Category Archives: Scenery

John Weaving in American hospital

Dr Jim Stageman has made a painting from a photo of John Weaving on a whiteboard in an American hospital. Click here; you’ll probably have to work through the gallery of thumbnails [there are seven] below the main picture to get to JW.

Younger folk may wish to know that the photo was also the basis of a painting used in a film.

The Holy Island ferry

After opening Lough Derg, we passed by Holy Island, with its ruins and round tower looming in the distance. The island contains about twenty acres, and so valuable are the feed derivable from the host of penitents who repair to do their stations on the Holy Isle, that the ferry, between it and the main, is rented for a considerable annual sum.

JK [Sir James Emerson Tennent Bart]Letters to the North, from a Traveller in the South Hodgson, Belfast; Milliken and Son, Dublin 1837

Two Limerick footbridges

The Black Bridge at Plassey has long had a place in the hearts of Limerick people. It was damaged in the floods of 2009 and has been closed to the public ever since. Limerick Council says it can’t afford to repair it. Limerick Council is, as far as I can see, in breach of the terms of its lease of the bridge from the Department of Finance; the Department of Finance could, but has chosen not to, insist that the Council repair the bridge.

In the meantime, the Minister for Finance, for reasons best known to himself, wants a new, er, iconic footbridge in Limerick city and is prepared to spend €6 million of taxpayers’ money, via Fáilte Ireland, on a structure that can scarcely avoid blocking some of the finest views in the city.

Now, the Limerick Leader tells us, the ghastly edifice is to cost almost €18 million: €6 million from the Minister for Finance (who represents Limerick), €4 million to be borrowed and €7.8 million from the leprechauns’ pot of gold under the thorn bush. Or somewhere. Even Fianna Fáil councillors think this is insane, which is saying something.

This ridiculous proposal should be abandoned immediately and a much smaller sum should be spent instead on repairing the Black Bridge as part of a European Route of Industrial Heritage.

The Minister’s €6 million is a gift-horse that should not only have its teeth inspected: it should be taken out and shot and its carcass sent to the burger factory.

Brendan Smith TD and W T Mulvany

Wednesday 22 May 2013

Brendan Smith [FF, Cavan-Monaghan]: To ask the Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht the position regarding the feasibility study that has been underway for some time in relation to the proposed extension of the Erne Navigation from Belturbet to Killykeen and Killeshandra; when this study will be completed; and if he will make a statement on the matter.

Jimmy Deenihan [FG Kerry North/West Limerick]: I am informed by Waterways Ireland that the current position is that work is continuing on the collection of data relating to this project and Waterways Ireland is currently preparing draft options for the project. At that point consultants will then assess the environmental implications of the options. It is expected that the feasibility study will be completed as planned by the end of 2013.

19 December 2013

Brendan Smith: To ask the Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht if he has received the feasibility study on the proposed extension of the Erne navigation from Belturbet to Killeshandra and Killykeen; and if he will make a statement on the matter.

Jimmy Deenihan: I am informed by Waterways Ireland that it commissioned a Strategic Environment Assessment for the possible extension of the Erne Navigation from Belturbet to Killeshandra and Killykeen.

On reviewing the environmental information from this process, Waterways Ireland considers that the environmental designations of this lake complex make the feasibility of the proposed navigation extension highly unviable. For that reason, I am advised that Waterways Ireland does not propose to pursue this project any further at this time.

11 December 2014

Brendan Smith: To ask the Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht the position regarding the proposal to extend the Erne navigation from Belturbet to Killykeen and Killeshandra, County Cavan; when this project will proceed to the next stage; and if she will make a statement on the matter.

Heather Humphreys [FG, Cavan-Monaghan]: I have been informed by Waterways Ireland that it commissioned a Strategic Environmental Assessment for the proposed extension of the Erne Navigation from Belturbet to Killeshandra and Killykeen in County Cavan. I am further advised that, on reviewing the environmental information from this process, Waterways Ireland’s considered view is that the development of a viable project is not feasible, given the conservation designations of the lake complex. Waterways Ireland does not, therefore, propose to pursue the proposal further at this time.

It would be nice if Mr Smith would (a) check what he was told last time and (b) tell whatever constituent is lobbying for this scheme to get stuffed. Even W T Mulvany wasn’t able to get a navigation to Lough Oughter.

