The Royal under the Railway

A new, short book, on aspects of the history of the Royal Canal, published by the Railway and Canal Historical Society, will be launched at the Clinker Lecture on 18 October 2014. The title is The Royal under the Railway: Ireland’s Royal Canal 1830–1899 and it covers a number of topics, mostly about the canal after it was bought by the Midland Great Western Railway. From the Introduction:

The accounts of the Midland Great Western Railway for the half year ending 31 December 1849, four years after it bought the Royal Canal, showed its gross income from the railway as £23,773 and its income from the canal as £7,677, roughly a quarter of the total. By 1899, though, income from the railway was £264,393 and that from the canal £2,220, less than one per cent of the total. The Royal Canal, never particularly successful, had declined into utter irrelevance.

It may seem perverse, therefore, to offer even a short book on the canal’s history in that period, especially as there exist two full histories, by Peter Clarke and by Ruth Delany (with Ian Bath in the most recent edition). This, though, is not a full history, even of the limited period, roughly 1830–1899, from just before the railway took over until the end of the nineteenth century. This is rather a complement to those histories, providing just enough background information to  enable the book to stand alone while covering some new topics and providing new or extra information on others. The topics include:

  • the 120-foot steam-powered narrowboat
  • the Midland Great Western Railway’s early attempts at running canal boats
  • the ingenious Mr Mallet’s moveable bridge
  • the whore who held the mortgage on the canal
  • the competition between the roads of Roscommon and the Royal Canal
  • the reconstruction of Dublin bridges over the canal
  • the horses who slept on board their boat.

[…] this book is not intended to be the last word on any of those topics. I hope that it might encourage others – those researching local, family, social, industrial, transport, economic or technological history – to record and transmit anything they might learn about the history of the Royal Canal. To take just three topics, we know very little about canal employees, the operations of canal traders or the management of the horse-drawn canal boats. On any one of those, useful information could just as easily be found by a local or family historian as by a canal specialist.

 

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