Someone once told me water used to come almost right up to the door of the King’s Inns. I didn’t believe them but it was true. The water was canal water from the Broadstone Harbour of the Royal Canal onto which the Inns fronted as shown above.
For a short but glorious period of time one of the main arteries of commerce in Ireland, the Royal, as it was known, linked Dublin and the North Midlands. There was a spur from the Canal to the Liffey at Royal Canal Docks but the Broadstone, with its Royal Canal Hotel, was the original intended main terminus.
When the construction of Broadstone Harbour (completed ten years later) started in 1796 that particular part of North Dublin was a thriving centre of industry, with numerous shops, workhouses, pentitentiaries, lunatic asylums and the Linen Hall mentioned in a previous post (all of which required transport) close by. In fact at one point it was even considered situating the proposed harbour at Bolton St to be closer to the Linen Hall.
Broadstone Harbour became even busier in 1845 when the Royal Canal was purchased by the Midland and Great Western Railway Company as part of its scheme to run trains from Dublin to the West. A flashy neo-Egyptian railway station serving Galway, Westport and Castlebar was erected opposite the King’s Inns, with a ingeniously constructed pontoon bridge allowing passengers to cross from one side of the harbour to the other.
Alas, in this very building, with its touches of Karnak and Luxor, lay the seeds of the harbour’s inglorious ending; with the railway, there was no longer the same need for canal transport and eventually in 1877 Spencer Dock replaced Broadstone as the main Canal terminus and the watery harbour was filled in to become the station forecourt, a roadway and (in front of the King’s Inns) a small park.
Meanwhile the Broadstone railway line, with its special Fourth Class wagons for cattle and migrant workers and, at the other end of the scale, its ‘ladies only’ carriages for unaccompanied nervy gentlewomen, proved immensely profitable for the Midland and Great Western. In 1856 the Broadstone was the venue for the Irish equivalent of the Great Train Robbery when a cashier was found murdered in his office with the day’s takings absent; as with the Great Train Robbery, no one was ever brought to justice.
There were lots of railway stations in Dublin, all owned by different companies, and the rivalry between them intense – even the location of a new junction could lead to vicious infighting. All this ended when the Midland and Great Western Railway Company joined with other railways to form the Great Southern Railway in 1924. A single railway company made a plethora of railway stations, no matter how swankily built, superfluous and the last train from Broadstone left in 1937. The station itself (complete with haunted room the site of the 1856 murder) still stands, purposeless and bereft, looking out on the busy road and small, dank, rather sunken park which are all that remains of the beautiful watery space below.
More about the Broadstone Harbour as it was, here and here. Pictures of the Broadstone station when first erected and in its spooky modern incarnation, here and here. Photo of the King’s Inns and park today (taken from approx. the middle of where the harbour used to be) here. Relevant Ordnance Survey maps (for those who are interested) here.