onday, February 1st 2021 marks the 200th anniversary of the very first Greystones Coast Guard station.
And naturally, being Greystones, it was situated not by the sea but a good five-minute drive away.
At the top of Church Lane. Where there was very rarely any messing about in boats.
With the long-awaited new Greystones Coast Guard station due to be built right in the harbour later this year, Gary Paine here offers an extensive history surrounding that momentous February 1821 day. A history you can find alongside many other Greystones gems of old in his rather fine 2018 book, A Pictorial History Of Greystones & Its Coastal Environs 1760 to 2018, available right about here.
Over to the bould Gary…
It was on February 1st 1821 that Thomas Lamb Wood was appointed as the first Chief Officer of the Greystones Coast Guard Station.
A generation before the arrival of the railway, the post office, or any of the town’s churches, back then the organisation was known as the Preventive Waterguard. In contrast to the search and rescue remit of the modern day Coast Guard, it acted as a marine based arm of revenue enforcement on behalf of the government to crack down on smuggling activities around the coast.
Ironically for the first two decades, the station was located inland, close to where Blacklion Pet Hospital is today. It consisted of a cluster of buildings to house the compliment of 12 men comprising one Chief Officer, one Chief Boatman, two Commissioned Boatmen and eight Boatmen. The 1838 ordnance survey map shows that there was only one road (what is now Rathdown Road) leading down to the sea. There was however a bohereen of sorts leading from the coast guard station part way down what is now Church Lane as far as where Knockdolian is today. It then turned due south and crossed fields on the eastern slope of Jones’ Hill, from where it was possible to link up with a path that ran along what is now Marine Road on the sea front. Also clearly marked was the flagstaff, likely erected by the coast guard to indicate wind direction and strength.
Turnover was high among the station’s men during its initial years, with Officers and Boatmen moved along the coast to other stations at regular intervals to reduce the risk of them compromising their revenue enforcement duties through becoming too familiar with the local population. By May 1822, all eight of the initial compliment of Boatmen had been moved along, with their replacements coming from stations in England. In all, the Greystones station was under the command of six different men during its first seven years of operation. Crews from the station patrolled the Greystones coastline, watching from the shore and weather permitting at sea, manning the station’s boats. Two types of boats were used, a galley and a gig. The former was a large open boat with oars and most likely with a mast and sails and the latter was a smaller, narrower clinker built boat with oars.
Customs and Excise records note that on 18th February 1822 men from the Greystones Preventive Station, together with colleagues from Six Mile Point apprehended nine smugglers who were subsequently taken under military escort to Wicklow Gaol. A decade later, on 1st September 1832, the schooner, Aeoulus, bound from London to Newry with a cargo of butter and oats was “brought into Kingstown harbour in a very disabled state by the boats of the Greystones and Five Mile Point Coast Guard Stations, the officers of which by great exertions in towing, succeeded in securing the vessel, just before a gale of wind at E.N.E came on, which probably would have caused the total loss of vessel and lives.”
By the 1840s, it was clear that the Greystones Coast Guards required a new coast guard station nearer the sea. The Commissioners of HM Customs in London approached John Doyle (1793-1855), whose family were instrumental in the early development of Greystones. John Doyle, featured in the oil portrait was a former coast guard and signed an Indenture with HM Customs in September 1842 for the construction of a new station. This comprised seven interlinked coast guard cottages, a single storey watch house, two storey officer’s house at the northern end (now Greystones Harbour Family Practice) and a standalone boathouse on what was at that time a private road, later to become Trafalgar Road. Kenmare Terrace which housed the cottages was named after the coast guard station at Kenmare in Co. Kerry, where John Doyle had himself served, having started his career as a supernumerary tidewaiter inspecting ships’ cargos entering Wicklow port aged 16 in 1809.
In May 1858, the Admiralty published a map of Ireland showing the 202 coast guard stations grouped into 38 divisions located around the near 2,000 mile length of coastline. Greystones came under the Dublin division and to the south, eight coast guard stations stretching from Five Mile Point in the north to Cahore in the south came under the Arklow division. During the latter half of the 19th century, crews from the Greystones Coast Guard Station competed regularly against their fellow crews from Wicklow, Five Mile Point and Bray in the coast guard galley races held at annual local regattas.
After 30 years at Kenmare Terrace on Trafalgar Road the coast guards were on the move again. In 1873, the Commissioners of Public Works constructed a larger, better positioned premises on Marine Terrace (now Greystones Garda Station) affording commanding views from its watch tower north and south along the coast. Today, the coast guards still uses the station’s boat house as its premises, whilst the site adjacent to the new boat slip opposite Greystones Sailing Club awaits development of what will be the organisation’s 4th location in Greystones.
Thomas Lamb Wood, who became the first Chief Officer at Greystones went on to have a distinguished career with the coast guards. Four years after leaving Greystones, whilst serving as Chief Officer at Clogher Head in Co. Louth in 1826, he was awarded a silver gallantry medal by the RNLI for saving the life of a fisherman, swimming from the shore with a rope tied to his waist to rescue the drowning man. Later on in his career, he went on to become the Inspecting Commander of The Coast Guards in Ireland, a post which was later held by Captain Tom Casement (a regular visitor to Greystones), brother of Sir Roger Casement.
You can find out more about Greystones Coast Guards on their Facebook page here, download the full hi-res versions of the above shots here, and check out Gary Paine’s recent piece about the October 1910 sinking of the Reciprocity and the Velinheli here.
The above abbreviated history is just one of a number of stories told in Gary Paine’s glossy 296 page historical archive of the town, A Pictorial History of Greystones & Its Coastal Environs 1760 to 2018, which is still available to order for €35 plus postage online. Contact Gary on email@example.com or check out the website here.
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