the whole harbour, the battery played a part in the welcome of King Edward VII and Queen Alexandra on their royal visit to Ireland;
“There was not stir about the harbour until about 8 o’clock, when a Royal Salute was fired from the East Pier Battery by a company of the Royal Dublin Garrison Artillery. At the sound of the opening gun every ship in the harbour dressed rainbow fashion as well as the big cruisers in the bay. The sudden burst of colours in the sunshine was a remarkable sight, with the loud booming of the guns, made a right Royal show of welcome to our King and Queen” (17).
An OPW memo dated 1948 reads: “These quarters [residential buildings in the battery] were occupied by Mr. James Harris up to the date of his death on 31/1/36 at a rent equivalent to the rates assessable on a P.L.V of £7.. His widow was allowed to remain at the premises at the same rent until her death on 9/9/39. Subsequently the premises were occupied by Mr. Thos. Sutherland, a grandson of Mr. Harries until 1940, when the Department of Defence informed us that they required the quarters. Possession was obtained from Mr. Sutherland on 21/10/40 and handed over to Department of Defence on 9/12/40. The quarters returned to us [OPW] on 14/12/45.”
“The Irish Lights Commissioners control the lighthouse and hold accommodation at the battery for which they pay us £6.1s. per annum..” (18).
Another interesting memo of 1948 reads; “James Harris was placed in the quarters by the British War Office. He was employed by the Bd. [Board of Works?] as a labourer from 1891 to 1920 when he was appointed caretaker of the Battery. His services were dispensed within 1933, but he was allowed to remain on a tenant in view of his advanced age” (19).
(16) ‘Kingstown Directory and Guide’, T. Coall & Son, 1905.
(17) The Irish Times, 11 July 1907. Page 7.
(18) Memo dated 26-6-48 in OPW file D87:2/65 vol.2. Harbour Lodge, Dún Laoghaire
(19) Memo dated 5-10-48 in OPW file D87:2/65 vol. 2. Harbour Lodge, Dún Laoghaire