What can we say?
Three of the important early writers on Irish inland waterways — Harry Rice, John Weaving and Hugh Malet — have testified to the existence of the Rockville Navigation, but it seems to have been forgotten since their time. Malet is the only one of the three who describes a trip on the system and who speculates about its origins; he also provides evidence that parts of the system are artificial cuts.
The nineteenth and early twentieth century Ordnance Survey maps and the Griffiths Valuation maps provide further support for that view. The word canal is applied to the straight cut spanned by the bridge, to the link to Rodeen Lough and to the two short cuts near the house, linked to the fish-pond and to what looks like an orchard. These maps do not mark the links between other lakes as canals, but even if not entirely artificial they may have been improved.
However, it may be difficult to distinguish between canals for navigation and canals for drainage. The channel linking the straight cut (the section spanned by the bridge) to Dooneen Lough was very windy on the nineteenth-century OS map but was a clean curve by 1913. Was that done to help navigation or for drainage? The same question could be asked about other cuts.
William Lloyd of Rockville was appointed as a member of the First Drainage Board for the Elphin Drainage District in the Drainage and Improvement of Lands Supplemental Act (Ireland), 1867 (see Enhanced British Parliamentary Papers on Ireland, 1801–1922).
The physical evidence seems to support Hugh Malet’s account. The date of 1765 on the bridge is the only evidence I know of for the date of construction of the system. However, I know nothing about what it cost, who commissioned it, who paid for it, who built it or why it was built. I suspect (but have no evidence) that the boats used may have been wooden cots, like those used on the Shannon and other waterways: these cots were beamy and up to thirty-five feet long.
The cargoes could have included turf, as Malet says, potatoes, as Tarrant suggests (see The link to Lough Gara below), and other agricultural produce, while manure might have been moved around the estate. However, all of this is speculation: Fr Gannon remembers back as far as the mid 1940s and says that there has been no traffic on the waterway in that time, so that even Malet’s idea that turf was carried by boat is mere conjecture.
The date on the bridge would make this one of the older Irish waterways: the first summit-level canal in these islands was the Newry Canal, built between 1731 and 1742, while the improvements to the River Maigue to Adare, in around 1720, were amongst the earliest improvements to a river navigation in Ireland’s canal age (Delany, op cit).
That is the extent of the evidence I have found so far, except for some material on the Lloyds of Rockville (see below); that material does not mention the navigation. Liam Byrne of Roscommon Historical Researchhas examined some Lloyd family indentures but hasn’t found anything about the navigation. I also include below an account of a separate proposal that might (had it ever been built) have passed over part of the Rockville system.
The Lloyds of Rockville
According to the Landed Estates Database the Rockville estate was owned by the Blackburn family until Owen Lloyd of Lissadorn (there were several families of Lloyds in Co Roscommon) married Susanna Blackburn in 1740. The database mentions Col Owen Lloyd in 1828 and William Lloyd in the 1850s, when the house itself was valued at £45. In 1915 almost 3000 acres of family land passed to the Congested Districts Board.
The house was sold to George Freyne of Ballaghderreen in 1917 and demolished in the second hald of the twentieth century. There is no mention of the navigation. According to John Bateman in his The Great Landowners of Great Britain and Ireland(4th ed Harrison london 1883), William Lloyd of Rockville owned 300 acres in County Galway and 7394 acres in County Roscommon.
The Lloyds leave Rockville
On 1 December 1906 the Irish Times reported that, the previous week, Major & Mrs Lloyd of Rockville had given a ball to their tenants to celebrate the coming of age of their son and heir, W Hutchinson Lloyd. Major Lloyd was a Justice of the Peace, a Deputy Lieutenant for the county and a former High Sheriff (1889). He died in 1912: the Irish Times of 12 August 1912 carried his obituary. Mrs Lloyd had already died: she had been a cousin of his, a daughter of Major Hutchinson of Carrick-on-Shannon. His son at the time was a lieutenant in the 9th battalion of the Kings Royal Rifle Corps.