Building more navigations in Ireland is a waste of money: it simply spreads the existing business more thinly. It will not attract extra business from inside or outside the state (apart from a small number of waterway twitchers). Some pub-owners in Killykeen or Killeshandra might sell some more beer-like substance, and if they would like to pay for a navigation that’s fine, but there is no advantage to the state in paying for it.

Thanks to KildareStreet for the notification.

The River Shannon and its Shrines

One of the Shannon books that are listed on the IWAI website but that I’d never seen is J B Cullen’s The River Shannon and its Shrines, which the IWAI list says is

Dublin. C.T.S. of Ireland. 1909. p.p.107. Green boards. Prof. illus.

IWAI also lists J E McKenna Lough Erne and its Shrines published by the Catholic Truth Society of Ireland in 1909, and it provides a link to a downloadable copy of what is a short work of 32 pages.

How many pages?

In 2004 that learnéd bibliophile Michael Slevin also provided a list of books being sold by Healy Rare Books, which included

J.B. Cullen. The River Shannon and its Shrines. Dublin. Browne & Nolan. n.d. Disbound. p.p.28. Illustrated.

I mention this because I have recently acquired a copy matching that description (though, I suspect, not at Healy prices). The number of pages is indeed 28 rather than the 107 mentioned on the IWAI listing. So were there two books with the same title by J B Cullen? My copy concludes with the words

At Killaloe may end the notice of the Upper Shannon and its Shrines.

That is followed by

[The Story of Saint Senanus, which is to follow, will introduce the remaining Sanctuaries of the hallowed and majestic River.]

It seems possible, therefore, that Cullen wrote more than one piece on the Shannon; perhaps they were originally published in the Catholic Truth Society magazine and then assembled to provide a 107-page book. The National Library suggests that there may have been four pieces.

I would be glad to hear from anyone who knows more about this — and to get copies of any other sections that may exist.


Here is an extract from Cullen about Athlone.

To-day Athlone presents a picture of greater interest than many of our Irish cities or towns. Its normal population is some ten thousand inhabitants, but its importance as a military station often swells this aggregate. This latter circumstance gives a very distinct feature to Athlone. The town is generally bright and gay with the parade of military, and joyous with the strains of martial music, while ever and anon the practice of artillery keeps the echoes of the Shannon busy recalling — in our peaceful days — the stirring memories of the warring past.

The book was published in 1909: the army is that of His late Majesty King Edward VII.

Shannon -v- Erne

McKenna’s Erne book has a practical tone: it mentions the “finely-equipped paddle-steamer Lady of the Lake” but says

We prefer a modest little steam launch for the purpose of our present excursion.

Assuming we have a few quid to spare, of course. But Cullen says nothing about how the traveller is to get around. He has clearly been on the water (he visited several islands — and even Lough Forbes, which is not easy to see by road) but also travelled by land to Kilronan, Edgeworthstown and Roscommon. It would be interesting to know how and when he made his journeys.

Despite its title, his book[let?] displays an interest in military as well as in religious sites and history, but there is nothing about contemporary waterways usage or traffic.

J B Cullen

From searching tinterweb, I conclude that John Bernard Cullen may have attended Mungret College in Limerick [PDF; mostly irrelevant] and had a brother called James who was a Jesuit, co-founded the Rosbercon Choir, lived at Bawnjames House near New Ross, was a founding committee member of the Catholic Truth Society of Ireland, contributed to the Parnell National Tribute and wrote lots of light historical articles. In 1886 two of his daughters, aged 3 and 13, drowned in an ornamental pond in his gardens.

I would welcome more information.

As far as I can tell he was dead before 1933 and his work is therefore out of copyright; accordingly I provide a PDF [5.3 MB] below.

The River Shannon and its Shrines

The Black Bridge at Plassey

I am repeating here a point I made in response to a comment on this page. I do so because the point is, I think, an important one: some readers don’t check the comments and might miss this.

I have an imperfect copy [with some lines missing] of an indenture made on 8 July 1949 between the Minister for Finance and Limerick County Council under which the Council leased from the Minister

… all that those parts of the lands of Garraun and Sreelane on which Plassey Bridge abuts on both banks of the River Shannon and the site and piles of said Plassey Bridge together with said Plassey Bridge […].

