The Story of the Marine

IN 1836 Parliament permitted the establishment of Loan Fund Societies. These resembled the modern Credit Union in many respects, the chief difference being that the capital of a Loan Fund Society was contributed by local landlords, clergy and merchants. A Loan Fund Society was established in Wicklow in or about 1840. The chief officer was William Blood of Glebe Cottage, the other trustees being Sir Ralph Howard, Bt., of Bushy Park; William Acton, M.P. of Kilmacurra Park; John Perrin and William Nolan, business partners on South Quay and Town Commissioners; and Andrew Nolan (1).

The Wicklow Loan Fund made loans of up to £10 to trust-worthy tradesmen and small farmers, but principally to the miners of sulphur pyrites in the neighbouring hills for the purchase of horses, carts and mining implements. Records for Wicklow Port show that in 1842 some 70,000 cartloads of this mineral were delivered to boats there. The poorer people also used the Loan Fund as a savings bank.

Loan Fund Societies, unlike Credit Unions, ploughed their profits back into charitable or educational enterprises. In Wicklow the project adopted was an industrial or trade school and when an office for the Fund was being built it was decided to house the school in the same building. A hall where the items made by the pupils could be displayed and sold was also included (2). This re­sulted in the erection of the imposing building which we now call the Marine.

On 17th September, 1841 William Blood wrote to the town authorities that:

“It is in contemplation to erect an Institution in or near the town for the industrial education of the working classes and their children . . . (who) are destined to earn their bread by the sweat of their brows … so that they may be enabled to in­crease the comfort of their own households, by the skill that they have acquired, or to acquire a greater reward for their labour by superior usefulness.

“The most favourable site for the proposed institution being the Murrough, I beg to inquire if you will be disposed to further the object by setting as much of the grounds within the Race Course as would do to erect the building upon’’.

An area of 100 feet square “within the Race Course”, was leased to the Loan Fund for seventy-five years from 25th March, 1842, So we can date the building of the Marine to 1842 – 1843 (3).

A Mary Johnston was appointed Headmistress. Presumably tradesmen were brought in to teach the various skills. Pupils were mainly senior and former pupils of Church Hill National School (4).

The Parliamentary Gazetteer of 1843 gave some statistics con­cerning the Loan Fund for the previous year:

“The Loan Fund had a capital of £4,782; circulated £24,128 in 4,075 loans; realised a nett profit of £571 16s. 9d.; expended for charitable purposes £714 15s. 5d.; and belonged to 36 pro­prietors”.

Slater’s National Commercial Directory of Ireland (1846) noted the school and the Loan Fund in the same building as well as “a fine room . . . (which) is appropriated as a bazaar for the sale of the children’s manufacture”.

Thomas Lacy visited “the Murra” in 1853 while collecting material for his book “Sights and Scenes in Our Fatherland” and noted the “handsome building … in the centre of this verdant plain where a school for the education of the children of the town has been established, and where also a General Loan Fund office is kept”.

By then, however, the Loan Fund was in decline and, conse­quently, we can date the closure of the school to about 1854 – 1855.

A local merchant, Francis Wakefield, had been the chief con­tributor to the building of the Marine and he now tried, unsuccess­fully, to interest the Church of Ireland Archbishop of Dublin in it for use as a Diocesan Free School for Glendalough as laid down by an Act of Elizabeth I. His Grace argued that Dublin and Glenda­lough were a single diocese and that his school in Dublin satisfied the terms of the Act’.

On the 16th November, 1858 two trustees of the Loan Fund, John Perrin and William Nolan, mortgaged the ground “upon which they had erected a large dwelling house” (i.e., the Marine) to Wakefield for £1,000″.

Wakefield then formed a joint stock company which had the building adapted as “The Wicklow Railway and Marine Hotel”, and it is from this title that the familiar name “The Marine”, has come down to us. Joseph Softlaw, “formerly of the Bridge Hotel, Lon­don”, was employed as manager and the hotel was inaugurated by a public dinner given in it on Saturday, 17th December, 1859 (7).

Wakefield was sometime Chairman of the Town Commissioners and also of the Harbour Board. About 1860 also he was backing the Wicklow Tramway which connected the old train station with the Packet Pier through Strand Street. Records of the Dublin and Wicklow Railway Company directors show that he sought unspeci­fied “privileges” for his new Hotel from them. Softlaw also asked them to allow a direct entrance to be made from the railway station to the Hotel, but both requests were turned down. However, their chairman, William Dargan of railway-building ‘fame, and his fellow-directors consented to be named patrons of the new Hotel. After all it could only attract business to the railway.

“The Railway and Marine Hotel” soon failed, however, and the Wicklow Tramway also seems to have fallen on hard times. In 1874 the directors of what had now become the Dublin, Wicklow and Wexford Railway refused Wakefield’s request that they take over both Hotel and Tramway.

