The number of lock and bridge passages for the Shannon, in the first five months of 2013, has been just a little over half what it was in 2003.
The usual caveats apply: the underlying figures (kindly supplied by Waterways Ireland) do not record total waterways usage 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 are our only consistent long-term indicator of usage of the Shannon but they 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. On the other hand, they do include the Shannon’s most significant tourism activity, the cruiser hire business.
Over eleven years, the number of hire-boat passages has fallen from 11440 to 4781, a drop of almost 60%.
There are some minor inconsistencies in the Waterways Ireland figures, but they’re not large enough to affect the general picture.
Another caveat is that the picture to the end of May doesn’t predict the outcome for the year. Things like the weather and the date of Easter can cause boating activity to occur earlier or later in the year. In the first year of this series, 2003, private boaters seem to have been slow to get started; the number of passages in the first five months was lower than that for 2004. However, private boaters’ total for 2003 was higher than that for 2004.
But 2013 is the first year in the series in which private boat passages have fallen below 3000.
And there are the totals: 51.15% of the 2003 figure.
We’re still in the first shoulder season; if the peak season is better than usual (and if the weather is good), the final figures for 2013 may end up looking more cheerful.
One small point, if I may: this sort of decline makes it pretty well impossible to justify increasing the cruising area by building sheughs in Cavan, Monaghan, Longford or anywhere else.
Addendum: if this story is true, we won’t be needing any increase in waterways capacity for quite some time to come.