Tories on the Barrow and the Shannon

I read here that Olivia O’Leary, who chairs a Save the Barrow Line committee, says that the Barrow Line (trackway or towing-path)

[…] is a natural amenity and should be maintained as it is.

It isn’t. It is an entirely artificial creation, built to enable the use of horses to tow boats. Any geraniums, beetles, butterflies or tweetie-birds using it are interlopers, squatters and trespassers and should be paying rent; at the very least they should take second place to humans.

The Grand Canal Company often complained about the poor quality of the Barrow trackway: the surface was not up to the job. If it is to cater for more users, it may well need to be improved. That is an engineering decision on which I am not competent to pronounce but, as the Barrow is pretty well a dead loss for long-distance cruising by larger boats, it needs to be redesigned for walkers, cyclists and canoeists.

But at least the Barrow NIMBYs are prepared to accept more boats. Dr William O’Connor of the Old River Shannon Research Group writes about the Shannon here, complaining about the small number of “garish canoes” that occasionally travel downstream from Castleconnell to Clareville. Dr O’Connor asks

[…] why has it become a free-for-all for canoeists?

The answer is that there is a right to navigate, as I pointed out here (with an addendum here): I have had no response from the ESB so, while being open to correction, I maintain my position. Anglers may believe that their interests are paramount on that stretch of the Shannon: I disagree. Of course I would be all in favour of discussions between anglers, kayakers, dog-walkers and other users (even environmentalists), but such discussions cannot be based on a presumption that one group has all the rights, or that one activity is of supreme importance, and that the rest are secondary.

For some reason, canoes operated by commercial providers are particularly to be condemned, although it is not clear how salmon and lampreys can distinguish between public-sector, private-sector and voluntary-sector canoes — or whether they would be bothered anyway: Dr William O’Connor says

It is noted that there has been little scientific research on the ecological impact of canoeing.

In other words, there is no reason to believe that there is any basis for the concerns expressed by Dr O’Connor or by various anglers.

More broadly, though, the common factor on the Shannon and the Barrow is that existing users of public facilities are resisting new or expanded uses and seeking to protect their privileges. Irish Toryism is alive and well.

Addendum: this is probably the solution to the salmon problem.

4 responses to “Tories on the Barrow and the Shannon

  1. if you want reports on canoes on the Shannon in the 1890s or 1912 i will be happy to provide them

  2. I would be grateful for anything about canoes on the stretch from Castleconnell downstream to Limerick. bjg

  3. The Barrow track is a built heritage and should be looked after as such, The remit of Waterways Ireland is to look after the Navigable waters of Ireland North and South. Our Barrow Navigation has been closed since Sept 2014(Bagnalstown bar a few days for arts Festival) till July 15 Closed for the boating season 2016 at Rathdangan Breach and not opened until Rathvindon was closed which was only opened Jan 2017. We need our Navigation open for boating, not the track for speeding bikes, How many sections of the greatest walking rout camino de santiago is a bike track???

  4. Unfortunately, despite your efforts and those of others, not enough people are interested in boating on the Barrow, or the canals, to justify the considerable costs of maintenance and operation, not to mention repair. Unless new users are attracted (or, of course, boat=owners pay a reasonable contribution to the costs), it will be very difficult for Waterways Ireland to justify any spending on the rights of way within its control. I suspect that, if you want the waterway kept in being as a waterway, you will need lots of users (walkers, cyclists, quad-bike enthusiasts …) on the trackway. bjg

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