The Mountmellick Line of the Grand Canal

Update 1 January 2012: Martin O’Shea has kindly sent me two photographs and permission to use them; I have added them at the bottom of the page.
Update 2 January 2012: Eleanor Russell kindly sent me four photographs of the operations of her husband’s family’s firm Russells of Portarlington, who carried timber on the canal. I have put them on a separate page about Russells.
Update 3 January 2012: I don’t know why I didn’t show the photo of the Harbour Bar before …. 
Update 4 18 June 2018: the URL for Laois County Council’s booklet on the canal has changed; I have amended the entry below.

The Mountmellick Line of the Grand Canal, built between 1827 and 1831, runs from the Barrow Line at Monasterevin via Portarlington to Mountmellick.

The first bridge on the Mountmellick Line, at the junction with the Barrow Line of the Grand Canal

The first bridge on the Mountmellick Line, at the junction with the Barrow Line of the Grand Canal

The admirable Heritage Officer of Laois County Council commissioned a survey of the industrial heritage and the environmental aspects of the abandoned canal. Then, so that knowledge of the canal might be disseminated more widely, she caused to be published a well-illustrated book based on the survey. The book can be downloaded, free of charge, in PDF form here. There is an interesting photo of what looks like a square-sterned wooden barge, employed in the timber trade.

The first lock on the Mountmellick Line

The first lock on the Mountmellick Line

The full survey is also available via the same link. The later link to the appendices may not be working, but an email to the Heritage Officer will produce a copy by return.

A bridge over an infilled section

A bridge over an infilled section

Laois County Council is to be congratulated on its initiative. O si sic omnes.

Photos from Martin O’Shea

These photos were kindly supplied by Martin O’Shea, who retains the copyright but has permitted me to use them here.

Blackhall Bridge on the R419 near Portarlington (Martin O’Shea)

Here is Blackhall Bridge on the OSI map of ~1900. On the ~1840 map it was called Moore’s Bridge.

Remains of lock at Canal Road and R424 in Portarlington (Martin O’Shea)

Here is the lock on the OSI map of around 1900:


I have not, alas, been to Mountmellick for some years. I do hope the Harbour Bar is still there.


The Harbour Bar in Mountmellick

23 responses to “The Mountmellick Line of the Grand Canal

  1. I am keenly interested in canals that run through the midlands. It is such a pity that the Mountmellick Canal line was closed off and dried up.
    I often try to follow the route it would have taken, between Mountmellick and Portarlington and on to Monasterevan, it is intriguing to see that in some places, one can identify the actual canal bed. I work in Co. Westmeath, where the Royal Canal is still alive and well and every year there is a canal festival in Ballinacarrigy which brings barges from Mullingar , past Coolnahay, in to Ballinacarrigy Harbour and on to Abbeyshrule. One can only imagine what the Mountellick Canal line would have been like in it’s day. The Mountmellick Canal publication is a wonderful book and very informative, giving us a glimse of what the canal may have been like. I often wonder if it would be possible that sections of the canal could be restored where water features would remind us of how beautiful these waterways were and what Flora and Fauna they supported. Maybe someday….

  2. You probably know that the Royal Canal’s official reopening, after restoration, is to take place this autumn. However, I don’t think we’ll be having any more restorations for some time, given the economic situation. Still, as I hope this site shows, there are plenty of old navigations around that you can visit! bjg

