Category Archives: Non-waterway

A puzzle in waterways history

According to the Lagan Canal Trust,

The Lagan Navigation also forms part of a wider all Ireland waterway network. This network of waterways once traversed through the towns and cities of Ireland delivering goods and produce, helping to shape the economic fortunes of the country.

I would be grateful for information about any goods or produce that were ever carried from the Shannon, or from the Royal or Grand Canals or the River Barrow via the Shannon, through the Junction Canal in the Ballinamore & Ballyconnell Drainage District [later called the Ballinamore & Ballyconnell Canal and later still the Shannon–Erne Waterway] and then the Ulster Canal to Lough Neagh or any of the waterways connected therewith. Or, of course, in the opposite direction.

As far as I can tell, outside the sales blurbs written by engineers seeking employment and waterway owners seeking subsidies, there was never a connected all-Ireland waterways network; nor was there ever any need or demand for such a thing.

Any more than there is now.

 

A1 @ A2SN

I wrote here about the workshop, being organised by A2SN, the Archives and Artefacts Study Network, and PRONI, the Public Record Office of Northern Ireland, entitled

By air, sea and land — Transport & Mobility through the archives.

I attended the workshop yesterday; it was absolutely excellent. I can’t remember the last time I attended an event where every speaker was both a good communicator and worth listening to. The programme covered waterways, roads, railways, aircraft, public transport and shipping, with two more theoretical, but no less interesting, sessions at the end — followed by a reception on and tour of the SS Nomadic.

The timetable had been designed to provide much opportunity for discussion between speakers and attenders: it was successful, thanks largely to its enforcement with a rod of iron, or rather with three sheets of card.

I imagine that the A2SN blog will have a full report when KH has had a chance to recover, so I won’t cover it here, but it was gratifying to note that Waterways Ireland is working on making access to its archive much easier.

If A2SN hold any more events on the island of Ireland, I’ll be there.

 

Steam, the Shannon and the Great British Breakfast

That is the title of the Railway and Canal Historical Society‘s 2014 Clinker Memorial Lecture, to be held at the Birmingham and Midland Institute, Margaret Street, Birmingham B3 3BS, at 1415 on Saturday 18 October 2014.

The lecture will concentrate on the period before 1850 with such interesting topics as

  • Shannon steamers
  • the Grand and Royal Canals
  • the first Irish turf (peat) to reach the USA (possibly)
  • port developments in Dublin, Limerick and Kingstonw
  • the Dublin and Kingstown Ship Canal
  • the Midland Great Western Railway
  • what “cattle class” really means
  • bacon and eggs.

Admission is free and booking is not required. However, if you plan to attend, it would be helpful if you could e-mail [...] to this effect.

The Clinker Memorial Lecture is named for Charles R Clinker, an eminent railway authoe and one-time historian of the Great Western Railway, who died in 1983.

If you would like the contact email address, leave a Comment below and I’ll get in touch with you direct.

 

 

Luddite loons

I have commented from time to time on the reluctance of some Irish folk to move beyond the technologies of the eighteenth century. Thus we find Shinners wanting canals all over the place and folk in Leitrim determined that, if Ireland has oil and gas, they must never be used. [That's the Leitrim that had both a coal and an iron industry, by the way, as well as hydroelectricity, railways, a brickworks and a dockyard, to name but a few industries that come to mind.]

The latest target of the ire of the Luddites is that newfangled invention, the bicycle. Waterways Ireland might like to provide for folk to cycle along the trackway on the Barrow Navigation; some folk want to keep the dreaded bicycle, and presumably its Lycra-clad users, away from the trackway along which they like to walk.

Happily, some sane folk have written letters to the blatts and IndustrialHeritageIreland has a sensible comment.

I presume that the Luddites insist that the grass be cut using scythes, thus creating much local employment.

Where do correct ideas come from?

Where do correct ideas come from? Do they drop from the skies? No. Are they innate in the mind? No. They come from social practice, and from it alone; they come from three kinds of social practice, the struggle for production, the class struggle and scientific experiment.

Readers will not, I am sure, need to be reminded that those are the words of the late Comrade Mao Tse-tung [or Mao Zedong, as the younger comrades say] in the Draft Decision of the Central Committee of the Chinese Communist Party on Certain Problems in Our Present Rural Work of May 1963.

Maurice Semple, in By the Corribside [self-published, 1981], lists writers who, from 1868 onwards, agreed with the view of the Cong Canal expressed by Sir William Wilde:

[...] for it was discovered, that like many other undertakings, the great canal at Cong “would not hold water.”