The War Department, like the cavalry in old cowboy films, finally came to Wakefield’s rescue. An Act of 1793 had provided for the raising of a militia force by each county. This was a reserve military body much akin to our F.C.A. The 37th Wicklow Infantry Militia was formed, but was disembodied in 1816 after the Napole­onic Wars. It was re-embodied in 1855 as the 92nd Wicklow Rifles. Headquarters was in Main Street in a building later used as the Catholic Club. In 1877 the Wicklow Rifles became the 34th Wick­low Artillery Militia, and in 1877 also the Minutes of the Town Commissioners refer to the possibility of using the Marine for militia training.

On 1st July 1879 Francis Wakefield, who by now was living in Middlesex, sub-leased the unexpired thirty-eight years of the 1842 lease to the War Department (9). On 2nd June that year the Wicklow Militia first camped on the Murrough. (The Murrough was being used by the Dublin City Regiment of Artillery from 1878.) By 1881 the Marine was ready for occupation by the officers.

Militia regulations stipulated a 27 day summer training camp, with a longer stint for new recruits. Each year when the Wicklows’ training session ended the Dublin City Artillery Militia took their place. For a few years also the Waterford Militia trained in Wick­low. Each regiment had its band and public recitals were given a few evenings a week. In 1896 the Town Commissioners forbade the “playing or practicing of football or other boisterous game on any part of the Murrough after 7.30 p.m. on any evening on which the Artillery Band plays”. There were church parades on Sundays and each camp ended with an inspection and a sports.

An extra piece of ground, now the site of the S.A.S. factory, was leased to the military in 1898. On this were mounted the two guns which now overlook the harbour. These were used for drill purposes and the cannon beyond the Black Castle were used for actual firing practice — out to sea.

In 1907 there were strong rumours that the Militia would be disbanded in a proposed new army shake-up, and indeed the train­ing period was reduced that year to a mere 20 days, and the cannon were replaced by field guns. There were then 493 men, including 25 officers, in the Wicklow Militia. The Dublin Militia held their sports on a Sunday to compensate for the reduced num­ber of days and offended local Protestants by doing so.

The Wicklow Militia were in fact disbanded on 23rd May, 1908. Twelve officers and 378 men then transferred into the new Special Reserve force. The headquarters of this unit continued to be the Marine until late 1909 when they in turn were disbanded. 340 Wicklowmen attended the only annual training of this unit in Dun­dalk in May, 1909. The U.D.C. complained of the financial loss to the town following the new military cut-backs. Thirty houses became vacant as a result. The Councillors made an unsuccessful attempt to persuade the War Department to locate a regular army unit in the town. When the War Department offered the unexpired eight years of the leases of the Marine and grounds to the U.D.C. the offer was spurned. The military authorities must continue to pay the rent because, as Frank McPhail, the Town Clerk, put it,

“The Council had given the War Department every facility and at the end the War Department had left them naked” (10).

In 1909 a committee was formed in Wicklow to provide a sec­ondary school for boys and before the end of the year the Marine had been earmarked as a suitable school-house. On 1st February, 1910 the U.D.C. resolved “That on termination of the lease of the Marine Barracks on the Murrough the Council will take over the premises for educational purposes”. On 10th August, 1910 William Byrne of the Bridge Hotel, secretary of the school committee, wrote to the De La Salle provincial inviting him to send Brothers to Wicklow. His letter referred to “A suitable building . . . The present leaseholders are the War Office authorities whose term of lease expires in about seven years when the building becomes the property of the Urban Council as ground landlords. It is under­stood it would be sublet at about £50 per year”.

Pending the availability of the Marine the new school was housed in the old chapel and the Brothers took a three years’ lease on ‘Padua House’, Bayview, from S. V. Delahunt. In 1915, therefore, Brother Dominic, the superior, was house-hunting and thought that the Marine would house both school and Brothers. A Mrs. Mullins and her daughter were then living in it. On 30th May Brother Dominic wrote to his provincial:

“Mrs. Mullins, ‘Marine Hotel’, died during the week so there is nobody there now but the daughter and it is not likely that she will keep it on, or she may (sub) let it at a fairly low rent. I was thinking of approaching her in the matter…”

“I have taken the Marine Hotel”, he wrote on 9th June, “and have everything completed with regard to it now at £40 a year furnished. There are nine beds in it. So any Brothers who are looking out for a Summer seaside resort can’t find a nicer place … It would lighten the rent on me . . . The only disad­vantage I see in it is that it may be a bit far for Mass in the morning . . .”

On 1st July he triumphantly reported that:

“I am just in possession of the new abode, as you see from the above address”,

and still with an anxious eye on his tight budget he continues:

“and of course there is plenty of room. In fact I could accom­modate eighteen Brothers if I had the beds . . .”

Brother Dominic proved to be a good tourist agent. Nineteen Brothers from other communities holidayed in the Marine that summer of 1915 and the credit column of his ledger shows an entry of £97 received from his guests. The debit column records a monthly rent of £3 6s. 8d. payed to Miss Mullins until June 1916 when he seemingly persuaded her to lower it to £2 1s. 8d.

