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The building of a tidal dock in 1767 initiated the development of the town of Warrenpoint. The dock was funded by the Irish Parliament after the merchants of Newry petitioned them for a grant to build the dock. They submitted a plan and an estimate of the work was appraised at almost £3,000 with two years for building. The merchants were given a grant of £1,500. Roger Hall, Robert Ross, Robert Scott and Edward Corry were appointed as commissioners and the dock became property of the Hall family who were the landlords in the area.

Postcard showing the old Dock in The Square at Warrenpoint in the 1900s. Newry and Mourne Museum Collection
Postcard showing the old Dock in The Square at Warrenpoint in the 1900s. Newry and Mourne Museum Collection

In 1777, the Newry merchants petitioned for another grant of £1,447 which was approved. Two years later Warrenpoint docks had ships sailing from Warrenpoint to America.  Sometime around 1830, the piers were extended into the channel to enable vessels to come in at half-tide and a patent slip was constructed for the building and repair of ships. By 1846 it would take only 16 hours to reach London from Warrenpoint by boat and train.

Detail from a drawing, dated 1865, showing two alternative locations for a new pier at Warrenpoint. Plan A was proposed by The Newry and Greenore Railway Company whilst Plan B was proposed by Major Hall of Narrow Water. The old Dock and the Patent Slip are also shown. Newry and Mourne Museum Collection
Detail from a drawing, dated 1865, showing two alternative locations for a new pier at Warrenpoint. Plan A was proposed by The Newry and Greenore Railway Company whilst Plan B was proposed by Major Hall of Narrow Water. The old Dock and the Patent Slip are also shown. Newry and Mourne Museum Collection

Up until 1850, ships of 150 tons and over could go no higher than Warrenpoint. During the years of the Great Famine, emigrants to America and elsewhere bought their tickets in Newry and sailed from Warrenpoint. However, the opening of a new ship canal at Newry in 1850 changed this situation. 

Roger Hall carried out improvements on the harbour at Warrenpoint which were noted in the minutes of a select Committee of the House of Lords in 1863. Some of the improvements made throughout the years included the building the Victoria Pier and a large shed costing around £5000-£6000. Hall also set up gas lights at the Harbour and the Pier. It was also noted that since 1819, Hall had spent an estimated £4000 on improving the accommodation of Warrenpoint. After the opening of the Newry – Warrenpoint Railway in 1849, £5000 was spent on extensions at Warrenpoint so that goods could be transported to and from Warrenpoint Harbour by rail, reducing transit expenses by half. 

Cover of a brochure published in the mid-1970s to advertise the facilities at Warrenpoint Port to international shipping companies. Newry and Mourne Museum Collection
Cover of a brochure published in the mid-1970s to advertise the facilities at Warrenpoint Port to international shipping companies. Newry and Mourne Museum Collection

With the opening of the Albert Basin and a new ship canal at Newry, Warrenpoint declined as a port while Greenore and Newry increased business. However, Warrenpoint’s maritime location proved to be beneficial during the Second World War. In 1942, a Dublin and Belfast firm of Steel Construction Engineers named Smith and Pearson Ltd began building tank landing crafts in a workshop in Merchant Quay in Newry. The tanks in question, Mulberry Harbours, were prominent in the D-Day invasion. By 1944 the company was asked to set up a building operation in the Warrenpoint Shipyard Co. Ltd.  They built 20 L.C.T. Mk. 4’s (Tank Landing Craft) before moving on to the Mk. 8’s in 1945 which were then converted into cargo vessels and small tankers after the war. At the height of operation, an estimated 1000 men were employed at the Warrenpoint yard. 

It was believed that Warrenpoint became the preferred port over Newry and Greenore when container shipping began to use Warrenpoint Port in 1964. Container ships were too large to use the Victoria Lock at Newry and the Port of Newry closed in March 1974.

A cargo ship in the old port at Warrenpoint c.1930. Newry and Mourne Museum Collection
A cargo ship in the old port at Warrenpoint c.1930. Newry and Mourne Museum Collection

Operational from 1973, the modern port at Warrenpoint was developed and expanded between 1972 and 1974 on land formerly occupied by John Kelly Ltd (coal importers), Warrenpoint Railway Station and Dow Mac Cement, supplemented by land reclamation. This provided the new port with twenty-eight acres of land. The Port of Warrenpoint has continue to grow and now covers an area of fifty-three acres. 

Newry and Mourne Museum is open Tuesday – Saturday 10.00 am – 4.30 pm. Please call 0330 137 4422 for further information.

by Joanne Glymond

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