Grand Canal Dock

The Dublin Canals are interwoven with the history and heritage of Ireland's capital city. Representing built heritage on the doorstep of generations of Dubliners these waterways have been intrinsic to the story of the city and its development. 

The Grand Canal Dock was first opened in 1796.  Once bustling industrial hubs full of mills, warehouses, coal and dockyards, today Grand Canal Dock and Spencer Dock are vibrant hubs of a different kind. These characterful areas and their historic waters are home to fantastic food, cultural corners and picturesque panoramas. 

The opening of the Ringsend Docks, as they were known in 1796, was a significant event with 1000 guests and an estimated 150,000 people witnessing the opening ceremony. The engraving pictured, which is part of the National Gallery of Ireland collection, shows the arrival of Lord Camden’s yacht for the event.

The docks at the time of construction were the largest in the world. However, they fell into disuse within a few years due to the declining use of the Dublin Canals. Serving as the hub for the Grand Canal, Grand Canal Dock linked Dublin to the Shannon to the west and the Liffey to the east.


Grand Canal Heritage in a long-gone Harbour

Did you know that the Grand Canal's original Main Line continued from Inchicore to what was then Grand Canal Harbour, behind James Street? Prior to the completion of Grand Canal Docks in Ringsend, the canal skirted the City Basin off James Street before reaching the parallel Grand Canal Company Harbour. The imposing curved stone walls of the harbour are still visible beside Guinness today. Sitting between what's now St James Hospital and the Guinness Storehouse, in the 1830s the City Basin supplied the south of the city with drinking water and with its pleasant waterside walks and greenery, was considered a highly desirable place for fresh-air socialising.


The semi-circular harbour beside the basin was a life force for The Liberties many industries, weaving and brewing among them. In its very early days, Guinness was actually made using water from the canal harbour – a practice long since abandoned! The Grand Canal linking with the basin and harbour, as it then did, was a huge boost to industry, opening up transportation routes between the city and the rest of the country.


Today, the red Luas line largely follows the old Main Line. The Suir Road, Rialto, Fatima and St James Hospital stops loosely replicate the canal's former route around the old City Basin and harbour. Although the basin and harbour are long gone, the street names in the area – Grand Canal Place, Basin Street, Basin View – nod to the waterway's prominence in centuries past.


The Royal Canal

Construction began on the Royal Canal in 1790 and took 27 years to reach the Shannon. The Canal extends from Spencer Dock where it joins the river Liffey, the canal then flows through the North of Dublin City all the way to the Shannon in Longford. The construction of the Canal was more expensive than anticipated due to the insistence of The Duke of Leinster that it pass thought his home town of Maynooth.

When opened, the canal was originally intended for freight and passenger services but fell into disrepair in the 20th century. Following extensive works the canal was reopened for navigation in 2010.

Discover the Archives 

Did you know you can explore over 200 years of the Irish waterways in the Waterways Ireland Digital Archive? Visit

George Brierley’s stories of working on the Docks

In this piece of audio, you will hear George Brierley, a retired Dock Master from Dublin.  The interview the clip is taken from an interivew that took place at the Dock Master's House, Grand Canal Dock in Dublin.  Here, you will hear George speaks about his first job on the docks in 1963.  George explains some of the work of a dockman and the importance of the tide to their day’s work. 

Listen to the full interview. 

"Can Ireland's Royal Canal Heritage Be Saved?" - A look back at the RTE Archive to see how far we have come since 1982.

In 1962 the Royal Canal was officially closed down and fell into disrepair and neglect. The Royal Canal offers the potential of a linear park stretching halfway across the country. The canal is owned by CIE who no longer need it and do not have sufficient resources to maintain it. The canal is due to be handed over to the Board of Works but until this happens all restoration work falls to volunteers and community groups. In 1974 volunteers from the Inland Waterways Association of Ireland formed the Royal Canal Amenity Group to save the canal. Click the link below for the full video on the RTE Archive.

The Battle to Restore the Royal Canal

​The Bargemen

Bargemen was a term used interchangebly with "keelboatmen," "bargers,"and "keelers." It applied to men who operated riverboats that traveled upstream (as distinct from flatboats).  First Broadcast on the 7th of November, 1976 this Documentary on One tells the story of Dublin's Bargemen.