Isaac Slater’s Directory[i] of 1846 lists those carrying goods on inland waterways. There is a long list for Dublin; entries for other towns list those providing local services [there are some conflicts between the lists: see below]. However, the Dublin list shows only two carriers on the Royal Canal:
- the Royal Canal Company [RCC] itself (Samuel Draper, Secretary) at the Broadstone in Dublin
- John M’Cann & Sons, Liffey lock, North Wall, where the Royal Canal joins the River Liffey.
I noted here that two published histories of the Royal Canal, and a history of the Midland Great Western Railway [MGWR], suggested that the RCC/MGWR did not commence carrying goods themselves, on their own canal, until the 1870s. However, I had come across an MGWR ad, from 1853, beginning
The Directors will receive Proposals for the Haulage of their Trade Boats to and from Dublin and Longford and the River Shannon […].
The material in Slater’s Directory strengthens the notion that the RCC/MGWR did engage in carrying well before the 1870s, although the nature of the contractual relationships is not clear. Note also that Peter Clarke’s Appendix C[ii] lists “Boat Owners operating on the Royal Canal 1826 to 1847” including four RCC boats as well as four MGWR boats.
M’Cann and RCC both provide long lists of the destinations they serve:
- RCC: Athlone, Ballinafad, Ballymahon, Balnacarig, Balnalack, Boyle, Boyne aqueduct, Carrick on Shannon, Castlerea, Colooney, Coolnahay, Downs Bridge, Dromod, Drumsna, Ferns, Glasson, Hill of Down, Junction [which may be the junction between the main line and the Longford Branch], Kenagh, Kilcock, Lanesborough, Leixlip, Longford, Maynooth, Moyvalley, Mullingar, Newcastle, Newtownforbes, Rathowen, Roscommon, Ruskey, Rye aqueduct, Sligo, Terlicken, Thomastown, Toome Bridge
- M’Cann: Arvagh, Athlone, Ballaghaderin, Ballina, Ballinamore, Ballyfarnon, Ballymahon, Ballymore, Ballymote, Boyle, Carrick on Shannon, Castlerea, Dromod, Drumkerrin [Drumkeeran?], Drumlish, Drumshambo, Drumsna, Dunmore, Edgeworthstown, Elphin, Fenagh, Granard, Lanesborough, Longford, Mohill, Roscommon, Ruskey, Strokestown, Tenelick Mills, Tulsk.
I thought it might be interesting to show these destinations on a map. Note that the map is from the 25″ Ordnance Survey map of around 1900 rather than the 6″ of around 1840: I used it because it was clearer, but it shows features (eg railway lines) that were not present in 1846.
Click on the map to get a slightly larger version.
I can’t stand over every location marked on the map (as it were). Spellings of place-names were sometimes not those in use today; some place-names (Ballinamore, Ballymore, Newcastle) are used of two or more places that might have been those intended; I could not identify two places, Dunmore and Junction, although I suspect the latter may be the junction between the main line and the Longford Branch of the canal.
What is interesting, though, is the different emphases in the two firms’ marketing. The Royal Canal Company lists almost every location along its canal; M’Cann offers a wide range of destinations beyond the canal, presumably linked by cars on the roads, into Counties Longford, Cavan, Roscommon, Westmeath, Mayo and Sligo. The RCC serves some such destinations, but a smaller number of them.
Some of the locations listed are small places; my presumption — which I have not yet checked, but for which I have found some supporting examples — is that such places have mills, quarries or other industries that provide cargoes for the canal.
The Shannon and the roads
Both operators offer to serve destinations on the River Shannon, to which the Royal Canal is joined at Clondra/Richmond Harbour:
- RCC: Athlone, Carrick on Shannon, Dromod, Drumsna, Glasson, Lanesborough, Ruskey
- M’Cann: Athlone, Carrick on Shannon, Dromod, Drumshambo, Drumsna, Lanesborough, Ruskey.
