The Dublin Docklands Development Area comprises of 520 hectares or 1300 acres of land on the north and south banks of the river Liffey. In the past there was little contact between the communities on both sides of the river. Until Butt Bridge opened in 1879 Sackville Bridge – now O’Connell Bridge – was the nearest crossing-point, so people relied on the Liffey ferries to cross downstream. Until 1930 Ringsend was part of PembrokeTownship, which was home to some of the wealthiest households in the Dublin area. In that year it became part of Dublin City.
When the Custom House opened in 1791, Ringsend was the only part of this area that was developed. The remainder consisted of low-lying wastelands, which had been divided into lots – or lotts – by the Ballast Office. As the port expanded downriver, this land became more valuable. People and businesses moved into the Docklands, attracted by the prospect of jobs and the large tracts of underdeveloped land. The road from Ringsend to the city was regularly under water at high tide, but land was gradually drained or reclaimed. To construct the North Wall and Alexandra Basin the port authority had to reclaim a large area of the foreshore, and this provided sites for factories and other businesses.
The traditional Dublin industries, such as poplin and silk were located in the neighbourhood of St. Patrick’s Cathedral. When these industries declined after 1800, the population fell in older parts of the city. In Docklands by contrast the population increased steadily throughout the nineteenth century, and the vacant land was gradually covered with houses and commercial properties. The Royal Canal and the Grand Canal, which linked Dublin with the river Shannon, opened harbours in the area during the early 1800s. By the 1850s Docklands included two of Dublin’s main railway terminals: Amiens Street, serving trains from the north, and Westland Row, the station for trains to the southeast. In 1861 the London and North Western Railway Company moved its passenger terminal from Kingstown – now Dun Laoghaire – to the North Wall. The Midland Railway Company opened a rail link to the North Wall some years later. Hotels, warehouses, coal yards and cattle yards moved near the port and the railway lines, as did stables for the countless horses that transported goods from the port throughout the city.
Some of the larger employers, like the railway companies, built housing for their workers. Speculative builders erected small cottages in the lanes and back streets to cater for the rising population, but commercial and industrial development took precedence and the houses were occasionally demolished to provide sites for warehouses or other business premises and housing standards were generally poor.