Hobblers – who were they?

Dublin Bay’s hobblers recalled at a Dún Laoghaire ceremony
first published in the 2002/2003 edition of Inis na Mara
More than seven decades after their dangerous enterprise came to an end Dún Laoghaire families with close links to the sea gathered in late September to honour the hobblers. “The who? ” asked one local teenager when told by a friend that he intended to be present at the dedication in Dún Laoghaire harbour of a compelling monument to the men who years ago guided ships to harbour before the arrival of the Dublin Port pilots.

Many Families Represented

Desmond Brannigan (center) with members of hobblers’ families
Desmond Brannigan (centre) with members of hobblers’ families

Skilled men

Councillor Donal Marren, Cathaoirleach of Dún Laoghaire Rathdown County Council said of the hobblers: “They were men skilled in sailing, courageous men who frequently took risks on dangerous seas, competing against one another and the elements to be first to offer a guiding hand to a ship entering and berthing in harbour. “Their story is a reminder that the poor and humble have had a central role in the history of Dún Laoghaire and must continue to be accommodated within its confines alongside commercial interests and the more affluent in our society.”

Symbol of hope

The monument, commissioned by the Dún Laoghaire Harbour Board, is the creation of artist Fiona Mulholland. It is in the form of a tower of life-jackets suggesting the hazards associated with the sea and the vulnerability of man when faced - with its terrible force. It is in the form of a lighthouse and is a symbol of hope and man’s will to endure and survive, said Councillor Marren. The pride among the present-day descendants of the hobblers gathered for the ceremony was tangible. They laid wreaths at the foot of the tower and touched with reverence the names of their kinsfolk who had perished in pursuit of their hazardous trade. Among the lost were young men just out of school and learning their perilous business at the hands of hard fathers and uncles, men with names that currently comprise some of the stoutest and most formidable families in the Dublin districts of Dún Laoghaire and Ringsend, the main centers of the hobbler trade - Lawless, Hughes, Shortall, Miller, Pluck, Brennan.The impressive monument stands on the East Marina breakwater in Dún Laoghaire harbour. On one side is the huge new yacht marina with craft totaling millions of Euro and on the other the grand terminal for the HSS super ferry, all standing testimony to the passage of time, in a sense such a short time ago, and to the advances in shipping generally since the days when hardy men went out in flimsy craft to ply their perilous trade.
For an account of the Hobbling disaster of 6 December 1934 see this article from the Dún Laoghaire Harbour Company
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