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People on the Pier: Dún Laoghaire landmark remembered in new book

New book on Dún Laoghaire pier takes the reader down memory lane.

The O'Kane Ball family enjoying a stroll on the pier, just one of the contributions to People on the Pier.
The O'Kane Ball family enjoying a stroll on the pier, just one of the contributions to People on the Pier.
Image: Anne O'Kane/NewIslandBooks

DÚN LAOGHAIRE IS famous for two things: its pier and Teddy’s ice-cream parlour. Many would argue no trip to the south county Dublin town is complete without a visit to either.

Over a million people visit the pier each year. It’s thronged on sunny days, frequently features in wedding photos, and as a result it is close to the heart of the local community. Now a new book tells the story of the people who visit it, giving an intimate look at the ‘people of the pier’. That the photos are taken by locals themselves only adds to the experience. 

The harbour was constructed following public outcry over a fishing tragedy in 1807 in which almost 400 men women and children perished. The coast alongside Dún Laoghaire was particularly difficult, and locals hoped a harbour would make fishing there safer.

Permission was granted in 1816 for the project, which was the largest man-made harbour in the world at the time. Building works took several years with the project finally being completed in 1856. 

The harbour soon became the go-to-place, with “meet me on the pier” becoming a familiar phrase for locals over the 200 years.

1 The Nolan Family, taking a break from a post-breakfast walk on the pier to mark a birthday. Source: Nolan Family/NewIslandBooks

Snap happy

In a bid to recognise the connection between Dún Laoghaire’s residents and the pier, the local library launched a social media project in 2017 encouraging visitors to share their photos of the local landmark.

People on the Pier marked the bicentenary year of construction of the landmark.

In an era in which everyone’s a photographer, the library’s project captured the imagination of visitors from near and far and saw hundreds donate their images.

The resulting collection featured in a display at the dlr Lexicon library and now is the subject of a new book under the same title, People on the Pier. The book has been nominated in the An Post Irish Book Awards, in the Best Irish Published Book category which is sponsored by TheJournal.ie.

Ann McCoy 3 Ger Mc Coy taking a break on the pier. Source: Ann McCoy/NewIslandBooks

Photo-books have become increasingly popular in recent years, particularly among the Irish photographic community, with book launches now a regular occurrence – but this is a book with a difference.

People on the Pier is a mix of snapshots, the works of professional photographers and a couple of paintings thrown in for good measure. 

The book is the brainchild of Senior Executive Librarian Marian Thérése Keyes and former librarian Betty Stenson.

Keyes said their “initial hope was to expand their collection of local imagery”.

She said President Michael D Higgins’ speech at last year’s bicentenary inspired the book: 

He said we were all custodians of history… recorders of the present moment. 

“We wanted to generate a community of people who loved the pier,” Keyes said. 

The librarian said the aim of the book is to “create a permanent feature of the unique celebration of the bicentenary of the pier”. 

“Meet me on the pier”

The publication takes the reader through a history of Dún Laoghaire pier, its construction, storms that have battered the area, weddings and of course a section called Pets on the Pier.

Sarah Trenaman Red looking out over the harbour wall. Source: Sarah Trenamen/NewIslandBooks

In Ann McCoy’s submission, for example, she wrote about her family’s tradition of walks on the pier:

I think we find a kind of piece there, I know my husband Ger (pictured above) liked nothing better than a quiet walk, to get the old mind free from the usual stresses of work. Now it’s time to bring the new generation of our grandchildren down and show them what a beautiful and peaceful place the pier is.

Mary White 1 A birthday outing on the pier. Source: .Mary White/NewIslandBooks

Mary White, meanwhile, wrote about a birthday trip to the pier with her grandchildren:

We’d taken our children there for many walks on the pier and also to swim at the old baths. So, after our two granddaughters, Isla and Niamh had finished their summer camp we got the number 63 bus from Kilternan which took the scenic route to Dún Laoghaire. This was a novelty in itself. There was plenty to watch around the harbour, including the yachts out racing, and time to sit and enjoy our ice creams on the pier before heading home. 

3 Tom Morgan and Mandy Smith walk the pier every weekend. Source: NewIslandBooks

Tom Morgan and Mandy Smith are just one of the couples that feature in the book. A former barrister turned artist, Morgan walks the pier several times a week. 

Midweek I walk the pier alone or with fellow curmudgeons to solve the Nation’s problems.

6.2 Michael Doorley, author Marian Thérèse Keyes and their daughter Nora in 1996 Source: Joanna Doorley/NewIslandBooks

People on the Pier is not a typical photo-book – it’s a community’s response to a landmark that is as much a part of Dún Laoghaire as they are, with plenty of nostalgia to boot. 

People on the Pier contains 306 images and is published by New Island Books and costs €24.95. To cast your vote in the An Post Irish Book Awards, visit the official website. Voting is open until 23 November and the awards are on 27 November.

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