A Little History of Sandymount Beach.
Walking along the beach at Sandymount today and glancing across at the houses along Strand Road it’s hard to believe that in the 18th century there were very few buildings in what was then Brickfield Town (Brickfield Town was later named Sandymount around 1810). The name Brickfield was derived from a major brickworks in the area.
The brickworks manufactured bricks for the new Georgian houses that were being constructed in the likes of Fitzwilliam Square, Fitzwilliam Street and the Pembroke Estate. At that time only ten families lived around a triangle of workers cottages in what later became Sandymount Green. It wasn’t until the arrival of the 19th century and the building of the sea wall that the area became popular for wealthy merchant Dubliners to build fine houses along the coast line and in Sandymount.
Strand road along the beachfront is a good one-kilometre stroll and worth the walk. Looking out to sea at the view of the coast, it is understandable why James Joyce and his beloved Nora Barnacle from Galway loved the area so much with its beautiful views of Dublin Bay. Joyce wrote of the beach being “at the lace fringe of the tide”.
The view towards Dun Laoire on a sunny day is splendid. Looking back towards Pigeon House and Poolbeg along with the iconic twin chimneys with Howth in the distance is a fine view, it’s the sight of the albeit, very environmentally clean Poolbeg incinerator that ruins it for me, but still its architecture has a very brutalist style that I am sure some folks would enjoy.
Halfway along the road is a notable Martello Tower with 2.75-metre-thick walls that was completed in 1804. It is one of the larger ones along the coastline. Twenty soldiers manned the tower for guarding the coast. The tower had a one-storey building attached with a stores for weaponry along with two 24 pound roof cannons to engage with any enemy ships across Dublin Bay.
The present incarnation of the tower has been modified with an additional window and metal shutters designed for a restaurant but unfortunately it never came to fruition and is closed to the public. There was a total of fifty Martello towers built along the coast of Ireland in the early 1800s as a defensive measure by our British chums in case that the French Emperor Napoleon would invade Ireland during the Napoleonic war between England and France.
A contemporary account of military exercises at Sandymount in 1806 records how the towers functioned as a complement to other military forces:
“INTERESTING MILITARY SPECTACLE, At an early hour on Friday morning the troop of horse artillery, and two car brigades of light artillery marched on the sands between the Pigeon-house fort and Sandymount … a shell was thrown from the Pigeon-house fort as a signal for the commencement of the novel and interesting scene that was to follow: the horse artillery immediately advanced from behind Sandymount, as did the light artillery from Ringsend and Irishtown (where they had been concealed), upon the sands, where targets were placed for their practice; during their advance, the Pigeon-house fort and the Martello towers on that line of coast kept up a steady fire of shot and shell”.
I would imagine that day was not a good day for a quiet walk on the beach!
Halfway along the beach and out to sea there are the ruins and walls of what once was Merrion Pier and Sandymount swimming baths. The Merrion Promenade Pier and Baths Company Ltd built Sandymount swimming baths, opening them in 1883 to take advantage of Dubliner’s leisure time during the summer.
The baths were very popular in their day and they measured approximately 40 by 40 metres with separate pools for ladies and gentlemen. A 73-metre pier built of iron girders and timber planks for flooring was added in 1884. With the convenience of Merrion and Sandymount then having both tram and rail, the pier and baths were a popular destination for Dubliners.
At the height of their popularity in 1890 over 30,0000 bathers visited during that summer season, swimming in the fresh seawater baths, partaking of refreshments along the pier accompanied by the enjoyment of music concerts on the bandstand.
When the tide was out the gaps between the planks along the pier attracted “Peeping Toms” and from time-to-time bath attendants would attempt to cool their ardour by dumping buckets of cold sea water on them.
Sadly, the pier and baths fell out of favour and slowly turned to dereliction. By 1923 the seaward wall had collapsed resulting in the baths being dismantled and the iron from the pier being sold as scrap to the Hammond Lane Foundry. At low tide you can still walk out to the baths to day and visit their ruins.
So, the next time you are walking along Sandymount strand have a gaze at the unused Martello tower that with a bit of imagination could be turned into a civic building, perhaps a museum and wonder at the ruins of the old baths, then ponder awhile as to why Dublin City council in all these years hasn’t bothered to either develop the Martello tower or demolish and remove the ruins of the baths as they are a dangerous eyesore, or even to refurbish them into something more modern. Perhaps Broadsheet readers know?
Harry’s Dublin appears here every Friday.
All pics by Harry Warren