Category Archives: Engineering and construction

Mayo’s canal system

No, not the Belmullet Canal, nor the Cong Canal. James McParlan MD, in his Statistical Survey of the County of Mayo, with observations on the means of improvement; drawn up in the year 1801, for the consideration, and under the direction of The Dublin Society [printed by Graisberry and Campbell, Dublin in 1802 and available here courtesy of Messrs Google], after mentioning some lakes and navigable rivers, said:

Those are the only navigations or navigable rivers in this county, except the Marquis of Sligo‘s canal, which winds for several miles through his demesne; it serves for conveying sea and other manures to different parts of the demesne, for conveying among the fields turnips and green feeding, and for several purposes.

I have looked on the OSI 6″ maps [~1840] at the Browne estates listed on the Landed Estates Database, but I have found no sign of the canals. I didn’t know where to look, and the good marquis owned a lot of land, so I may have missed something; furthermore almost forty years elapsed between McParlan’s work and the publication of the OSI maps and the canals may have fallen out of use in that period. If anyone knows where they were, and whether any trace remains, I would be grateful for information.



Did you know …

… that Pollboy Lock, on the River Suck, can be filled in one minute and fifty-eight seconds?



Ballinasloe footbridge

Here is a new page with a brief account of the Ballinasloe Line of the Grand Canal and some photos of a footbridge that seems to have been built across it in the twentieth century.


In my youth, I tried angling once or twice, but with no success: the only time I ever caught fish was with mackerel feathers. So, despite having read Isaak Walton (several times), angling doesn’t really interest me. But it’s hard to read this without accepting that Something Must Be Done, whatever it is. Note, in particular, Dudley Mallett’s comment.

Loos change as TippCoCo hopes to swipe the loot

Er … sorry about the outbreak of headlineitis: it’s corresponding with journalists that does it.

The Tipperary Star reports (on paper, not on its website) that Tipperary County Council intends to issue “swipe cards for boating facilities along Lough Derg”. Michael Hayes, the engineer for Nenagh Municipal District Council, said that the cards were sold along the Shannon but that the revenue went to Waterways Ireland whereas the council bore all the costs. He is quoted as saying that “We are pursuing it to have them pay some of the costs”: another threat to WI’s budget.

Councillor Phyll Bugler said that it was “not acceptable” that shower and toilet blocks closed early, although she is not reported to have commented on the cost of having staff to clean the blocks late at night.

I suspect that Waterways Ireland’s income from the smart cards is minimal.


Saving canals

Barrow Line 20140721 03_resize

Barrow Line 1

Barrow Line 20140721 06_resize

Barrow Line 2

Barrow Line 20140721 08_resize

Barrow Line 3

Barrow Line 20140721 09_resize

Barrow Line 4

When I get a moment, I must find out how many boats have been down that way in this warm, sunny July, the peak of the holiday season. The warmth will have encouraged the vegetation, but I suspect relatively few boats have been through. And only two boats entered the Royal through Dublin in July, even though two openings were offered.

Apart from giving artistic verisimilitude to an otherwise bald and unconvincing narrative about the value of the canal tourist industry and the abiding love of boaters for the canal, using canals helps to keep the weed down.


Effin mensuration

Statue of Dr Johnson near his birthplace in Lichfield

Statue of Dr Johnson near his birthplace in Lichfield

The learned readers of this site will not need to be reminded of the sapient advice of the late Dr Samuel Johnson:

[...] no man should travel unprovided with instruments for taking heights and distances.

There is yet another cause of errour not always easily surmounted, though more dangerous to the veracity of itinerary narratives, than imperfect mensuration. An observer deeply impressed by any remarkable spectacle, does not suppose, that the traces will soon vanish from his mind, and having commonly no great convenience for writing, defers the description to a time of more leisure, and better accommodation. [...]

To this dilatory notation must be imputed the false relations of travellers, where there is no imaginable motive to deceive.

