Category Archives: Scenery

The hire business, as we know and love it …

… is screwed.

That is my interpretation [and not, I should stress, to be attributed to the report's authors, sponsors or supporters] of the results of the June 2014 report Ireland’s Inland Waterways – Review & Outlook  prepared by  Tourism & Transport Consult International for the Irish Tourist Industry Confederation “with support from the Irish Boat Rental Association (IBRA)” and downloadable here [PDF].

The report is well worth reading. I’ve been charting the decline in the cruiser hire industry, as indicated by Shannon lock passages, for some time now; a source within the industry told me recently that the decline was actually worse than those figures indicated. The report shows that the IBRA fleet size went from 388 in 1992 to a peak of 533 in 1997 but down to 225 in 2013.

The fleet refinancing problems look to be horrific and it doesn’t seem to me that more marketing (if marketing is taken to be Promotion rather than any of the other Ps) is going to be enough: another P, Product, needs to be redefined rather more usefully than in Tourism Ireland’s segmentation waffle about “Great Escapers” and the “Culturally Curious”. Tourism is good for waterways, but products other than (or as well as) straightforward cruising need to be offered.

And consider this:

Over the past 10 years upwards of €200 million in state expenditure has been invested in upgrading infrastructural facilities along the waterways. The investment has helped to transform the quality and quantity of moorings, navigational aids, signposting. Mooring capacity has been doubled over the period as well as the developments of several integrated harbors including berths with associated on-shore facilities including toilet and shower blocks, picnic and play areas, looped walks, etc. Such developments have taken place at locations on the Shannon and Grand Canal, including Boyle, Clondara, and Killaloe.

No wonder WI’s budget is being cut, if €200 million went to subsidising the Irish bourgeoisie rather than to bringing in more tourists. Of course if the Clones Sheugh were reconstructed tourists would come flocking from Germany, Austria and Switzerland: indeed from all around the world.

And the report says of the Lakelands and Inland Waterways Initiative, about which I have expressed scepticism,

The relevance of the well intentioned initiative and proposed branding to the cruising business was diluted by the large area encompassed by the new regional initiative and the less than adequate resources invested in effective marketing in key source markets. Unfortunately the results of the marketing effort do not appear to have raised the profile of Shannon and linked waterways.

I did think it odd that Abbeyleix got funding ….

This report is a very welcome dose of realism. I want to give it more thought before commenting on individual points, so I’ll come back to it again, but in the meantime I urge everyone to read it (it’s pretty short).

h/t Antoin Daltún



Thon sheughery business

It will be recalled that Her Majesty’s Loyal Home Rule Government in Belfast is considering investing in the Clones Sheugh [aka Ulster Canal] and that I asked DCAL, the department responsible, for a copy of the Business Case. To my surprise, it said:

Your request is being treated as a Access to Information request and will be handled under either Freedom of Information Act 2000 or the Environmental Information Regulations 2004.

Either way, DCAL has now told me that I can’t see it. The Business Case, which is apparently an addendum to the 2007 Business Case (which was rotten: see here passim), won’t be complete until November. I have made a note to remind myself to ask for it then.

I quite sympathise with the DCAL folks: it can’t be easy thinking of any good reason to spend taxpayers’ [British or Irish] money on the Clones Sheugh. But perhaps DCAL can spin it out until the Shinners have taken over the Free State, at which point the economics of Grattan’s Parliament will be in vogue and we can all take up growing flax, spinning and weaving, giving grants for canals and making money out of the slave plantations.

Speaking of Shinners, there’s one called Cathal Ó hOisín, a member of HM Loyal Home Rule Government in Belfast representing East Londonderry, who said there recently:

The possibility of the reopening of the Ulster canal would open up limitless opportunities in tourism. The idea that, once again, we could travel from Coleraine to Limerick, Dublin and Galway by boat would be absolutely wonderful.

Well, you can do that: by sea. There was never an inland navigation from Coleraine, Limerick or Dublin to Galway, despite the urgings of Lord Cloncurry and the nitwitted ideas of Sir Edward Watkin.

As for a connection between Limerick or Dublin and Coleraine, I suspect that Mr Ó hOisín is perpetuating the error into which Her late Majesty Victoria, by the Grace of God of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland Queen, etc, seems to have fallen when she appointed

Commissioners to inquire respecting the System of Navigation which connects Coleraine, Belfast, and Limerick

which Commissioners reported in 1882. There was no such system and, if Mr Ó hOisín can provide evidence that any vessel ever travelled by inland navigation between Coleraine and Limerick, I would be glad to hear of it. I prefer to think of the Commissioners’ conclusion that

As an investment for capital the whole canal system in Ireland has been a complete failure.

I see no reason why politicians of the twenty-first century should repeat the errors of their predecessors in the eighteenth, nineteenth and twentieth centuries.

You expect the Paarnellite members to have a bit more sense, but one John Dallat said in the same debate:

[...] when the Ulster canal is open, tourists will come in their thousands and that will benefit the Lower Bann, the Foyle as well, and right over to Scotland.

Er, John? There are actually canals in other countries. Even in Scotland. Folk are familiar with canals. They’ve seen them before. And a short sheugh to Clones is not going to attract tourists (apart from the relatively small number of canal twitchers, who will need to tick it off on their lists) unless the town of Clones is particularly attractive. Which … well, let me put it this way: why not look it up on TripAdvisor?

