The River Hind flows into the west side of Lough Ree, the second-largest lake on the River Shannon, at Cruit Bay, near Portrunny. It is a small river, but it might have been much larger if nineteenth-century proposals to make it navigable, as a link from Roscommon town to the Shannon, had been implemented.
The first suggestion that the river be made navigable seems to have come from a Mr Richards of Roscommon town, “architect of the principal public buildings there”, who outlined his scheme in a letter to Isaac Weld in July 1830. There had been an earlier proposal to build a canal from Roscommon town to the Shannon at Tarmonbarry, from which the Royal Canal ran to Dublin. Weld himself thought that
[…] there is generally more certainty of success in making a canal, than in deepening a river. The one indeed in the hands of a skilful engineer, is almost a sure undertaking; whilst the attempts to deepen rivers are often baffled by circumstances which can neither be foreseen, nor provided against.
The Hind route would have been shorter than the Royal Canal extension, and would have allowed boats to travel south to Athlone and Shannon Harbour and thence to Limerick by the Shannon or to Dublin by the Grand Canal. However, the Royal Canal scheme would have allowed the use of canal boats, hauled by horses, for the entire route except for a short crossing of the Shannon at Tarmonbarry, whereas for the Hind
[…] boats must be employed suitable to the navigation of Lough Ree, which at times is attended with difficulty […].
Nonetheless, Weld recognised the advantages of a navigable connection to Roscommon town, and he published Richards’s letter in his Statistical Survey of the County of Roscommon of 1832. Richards argued that the Hind scheme would cost only one third as much as the canal and that steam boats could overcome the problems of the Shannon. The Hind would have to be widened and deepened and would require two locks: one at the Shannon end and one for a canal to cover the last mile into Roscommon town. There were enough tributary streams to provide an adequate supply of water both for the navigation and for the town, which at the time drew its water from a well for which the inhabitants each paid a penny a week. The navigation would improve the supply of cheap fuel to the poor. It could also carry corn from the town market, some of which had been going to Dublin by the Royal Canal and some by road carrier to Galway or Sligo, as well as livestock, “which forms so considerable a branch of the trade of this and the adjoining counties”. Furthermore, merchandise could be sent to Roscommon more cheaply: it could be delivered from Limerick to the mouth of the Hind for twelve shillings a ton, instead of the twenty shillings charged for goods from Dublin sent via the Royal Canal. Richards envisaged having the river dredged to a depth of six feet “and widened to 15 feet, with lay-byes at convenient distances”. He expected it to be used by “boats of the dimensions used on the Shannon, Grand and Royal Canals”, about 13 feet wide, and he wanted the locks and bridges built large enough to allow the boats to pass each other. He estimated the total cost as £12900: £3950 for land and earth work and £8950 for masonry (locks, lock houses, bridges, tunnels, harbours and quays). If the length was, as Weld said, “scarcely exceeding five miles”, that would have cost about £2600 per mile, whereas the Grand Canal Company’s canal to Ballinasloe in County Galway, 14½ miles with two locks, cost about £3000 per mile. Furthermore, the cost (if the estimate was accurate) would have been considerably less than the £35000 mentioned in 1828 by “56 residents and property owners of County Roscommon […] seeking governing support for the construction of a canal from the terminal of the Royal Canal at Richmond Harbour [Tarmonbarry] to Roscommon Town”. However, the Dublin Morning Register, in November 1830, dismissed the Hind proposal as “preposterous”. Not only would the trade have to depend on “steamtug boats” but
The river Hine in dry seasons is inconsiderable, and in time of heavy rains it is quite a torrent, falling nearly 6 feet in the mile for the first 5 miles, and 7 feet 6 inches in the mile for the last 2½ miles of its course from Lysadrun [Lissadean] downwards.
It also condemned the idea of linking the Ballinasloe Line of the Grand Canal to Roscommon and lauded the Royal Canal Company’s proposal for a canal to the Shannon opposite Richmond Harbour. None of those proposals were adopted, even though Richards thought that the inhabitants of Roscommon town would “give their support and pecuniary assistance towards” his scheme: the government had no funding available.
