This is a point I’ve come across in passing. It’s not central to my main concerns so I won’t pursue it further for the moment, but I’m posting it here in case it helps anyone else researching the subject.
It will be recalled that, until the passing of the Canal Carriers Acts 1845 and 1847, most canal companies carried passengers but not freight on their own canals. After the passing of those acts, the Grand Canal Company set out to take over the bulk of the freight business on their own canal (and, in consequence, on the rivers connected thereto). But what of the Royal Canal, which had been taken over by the Midland Great Western Railway in 1845?
Ruth Delany, in Ireland’s Royal Canal 1789–2009 [with Ian Bath; The Lilliput Press, Dublin 2010], says on page 192:
In 1871, despite its failure to show a profit on the Grand Canal lease, the MGWR decided to try acting as carriers on the Royal, which had been permitted by legislation since 1845. Horse-drawn boats were used until 1875 when five steamers were purchased: Rambler, Rattler, Mermaid, Conqueror and Pioneer.
In a note, she says
For this period, 1849–1906, the principal source of information is found in the minutes of evidence to the Shuttleworth Commission, HC 1907 (Cd 3717), XXXIII, Part 1, 9.
Peter Clarke, in his The Royal Canal: the complete story (ELO Publications, Dublin 1992), says:
It is important to recall that at this time, the carriage of goods on the canal was undertaken by a number of boat owners who paid tolls to the railway company. The failure to have these tolls increased was what most probably prompted the railway company to establish themselves as carriers on the canal in 1870. […] Until 1876 an unknown number of railway owned horse drawn barges were used. In that year, the service was expanded when four new screw propelled boats were purchased at a cost of £5000.
His source is the Waterways Commission of 1923, Minutes of Evidence nineteenth day, p13.
Ernie Shepherd in The Midland Great Western Railway of Ireland: an illustrated history (Midland Publishing Ltd, Leicester 1994), says
The MGW decided to operare its own carrying trade in 1871 and this lasted until 1886. Horse drawn boats were used until 1875 when steamers were purchased.
On 15 August 1853 The Freeman’s Journal and Daily Commercial Advertiser of Dublin carried this notice in the Railways column.
Midland Great Western Railway (Ireland) Company — Royal Canal
Haulage of boats
The Directors will receive Proposals for the Haulage of their Trade Boats to and from Dublin and Longford and the River Shannon, from and after the 12th November next. Parties are at liberty to tender for a part or the whole of the work. Security will be required for the fulfilment of the Contract; and further particulars may be had on application at this Office.
Tenders to be sent in on or before 10th September next.
By order, Henry Beausire, Secretary.
Dublin Terminus, 10th August, 1853
This suggests that, in 1853, the MGWR had its own trade boats (lumber boats, freight-carrying barges) at work on the Royal Canal. It would be nice to know more. I have said before that we do not know anything like the full history of the Royal Canal.