  3. We called the canal bridge closest to Mountmellick the First Bridge. Just beyond this bridge the canal ran through some of my father’s fields. As children, we spent many happy Sundays fishing for roach and perch with rods made from hazel branches. Once, we caught a pike and an eel. Very exciting. For the roach we used flour dough mixed with strands of sheeps’ wool to keep it on the hook; for perch we used worms. We ate the roach and the perch.
    During the summer, the water at the First Bridge became the swimming p0ol of the town. One man, Johnny Bannon, would stand on his hands on the parapet of the bridge and lever himself off into the water fifteen feet below. The water was only four feet deep at that point. Don’t ask. He never hurt himself. When the swimmers went home we searched in the long grass behind the bushes where they had changed their clothes. Once we found a comb, a small penknife and some coins. The Travelers from local encampments also waited for the swimmers to depart and then the men swam naked.
    We were warned never to drink from the canal because the water was standing and people drowned dogs in it. One Sunday while fishing, we persuaded ourselves we were going to die of the thirst. No one would go home for a bottle of water. We decided to drink from the canal, but then we saw a man we knew, John Staunton, coming along the bank. We asked him would it be alright to drink from the canal. John had been in WWI. He said, “One time in Belgium I got down on my belly to drink out of a well, but I had to push a floating dead soldier out of the way first. This water won’t kill you.” But, despite John’s permission, we were too afraid to go against our parents’ commands and did not drink.
    We were all sad to witness the eventual fate of the canal. Just beyond OUR First Bridge, my brother has allowed nature to reclaim itself with all the plants and bushes indigenous to the area. It is now a bird sanctuary for birds disturbed bythe intensive farming of the surrounding fields.

  4. Tom: this is great: I’m delighted to have those memories. When we were kids we’d visit my father’s parents, who lived on the Curragh, and if it was a warm day we might go for a swim, which usually meant on the aqueduct in Monasterevan (Weil’s Disease hadn’t been invented at that time). The taste of the water was very distinctive (we were used to swimming in pools or in the sea) and it had a lovely soft quality.

    It’s good to hear that the wildlife has benefited from the demise of the canal. bjg

  5. The canal plays a significant part in Tom Phelan’s novel THE CANAL BRIDGE (Lilliput Press). Info at

  6. Thanks, Patricia. Happy to carry a plug beag. bjg

  7. Visiting Portarlington last year I stopped to photograph Blackhall Bridge at the junction of the R419 and Canal Road (the route of which follows the now filled-in canal). This canal bridge stands in splendid isolation. It was restored by the townspeople as a Millenium project.
    Seeing my interest a lady living in the cottage opposite the bridge came over to talk. She had lived in the cottage all her life and remembered swimming in the canal. She was a mine of information. As I left she told me to go and see the remains of the lock at the end of Canal Road, where it joins the R424 in the town.
    That was also fascinating. I’m sure most car drivers using the junction don’t realise they are driving through a lock. An estate close by is named “Lough Gate”, and I wondered what the background to that misunderstanding was.

  8. Thanks, Martin. I know the bridge you mean (but haven’t got a photo of it, alas). If you haven’t seen it, you might be interested in my page on Russells of Portarlington. bjg

  9. Hi ,
    My Grandad John Lanigan was lock keeper at canal house in Portarlington and my mother grew up in that house. I am currently researching the family tree and my great grandad all so called John Lanigan was indeed all so a lock keeper and lived in a house in Clogrennan Rossmore which was owned by the grand canal company. I’m interested to know are there any records of them and where would I start to look? Any advive would be greatly appreciated.

  10. Neasa: responsibility for the Grand Canal passed first to CIE and later to the Office of Public Works. The records of the Grand Canal Company are in the National Archives and I think that would be the best place to start. bjg

  11. My name is Tony Mallen and I live here in Perth Western Australia. I am 76 years old and I am sorry to hear about the Mountmellick Line as I remember distinctly when I was in year 5 going with my fostermother a teacher from Grangecon Co. Wicklow to visit a Fr. Meagher in the catholic presbytery in Mountmellick. they gave me some books to keep me occupied. I listened in to them and one item stood out . it was the great party the Mountmellick Dockers and working folk gave to a Oliver Flanagan and carried him shoulder high,when he first won a seat to become a TD. Don’t think they were happy about an “interloper” winning but I remember I got a kick out of it. Always had visions of a vibrant harbour. Shame about the canal. Sic transit Gloria or whatever.

  12. Thanks, Tony: nice to have that recollection of when the canal was a lively place. bjg

  13. Victoria Rechel

    This is all so interesting. I am first generation American. My mother is from Argentina and her Grandfather immigrated from Mountmellick, Ireland back in the late 1800. I was always told that a family member owned the “Horan Bar”. Not sure, but would love to find out. It was closed 2 years ago when I visited and inquired. Apparently there had been a recent fire. Anyone able to lend any info., it would be greatly appreciated! Thank you, loved reading about the railroad/bridges too.

