The very existence of Dún Laoghaire Harbour and it’s specific location owes more to Richard Toutcher (1758-1841) than to any other man. In turn, the town developed around the harbour.
Toutcher was a man of great foresight, a tenacious organiser, a philanthropist, who challenged the authorities, developed the concept of the harbour, organised public opinion and the prevailing media, ensured that the appropriate legislation was drafted and brought through parliament, and provided, at great personal expense, most of the granite for the building of the harbour.
His personal genealogy and young life is well documented. Richard (Eric) was born at Lund, near Egersund on the West coast of Norway to Daniel (a lawyer) and Anna (daughter of the county judge) Touscher. Ten years later, they moved to Stavangar. At 20, he was a temporary law-officer in Stavangar. Later, he became controller of customs and excise there. His nautical experience probably came through working with his brother-in-law, a shipowner.
Having visited Dublin at some time before 1789, he took up residence there as a shipbroker. He was horrified by the loss of seafarers in Dublin Bay, and his horror was exacerbated by the loss of the Prince of Wales and the Rochdale in November 1807. He began to organise public meetings firstly at Monkstown Church of Ireland, close to the scene of the tragedy, in the following March. Over the next couple of years there are newspaper records of meetings organised and petitions signed in support of his campaign by merchants, ship-owners and politicians on both sides of the Irish sea. He conducted a postal campaign of one thousand letters to everyone who might be influential at a time when letters were rare and expensive.
The idea which he was promoting was of a single long pier East of the village of Dunleary, and stretching almost a mile out to sea (essentially the East Pier), with the existing old Dunleary pier forming the west side of a harbour with a wide mouth. It was not the preferred choice of government, who had commissioned surveys all around Dublin Bay and chosen Howth as their site for an asylum harbour. Toutcher persisted with his campaign for Dunleary, which was eventually supported by Richard Verschoyle of Mount Merrion House, one of the wealthiest and most influential merchants of Dublin. Within a year of Verschoyle’s letter to government, legislation was passed to finance the surveying and preparation of plans for his harbour.
When John Rennie was appointed to prepare harbour plans in 1816 his pier bore a striking resemblance to plans presented earlier by Toutcher in a pamphlet in which he used the nom-de-plume of “A. Seaman”. The location of the single pier was exactly the same as Toutcher’s, and the pier length was similar.
When it became likely that the construction of the harbour would be authorised, Toutcher predicted that speculators would seek to make large profits from the project, and that such profiteering would reduce the funding available for pier construction. Large amounts of granite would be required. The prime source for granite would be the massive deposit in the hill behind Dalkey. Toutcher secured a lease on ten acres of prime granite, using his own money, and made the granite available free to the project. The transaction put him into “irreversible debt”. He later sought compensation for the cost of the lease, but it appears that it was not paid. He had pecuniary difficulties for the rest of his life and died a bankrupt.
When the project got under way, he was appointed as Second Assistant Engineer. He did not consider it an appropriate reward for his efforts.
He lived on to see his beloved harbour built and he died, aged 83, in bankruptcy in 1841.
Richard Toutcher is not named on the George IV monument erected to commemorate the king’s visit in 1821, nor on any other permanent monument in the harbour or the town.
Written by Tom Conlon
- History of Dún Laoghaire Harbour, John DeCourcy Ireland, Caisleán an Bhúrcaigh 2001 ISBN 0 946130 27 2
- A Safe Anchorage – Dun Loaghaire/Kingstown Harbour 1817-2017, Dun Laoghaire Borough Historical Society, 2017
- Dun Laoghaire’s Great Harbour, Arnold Horner, History Ireland issue 5, 2013
- The Construction of Dun Laoghaire Harbour, Dun Laoghaire Harbour Company