The Drainage Commissioners
The Hind navigation proposal had a second chance in the 1840s, under drainage legislation.
The Act 5th and 6th Victoria, chap.89, entitled, “An Act to promote the Drainage of Lands, and improvement of Navigation and Water power, in connexion with such Drainage in Ireland,” received the Royal Assent, on the 5th of August, 1842, and by its provisions, constituted the Board of Public Works, with such additional Commissioners as the Lords Commissioners of Her Majesty’s Treasury should appoint Commissioners for the execution of the said Act.
This Act represented a considerable enhancement of the scope and responsibilities of the Board of [Public] Works, a body whose establishment […]
[…] was a bold and far-reaching measure, adopted for the solution of many general Irish problems: unemployment, rural disaffection, lack of communications and economic under-development. […] The task of the administrators was not to work a free economy, but to bring about the conditions in which a free economy could work. This could be achieved in Ireland only by policies which would have been considered revolutionary in England.
There were four Commissioners responsible for drainage: the three members of the Board of Public Works and William T Mulvany, who had drafted the legislation some years earlier. However, after four annual reports had been produced, the Drainage Commissioners (and some other bodies) were consolidated with the Board of Public Works and drainage was covered in the Board’s annual reports from 1847 onwards. The 1842 Act was amended by the Drainage (Ireland) Act 1845 “to remedy some technical inaccuracies in the original Act, and to afford increased facilities for the borrowing of money and the issue of certificates of loan […]”. In 1846 a further Drainage (Ireland) Act, and another in 1847, made it easier to get a drainage scheme under way in a river district but also made it more likely that things would go wrong — as indeed, some years later, they were found to have done. However, these summary proceedings did allow a major increase in the number of drainage schemes and thus in the level of employment provided — not always continuously — during the Great Famine in the latter part of the 1840s. Up to 31 December 1845, there were applications for drainage schemes in 49 districts, covering 140347 acres in 29 counties. The River Hind was not amongst those districts, but an application [No 112] was made on 6 April 1846, seeking to have 2800 acres (out of a catchment of 16000 acres) and 14 miles of river improved, at an estimated cost of £14280. By September 1846 John Long CE had drawn up a report for the Board of Public Works on the lands to be drained and improved; land owners were invited to express their assent or dissent to the proposals. The Hind scheme [District No 79] was approved under the provisions for summary proceedings: work began on 25 February 1847 and, by the end of the year, almost 26000 man-days of work had been done. The Drainage Commissioners had identified four classes of projects:
- drainage along rivers, lakes and wastes “combined generally with some alteration or improvements of water-power” for mills
- drainage and embankment along the sea and estuary coasts
- drainage of lands, in conjunction with navigation
- improving mill power by forming reservoirs.
Initially, applicants for drainage projects — land owners in the area — had to pay the costs of a preliminary survey, to be carried out by the Board of Public Works. If the results were favourable and the Board approved the project, the costs of the preliminary survey were refunded. The Board then advertised its intention of proceeding; land owners could object through the courts but, if no objections were upheld, the Board prepared detailed plans and estimates. The owners of two thirds of the land to be drained then had to give their consent: if they did so, the work went ahead, funded by the Board, which in turn got its money from HM Treasury or, in some cases, by way of private-sector funding. When the project was completed, the Board made an award: that is, it decided how much of the cost each of the land owners was to repay — with interest. The summary proceedings, introduced in 1846 and 1847, made four changes to the procedure. First, the applicants no longer had to pay for a preliminary survey. Second, the threshold for land owners’ consent was lowered from two thirds to one half. Third, the Board was empowered to proceed with works up to a cost of £3 per acre; however, if the cost was to exceed that figure, the land owners had to be asked for their approval — known as second assents — a second time. Fourth, “the concurrence of tenants was dispensed with”.
Drainage and navigation
There was a further complication for projects of the third class, which combined drainage and navigation.
