The opening of the Royal Canal

On 27 May 2017 the Royal Canal Amenity Group and Waterways Ireland are to commemorate the fact that

In May 1817 the Royal Canal was officially opened from Dublin to the Shannon ….

[Unfortunately I am unable to find anything about the commemorative event on WI’s website, although they did send me some information about it.]

I wondered how the opening might have been celebrated in 1817, but I haven’t been able to find out anything about it. I am hoping that some more knowledgeable person might be able to provide information: please leave a Comment below if you can help.

Ruth Delany gives 26 May 1817 as the date on which the contractors said that the western end of the canal (to the Shannon at Richmond Harbour) would be ready to hand over to the Directors General of Inland Navigation, who were running the show after the Royal Canal Company collapsed under the weight of its debts.

However, as far as I can see, the British Newspaper Archive contains no mention of any opening ceremony at any time in 1817. The Lanesborough Trader, the first boat to travel from the Shannon to Dublin did so in January 1818 [Saunders’s News-Letter 2 February 1818] and in May Mr Peel moved that a further £15000 be granted for completion of the navigation, where “shoals were
found to interfere” [Dublin Evening Post 23 May 1818].

Traffic increased later in 1818: in October the directors of the New Royal Canal Company went by boat

… from Dublin to Tarmonbury, and thence to the termination of the Canal, near the river Shannon, to inspect the works and give every necessary direction for the entire completion of that great and important undertaking ….
[Dublin Evening Post 20 October 1818]

The same newspaper reported that several boats of coal, found on the banks of the canal near Tarmonbury, had arrived in Dublin. It seems, therefore, that the canal was usable even if not entirely finished.

Later that month Christopher Dillon of Athlone, who had been trading on the Grand Canal and the Shannon, announced that he was moving his boats to the Royal Canal — but the western terminus for his boats was at Ballymahon, from which (although he did not say so) goods could be carried by road to Athlone: just the situation the Grand Canal Company had feared. [Dublin Evening Post 27 October 1818]

I have found no evidence of an opening ceremony in 1817; nor have I found evidence that the canal was actually open from the Shannon to the Liffey (or the Broadstone) in 1817, in that no boat seems to have travelled between the Shannon and the Liffey. At least one boat did so in 1818, but again I have no evidence of any opening ceremony.

There is one further mystery. The Royal Canal harbour at the junction with the Shannon is called Richmond Harbour. I presume that that is a compliment to the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, His Grace Charles Lennox, 4th Duke of Richmond, 4th Duke of Lennox, 4th Duke of Aubigny, KG, PC. But he had ceased to be Lord Lieutenant in 1813 and was presumably unable to dispense favours after that, so why was the harbour named after him? I don’t know when the construction of the harbour was begun or finished.

I have not visited the National Archives in Dublin to look at the papers of the Directors General of Inland Navigation, which may have something on the events of 1817 and 1818. Perhaps WI’s archive has something relevant too. I would therefore be glad to hear from anyone who has searched those archives or found other evidence about the period.

Newspapers cited here were accessed through the British Newspaper Archive.

 

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