Boats passing through Athlone nowadays use a lock in the river, beside the weir and downstream of the current road bridge. Lock, weir and bridge were constructed by the Shannon navigation commissioners in the 1840s.
Before then, boats used a canal, about a mile and a half long, to the west of the river.
According to Ruth Delany’s The Shannon Navigation (Lilliput Press, Dublin 2008), the canal was built by Thomas Omer for the Commissioners of Inland Navigation. He started in 1757 and had over 300 men at work. He built a single lock 120′ X 19′ with a rise of 4.5′, but there was also a guard lock, further upstream, with a single set of gates to protect the canal against floods. There were two lay-bys (harbours), one above the lock and the other at the upstream end.
Although the old canal is no longer navigable, small boats are kept at its upper end and the entire line is easy to follow. The photos on this page were taken in March 2012; unfortunately the camera had an intermittent fault so some photos were not saved properly.
The map extracts are used by kind permission of Ordnance Survey Ireland. The coloured maps are from the survey of around 1840 (different sheets were surveyed and then printed at different times, so I refer to the survey as being ~1840) and the black and white are from the survey of ~1900.
Upper end to railway bridge
You can drive up quite close to the junction. The canal banks are neatly kept, presumably by the residents, and there are lake-boats tied to landing-stages in several places.
from The guard lock to battery bridge
From the lock to the Shannon
Further information and corrections will be welcome; please leave a Comment below.
Here are some links courtesy of the Athlone Live forum. Cllr Aengus O’Rourke set up the Athlone Canal Restoration Group (the link on that page isn’t working: I’ve asked whether there is a different URL). The group held a meeting in September 2011 and a walk, led by the learned Dr Harman Murtagh, in December 2011.
I am all in favour of linear recreational facilities — walking and cycling routes — along waterways, but I am generally opposed to restoring to navigable status, which (at least in Ireland) is rarely, if ever, a sensible allocation of resources.
Isn’t this interesting? First, it shows that, although the canal was bypassed in the 1840s, it was not officially abandoned until 1982 (though I wonder when the lock gates fell down). Second, it suggests that Waterways Ireland (as successor to the Shannon Commissioners and the Commissioners of Public Works) still owns the canal, although I admit I’m making an assumption there. Third, it shows why Cllr Aengus O’Rourke said that Athlone Town Council would have to be involved in doing anything on the stretch from the Galway Road Bridge to the Battery Bridge: the town council seems to have leased that section, and the next as far as the lock, from the Commissioners of Public Works. I’m not clear about the role of Westmeath County Council and I’m assuming, open to correction by Athlone folk, that Heatons Mill Bridge was the bridge over the lock as shown on the ~1900 OSI map.