It is possible that goods to those places were carried by water, although (if steam tugs were not available) that would have been slow and uncertain; given that there were good roads leading from the west to the Shannon and throughout the region, it is, I think, likely that these destinations were served by road. I have no evidence on the matter save that the directory entries for Carrick-on-Shannon, Drumsna and Jamestown do not mention the availability of water transport.
Some of those destinations were served by direct road services from Dublin:
- Athlone, Ballina, Castlerea, Dunmore, Longford, Roscommon, Sligo, Thomastown.
Competition presumably kept charges down.
Slater’s Directory lists six corn merchants in Longford, all with addresses at Market Square. One, John Delany, also had an address in Sligo and presumably exported via that port, carrying by road; the other five all had Dublin as well as Longford addresses.
One was John McCann, whose operations are shown in red on the map; he was the only one listed as a Dublin-based carrier, but three of the other four firms also carried goods regularly towards Dublin: Francis & John Pilsworth’s boats left Longford on Mondays and Thursdays, as did Thomas & Edward Duffy’s boats; Farrelly & Killard’s boats left once a week. Only Nicholas Butler did not offer transport. The Duffy and Pilsworth boats also carried goods in both directions from Mullingar. My guess is that carrying goods from others helped these merchants to cover the costs of their own fleets.
Peter Clarke’s Appendix C suggests that M’Cann’s fleet was the smallest of those based in Longford. The list is of “Boat Owners operating on the Royal Canal 1826 to 1847” but I am not entirely clear what the list shows. It seems unlikely, for instance, that the Midland Great Western Railway owned four boats throughout the period, as the company did not exist for most of it. Is the number of boats the largest that an owner had, or used, in a peak year, or an average over several years?
I don’t, therefore, know how to interpret the list but, assuming that the same methods were applied to all owners, it seems that the fleet sizes were these:
- Duffy Bros 12
- Pilsworths 9
- M’Cann 5
- Royal Canal Company 4.
Neither Farrelly nor Killard is listed, but there are many others: Dunne 8, Kelly 6, Murtagh 6, Murphy 5, MGWR 4, Williamson 4, and many others with 1, 2 or 3 boats each. Again, it is not clear in which years those owners had those numbers of boats.
As far as I know, little has been written about the carrying companies, especially those of the nineteenth century. I would be glad to hear from anyone who can correct, supplement or comment on this information.
[i] I Slater’s National Commercial Directory of Ireland: including, in addition to the trades’ lists, alphabetical directories of Dublin, Belfast, Cork and Limerick. To which are added, classified directories of the important English towns of Manchester, Liverpool, Birmingham, Sheffield, Leeds and Bristol; and, in Scotland, those of Glasgow and Paisley. Embellished with a large new map of Ireland, faithfully depicting the lines of railways in operation or in progress, engraved on steel. I Slater, Manchester, 1846
[ii] Peter Clarke The Royal Canal: the complete story ELO Publications, Dublin 1992
Pingback: Canal carrying 1846: the Grand Canal | Irish waterways history
In October 1877 Walter Durkin of Charleville Mall Dublin gave an interview regarding the Royal Canal i which he said he had worked on the Canal for Thirty years. He later moved to Kildare but continued running his business on the Canal.
Thanks for that, Colm. Is the interview available online anywhere? If it is I’ll put in a link to it.
In Ulysses, Father Conmee saw a turf barge “moored under the trees of Charleville Mall”, so it may have been a centre for trade.
The letter and interview both appear in The Freemans Journal, Walter’s letter appears on the 09/10/1877 and the other article the next day.The paper can be accessed on Irish newspapers archives in local libraries.
Sorry forgot to mention James McCann and Sons is also mentioned in the second article.
Have copies of Articles on my laptop if you want copies.
In the early 80’s a book was written on The Royal Canal by an American, i don’t know the authors name and was wondering would anyone know either the authors name or the books.
It doesn’t ring any bells with me and I don’t see anything listed in Ruth Delany’s bibliography that would match your description. What sort of book was it? A history, a guide, a description of a trip …? The IWAI has a list of books it knows about here. bjg
That would be very kind; thank you. bjg
Pingback: Transport history | Irish waterways history
Pingback: McCanns and the Royal Canal | Irish waterways history