The Shannon Navigation 1786

Letter from a Gentleman of Limerick on the subject of the Shannon Navigation

The prosecution of our inland navigation is really a concern of the utmost consequence, and as most extensive benefits must flow from it to the kingdom in general, we should never lose sight of so important an object. To impress upon your mind the grandeur, the vast extent, and great advantages of the River Shannon, I shall begin at the Fountain head, and therefore observe, that it issues from the great Lough of Allen in the county of Leitrim, and after a course of 166 [Irish] miles through ten different counties, forming in its progress several beautiful lakes, at length falls into the Atlantic Ocean between Kerry Point and Loops Head, where it is nine miles broad.

It is necessary in the second place to point out the several distances and stages from this city to the Lough, which from consulting the best maps, and from my own inquiries on the spot, are as follow:

From Limerick to Killaloe by water                       10 miles
From Killaloe to Portumna                                      18 miles
From Portumna to Meelick                                        7 miles
From Meelick to Banagher                                         4 miles
From Banagher to Shannon-bridge                         8 miles
From Shannon bridge to the Seven Churches       5½ miles
From the Seven Churches to Athlone                      9 miles
From Athlone to Lanesborough                              16 miles
From Lanesborough to Tarmonberry                      6 miles
From Tarmonberry to Ruskey                                   8 miles
From Ruskey to Drumsna                                          8½ miles
From Drumsna to Carrick                                          4½ miles
From Carrick to Leitrim                                              5 miles
From Leitrim to Lough Allen                                     8 miles

From Limerick to Lough Allen by water              118 miles

It is a melancholy reflection, but at the same time too true, that in the prosecution of this great national work, we are justly chargeable with langour, ignorance and corruption, and such are the narrow illiberal principles of the present times, that the history of the Inland Navigation is in other words, but an History of Jobs.

To our own very great reproach, and to the unspeakable loss to this city, the Canal from Limerick to Killaloe, though begun 31 years ago, and immense sums expended thereon, is yet unfinished. Were this once completed, we should be enabled to form a connecting chain of internal commerce through the whole kingdom, and communications thus formed would keep up a constant circulation of commodities, which would equally benefit the man of landed property, the husbandman, the artist and manufacturer, nay there is not a single acre in the kingdom, but by this means would have its value enhanced, for the improvement of every other river would follow of course, and now that the Dublin Canal has so far advanced (which has already in a manner created a new town in Monastereven) the inhabitants of the Banks of the Shannon may be enabled to sell the produce of their labours to those who dwell near the Boyle, the Suck, the Liffey, the Boyne, the Barrow, the Black Water, the Noer, the Suir, &c.

Surely, therefore, the advantages to this rising city would be inexpressible. Butter of the best quality, and in great quantities, on the Banks I may say of the Shannon, and in the neighbourhood of the mines, is now buying by commission in the towns of Elphin, Drumsna, Boyle, Carrick and Leitrim, from 40s to two guineas per cwt, and sent thence by land carriage to Dublin. This article surely, as well as corn, coals, iron, and sundry others, may come down to Limerick on easier terms, and the boats in return may load with boards, china, glasses, earthenware, printed and woollen goods of all sorts, cheese, various groceries, wine and spirits, with all which they are now furnished at an exorbitant price by land carriage from Dublin.

Cider also and slates, eagerly sought after, and scarcely known in that country would sell to extraordinary advantage. These are the articles that more immediately concern ourselves, but as they have reference, and are in some measure dependant on the mines in that neighbourhood, I am to inform you, that within one mile of Lough Allen is a vast chain of mountains called Mounterkenny and Slieveinerin, which with the adjacent lands are the property of four gentlemen, viz the Right Hon Theo Jones and Mess Tennison, Lloyd, and MacDermot, all which abound with coal and copper, equal if not superior to any in England, besides lead, iron, and clays of all sorts, even for the finest of wares, and an ore at the mouth of the mine, which produces verdigrise and vitriol better than any we receive from Germany and France.

In Mounterkenny two pits have been opened several years past, one now about twelve feet deep, the other about twenty, which at this instant supply the Barracks of Carrick, Longford, Roscommon, and the neighbouring gentlemen, the coal 8s English per ton at the pit, but for want of finishing the cut from Battle bridge to Ballintra, not a full mile, and of a cart road from the pits to the Lough, the carriage of the coal (being as yet only on horses backs) is attended with considerable expence.

However, it is to be hoped the Navigation Board will soon effect this great desideratum, especially as a considerable part of the cut above Battle bridge has been made already, and the rapid mountain River Arigny, which obstructed and injured the road, is now diverted into the Lough, and a noble bridge of one single arch erected over it.

The other mountain Slieveinerin, which abounds with iron and coal, and is the property of Mr Tennison, a most respectable and spirited gentleman, was set last year at an high rent, with a considerable fine to Mess Reilly and Co from Dublin, who have forty or fifty men daily employed in erecting kilns, furnaces, and various works at an immense expence, and as they have discovered the method of charring or coaking the pit coal, so as to qualify it for smelting or fluxing the ore, they expect in a little time to be able to supply the whole kingdom with all sorts of iron, for every purpose of agriculture and trade.

These are great things, and it gave me singular pleasure to see such noble improvements and so spiritedly carried on, on so enlarged a scale, and to add to this pleasure, whilst on the spot, and engaged in examining these works, I met a Mr Cuttle, an eminent land surveyor from Dublin, attended with 50 or 60 men then taking his levels, and tracing out a cut of ten miles from the head of Lough Allen to another large Lough that extends ot the Bay of Sligo, by which means boats may convey iron, coal, or any other burden for any part of the kingdom, whereby in the single article of coals to Dublin only, the nation would make a saving of £200000 a year, a matter of interesting consideration to this exhausted kingdom. On my leaving the country last week, I had the pleasure of seeing the plan of this intended cut most elegantly designed on vellum, for the inspection of the Board of Navigation.

PS In August 1784, I saw at James’s-town, a mile above Drumsna, an Athlone boat with coals for Mr Parker of Castle Lough, which on account of the weirs and shallows was obliged to unload and reload several times; but this difficulty is removed, as the new cut at Drumsna is now open, by which means there is now a free passage all the way from Killaloe to Battle bridge, within seven miles of the colliery.

Limerick, 23d October 1786

Saunders’s News-Letter 1 November 1786


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