Samuel Johnson A Journey to the Western Islands of Scotland W Strahan and T Cadell 1775

The good doctor would, I think, have welcomed the invention of the digital camera with inbuild chronometer. Equipped with just such a device I arrived yesterday at the first lock on the Royal Canal to witness the lifting of the railway bridge and the passage thereunder of fleets of boats. I thought it would be interesting to record how long each stage took.

I have written before about this bridge: reporting a question by Maureen O’Sullivan TD in October 2013 and another in November 2013 and providing statistics on usage a few days later:

  • only 58 boats went through in 2013
  • the bridge was lifted on seven dates
  • two other scheduled lifts were cancelled as no boats wanted to travel
  • Irish Rail charged Waterways Ireland €1200 per weekday lift and €2000 per weekend lift.

The first 45 minutes

A lift scheduled for early July 2014 was cancelled; yesterday’s lift catered for just two boats, whose passage was assisted or monitored by eight Irish Rail staff and four from Waterways Ireland. Four of the Irish Rail people may have been in training as others seemed to be demonstrating things to them, but that’s only a guess. Three of the WI staff travelled together in WI’s stealth van and operated the first lock; the other, who travelled separately in a 4WD vehicle, visited from time to time. As far as I could see there was no contact between the Irish Rail and WI teams.

The bridge was scheduled to be lifted by 1100.

Before the lift 0945

Before the lift: 0945. The lifting bridge is on the right of the photo

Before the lift 0946

One minute later: 0946. A separate group of workers, perhaps contractors, is going down the west side of Spencer Dock with equipment

Before the lift 0949

Four men still on the bridge 0949

Before the lift 0951

Two minutes later

Before the lift 0956

On the bridge 0956

Before the lift 0958

Still there 0958

Before the lift 0959

One minute later

Before the lift 1006

The bridge 1006

Before the lift 1012

The bridge 1012

Before the lift 1015

The bridge 1015: another person approaches

Before the lift 1020

Six men at the bridge at 1020

Before the lift 1028

A seventh man approaches at 1028

Preparing to lift

The preparation stage, presumably involving the unlocking of some mechanism, took about five minutes altogether.

Preparing the bridge 5 mins 03_resize

One man worked on the far end while another walked to do the same at the near end

Preparing the bridge 5 mins 06_resize

An eighth man, behind the fence on the right, seemed to summon two of the men on the bridge

Preparing the bridge 5 mins 14_resize

They went to this building, which I guess houses the controls for the bridge

Preparing the bridge 5 mins 15_resize

Meanwhile work continued on the bridge itself

Preparing the bridge 5 mins 19_resize

Almost done

Preparing the bridge 5 mins 22_resize

A final check

Preparing the bridge 5 mins 25_resize

Everybody was off the bridge by 1033


The lift itself took just over nine minutes; the bridge was up before 1044, in good time for the arrival of the boats.

The lift 9 mins 02_resize

After about one minute

The lift 9 mins 08_resize

Another minute later

The lift 9 mins 11_resize

Another minute (or so)

The lift 9 mins 15_resize

About four minutes have elapsed

The lift 9 mins 18_resize

After five minutes. The sides are clear of the water in which they usually rest; they are dripping on to the canal below

The lift 9 mins 20_resize

Six minutes in

The lift 9 mins 23_resize

Seven minutes

The lift 9 mins 24_resize

The men behind the fence may be controlling the lift

The lift 9 mins 28_resize

Not much further to go

The lift 9 mins 32_resize

Eight minutes

The lift 9 mins 40_resize

It’s up

The bridge up 16_resize

One of the jacks

After the boats passed_resize

Side view (taken after the boats had gone through)

The bridge up 13_resize

Water under the bridge

Boats go through

It took just over three minutes for the two boats to go under the bridge.

