History of the Guinness Steam Ships
The river Liffey, which is tidal to a point on the river above St. James’s Gate, has for very many years carried no traffic except the well known Guinness Barges, otherwise called Steam Lighters, that carried casks of Guinness from the brewery to Dublin Port. The number of barges in operation was gradually reduced to zero by June 1961.

In the 1870’s the Guinness site grew rapidly and expanded towards the river Liffey and in 1873 Guinness had a jetty built on the Liffey at Victoria Quay. This enabled barges to load and unload wooden casks of Guinness directly at the gates of the Guinness Brewery. The Jetty at Victoria Quay was extended from 1887-1892. An average of about ten or twelve barges were in operation in the early decades of the 19th century. The first barge to be built in Belfast by Harland and Wolfe was called the “Lagan”.

Guinness Barges loading at Victoria Quay, Since demolished. The first Guinness Liffey barges were stream operated and named after all rivers around Ireland. With design input from Guinness engineers in 1927 Guinness launched ten new type of barges known as the ‘Farmleigh’ type barge and were entirely built by Vickers (Ireland) Ltd. at the Liffey Dockyard. These new barges were named after place names around Dublin e.g. Killiney, Farmleigh, Castleknock. The first vessel, the Farmleigh was launched in November of that year, the other nine appeared in quick succession up to January of 1931.

These new type barges could travel at a speed of 7.50 knots while carrying 90-100 tons of cargo, roughly three hundred hogshead of Guinness. They were 80 ft. long, 17 ft 1” wide, were steam driven and equipped with jib cranes.

The Liffey mile journey from the Guinness Brewery to the Custom House at Dublin Port took approximately 20 minutes and incorporated 8 Liffey bridges. The barges were part of everyday Dublin life transporting wooden barrels full of Guinness from the Brewery to the waiting cross channel steam ships at Dublin Port; and brought the empty barrels back to the brewery to be re-filled. Each boat had a mate, an engine driver, two boatsman and an elegantly dressed captain dressed in dark blue corduroys, a shiny peaked cap and a dark blue jersey with the letters “Guinness” in red on the front. As they passed underneath the Liffey bridges, young Dublin ‘jackeens’ used to stand on the Ha’Penny bridge calling out “Hey Mister, bring us back a parrot” as they thought that the barges were sailing off to rolex replica sale places laden with Guinness! The captains generally used to ignore the ‘jackeens’!

These captains were considered established characters of Dublin of that time, pillars of the community, men with an urgent job to do in getting Dublin’s primary export safely over the Liffey mile to the ships that would then carry it to the furthest ends of the world.

The Guinness barges were an integral part of the heart of Dublin. 1920-1921 was the period of the Black and Tans and at one time all drivers and all boatmen had a pass from Dublin Castle to permit them to be outside during curfew, as work started on the jetty very early, depending on the tide on the day. Another example of the history attached to these barges was in the late 1920’s when there was an early sailing. This was the morning the Custom House was set on fire. Some of the barges in the area had their cargo discharged when the fire started and were ordered away by the military. Another historic encounter was in 1922 on the morning that the Civil War began. It started with the attack on the Four Courts and an early morning barge sailing was also scheduled for that morning.

However, there was a question mark as to whether the barges would sail or not. In the event, the barges did indeed continue to sail in the mist of the chaos, as there was a lot of firing around O’Connell Street, but the skippers were the only men on deck that morning! The last barge built was in 1931 and a total of nine barges was added between 1929 and 1931. In 1938 only six barges remained. The last Guinness barge sailed down the Liffey from Victoria Quay to the Custom House on 21 June 1961, drawing to a close a colourful chapter in Irish maritime history.

There was a suggestion back in the 60’s that one of the barges would be preserved for posterity in some way. This unfortunately never actually materialised…. Until now !!!

Click to enlarge above
SS Killiney, Ormond Quay Steam & Smoke, Lowered funnel  
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Where are the barges now?
Barge names
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