The districts in Ireland belonging to this class are, generally speaking, of great extent, and consist of chains of lakes requiring only short lines of connexion to be made in order to effect both a due regulation of their waters for drainage, and the junction of their natural navigations with each other, and in some cases with the sea.
During the 1840s the Shannon Commissioners — effectively the Board of Public Works — were spending almost £600000 improving the navigation of the River Shannon, which itself might be described as a chain of lakes. That forms a background to the Drainage Commissioners’ interest in developing navigations. In their third report they identified the “chief districts” in the third class:
The chief districts are Lough Neagh, its tributaries, and the Lower Baim [recte Bann], in Ulster; the Junction Navigation, by the Woodford river, to connect Ulster with Connaught, the Shannon with the North, and thereby all the inland navigations of Ireland; and Loughs, Corrib, Mask, and Carra, in Connaught.
In their fourth and final report, made in August 1846, the Drainage Commissioners added a fourth possible district: “a communication between Lough Erne and the lakes adjacent”, upstream from Belturbet to Lough Oughter.
As a member of the Drainage Commission, but not (before consolidation) of the Board of Public Works, William T Mulvany was not involved in the Shannon improvements, but his drainage-cum-navigation districts might have provided a larger network of inland waterways than the Board had within its jurisdiction.
The Hind navigation resurrected
After 1846 the annual reports of the Board of Public Works took up the tale. The sixteenth report, covering 1847 and published in 1848, showed the same four drainage-cum-navigation districts, whereas the Hind was listed as a plain drainage district. However, the “magistrates, cesspayers and [important] inhabitants of Co Roscommon” met at the Courthouse in Roscommon town in May 1847 and resolved
That we fully concur in the necessity of feeding the helpless during the existing scarcity, but we urgently entreat government to adopt measures for the employment of the ablebodied by directing the completion, under a more perfect and efficient control, of the roads, which, in their present most dangerous state, impede the commerce and communication of the country; also by carrying out the different Drainages which have been sanctioned […].
They also wanted the government to proceed with
[…] works of lasting importance, such as the most approved navigation project, by which this town may obtain an easier communication by water with the Shannon, and without which no benefit can accrue to this locality from the great sums which have been levied off it for the improvement of that river, the expense of prosecuting which work it has been obliged to share, and has obtained no portion of the employment of labour or advantage.
The term “most approved” seems to mean “popular with Roscommon people”: no scheme linking Roscommon town to the Shannon had at that point been approved by the government. However, in July 1847 the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Sir Charles Wood Bt, speaking in the House of Commons at the committee stage of the Destitute Persons (Ireland) Bill, described the extent of public works in Ireland:
The works at present in progress in Ireland, aided by the public funds, are as follows: First, the Shannon navigation, which has been in operation for some years. Secondly, works for the improvement of navigation and drainage connected therewith, for which a vote has been taken in further execution of the Act which was passed last Session; and I shall propose in the next Committee of Supply a further grant of 5,500l [£5500] towards the improvement of the River Hinde, in one of the most distressed counties in Ireland—the county of Roscommon. Thirdly, the promotion of the sea fisheries in Ireland, by the repair and construction of fishery piers, for which a sum of 50,000l was voted last year; and for which in the present Session I have taken an additional sum of 40,000l. Fourthly, the drainage and improvement of landed estates by the proprietors themselves, for which, as the Committee is aware, a sum of 1,500,000l has been voted. And, fifthly, those railroads for aiding in the construction of which, a sum of 620,000l has been already voted. There remains the drainage executed by the Board of Works, in deepening and straightening the course of rivers which afford the outfalls for main drainage in Ireland.
The Chancellor did not explain why he chose the Hind, out of all the rivers in Ireland, for a special grant, but it is possible that he was persuaded to do so by Denis O’Conor, the O’Conor Don, MP for Roscommon, who had been appointed in 1846 as one of the junior Lords Commissioners of Her Majesty’s Treasury. His fellow Roscommon MP, Fitzstephen French, was another Whig supporter — which had not stopped him from complaining of
[…] the manner in which the adjoining counties to the Shannon had been assessed for the improvement of the river, which, after an expenditure of 400,000l had, as an experimental drainage, turned out a failure.
