The Bull Wall, or North Bull Wall, at the Port of Dublin, extending from the estuary of the River Tolka and the district of Clontarf out nearly 3 km into Dublin Bay, is one of the two defining sea walls of the port, and faces the earlier-constructed Great South Wall. It has one of a trio of port lighthouses at the end of its extension breakwater, and a famous statue of Realt na Mara (Mary, Queen of the Sea) partway along, and was responsible for the formation of North Bull Island with its nearly 5 km of beach.
Dublin Bay had a long-running problem with silting, notably at the mouth of the River Liffey, and held major sand banks, notably the North Bull and South Bull, to either side of the Liffey mouth, along with the Kish Bank over 11 km out to sea. Between the North and South Bulls, a sand bar existed, rising over time, limiting access to the city quays.
After years of primitive dredging, an attempt to maintain a clear main channel to Dublin more effectively was begun when, in 1715, the first piles were driven of what was to become the Great South Wall, completed in 1730 to 1731. This barrier was breached by storm action some years later, and in 1761, a stone pier was commenced, working from the Poolbeg Lighthouse, 1768, back to shore, the construction, of massive granite blocks, being completed in 1795. It was during this period that the building of a North Wall was also proposed, and when it was seen that the South Wall did not solve the silting problem, the authorities responsible for Dublin Port commissioned studies on the matter. Captain William Bligh, of Mutiny on the Bounty fame, surveyed Dublin Bay for the Ballast Board in 1801, highlighting the potential of the North Bull sand bank.
Bull Bridge, North Bull Wall and the beginning of Bull Island
A wooden bridge, the first Bull Bridge, was erected in 1819 to facilitate the construction of the actual stone wall, based on a design by Ballast Board engineer, George Halpin.
Started in 1820, the wall was completed in 1825, at a cost of 95,000 pounds. The total length of the wall is 3,200 yards (2,900 m), and there are no parapets. The majority of the wall stands clear of even flood tides, and has a paved surface, but the last stage is in the form of a breakwater, submerged at high tide; the upper surface of this part is not smoothed.
At the end of the wall is a masonry base with a lighthouse structure, formerly painted red and now painted green.
Over the succeeding 48 years, the natural tidal effects created by the two sea walls deepened the entry to the Liffey from 1.8 m to 4.8 m. Much of the silt now scoured from the river course was deposited on the North Bull, and a true island, North Bull Island, began to emerge, with Dubliners venturing out to the growing beach. The volume of visitors was increased by the commencement of horse tram services to Clontarf in 1873, and further by the laying of a tram line to Howth, and a Coast Guard station was built at the landward end of the North Bull Wall.
Realt na Mara
While the basic structure of the wall has remained unchanged since the late 19th century, a significant addition was that of a statue of Realt na Mara (Our Lady, Star of the Sea), erected from subscriptions from dockers, others working around Dublin Port, and a range of companies. The idea for the statue was suggested in 1950, the foundation stone was blessed on 19 June 1961, and the statue was unveiled and blessed on 24 September 1972. The structure comprises a trio of concrete pillars meeting in a globe, on which the crowned statue of Mary stands; sculpted by Cecil King. The monument is floodlit at night and visible across Dublin Bay. A site dedicated to the statue can be found here The ideal position from which to observe the statue would be to stand along the tidal strand just where Stephen Dedalus was standing in "Portrait of the Artist" when he had his famous epiphany at the sight of a more worldly but equally beautiful young woman. The placing of the Realt na Mara statue here was undoubtedly a tongue-in-cheek rejoinder to Joycean paganism.
The wall features multiple public bathing shelters (each designated male or female), with steps down to the water - the water is close by only at mid- to high-tide. There are a number of car parking places, and a public toilet and information signs near the largest of these.
The Bull Bridge and Bull Wall are technically not public property, nor the property of the local authority, but are owned by the State company which owns and manages Dublin Port. To emphasise this, and perhaps to reduce the possibility of claims of a public right of way, they are closed for a day each year.
Notes and references
- Dublin, Ireland, 1920: "The Neighbourhood of Dublin", Weston St. John Joyce (3rd edition, enlarged) - Chapter 24
- Dublin, Ireland, December 2007: "Realt na Mara", Leo "George" Devitt