  14. I don’t know anything about it myself, but if anyone leaves any information here I’ll pass it on. bjg

  15. Vincent Broderick

    Hi, my Dads uncle was the lock keeper at Tinnakill lock and my granny grew up there. Willie my dads uncle didn’t move out of the cottage until the early 80’s. The house still stands there becoming more derelict but there is no trace of the canal. My dad has lots of stories from his mother growing up at the lock. I’m trying to source old family photo’s of the canal in use at the house. If I find any I will send them on. Do you know where I could look to find historic photo’s of this streach of the canal?

  16. Nice to hear from you. Do try and record your dad’s stories, if you can: we need all the history we can get!

    The Laois County Council booklet has a few old pics; the URL has changed to and I’ve updated the link on my webpage.

    Other than that it’s a matter of (a) asking locally (perhaps with a letter to the local papers) and (b) searching the internet, bearing in mind that there may be variant spellings, eg Tinnekill/Tinnakill.


  17. I am trying to do some family research. My grand-mother (Marion Donnelly, nee Bacon) used to own a pub (named ” The Harbour”) located “by the lock gate son the canal in Mountmellick”. My mother grew up in this pub until her late teens, when they moved to Dublin around 1927 (??). I heard that this pub burnt down at some stage (?). Would there be any information, or possibly a photograph of this pub ?

  18. There is a photo of a pub called Horan’s Harbour Bar on the page on which you left this message. I don’t live in the area and I have no more information about it than that it existed. The Mountmellick Heritage Society might be able to help: it has a Facebook page here


  19. Ann Phelan O'Brien

    The pub Martin refers to was owned by Billy Lambe when it went on fire and I have very pleasant memories of him and Mrs Lambe.

  20. Hi I’m wondering anyone has any information on the canal and lough house in Banagher? My grandad was lough keeper in Rathangan as was my great grandad but his father was the keeper in Banagher. My mother’s grandad and she’s trying to get some information… Thanks Angela.

  21. Hello, I am trying to find out more about the Harbour St bar, Mountmellick. My great-great grandfather James Healion inherited in circa 1880s, he then went on to buy and run a pub at Bridge House, Mountmellick. James’ sister ran the Harbour st bar for many years. Anything you know of the history would be great.

  22. Helen, knew that place since the times of the Bona Fide, when we used visit on a trip to my Auntie in Derrygile outside Mountmellick. used it as a halting place for the hero in Here Lies….I used Madigan’s Harbour Bar in memory of Hugh Lenord…”Jack drove away, not on any planned journey, automatically he changed the gears, negotiated the twisty roadway bends, going nowhere: but recognising his destination when his automatic pilot took him there. Old Bill’s favourite oasis on trips in the days of the Bona Fide, that law that required Sunday drinkers to travel three miles before they could visit a pub. It had been an inn, on a large harbour at the end of the Grand Canal branch that was constructed to carry barges of coal from Castlecomer to Dublin, but had not been extended any farther. The pub looked as unfriendly as ever, slates had updated the thatch, a new set of double-glazed plastic featheredged windows had replaced the tiny square paned ones, the faded sign still proclaiming Madigan’s Harbour Bar.” Hope you find out some real info on the place. Pat


    Thanks  I come from Catholic diocese of kildare and leighlin and from Grangecon in the parish of Baltinglass. County Wicklow. Had an aunt owned a boarding house at 6 Herbert place in Dublin right opposite the Grand canal. I am 83 and watched the passage of many of a barge in the forties fifties. Dangerous for kids saw a search for a drowned child and a distraught mother. Spent a few days about 93 near the grand canal near the “Thatch “in Rahan Offally . Loved those bridge arches. When the greenies get the reins of power maybe the low energy cost may come into its own! There used to be a luxury barge in the 19th century would leave at night from Athy and arrive in Dublin for business in the morning. A few blokes fell overboard as some drink was consumed. Last time in Ireland went to “Canalway” in Kildare and also walked along the towpath on the Dublin side of the Sallins bridge. There was a priest in Leederville parish (Perth Western Australia) named Fr Leech from Westmeath and his family had barges on the Royal, Cheers for now. Shame those people are not there anymore.  What banter they would have had! Tony Mallen

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