Boats approach 12_resize

Cruiser approaches; steel boat visible through the bridge

Cruiser goes through 03_resize

Cruiser about to enter

Cruiser goes through 04_resize

Heads down

Cruiser goes through 06_resize

Half way through

Cruiser goes through 07_resize


Cruiser goes through 08_resize


Steel boat goes through 12_resize

Steel boat entering

Steel boat goes through 20_resize

Almost through

Steel boat goes through 22_resize

Looking ahead to the lock

Steel boat goes through 25_resize



I did not record the lowering of the bridge, which I presume took much the same time as the raising.

Preparation 5 minutes, lifting 9 minutes, passage 3 minutes, lowering and locking say another 14 minutes: say 45 minutes altogether, allowing some margin. But a large number of boats would take much longer as the rate at which they could move on from the bridge would be limited by the time taken to work through the lock.




The buoys of the lough

Waterways Ireland’s proposed new moorings on Lough Erne. Note that the links at the bottom of the page [which do not include this or this] are to PDFs.

The “heaviest cruisers”, eh? Hmph. And “egress” is not the mot juste. But let us not carp: perhaps the idea will, in time, be applied on some southron waterways too.

Tullamore in 1947

T W Freeman “Tullamore and its environs, Co Offaly” in Irish Geography (Bulletin of the Geographical Society of Ireland) Vol 1 No 5 1948 (based on material collected in 1947):

The original geographical advantage lay in the canal, which placed it on the main line from Dublin to Limerick around 1800, but canal traffic, though still important, is no longer crucial.

However …

Social activities in Tullamore include a wide range of clubs for athletics, dances, bridge, a modern cinema, and the occasional extra shows and matches that mean so much to the people of a country town and its surroundings. On the athletic side the new swimming pool is the most attractive recent addition (but no mixed bathing) ….

The best-value CEO

Mary Lou McDonald [SF, Dublin Central] asked Jimmy Deenihan [FG, Kerry North/West Limerick], before his departure from the waterways (and other stuff) department,

… if he will provide in tabular form a list of the annual salaries of the chief executive officers of all non-commercial State sponsored bodies under his remit.

Which he did; you can see it here.

I thought it might be interesting to see how the salaries of the CEOs relate to the numbers of staff and the budgets they control. It’s not easy to compare them. The salary figures are presumably current; the various bodies offer, on their websites, accounts for years ending anywhere from 31 December 2011 to [well done, the National Concert Hall] 31 December 2013. In some cases I could find no proper accounts, but at least the Crawford Art Gallery gave a figure for its income, which is more than the Chester Beatty Library did [as far as I could see].

There were several other minor difficulties, but the big problem is that some bodies distribute grants to others, so their business is processing money: as a result, their income (usually from, or mostly from, the state) is higher than it would be for non-grant-distributing bodies. I have made no attempt to allow for that.

To make comparisons easier, I divided the number of staff in each body by the CEO’s salary (converted to euro where necessary) and multiplied the result by 1000 to remove leading zeroes. That tells you how many employees you get managed for each euro of CEO salary. Waterways Ireland is by far the biggest organisation, but has the second-lowest CEO salary.

Similarly, I divided the organisation’s income by the CEO’s salary to provide a crude measure of how much activity you get for each euro of CEO salary. Bodies dispensing grants look better than they otherwise might using this measure.

This is then a very crude comparison, with many caveats, but I think that Dawn Livingstone of Waterways Ireland is the best-value CEO of those running bodies under the aegis of the Department of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht.


