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Galway Port needed to open Ireland to world trade
A view of Queenstown harbour from the shore ca. 1900. The decision of the Cunard company to end its stop-over here has led to calls for a new port on the western seaboard Photo: Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, D.C., USA

Galway Port needed to open Ireland to world trade

Campaign heats up as Cunard Company withdraws from Queenstown

Published: 20 August 1913

A campaign to develop a new port on the western seaboard has been given fresh impetus by the recent decision of the Cunard Company to end its use of Queenstown as a stop-over port for its steam liners.

The company has alleged that the County Cork port is inadequate to the needs of its larger vessels, the Lusitania and the Mauritania, and has pointed to the narrowness of the entrance to the harbour, the shallowness of the water and the restricted area for anchorage. The action of the Cunard Company has drawn criticism from several Irish MPs, among them Mr John Redmond and his brother William, who have repudiated charges concerning the Cork harbour's shortcomings and called for a local inquiry. The concerns of Irish politicians echo those of Irish business interests. Mr W.J. Smith, President of the Waterford Chamber of Commerce has stated that the Cunard decision was a blow not only to Queenstown, but to the entire country.

A poster advertising passage with 'Splendid Accommodation' on a Dominion Line steamer from Queenstown to Boston, during Autumn and Winter 1900. The Cunard company has claimed that the Co. Cork port is no longer adequate to the needs of its two larger vessels, the Lusitania and Mauritania.
(Image: National Library of Ireland, EPH E36)

Against this backdrop, a recent editorial in The Freeman’s Journal has argued that without the provision of a new port Ireland risks being sidelined from the most important trade route in the world. Although there are no shortage potential locations to develop such a port, much of the recent discussions have centred on the relative merits of Galway and Blacksod Bay. Of the two, Galway’s case has been more strongly made. ‘It would be more suitable to Dublin, and, in my opinion, be the better scheme of the two in every respect’, George Byrne, Chairman of the Port & Docks Board, has said.

The Freeman’s Journal shares this assessment. Its editorial, published last week, pointed to the city and county’s commercial history and its advantageous geographic location: Galway, it noted, is almost equidistant from Dublin, Belfast, Cork, Waterford, Wexford and Rosslare and ‘existing lines of railway radiate from it to these important ports for cross-channel traffic.’ Of course, the case for a Galway port has been made for a number of years now. A Galway Transatlantic Port Committee, with Lord Killanin as Chair, was established in 1911 and in progressing its agenda, the Committee has interviewed members of Parliament and railway directors in Dublin and London, as well as political leaders from of other self-governing colonies.  In addition, distinguished engineers have been brought to Galway to examine the sites of both the proposed harbour and the proposed Barna Railway. The campaign has been generously supported by Harbour Commissioners of Galway, the Midland Railway and the Galway public.

But whatever location is ultimately selected – if, indeed, one is chosen at all – The Freeman’s Journal contends that the effect of a fast steamer service from the western seaboard would be ‘to shorten the journey between London and New York, Quebec, Montreal or Boston by a day and a half. That saving in mails and business travel offers a commercial advantage that British as well as Irish manufacturers would be wise to seize upon. It offers Ireland and Great Britain advantages over every other country in Europe that would secure for all time the supremacy of these islands in the trade of the western world.’

The Freeman concluded that neither Ireland nor the empire could afford to adopt an idle approach to the issue: ‘A self governing Ireland cannot remain out of the world’s markets, and a western harbour is as necessary for Irish progress as it is for the stability of Imperial commerce.’


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