Of course I’m all in favour of Clones myself: I am quite interested in concrete engine-sheds and former canal stores.


Shannon traffic to May 2014

I am grateful to Waterways Ireland for letting me have copies of the recorded numbers of boat passages through Shannon locks and Portumna Bridge for the first five months of 2014. All the usual caveats apply:

  • the underlying figures do not record total waterways usage (even for the Shannon) as, for instance, sailing, fishing or waterskiing on lakes or river stretches, which did not involve a passage through a lock or Portumna Bridge, would not be recorded
  • the passage records would not show, for instance, a change in the balance of types of activities from those in larger cruising boats to those in smaller (sailing, fishing, waterskiing) boats
  • figures like these, for a small number of months, will not necessarily be representative of those for the year as a whole. The winter months, January to March, see little traffic in any year; for April and May, the weather can have a large influence on the amount of activity especially, I suspect, in private boats.

On the other hand, the figures do include the Shannon’s most significant tourism activity, the cruiser hire business. And they are our only consistent long-term indicator of usage of the inland waterways.

Shannon passages May 2014 01




The total amount of traffic continues to decline.

Shannon passages May 2014 02

Private-boat traffic is still below its average for the period but increased slightly on the same period of the previous year [but see the third caveat above].

Shannon passages May 2014 03


Hire-boat traffic is just over one third of its 2003 level.

Shannon passages May 2014 04


Since 2003, both private and hired traffic have fallen, from the highest figures attained within the period, by about 60% of the 2003 figure. But private traffic first rose by 40% of the 2003 figure, so it is now only about 20% below that figure. Hire traffic has fallen pretty consistently since 2003.

Shannon passages May 2014 05


Hire traffic is usually greater than private traffic between April and October (roughly speaking), but the gap is closing.

Carál Ní Chuilín, NI’s [SF] waterways minister, said the other day:

Waterways Ireland delivered a presentation to Ministers entitled ‘Ireland’s Inland Waterways — Building a Tourism Destination’. The presentation provided an overview of the progress that Waterways Ireland is making in placing waterways and the waterway experience at the centre of the tourism offering in Ireland and internationally.

And a good thing too, but the waterways need new water-based tourism products to complement, and perhaps to replace some of, the hire-boat cruising business. Opening new waterways — Royal Canal, Longford Branch, Ulster Canal, Kilbeggan Branch or anything else — is a waste of money until demand, domestic and visitor, private and hired, exceeds existing capacity.


NSMC explained

I reported here on April’s meeting of the North-South Ministerial Council (inland waterways flavour). I wasn’t there, though, and Carál Ní Chuilín was. Here is her account of the meeting, as explained to the Northern Ireland Assembly yesterday. There is much of interest, including the prospect of new byelaws on the Erne.

Members of the free state parliament don’t, as far as I know, get similar briefings.

It is slightly disconcerting to note that Jim Allister, the Traditional Unionist Voice MLA, seems to be the only person on the island, apart from me, to worry about delays in approving Waterways Ireland’s budgets.


Who writes this stuff?

The National Inventory of Architectural Heritage on the Black Bridge at Plass[e]y and on Baal’s Bridge in Limerick.

It would be nice if the NIAH provided reliable historical information.


And I’m like wow …

… as the young folk say nowadays. Searching the National Library catalogue for prints and drawings of the Royal Canal before 1900 brought up the usual suspects but also a very interesting map and this stunning view of Dublin in 1853. Viaducts! Railways! Steamers! Barges being propelled by sweeps!

I couldn’t find the Royal Canal, though.

Spring is sprung …

… the grass is riz.
I wonder where the brand new fleet of aircraft is.

I would welcome news of sightings of the fleet of (presumably) floatplanes/seaplanes/amphibians that Harbour Flights is to have operating “early in the new year … from [sic] destinations nationwide”.

There is some discussion on here, by folk who appear to know one end of an aeroplane from the other; the later posts on the second page discuss suitable types of craft.


DAHG’s other waterway

Yes, folks, the Waterways Ireland waterways are not the only ones that come under the scrutiny of the Department of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht: the Lakes of Killarney are in there too. And the managment system was outlined in the Dáil.

Shannon history

The African Queen, formerly the first Shannon Princess, is up for sale.

Shannon history in Birmingham

According to the Railway & Canal Historical Society’s Events page, its annual Clinker Memorial Lecture, to be held in Birmingham in October 2014, will be about River Shannon steamers in the second quarter of the nineteenth century:

The 2014 Clinker Memorial Lecture will be held in Birmingham on the afternoon of Saturday 18th October 2014. The speaker will be Brian Goggin, BA (Mod), MA.

Brian graduated from Trinity College, Dublin in Economics and Politics, and spent some years as honorary Editor of the quarterly magazine of the Inland Waterways Association of Ireland. He and his wife Anne have been boating on Irish inland waterways since the late 1970s. He is currently working on a book on the Shannon steamers of the 1830s and 1840s, and the Clinker Lecture will draw on his research.

Before lunch (and independent of the Lecture) there will be a walking tour of central Birmingham, focusing on sites of waterway and railway interest.