The Liffey before the Lagan

According to the Heritage Boat Association, the Guinness jetty on the Liffey was built in 1873, but the first steamer, the Lagan, was built in 1877. The Guinness Storehouse‘s fact sheet confirms the 1873 date, but is vague about when the first boats were built. So why the four-year gap? Why would Guinness build the jetty before it had the boats to use it?

At the half-yearly meeting of the proprietors of the Midland Great Western Railway Company, held on 7 September 1876, the Chairman (Sir Ralph Cusack) said that the largest trader on the Royal Canal (owned by the MGWR) was about to retire from business because of ill health. Sir Ralph said:

[…] it might be very inconvenient to persons in the country, who carry on the canal materials that are not exactly suited for a railway, such as coals, timber, slates, bricks, etc. […] it is therefore our intention to commence — perhaps in a small way at first — carrying with a couple of boats on the canal, so as to relieve the railway of this rough kind of traffic, and at the same time to benefit the country through which the canal runs. [Irish Times 8 September 1876]

Sir Ralph said that the company had ordered a small steamer:

We don’t propose that the steamer shall carry goods, but we propose to have a few small tugs similar to those used by Sir Arthur Guinness on the Liffey to draw laden boats. […] we will begin in a small way and see what way the thing will do. We cannot lose very much by it. We are getting one small tug, and I suppose we will get another.

So in 1876, one year before the Lagan was built, Guinness was using dumb barges, towed by small tugs, on the Liffey.


3 responses to “The Liffey before the Lagan

  1. Hello Brian,

    It may be the case that you’re very well aware that there is a sunken shell – hull only no topsides – a couple of hundred yards down the Barrow line from the junction at Lowtown. Its lines are glorious and, when enquiring about it from the locals, I was told that it was one of two steam tugs that used to work the Liffey and the Grand Canal Docks – the other, apparently, is lost. Not sure of the truth of that but if what I was told is true its size would fit the above articles reference to ‘small tug’. I would be interested to hear your thoughts. It is up for sale (3000 Euros) should anyone fancy a challenge (I would, but I quite like having Jill around…) It really does have stunning lines and the most perfect ‘arse’ I have ever seen.


  2. I remember seeing that (or what I presume to be the same boat) on the Shannon Line, ie just west of the junction, some years ago. It was clearly of a very old design and, although someone told me it was a tug, it was equally clearly too low for seagoing work. So, although I was not told that it worked on the Liffey and Grand Canal Docks, that would be consistent with what I remember of it. I thought I had a photo of it (the old-fashioned type that gets printed on paper), but can’t find it.

    The GCC did have various towing steamers on the Liffey, but my impression (I don’t have dimensions for all of them) is that they were larger than M-boats and thus larger than (what I remember of) the tug at Lowtown. However, that’s not proof of anything. And there are other candidates: the tug Guinness used on the Liffey before buying steam barges and some of the tugs used on the Royal. Boats coming from the Royal with bog ore had to be towed to the Gas Company at Grand Canal Dock. It is quite possible that the sunken hull is of some historic importance.


  3. Pingback: Canal boat sunk on the Liffey | Irish waterways history

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.