Tidal passage boats on the Suir

So late as the year 1807 the mail bags between Waterford and Clonmel were carried in a common cart and there was no public mode of conveyance between Carrick-on-Suir and Waterford but passage boats, the chief of which is well remembered as Tom Morrissey’s boat. These dropped from one town to the other as the tide served, fare fourpence a head, distance twelve miles, time occupied seven hours.

George Lewis Smyth Ireland: Historical and Statistical Vol II Whittaker and Co, London 1847, Chapter 14

Water charges

I see from the blatts that Limerick [City & County] Council had a “metropolitan district meeting” recently to discuss how the Shannon might be used to “attract tourism and offer water activities”. I thought it did have such activities: I’m almost sure I’ve seen people in boats, people fishing and so on. But the councillors want something sexier and they intend to pester the unfortunate folk in Waterways Ireland about it.

One Paul Kelleher, described as “(AAA)”, wants an “an Oxford/Cambridge style boat race between UL and LIT” and, alas, “a water bus, with tours down as far as Foynes.”

Unfortunately, since the Lord Lieutenant enjoyed a trip from Limerick to Foynes via Kilrush in 1856, many of the villa residences, mansions and other gentlemen’s seats have become unoccupied and demonstrations of loyalty are unlikely to greet the municipal water bus. Of course any such vessel will be enormously expensive to run, will have a short season and only a few years of popularity and will lose a lot of money. If it were likely to be profitable, private enterprise would already be offering such a service; it isn’t, so a subsidy or some form of sponsorship would be required.

Perhaps Irish Water could sponsor it from its surplus income.


Improvements at St John’s Pill, Waterford

Thanks to Brian Simpson for this update on the continuing resurrection of St John’s Pill [river] in Waterford.

Waterford Council had new fencing erected by Fairybush Landscaping Ltd around Cherrymount bridge and around the slip area. The Council also recently opened a beautiful greenway for pedestrians and cyclists along the St John’s river right into Waterford City Centre.

Our slipway at Cherrymount bridge was being eroded by heavy rainfall and
strong currents when the canal was swollen.


The slipway


The slipway fenced (but eroded)

In order to prevent further damage with the approach of autumn and winter, improvement works had to be carried out. With a low tide window for much of the day and a couple of dry days beforehand, Saturday 29 August 2015 was our perfect opportunity.


Men at work

We would like to take this opportunity to thank our Chairman David Hayes [of David Hayes Engineering, Waterford] for organising the mixer, sand/gravel cement from Doyle Concrete


Doyle Concrete

… and the concrete slabs and capping from Boyce Mulrooney, scrap merchant, Tramore Road, Waterford.

All the committee members who donated bags of cement, tools, ideas, labour and teamwork.


Wade in the water

A great day was had and most importantly the slip is now much secure and pleasing to look at too.

Ballinasloe again

Another account, this dated 1838, of a trip by Grand Canal Company passage-boat from Dublin to Ballinasloe.

The DUP fightback

I mentioned here that the ridiculous decision by the Sinn Féin Minister for Marching Bands [and Sheughs] to ask the DUP Minister for Finance and Personnel for £46 million for the Lisburn Sheugh might have been intended to annoy the DUP. Most of the Lisburn Sheugh, formerly the Lagan Navigation, ran through unionist territory; the Lagan Valley constituency is solidly unionist, and specifically DUP, in both Westminster and NI Assembly elections. It costs Ms Ní Chuilín nothing to pass on the Lisburn lunacy to the Dept of Finance, leaving it to a DUP Minister to turn down the funding application.

But the DUP has lobbed a neat hand-grenade response back at the Shinner fortress. Brenda Hale, DUP MLA for Lagan Valley, has put two questions to the sheughery enthusiasts:

AQW 48647/11-16 To ask the Minister of Culture, Arts and Leisure what financial support her Department has offered the Lagan Canal Trust, given that their budget has been cut by 11 per cent. [09/09/2015 Awaiting Answer]

AQW 48646/11-16 To ask the Minister of Culture, Arts and Leisure when the Lagan Navigation Canal Locks where last maintained. [09/09/2015 Awaiting Answer]

Ye’ll no’ fickle Thomas Yownie.

Leisure industries in Mullingar

From the Waterford Chronicle 21 October 1843 quoting the Athlone Sentinel:

An unfortunate female was thrown over the bridge at Mullingar into the canal, on Friday night, by some of her unfortunate companions, and was drowned. An inquest was held on the body, when a verdict of wilful murder was returned against six females, three of whom have been taken.


I had been thinking that it was rather a windy summer on the Shannon, and  Met Éireann’s seasonal summary [select Year 2015 and Period Summer 2015 here to get a PDF] supports that view:

Seasonal wind speeds were the highest in at least six years at the majority of stations with records of up to 41 years exceeded at Shannon Airport (mean wind speed of 9.9 knots (18km/h)). Seasonal mean wind speeds ranged from 5.9 knots (11km/h) at Mullingar, Co Westmeath (its windiest summer in 11 years) to 13.8 knots (26km/h) at Mace Head, Co Galway (its windiest summer in 7 years).

Gale-force winds were reported on 9 days, with four of these days (June 1st, June 2nd, July 17th and August 3rd) reporting severe gales. Malin Head reported the seasons highest 10-minute mean wind speed and highest gust on June 1st with 47 knots (87 km/h) and 65 knots (120km/h), respectively, both the highest reported since the summer of 1988.