I am not a lawyer, so my interpretation may be misleading, but I think that there are two points of interest.

The first is that, under the indenture, the Council is obliged to “well and sufficiently repair cleanse maintain amend and keep the hereby demised premises”, which includes the bridge. The Council is also required to “use the said demised premises as a public highway”.

The second is that, if the Council fails to do so, the Minister, and his agents the Commissioners of Public Works in Ireland, are entitled (after giving due notice) “to enter upon the hereby demised premises and to execute and to do the necessary repairs and works and the Lessees [ie Limerick Councy Council] shall repay the expenses of such repairs to the Lessor on demand […]“.

As far as I can see, Limerick County Council is in breach of its agreement with the Minister for Finance, and that Minister is entitled to repair the bridge and charge the Council for the cost.

If only there were a Minister for Finance who had an interest in Limerick (or in bridges) ….

The agency model

I have been told that, until recent years, travel agents in Germany and elsewhere would buy packages of weeks on Irish hire-boatsa and then sell them on to their own clients. I have also been told that this “agency model” ceased to be used [or became less used], perhaps because of the growth of internet booking. And it has been suggested that this was one of the factors in the decline of the Shannon hire-boat trade, to which I have repeatedly drawn attention [most recently here].

I do not know whether this phenomenon has been documented or formally studied. If it has, I would be grateful if any reader can point me to the documents or studies. I would also welcome other Comments on the proposition.

Packaging and marketing

I mention it now because, when launching the Shannon Blueway project, the waterways minister Heather Humphreys said:

The launch of the Blueway will allow local businesses [to] capitalise on an increase in demand for transport, equipment hire, accommodation and entertainment.

I think that the Blueway is an excellent idea, but I am concerned about whether small local companies will be able to package and market it effectively to overseas tourists. If the long-established cruiser-hire-firms were or are finding effective marketing difficult, why would (say) a canoe- or bicycle-hire-firm in Drumshanbo find it any easier?

Marketing to anglers

There was an interesting discussion at the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Transport and Communications about “Depletion of Inland Fish Stocks and Impact of Estuary Poaching: Inland Fisheries Ireland” on 22 October 2014. Note in particular the contributions of Dr Ciaran Byrne from 10:25 onwards about how Inland Fisheries Ireland markets Irish angling to overseas anglers.

What struck me was not that IFI uses any particularly magical marketing methods but that it is dealing with a well-defined interest group: people who are committed to a particular activity and have invested heavily in it (buying rods and stools and nets and umbrellas and maggots and whatever else anglers use).

Identifying potential customers

Anglers form one segment of the market for inland waterways holidays, but the task of selling to other segments is harder if they lack a single compelling interest. Hence, no doubt, those rather demented attempts by Fáilte Ireland or Tourism Ireland to categorise potential customers as ‘Sightseers and Culture Seekers’, ‘Family & Loved Ones’, ‘Relaxers’ and ‘Outdoor Actives’. None of their interests strikes me as being exactly compelling: there are several countries where you can relax, engage in outdoor activities or look at sights.

What you really need is obsessive customers: folk, with money to spare, who are really interested in one thing. Then you entice them to your area and take their money from them: not, as Brian Ború would have done, by hitting them over the head and stealing it, but by selling them overpriced goods and services.

Lough Derg

If you don’t have obsessive customers, who are compelled by their inner urges to dangle maggots in your waters (or whatever else turns them on), then you might try offering a compelling attraction: something that is so interesting that folk put it on their to-do lists. Unfortunately, as Fáilte Ireland’s Lakelands Lough Derg Roadmap [PDF, 6.7MB; well worth reading] admits,

Lough Derg does not have suffient key attractions that act as a draw to the area.

The same thought has often struck me. As you drive around the lake, you see signs pointing towards it. But suppose you’re a casual tourist who hasn’t already booked an activity. When you get to the lake, about the only thing you can do is look at the water (which becomes less interesting after a while) or at the jolly people enjoying themselves on boats (ditto).

You can, in some places, go to a pub or eatery, but you don’t need to come to Ireland to do that. Or you can paddle. If you fish, you can fish, but I’m trying to think of things for non-anglers. In Killaloe, you can take a boat trip; in Dromineer, you can hire a sailing boat; in Mountshannon, you can visit Holy Island. But there is nothing you would come to Ireland for: nothing you can’t do in other places.

