Category Archives: Ulster Canal

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.

 

Shannon traffic figures to July 2014

I am grateful to Waterways Ireland for letting me have the Shannon traffic figures for July 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, 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.

Shannon all boats Jan to Jul 2014

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

Traffic in 2013 was up a bit on 2012; 2014 is down slightly below the 2012 level. It’s the lowest seven-month figure in the series (ie since 2003), which is a bit of a surprise: I thought that the good weather would encourage more boating.

The changes are small, so their importance must not be exaggerated, but they’re not cause for celebration. Let’s see whether the drop was amongst private or hired boats (or both).

Shannon private boats Jan to Jul 2014

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

Private traffic is up a bit on 2012 but down on 2013.

Shannon hired boats Jan to Jul 2014

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

Hire-boat traffic is down on both previous years, but the pace of decline seems to have slowed.

Shannon private and hired -v- 2003 Jan to Jul 2014

Changes since 2003: private and hired boats

Hire-boat traffic seems to be levelling off at 40% of its 2003 figure: a massive loss of business. I do not know whether anyone is trying to, or could, recover that amount of business. I am not aware of any new Shannon-based tourism business that could compensate for the losses in the cruising (hire-boat) business, but I would be glad to hear from anyone who knows of such projects. Something with high growth potential is required.

Private traffic is wobbling either side of its 2003 figure: the increases during the Celtic Tiger years have been lost.

Shannon private -v- hired boats Jan to Jul 2014

Still roughly 50/50

In the year to July 2014, hire-boat traffic was just above private traffic, but there is very little in it. Private traffic is now comparatively more important to Waterways Ireland [which may be why it is now trying to establish its economic importance] but it does not bring in much money from outside the two jurisdictions, so the case for public spending on waterways becomes much weaker.

And, quite clearly, opening more waterways doesn’t work: as this chart showed last month, the branches off the main lines of the Shannon, Erne and SEW are little used. The Lough Allen Canal, the Suck and the navigation to Limerick are very little used and I see no sign that the reopened Royal Canal has attracted many visitors to Ireland. What is needed is more intensive usage of the main waterways, not further dilution by the opening of more branches [to Clones or anywhere else].

SnnNav JanJun 6

High and low usage

Finally, I thought it might be interesting to see whether the monthly pattern of usage has changed since 2003. To avoid an over-cluttered chart, I included only four years: 2003, 2003 +5, 2003 + 10 and 2014. The chart is for all boats, private and hired.

Shannon all boats by month selected years Jan to Jul 2014

Monthly traffic, selected years

The season seems to have got going earlier in 2003 and even in 2008. Was the weather better in those years?

 

Archives workshop: a reminder

I mentioned, back in April, that an interesting-looking workshop is scheduled for Belfast on 8 September 2014. It’s being held in the Public Record Office of Northern Ireland [PRONI] in the Titanic Quarter and there’s an optional extra tour and reception on the SS Nomadic afterwards. This post is a reminder.

The programme covers waterways, roads, railways and flight. For this site, the opening session is of great interest: Dawn Livingstone, CEO of Waterways Ireland, is to talk about an interactive archive for Waterways Ireland.

By air, sea and land

By air, sea and land

The workshop is being organised for PRONI by A²SN, the Archives and Artefacts Study Network, supported by the Historical Model Railway Society, the Business Archives Council and the Postal History Society.

The [two-page PDF] brochure is downloadable here PRONI transport archives workshop. The workshop fee is £20/€25 with an extra £3/€3.50 for the SS Nomadic visit. Sterling cheques are accepted; there is provision for paying in euro by online banking.

 

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.

 

More about thon sheugh …

in Nicaragua.

“Financing still a mystery”, eh? Does that mean that they already have a business case, but that they’re not telling anyone what’s in it? Of course what they need is an inter-agency group, which would soon find the money. It’s bound to be worth it because, as Mr Ortega said,

… the proposed canal “will permit the country to eradicate poverty and misery.”

As canals always do.

 

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.

 

Euroloot for the Clones Sheugh?

According to today’s Irish Times [which will disappear behind a paywall at some stage]

EU seeks feedback on plans to invest €500m in North and Border counties.

For full information, go to the SEUPB website. The Consultation Information Document [PDF may open or download as soon as you click] is the more useful and most readable document, but there are several others, including drafts of the PEACE and INTERREG Cooperation Programmes.

I have not myself been initiated into the Mystical Brotherhood of Euroloot Interpreters, so I can’t be sure, but I don’t think that either of these programmes contains, or could contain, anything that could fund the Clones Sheugh. It is difficult to see how a Sheugh-related action could be made to fit any of the objectives of either programme. But who knows what Fine Gael’s desperation might drive it to do? It faces the threat, in Monaghan, that the Shinners might arrive from Stormont bearing money from Her Majesty’s Treasury [NI branch office].

 

UK considers business case for investing in Ireland [updated]

DCAL, the Northern Ireland Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure, is still considering investing in the Clones Sheugh, as the Northern Ireland Assembly heard on 27 May 2014 [h/t TheyWorkForYou.com]:

Dolores Kelly [SDLP] asked the Minister of Culture, Arts and Leisure how many business cases are with her Department and awaiting a decision.

Carál Ní Chuilín [SF; Minister]: I thank the Member for her question. DCAL is considering five business cases. They are at various stages, and my officials are continuing to work with the relevant organisations to ensure that each case is of sufficient quality to facilitate a timely decision on the investment of public funds.

In addition, DCAL has provided feedback on two further business cases and is awaiting the submission of revised drafts. Work is also ongoing in the Department on the development of a further four business cases for projects that we hope to progress in the near future.

Dolores Kelly: I thank the Minister for her answer. I take it that there are nine business cases in total: the five plus the four. Will she give us a flavour of the business cases, the impact on the budget and whether the spend will be met? Indeed, what does that mean if some are to be spent within the school term timetable?

Carál Ní Chuilín: I am not sure about the school term timetable; I am going by own timetable. As for the flavour of the business cases, although there are nine cases today, I could go in next week, and there could be a further two. That is the nature of the progression, which is good because it means that we are moving in the right direction.

We are looking at the refurbishment of Coleraine library at a cost of over £2 million; the Arts Council gifting of musical instruments at almost £60,000; Tollymore National Outdoor Centre at almost £2·5 million; Dungiven sports provision; Omagh Riding for the Disabled Association; the Ulster canal; T: BUC; and the strategic outline business cases for the subregional stadia programmes.

I have asked for a copy of the Ulster Canal business case, although it is not clear whether it has yet been completed.

Update

DCAL says:

Thank you for your email on 30th May 2014 to DCAL Communications Office requesting a copy of the business case for the Ulster Canal.

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.

As per either legislation, you should receive a response from the Department on or before 27 June 2014.

Please use reference number DCAL/2014-0292 on any further correspondence relating to this request.

Well I never.