But what has caused this excess of wind? The learned Tyler Cowen reports today that there has been a shortage of wind in the Americas and that the amount of electricity generated by some wind farms has fallen.

Clearly, therefore, the missing American wind has ended up in Ireland, and the method of transmission is undoubtedly by the wind farms themselves. Just as the wind is caused by the waving of trees, so too is wind caused by the turbines of wind farms. And while American wind farms are set to blow, ours must be set to suck, thereby bringing American wind to Ireland.

They can have it back any time they like.



Grand Canal passage-boat

Here is an account, published in 1862, of what it was like to travel from Portobello, in Dublin, to Ballinasloe by the Grand Canal Company’s passage-boats — and of why rail travel was much to be preferred.

The Purton boat graveyard

If you happen to be driving across southern England and Wales — say from Fishguard or Pembroke to London — and you want a break, you could turn off the M4 or M48 and drive to the Purton ships’ graveyard in Gloucestershire. It’s roughly 25 miles, 35 minutes, each way: a two-hour break will give you an hour on site — and take you a world away from the busy motorways.

Purton gives you two waterways for the price of one: the Severn estuary and the Gloucester and Sharpness Canal, which bypasses part of the estuary.

The estuary

Big estuaries — including the Shannon and the Suir — always give a sense of space, with big open skies, but somehow the Severn looks even bigger when the tide goes so far out.

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The long and level sands stretch far away

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Note the train on the far bank, behind the signpost

Incidentally, the west bank too seems to have a place called Purton, if Messrs Google’s map is to be believed.

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Drawing a line in the sand

The canal

Purton has two of the Gloucester and Sharpness Canal‘s swing bridges, a weir and other interesting features.

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Purton lower bridge

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Purton lower bridge control room. The keeper operates both bridges

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Swinging room

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Purton lower bridge from downstream

Purton upper bridge

Purton upper bridge

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Information board beside the lower bridge

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Purton weir

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Weir bridge and sluices

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Weir inflow

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Weir sluices

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Weir outfall

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Canalside cottages (all occupied)

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One of several designs of self-closing gate

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Purton Gloucester and Sharpness Canal 03_resize


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Boats 1

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Boats 2

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Boats 3

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Boats 4

The hulks

The hulls of old vessels were used to shore up the embankment, between canal and river, at Purton. [This practice was also used in Ireland, on both the Barrow and the Suir, but not on anything like the same scale.] The result was the creation of a boat or ship graveyard that preserved, and makes reasonably accessible, the hulls or frames or at least parts of a large number of inland, estuarial and coastal vessels. And some of them are vessels that traded with Ireland.

The Friends of Purton have an informative website here; please also read their page about access here. I can confirm that parking is restricted on the site; it would be easy to annoy the local people by careless parking.

Good information is provided on site.

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Information board

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Purton hulks general information 03_resize


Purton hulks general information 04_resize


Purton hulks Severn Collier 04_resize

All identified wrecks have plaques like this

I had allowed an hour for my visit, but didn’t see everything; it would have been easy to spend twice as much time there. In the summer, growth hid a few of the artefacts, but there was plenty to see without trampling on the shrubbery.

Mary Ann 01 resize

The Mary Ann

Mary Ann 03 resize

… is in there somewhere

There are quite a few concrete (ferrocement) barges, built during the Second World War.


Up close


Bows on

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Information plaque

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Stacked up

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Deck details

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Merging into the bank

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One side

Of the other vessels, the Dursley is apparently in reasonable condition but, on my visit, was largely hidden in the grass.

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Dursley plaque

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Dursley sternpost and rudder

The same was true of the Katherine [or Catherine] Ellen, built in Dungarvan.


Katherine Ellen plaque


Katherine Ellen site

I failed to find the Jonadab, a Severn trow that traded to the (Munster) Blackwater, but I did see the remains of the Scottish-built Dispatch, which is amongst the vessels listed by Niall O’Brien as having visited the Munster Blackwater [Blackwater and Bride: navigation and trade 7000BC to 2007, Niall O’Brien Publishing, Ballyduff Upper, 2008].


Dispatch plaque


Dispatch hull

Then there were the dramatic remains of Sally, renamed King, of London.


Sally plaque


Sally remains 1


Sally remains 2

And many more. Even isolated timbers or iron ribs had their interest. But let me finish with a wreck that is not on the embankment but just offshore.

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Tanker offshore

You can read about the loss of the tankers Arkendale H and Wastdale H here and here. They are remembered on a plaque at the site.

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Plaque about the tankers

Purton hulks tanker 03_resize

I don’t know which of the tankers is shown in my photos

Purton hulks tanker 05_resize

The wreck is a reminder of the hazards of estuaries

Purton is well worth a visit — but it is only one of the waterways delights close to the Fishguard/Pembroke to London route.

Northern nutters

I suppose this might be a Shinner ploy to annoy the DUP, but it is eloquent testimony to the pointlessness of the Northern Ireland Executive. It is unable to get its own act together, it can’t agree a budget — but one of its ministers thinks it should waste yet more of HMG’s money on yet another useless canal restoration proposal.

The Lagan Canal Trust is, it appears, funded by DCAL to enable it to draw up funding applications to DCAL ….