Roadmap remedies

The Roadmap proposes these remedies:

The following three key tourism products are proposed:

  • A Discovery Point and Trailhead at the Portroe lookout
  • A Lough Derg Canoe/Kayak trail
  • An enhanced offering and facilities at University of Limerick Activities Centre (ULAC).

Two additional tourism products are proposed:

  • Portumna eco-park (masterplanning required)
  • Publications to promote and support active enjoyment of Lough Derg and surrounds.

There is, alas, another set of categories of potential visitors:

The three market segments identified with the best potential for delivering international visitors to Lough Derg have been identified as Curiously Cultural, Great Escapers and Nature Lovers.

Other, less exploitable, market segments are identified too, but I can’t bring myself even to name them.

Finding the punters

I’d hate it to be thought that I was a marketing expert, but it seems to me that this segmentalisation is coming at things from the wrong end. In effect, it’s saying “We have these things; what sort of person might be induced to buy them?” Then you give each of those sorts of person a category and say that you’ve found your market.

But compare that with what the fisheries folk do. They can identify magazines that anglers read, maybe (for aught I know) television programmes they watch, trade shows they visit. Identification is easy: the titles will include words like “fishing” or “angling”.

But what magazines — other than those on the top shelf — have “Curiously Cultural” or “Nature Lovers” in the title? How do you track down “Great Escapers”? It seems to me that these categories might help you to tailor a message that is broadcast to large audiences through mass media: in such cases it doesn’t matter if you appeal to only 1% of the audience, provided that that audience is large enough. However, that’s not an option available to those with small budgets: they need cheaper marketing through channels that will provide much higher returns.

Small operators

And that’s where we come back to the fact that most of the potential tourism operators around Lough Derg are pretty small. Who is going to put together packages of activities that will appeal to the curiously cultural? I’m interested only in filling my B&B and you’re interested in hiring out bicycles. I’m happy to refer customers to you and vice versa, but are we going to get together to provide packages and to share our marketing budgets? There is a Lough Derg Marketing and Strategy Group, but it seems to be dominated by representatives of public sector bodies, and there is a limit to what they can do.

To compete on a European scale, what’s really needed is a large commercial organisation. I suggest, therefore, that the best thing to do would be to get Goldman Sachs to advise on how Lough Derg might be privatised.

Second-best would be the formation of a tourism cooperative.







St John’s Pill: an update

I have found a little more information about the involvement of George Lane Fox with the upper reaches of St John’s Pill; I have written about it here.

Barrow Line meets Barrow Navigation

Seen from the air, 1947. Several of Limerick too. What’s the boat at bottom left in this pic of Athlone? A search for “Ireland” gives 2642 results, which is more than I can go through. If you find anything interesting, I’d welcome a link, which I’ll add here.

Shannon traffic figures to August 2014

I am grateful to Waterways Ireland for letting me have the Shannon traffic figures for August 2014.

Regular readers may wish to skip this section

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 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, May and June, 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.

All boats

Shannon traffic all boats to August 2014

Total (private + hired) traffic for the first eight months of each year

I thought that the good weather in July might have brought more boaters out in August (when the weather was not so good), but it didn’t. This is the lowest eight-month figure in my series; traffic is just under 56% of what it was in 2003.

Private boats

Shannon traffic private boats to August 2014

Private-boat traffic for the first eight months of each year

Nothing much to cheer about there. Traffic was very slightly higher than in 2012.

Maybe lots of people have taken up sailing, and thus been confined to the lakes, instead of cruising. If, gentle reader, you can think of a way of measuring sailing usage, let me know.

Hire boats

Shannon traffic hire boats to August 2014

Hire-boat traffic for the first eight months of each year

As I said last month, the pace of decline seems to have slowed, but this is still the lowest figure in my series.

Percentages of 2003 levels

Shannon traffic private and hired as % of 2003 to August 2014

Changes since 2003: private and hired boats

The eight-month figures for private traffic are a bit worse than the seven-month, but perhaps September’s extraordinarily good weather will prompt an increase. There is no good news for the hire business, but perhaps the profitability of the remaining operators will be improved.

Private -v- hired

Shannon traffic private -v- hired to August 2014

Still roughly 50/50

What is the Shannon’s USP?