Organisation Staff Budget (m) CEO salary Staff X 1000/salary Budget/salary
Arts Council 48[1] €63.9[2] €85,750 0.56 745.19
Chester Beatty Library 37[3] ?[4] €90,591 0.41 ?
Crawford Art Gallery 15 €1.1[5] €72,124 0.21 15.25
Foras na Gaeilge 64[6] €21.5[7] €113,429 0.56 189.55
Heritage Council 18[8] €7.8[9] €113,123 0.16 68.95
Irish Film Board 15[10] €20.2[11] €97,981 0.15 206.16
Irish Museum of Modern Art 83[12] €8.3[13] €85,720 0.97 96.83
National Concert Hall 103[14] €4.6[15] €101,056 1.02 45.52
National Gallery of Ireland 117[16] €9.5[17] €93,297 1.25 101.83
National Library of Ireland 93[18] €9.5[19] €81,080 1.15 117.17
National Museum of Ireland 176[20] €17.6[21] €96,148 1.83 183.05
Údarás na Gaeltachta 86[22] €40.2[23] €126,200 0.68 318.54
Ulster-Scots Agency 20[24] €3.4[25] €61,997[26] 0.32 54.81
Waterways Ireland 328[27] €41.0[28] €77,071[29] 4.26 531.98

I’m sorry the table spreads so far to the right; I can’t work out how to narrow the column widths.



[1] 41 full time and 7 part time WTEs, according to note 2c to accounts in Arts Council Annual Report 2012

[2] Total income y/e 31 December 2012 from Arts Council Annual Report 2012. €56.6m was dispensed to other bodies in grants

[3] Excluding volunteers and vacant posts shown in the Staff List in Report of the Trustees Chester Beatty Library 2012

[4] The annual report for 2012 available here does not include accounts. There is a one-page balance sheet, without the associated notes, from which I am unable to form any idea of the cost of the institution

[5] I am unable to find any accounts on the Crawford Art Gallery’s website Its Annual report 2011, the most recent available, says “The Department of Arts, Sport and Tourism pay allocation to the Gallery for 2011 was €475,000, while the non-pay allocation was €600,000. The capital allocation for 2011 was €275,000.” I have used the (rounded) sum of the first two figures

[6] Staff Costs and Board Remuneration in Foras na Gaeilge section of The North/South Language Body Annual Report and Accounts for 2011

[7] Total income y/e 31 December 2011 from Foras na Gaeilge section of The North/South Language Body Annual Report and Accounts for 2011

[8] Heritage Council website

[9] Total income y/e 31 December 2013 from Heritage Council Annual Report for 2012

[10] Note 6 to accounts in Annual Report 2011

[11] Sum of total income figures from Capital Income and Expenditure Account and Administration Income and Expenditure Account y/e 31 December 2011 in Annual Report 2011

[12] Note 9 to accounts in Irish Museum of Modern Art Annual Report 2011

[13] Total income y/e 31 December 2011 from Irish Museum of Modern Art Annual Report 2011

[14] Note 2 to accounts in National Concert Hall Annual Report 2013

[15] Gross income y/e 31 December 2013 from National Concert Hall Annual Report 2013

[16] Note 7 to accounts in National Gallery of Ireland Annual Report 2012

[17] Total income y/e 31 December 2012 from National Gallery of Ireland Annual Report 2012

[18] Rounded. From Human resource management and development in National Library of Ireland Annual Report 2011

[19] Total income y/e 31 December 2011 from National Library of Ireland Annual Report 2011

[20] Note 13 to accounts in The National Museum of Ireland Financial Statements for 2011

[21] Total income y/e 31 December 2011 from The National Museum of Ireland Financial Statements for 2011

[22] Údarás na Gaeltachta Annual Report and Accounts 2012

[23] Total income y/e 31 December 2012 from Údarás na Gaeltachta Annual Report and Accounts 2012

[24] Staff Costs and Board Members in Tha Boord O Ulster-Scotch section of The North/South Language Body Annual Report and Accounts for 2011

[25] Total income y/e 31 December 2011 from Tha Boord O Ulster-Scotch section of The North/South Language Body Annual Report and Accounts for 2011

[26] £49,244

[27] Excluding student placements and temporary and agency staff (total 19). Note 4 to accounts in Waterways Ireland Annual Report and Accounts 2012

[28] Total income y/e 31 December 2013 from Waterways Ireland Annual Report and Accounts 2012