The Ferryman

The Ferry on the Liffey River in Dublin has a long storied history. There are reports of a ferry service as early as the late 14th century, but the longest-running route was the one that was started in 1669 and ended on October 20, 1984. The service was a very affordable way for workers to get across the Liffey River, but was ended for budget reasons after a bridge was put in across the river.

On this day, one Pete St John was standing at the dock. His story is as follows:

It was a bright chilly Sunday afternoon in October 1984 when a 320-year old proud tradition of river service came to an end. The Liffey Ferry, better known to us as the Workers’ Ferry, made its final crossing of the famous river from the Grand Canal Basin to Spencer Dock. It was a sad moment, and on that afternoon I spoke to one of the ferrymen, and he simply said, “Here I am redundant, and I’m only 42. After 20 years befriending a machine, and then some specky four-eyed expert on a grant from the IDA says, ‘Sorry mate it’s over. On your way.’” So the Dublin docks is dying, and the ferrymen are gone, and the relics, they gather rust like red despair. And we’ve swapped our pints for glasses, and we’ve run out of idle jokes, and little things just vanish in the air. Like take the case of the Liffey Ferry: after nearly 50 years it’s got the chop, and it has to stop, and I see no one shedding tears. It seems like we’re all zombies, or like sheep that have no say. Of course, I never thought I’d see the keys without a horse and dray, and them fellows up in Leinster house they never heard a misery ill, and they never cared about East Wall, and I know they never will. It’s just another part of Dublin that’s gone beyond recall. The little ferry, for the workers, gone forever from North Wall.

The Ferryman (the song) was born. It has been covered by many famous Irish musicians, including the Dubliners and the Dublin City Ramblers, and is a favorite among Irish folk music circles.

The best part of the song is the optimism in the final line as the Ferryman sings to his wife Molly “…we’re still living, oh and darling, we’re still young, and that river never owned my heart and soul.”

The Liffey Ferry has puttered into existence and flashed back out a few times since then, but it has seemingly finalized its service in 2009. You can read about the history of the bridges across the Liffey here.

In 2009, Pete St John was honored by the Irish Music Rights Organization who presented him with the Golden Heart Award for his “outstanding contribution to Irish poetry and song.”

Here is a short video of my version of the song recorded on my iPhone. So.. you know, really good quality stuff:

Back to Top