In 1917 the young Mr Lloyd was appointed a magistrate for County Roscommon (Irish Times 15 December 1917) but the following year he sold Rockville. The Irish Times of 23 March 1918 announced that 1000 acres, the mansion house and demesne and farming lands of Rockville, Drumsna, would be auctioned on 3 April 1918. The house had been occupied by the owner until recentlyand his family had held it for over two centuries. It included 73 acres of lake and water, with a boat-house.
Some marked timber had been sold and was in the process of being removed; on 16 November 1922 the Irish Times reported that the new owner, Mr George Frayne (not Freyne), a farmer, was suing the timber merchant.
The timber merchant was Messrs Russell of Portarlington; Laois County Council’s free downloadable PDF book (link here) about the Mountmellick Branch canal has more about Russells. I am indebted to Eleanor Russell for sending me a photo of Rockville House taken by one of the Russell family during their timber-removal operations. Copyright in this photo belongs to the Russell family.
According to a file on the Irish Genealogy Project website, Deansgrange Cemetery contains a headstone in memory of William Hutchinson Lloyd (eldest son of Major William Lloyd of Rockville), who died at the age of 42 on 13 January 1927, and of his younger brother Coote Rochard Fitzgerald Lloyd, who died at the age of 49 on 4 September 1936.
At some stage Rockville passed into the hands of Mr Marcus Sullivan, who offered it for sale in 1946. It was advertised in the Irish Times on several occasions, including 27 April 1946, when there was a photograph of a substantial house in what seemed to be good order. The house was described as “a two-storey, slated, stone house” with a ballroom and five large bedrooms, whereas in 1918 it had a basement, five reception and billiard rooms and “about 12 bedrooms”. The 1946 description said
There is a small river running through the estate which connects up several fair-sized lakes, which yield excellent coarse fishing and boating.
However, the Irish Times of 13 November 1948 records the birth of a son to Emily, wife of Marcus O’Sullivan, who is still described as of Rockville House, Drumsna, Co Roscommon, and on 26 July 1978 the Irish Timesrecorded that Marcus M O’Sullivan (perhaps the son?), of that address, was called to the bar.
Some unsuccessful searches
I list these to save others from wasting time. A search of the National Library of Ireland online produced no results for Rockville. The National Archives of Ireland found a letter dated 3 May 1846 from William Lloyd, Rockville, Drumsna, promising to transmit a list of subscriptions for the relief of the indigent in the barony of Ballintober North (Item 2505 in the Famine Relief Commission Papers, 1845-1847).
The Internet Archive found nothing. Neither Isaac Weld’s Statistical Survey of the County of Roscommon (Royal Dublin Society 1832) nor Samuel Lewis’s Topographical Dictionary of Ireland(S Lewis & Co London 1837) mentions the navigation, although Lewis does mention Rockville amongst the principal seats of the parish of Aughrim.
The link to Lough Gara
On 10 June 1835 Charles Tarrant, Engineer to the Royal Canal, gave evidence to Westminster’s Select Committee on Public Works (Ireland). Amongst the topics discussed was a proposal to link
Lake Bordany by Canedoe to Elphin and Lake Gara [all sic].
This was one of three proposals for canals into Roscommon, the other two being from Tarmonbarry to Roscommon and from Lough Ree to Roscommon. The Lough Gara route was the longest, at seventeen and a quarter Irish miles (almost twenty-two English miles), and would have cost 64204 pounds 2 shillings and 8 pence, and was the only one of the three proposals that Tarrant thought would be useful.
However, the Loan Commissioners’ funds were exhausted as they had given 42000 to the Ballinasloe Canal. The Lough Gara line would have had the advantage, Tarrant said, of using an inland cut or still-water navigation, thus avoiding “the uncertainty of a river navigation”. It would have run through very rich land and would have made it
impossible that Dublin could suffer so much from the scarcity of provisions … particularly with regard to potatoes.
This part of the proposed canal to Lough Gara passes through part of Clooncraff Lough, along the river and through Cloonahee Lough. I note that Mr Tarrant made no mention of any existing navigation along the route.