Those writers’ view is echoed by local people, and even by engineers, to the present day. Their case is, in effect, that the Board of Works engineers did not know what they were doing or did not properly survey the ground and were therefore surprised to find, on admitting water to the bed of the canal, that it vanished into sinkholes or swallow-holes in the karst.

One oddity about that belief is that the Cong Canal does actually hold water: it is full in winter, as the photos on this page, taken in February 2013, clearly show. It is empty in summer, but that is because water is unable to get in at the upper end, not (I suggest) because it flows out through the bottom.

What interests me at the moment is that I can find no evidence to support Wilde’s contention. Samuel Roberts, the engineer in charge of the work, knew that the work would be difficult but there is no hint in any of his annual reports that he feared that the difficulties might be insuperable. Furthermore, it is clear from his own reports and from other evidence that he was ordered to cease work on the navigation aspects of the canal before it was finished: there was never a moment when water was admitted to a completed navigation canal.

I have not been able to find any report from the 1850s in the Freeman’s Journal, the Cork Examiner, the Dublin Evening Mail or the Belfast News-Letter, or in any British newspaper, that supports William Wilde’s account of events. What, then, is its basis?

Of course my inability to find evidence does not mean that it doesn’t exist, but I would be grateful if anyone could point me towards it. I should say that I do not regard later accounts, like Wilde’s, as valid unless they include some evidence from 1854, the year of which Roberts wrote

The masonry in the Cong lock was commenced in March, and was progressing rapidly when I received instructions from the Board, in April, to suspend the execution of all navigation works in this division of the district, and complete only such as were necessary for the regulation of the waters of Lough Mask, for drainage purposes.

What I am looking for is an eyewitness, an official or some other reliable account, from 1854, that says “the canal was completed; water was let in; it vanished, to the surprise of the engineers”. If no such account exists, I may be forced to conclude that Wilde’s style of work is opposed to the fundamental spirit of Marxism-Leninism. As the Great Helmsman put it in the Little Red Book:

To behave like “a blindfolded man catching sparrows”, or “a blind man groping for fish”, to be crude and careless, to indulge in verbiage, to rest content with a smattering of knowledge — such is the extremely bad style of work that still exists among many comrades in our Party, a style utterly opposed to the fundamental spirit of Marxism-Leninism. Marx, Engels, Lenin and Stalin have taught us that it is necessary to study conditions conscientiously and to proceed from objective reality and not from subjective wishes; but many of our comrades act in direct violation of this truth.

 

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.

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

Lifting

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

Leaving

Cruiser goes through 08_resize

Out

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

Done

 

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.

 

 

 

Marked fuel

The European Commission is taking the UK government to court because it

… does not require fuel distributors to have two separate fuel tanks to distinguish between the lower tax marked fuel and the fuel subject to the standard rate.

As a result, owners of pleasure craft sometimes (poor dears) find themselves with no choice but to buy red diesel and they may not pay the right amount of tax, which is no doubt a cause of great sadness to them.

As I (and the Irish Examiner) reported some time ago, the Commission is also coming after Ireland’s ludicrous arrangement. Ireland was to respond to the Reasoned Opinion by 16 June 2014; the Revenue Commissioners have not told me how (or indeed whether) they responded.

 

 

All sheugh up

Heather Humphreys [FG, Cavan-Monaghan] is to be Minister for Waterways (as well as arts and heritage).

That’s Heather Humphreys, who asked her predecessor as minister three questions about the Clones Sheugh (some of which would be in Monaghan):

21 July 2011: To ask the Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht if €35 million was ring-fenced for the restoration of the section of the Ulster Canal between Clones and Upper Lough Erne; if this funding was included in any budget between 2008 and 2010; and if he will make a statement on the matter.

30 January 2013: To ask the Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht if he will provide an update on progress on the Ulster Canal Project; and if he will make a statement on the matter.

6 March 2014: To ask the Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht if he will provide an update on the progress of the Ulster canal project; the work carried out to date by the interagency group which was set up to examine possible funding options; and if he will make a statement on the matter.

How could a Fine Gael minister hold back the tide of Shinners in Cavan-Monaghan? Not, I hope, by wasting public money on porkbarrel projects.

 

The Brosna: fish and mills

Two reports from Dr William O’Connor about fish on the Brosna here at Clara and here at Belmont. Both are mill sites, now generating electricity, and the difficulty lies in providing for fish to get past.