At Easter 1916 Brothers Dominic and John visited De La Salle University Hostel, Ely Place, Dublin, at the invitation of the superior there. While in the city they were caught up in the events of the Rising. According to Brother Dominic’s version of the story a Unionist neighbour in Ely Place reported to the authorities that there were Jesuits (!) in the house across the street. The Brothers were questioned and the superior was brought to the Castle for a more thorough investigation. But there was a happy sequel to all of this; the War Department was still responsible for the upkeep of the Marine. A work detail duly arrived under the supervision of the officer who had been sent to check out the ‘Jesuits’ at Easter. It turned out that he was a Limerickman, newly posted to Ireland from Malta where his sons had attended a De La Salle school. So all was forgiven!

In 1917 the ground lease of 1842 expired and the building be­came the property of the ground landlord, the U.D.C. In January the Councillors resolved ‘‘That the lease of the Marine Building to the De La Salle Brothers be hereby signed and sealed by the Council”. On 30th April Brother Dominic paid Mr. McCarroll, solicitor, £12 for “legal expenses for lease”.

That summer he was transferred to Belfast and was replaced as school principal by Brother John Kearney. In those years there were less than 50 pupils, taught by three Brothers, in the school. The Wicklow People of 31st Aug., 1918 announced that “The sec­ondary college conducted by the De La Salle Brothers in Wicklow will re-open on Monday. It has been rumoured that the military authorities were about to take over the building, but this rumour is without foundation . . .”

What a pity it wasn’t fact. For in the Great Flu of 1918 Brothers John and Paulinus died, Paulinus on 27th October and John two days later. No doubt their cold barrack-like accommodation con­tributed to their deaths from pneumonia. Only young Brother Albert Walsh survived. The school was closed until January, 1919 when the Brothers were also introduced into Saint Patrick’s National School. There were then seven Brothers living in the Marine. That summer their supporters organised a bazaar which realised £554 to repair and furnish both schools.

During 1919 also the Brother Provincial was planning on pur­chasing the Grand Hotel so that the Marine and the Grand com­bined could be used to start a boarding school, but the Superior General vetoed this plan because of the distance between the two locations.

By 1922 it was obvious that the Marine no longer suited the Brothers’ needs. They had to walk to and from morning Mass in the Dominican Convent, and then the National School Brothers had to walk back to school on Saint Patrick’s Road. And in all kinds of weather. So a double house in Wentworth Place was purchased to house community and secondary school.

On 18th September, 1922 the Free State Army commandeered the Marine. The Community History indignantly reports that “At an hour’s notice the house and school furniture had to be removed to Wentworth Place”. This development may have been related to the introduction of An Garda Síochána into Wicklow ten days later. Since the departure of the R.I.C. in March the army had occupied the police barracks in Church Street and must now make way for the new force. The National Army left the Marine in November, 1923 and a wrangle developed with the Brothers over rent and compensation for damage to the building. The problem was even­tually sorted out.


Militia Camp on Murrough (circa 1905)

In law the Brothers continued as legal lessees of the Marine. They paid rent and rates on it and also paid a caretaker. But, in the euphoria generated by the foundation of Saorstát Éireann, indus­trial prosperity was thought to be just around the corner, and members of the U.D.C. demanded, understandably, that the Marine be handed back to them for use as a factory. The Brothers had gone into debt to provide the town with a secondary school in Wentworth Place. They and their supporters had ploughed a lot of money into the Marine and in the circumstances they felt that some recompense should be forthcoming from the U.C.D. if they willingly waived their leasehold. Eventually a compromise was reached, and the U.D.C. re-took possession of the place in 1927 (11).

In the 1920s the Byrne and Dunne families lived in the Marine for some time. During a flood in Strand Street it was used to house families who had to leave their homes. For a period the I.T.G.W.U. used the building. In 1947 Noonan in his Guide to Wicklow re­marked that there were plans to turn it into a temporary fever hos­pital, but this was not proceeded with. For some years it housed a textile factory and from 1954 to 1960 the Sisters of Mercy from Rathdrum used it as a holiday centre for the children in their care. Messrs S. V. Delahunt then acquired the Marine as a bottling plant and as such it continues to prosper.

A varied history, surely!


1. Wicklow U.D.C. records, courtesy of Mr. J. Phillips.

2. Quane, Michael, “Wicklow Free School”, Royal Society of Antiquaries Journal, 1968.

3. U.D.C. records.

4. Quane.

5. Quane, quoting from a letter from Francis Wakefield to the “Daily Express” (Dublin) 5th Nov. 1867.

6. Registry of Deeds, 1858, Vol. 36, No. 252.

7. The Dublin Builder, 1st Jan. 1860.

8. Informant: Mr. K. A. Murray, Chairman, Irish Railway Record Society.

9. Registry of Deeds, 1879, Vol. 37, No. 161.

10. Informant: Mr. Brendan Flynn; U.D.C. records; “Wicklow Newsletter” 1885, 1907.

11. De La Salle Brothers, Wicklow, and^ Provincial Records.

Comments about this page

  • Wow! Such varied uses.

    By Gerry Kane (20/02/2022)

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