Canal restoration: Strabane and Broharris

Alas, the Derry Journal [h/t Industrial Heritage Ireland, the indispensable source of IH news] tells us that

STEVE BRADLEY believes Derry’s forgotten canal heritage could boost the region’s economic fortunes

No, it couldn’t.

Mr Bradley’s article is extremely interesting. He describes the history of the Strabane and the Broharris canals and, in the process, shows me that my page about the Broharris was entirely wrong. I am about to update that page but I am grateful to him for the information he provided. I hope he will forgive me, then, if I disagree with him about the economic potential of canal restoration.

He makes no exaggerated claims about the potential of the Broharris as anything other than a walking route; it could not be used by boats larger than canoes or kayaks and, even for them, there are no obvious launching or recovery sites.

But he wants more for the Strabane. He says that digging up the canal basin in the town, and restoring the navigable link to the Foyle, would provide a new Canal Quarter to attract investment even though it would, he concedes, be an expensive project.

But it is on the navigation aspects that he goes seriously astray:

Restoring the canal would hopefully also kick-start the use of the Foyle for leisure, recreation and tourism purposes. And restoring the 200 years old link between Strabane and the Foyle would be a great flagship project for a new council district with Derry and Strabane as its two main population centres.

Towns elsewhere have shown how restored canals can help bring new life and prosperity to the districts they flow through, yet locally we have neglected our water assets. It is time to give serious consideration to the role that our forgotten canal heritage could make towards improving the economic fortunes of our area.

I wrote about the Strabane Canal here and here. Sinn Féin, always keen on eighteenth century economics, tried to get Waterways Ireland to waste some of its money on the thing but, happily, failed.

The real problem with this is that there seem to be very few boats on the Foyle; I suspect that many of them are sailing boats that are not terribly suitable for use on canals, while others are fast seagoing vessels that would damage the banks. And boats will not come from Britain or Ireland or anywhere else to visit Strabane by canal: a boat suitable for the sea passage to the Foyle would be inherently unsuitable for the canal, even assuming that the delights of Strabane were sufficient to entice boaters to make the journey.

Irish waterways promoters have operated for years on the principle that, if the government gives them the money to build the canal, the traffic will come. Anyone who believes that should visit Tralee, where a similar canal, short and isolated, linking a town to the sea, is not used other than by walkers and the local rowing club. Seagoing boats go to Fenit instead.

And, on “how restored canals can help bring new life and prosperity to the districts they flow through”, I recommend a visit to the Royal Canal, which is very nice but has very little traffic. As, indeed, does the Grand Canal. English experience with a large connected network of canals is not relevant to Irish conditions, whether on geographic or on economic grounds.


7 responses to “Canal restoration: Strabane and Broharris

  1. The situation in England is very different.
    With no facilities
    With no fuel
    With no obvious help
    With no secure moorings or stop over spots
    With no lift facilities
    With virtually no attractions
    No wonder there are very few boat movements along the Irish canals.
    The remady obvious
    Implementation apparently not

  2. robertbennett69

    Dear IWH. Thank you for consistently coming down on the side of sanity re. canal restoration. Three years ago, we went from Kilrush to Belleek on a 32 foot bilge keel yacht – having left the mast at Kilrush. We travelled every second weekend. Very enjoyable and one more boat added to the few ever to use the Ballinamore-Ballyconnell Canal. I have three nice memories. Ardnacrusha Locks, real rashers in a restaurant in Ballyconnell on a winter’s morning, going aground at Belleek old marina and throwing a rope to the local Civil Defense who had been called to rescue us. They were fantastic people, but when we moored ’round the corner at the new marina, we could not find them to stand them a few pints. It was New Year’s Day. Best regards. Robert Bennett.

  3. I’d agree that the idea that people would somehow bring their own boats to visit Strabane is surely absurd. And what would be the transit time to navigate a barge from Strabane to Derry? I’m guessing about a day – which is not exactly long enough for people to hire a boat and have a holiday on it. So notions that a modest small holiday hire business might sustain itself in Strabane seem equally far fetched.
    I would think the only plausible function for the canal would be that for which it was originally intended: as a low carbon freight route between Derry and Strabane. And I can’t really see the good people of the area wetting themselves with excitement about that either.

  4. Strabane Lifford Development Commissoon undertook a project c.2006 to restore the canal and towpath (but not the basin at Coalisland). A mjaor problem was the nature of the jelly-like stratum through which it cut. It may still be negotiable by canoe, but I’m not 100% if it is still accessible, even as a walking route. More here –

  5. Thank you.

    For “Coalisland” read “Strabane”?


  6. Indeed, Strabane rather than Coalisland! Having said that (but off-thread) there have been several attempts to infill that section of the Coalisland Basin that isn’t already infilled.
    The rewatering of the Strabane Basin would probably be an asset in terms of visual amenity, to the town centre irrespective of the canal being navigable to boats.

  7. Indeed: the Tralee Ship Canal looks better with water in it and it forms a walking route much used by the citizenry. But, if it were not for the rowers, it would not need to be more than six inches deep.


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