We can never be certain as to when man first sailed up the River Boyne, but we do know it would have looked a very different place then. The evidence points us to a date around 3,000 B.C. when middle Stone Age man arrived. They sailed their boats into the mouth of the river and progressed as far as Newgrange. The landscape at the time would have been heavily wooded and the Boyne itself much wider and slower moving.
Drogheda provided a natural ford on the river at the current site of St. Mary’s Bridge from where the first houses and quays were built. From that era to the current day the port has progressed into an important commercial highway trading with Europe, Scandinavia, Asia and America.
It is said that Saint Patrick landed at colpe in 432 A.D. and in 937 A.D. it is recorded that there were 60 Viking Ships on the Boyne and 60 on the Liffey as they plundered the ancient sites of Ireland. The vikings returned to the Boyne on many occasions and used the port as a base for their plundering expeditions.
In the 1400’s goods were coming from all over Europe to Drogheda Port. Archaeological excavations over the years show Drogheda to have been a very cosmopolitan town due to the ports trading links with the outside world. Pottery from Bordeaux, Gascony and Flanders have been found.
Wine, from France was a very important trade at this time with up to 2 to 3 ships per week fully laden. Goods such as hides and corn form the local region were exported to places like Gdansk, Lisbon and Iceland.
Moving on through the 16th Century Drogheda had developed a good trading relationship with Liverpool exporting mostly linen and flax. This relationship further developed in the 1800’s when Drogheda had a regular passenger steamer service to Liverpool. The steamers would sail initially 2/3 times a week and were the first in the world to have electric light on board. The service further expanded some years later to become a daily service and include Glasgow on the route.
The journey to Liverpool then took over 14 hours and could be very hazardous and uncomfortable, where today it would just take over 3 hours on the new generation high-speed ferries. The ships carried a mixture of cattle and passengers, and sometimes the cattle were better treated. The first steamer in 1826 was called the “Town of Drogheda”, and many others followed.
Many ships were also build in the port and Grendons foundry which was established in 1835 employed up to 600 people and produced many steel ships which were launched on the Boyne.
In the 19th century Drogheda became one of the ports through which thousands of Irish people emigrated from famine and out to the new world.
The most striking visual feature in the Port is the Viaduct which was build in 1855 for a total cost of only £124,000 and is still as solid and functional today as the day it was built.
Work on the quays in the old days was hard and dirty with cargoes such as coal having to be shovelled out of the ships hold by hand. It took many dozens of men to do this work on each ship. Today there is a different picture with technology and mechanisation, loading and unloading large amounts of cargo from ships has become much quicker.
Ships today are better designed and have more technology allowing them to predict and manage bad weather and as a result a have much safer passage.
The management of the port began a new era in 1997 when the Drogheda Harbour Commissioners were dissolved after over 200 years and the port became a new commercial semi-state company, Drogheda Port Company.
A new deepwater terminal has been constructed at Tom Roes Point which will be capable of handling larger vessels than the inner port was capable of. Vessels carrying up to 5,000 tonnes of cargo and up to 120 metres in length will use the new facility. New short sea shipping routes have developed from the terminal particularly in unitised trade. As ships have been getting larger there has been a slow progression for the port seaward. Up to the 1800’s ships were unloaded as far up the river as St Mary’s bridge. The main working quays gradually moved to the Ballast, Welshmans and Steampacket quays and now new berths are operating at Tom Roes Point Terminal.
Drogheda Port has always been an integral part of the town economy and played a major role in its outward looking nature. The industrial base of the town was established through the port and it will continue to be a vital element in the town’s future growth.