In November 1807 two ships, the Rochdale and Prince of Wales set sail from Pigeonhouse harbour in Dublin, bound for England. They were carrying newly recruited militia for the Napoleonic War, and their families. But bad fortune struck and an easterly gale forced the two ships onto rocks between Blackrock and Seapoint. They were wrecked and nearly 400 people drowned.
As a result of this disaster, pressure was put on to go ahead with the building of a new harbour at Dunleary. Work began in 1815. The original harbour and town of Dunleary was situated roughly in the area near the Coal Harbour where the Motor Boat and Yacht Club is now located. Much of the original harbour, which dried out at low tide is now covered by the railway.
In 1821, King George IV visited the town and it was renamed Kingstown in honour of the visit. The town was renamed Dun Laoghaire in 1920 as Ireland moved towards Independence.
In 1826 the mail packet base, where mail to Europe was gathered, was transferred from Howth to Kingstown. Some years later, in 1859, the Carlisle pier was built for a new fleet of mail boats. The pier made it possible for passengers to transfer directly from boat to train, and the new boats with their better engines, modern construction and propellors instead of paddles, reduced travel time from Holyhead from over 7 hours to 3 hrs 45 minutes.
In those years there was almost invariably a Royal Navy guardship stationed in the harbour. The church in which the museum is now housed was built to provide spiritual support for the crew.
Dun Laoghaire harbour is Ireland’s largest pleasure sailing base, enjoying four yacht clubs – the first being built in the 1840’s. It is also justly famous for introducing the Water Wag in 1878 – the first ‘one design’ of its kind in the world. This dinghy introduced strict rules for exact shape, weight, materials, area of sails and so on, which enabled sailors to compete on equal terms.