Salt production and bucket pots on the Dublin coast

As the country’s capital, commercial hub and major port, the city of Dublin had a need for salt in significant quantities. Furthermore the wider coast of Co. Dublin had thriving fishing villages such as Skerries, Rush and Balbriggan that also required the commodity. The city had salt works in operation in the 17th century (Greenville Collins marks them at Booterstown and Dollymount in 1686), and in common with the rest of the country these underwent significant expansion in the 18th  and 19th centuries. As well as producing and importing salt into Dublin, other Irish works, such as Ballycastle and Carrickfergus in Antrim were supplying the city in the early 18th century.

Grenville Collins map of  Dublin Bay, 1686

Greenville Collins map of Dublin Bay, 1686

At least 24 sites were employed to produce salt in the city, one of the most significant was at Salthill on the south side of Dublin Bay. One of the key indicators of salt production on the foreshore are the seawater reservoirs known as bucket pots that were used to retain sea water at low tide for the use of the works. The examples at Ballycastle are rare to judge by the progress of the national survey to date, however documentary evidence would point to their employment in Dublin Bay in the past. One mining journal of the early 20th century notes, ‘large shallow troughs or pans cut in sheets of rock for aerial evaporation, like those at Salt Hill, county Dublin, which were in existence till after the Kingstown [Dún Laoghaire] railway was made…’. The employment of rock troughs for ‘aerial evaporation’ is likely a misunderstanding of function and these are actually bucket pots. The Ordnance Survey maps show the railway and an expanse of bare rock on the foreshore, the only features shown are the popular 19th century bathing pools – could these have been an extension of the original salt working bucket pots?

Salthill on the 2nd edition OS map - note the bathing ponds

Salthill on the 2nd edition OS map – showing the bathing ponds on the bedrock foreshore

At Salthill today the infrastructure of Dún Laoghaire port and the rail line have obscured the former location of these sites, however opposite the smaller railway station at Seapoint we discovered some evidence that the intertidal bedrock had been quarried and a roughly rectangular basin carved out – this would need verified, as it is currently full of sand and the rock was also removed for land reclamation needed to facilitate the railway line.

The rock outline of a possible bucket pot at Seapoint

The rock outline of a possible bucket pot at Seapoint

The rock cut feature at Seapoint - note the tubular quarry mark on the right

The rock cut feature at Seapoint – note the tubular quarry mark on the right

Outside Dublin references to salt works are to be found at Malahide, Skerries and Balbriggan. The Balbriggan site was first noted in 1822 importing rock salt from England, and in the later 19th century from Carrickfergus. It supplied the Irish Sea Fishery and despite the changeable fortunes of the industry, the salt works located at the quays survived into the 20th century. The quays at Balbriggan were too small by this period for fishermen, merchants and salt makers; with fishermen in particular aggrieved by the colliers and salt boats blocking the harbour. In 1910 a tragic accident occurred when a 19-year old salt worker named Hamilton fell into the boiling pans and later died of his injuries. The site of the salt works survives, although amended as a nightclub in recent decades.

Balbriggan salt works

Balbriggan salt works


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s