Drogheda lost another piece of heritage today as the last resident of Ship Street, the dwarf Buckles Loughran, closed his little door for the last time before tomorrow’s auction. Master Loughran is the last of the Ship Street Dwarves to leave as he emigrates to Mornington. Buckles, a confirmed bachelor, accepted an offer on his house from local estate agents Airgead & Moore for an undisclosed sum, not thought to be very much at all. Buckles’s story could have been so different had he of won the lead role in the 1995 movie Frankie Starlight. Instead, his nemisis, local actor Alan Pentony, landed the role and Buckles went to work in the McDonnells soup factory, just like his daddy did.
Built in the early 19th century as a bowling alley and stable complex, Ship Street was the Bettystown Amusement Park of its day. The future Duke of Wellington, Arthur Wellesley, was known to have frequented the bowling alley during his time as a student in Drogheda Grammar School and was an early advocate of the sport. He is also said to have invented the wellington boot on Ship Street, which was prone to flooding even then. The quick thinking future duke had his personal cobbler waterproof his Hessian boots from the innards of a peasant’ s goat as the Boyne river crept up Ship Street during a league game; a game which he lost incidentally.
As factories sprung up around Drogheda port, the industrial revolutions merciless clank led to longer working hours, declining health and ultimately, smaller people. Noticing that the offspring of factory workers were smaller in stature than their parents, the 2nd Earl of Ballsgrove purchased and converted the cottages into tiny homes. The pittance paid factory workers generally coughed themselves into an early grave but not before siring on average 15 children, who in turn, saw their bodies stunt as they adapted to the small confines of the cottages. This was compounded by the Victorian Earl’s cruel sub-dividing of the tiny cottages into ever more diminutive dwellings, swelling his coffers in the process. Over a period of six generations, a colony of dwarves had emerged in Ship Street.
The Ship Street dwarves thrived for over a hundred years in a variety of specialized technical roles until industrial decline clasped Drogheda close to her rusting corpse. Many of the colony emigrated to England in the 1960s as Drogheda’s factories became modernised. Those who stayed succumbed to drink, snuff, prostitution and acting.
The architectural results of this social experiment can still be seen today. As the dwarf colony grew, interested social benefactors constructed other dwellings around the town, like Moonans Cottages (off Sundays Gate) and as the dwarf offspring began to morph into pre-industrial revolution sizes, Patrick Street.
The Faa Side wishes Buckles all the best in his future endeavours and hopes he comes back for pantomime season, the St. Patrick’s Day Parade and who knows, maybe one day a statue beside Socks Byrne and the handball guy.
Ship Street was auctioned off on 11th December.