Funding the drainage-cum-navigation schemes
Whereas the drainage schemes were financed by loans, the government made a grant of half the cost towards the navigation schemes:
[…] it is [the Government’s] intention to recommend a vote of Parliament for a free grant, to the extent of a moiety of the cost of the Navigation portion of those measures, the other moiety to be paid by the baronies [areas] benefited; while the cost of the works for the drainage of the adjacent lands will be defrayed by the proprietors of the soil.
That government grant was allocated only to the four districts chosen by the Drainage Commissioners and described in more detail in the Estimates for Navigation in Connexion with Drainage in Ireland:
The navigation (in the Lough Neagh District, situate in the counties of Antrim, Derry, Tyrone, Armagh, and Down) of the Lower Bann River, from the Bridge of Coleraine on the tidal part of said river to Lough Neagh, and extending thence to the first lock or entrance of the Lagan, Newry, Ulster, and Coal Island Canals.
The navigation in the Lough Erne and Lough Oughter District, situate in the counties of Fermanagh and Cavan, from Belleek, by the course of Upper and Lower Lough Erne, Lough Oughter, and the River Erne, and the towns of Enniskillen and Belturbet, to Killeshandra, and near to the town of Cavan.
The junction navigation (in the Ballinamore and Ballyconnell District, situate in the counties of Leitrim, Cavan, and Fermanagh) by the course of the Woodford river and lakes, from Lough Erne, at the mouth of said river, to the River Shannon, near the village of Leitrim.
The navigation (in the Lough Corrib and Lough Mask Districts, in the counties of Galway, town of Galway, and Mayo), by the River and Lake Corrib, and Loughs Mask and Carra, from the sea at Galway to the northern extremity of said Loughs Mask and Carra, and to Cloon Lough in the River Aille.
In each case the costs of the drainage and the navigation works were separated and the grant did not cover interest. The separation of costs meant that, when funding for drainage was suspended, navigation works could be continued.
The estimates showed that the grant was spread over several years.
A note to the Estimate explained that the sum voted in 1847 “includes 5500l [£5500] voted upon a separate Estimate for the Navigation of the River Hind, in the County of Roscommon”.
Work on the Hind
Clearly, then, the Hind was regarded as being in a separate category from the four main drainage-cum-navigation projects. Its grant, £5500, was small and was awarded only once, perhaps because Denis O’Conor died in July 1847. The county was required to, and did, raise a matching amount. The seventeenth report of the Board of Public Works, published in 1849 to cover 1848, mentioned the Hind only for drainage, not for navigation, although it gave “copious extracts from the Annual Reports of the District Engineers” for Lough Neagh, the Junction Canal and Loughs Corrib and Mask [little having been done to make a navigable channel to Lough Oughter, the fourth drainage-cum-navigation project].
Thomas J Mulvany CE, younger brother of the commissioner William T Mulvany, was District Engineer for the Hind at the time. He shared his brother’s habit of casting his reports as very long apologias: he defended the absence of a written report for the previous year, the cost of the works in his district and the amount of work done (funding cuts had reduced the number of men employed) while claiming that most land owners appreciated the benefits and that fine crops had been produced on drained land. His arguments were not without merit: work on the Hind had begun on 6 April 1847 but on 5 June the Board had ordered operations in all districts to be limited, adding a restriction on spending eleven days later. In December 1848 work was suspended in all districts except the Hind and two others.
In March 1849 the Roscommon Journal regretted that work on the Hind had not been resumed. Focusing on drainage rather than navigation, the newspaper said that the completed portion of the drainage was well done and “of immense advantage to the proprietors”. The work had employed several thousand men and thus supported their wives and children; those men were now unemployed when they could have been reclaiming more land for tillage. In May the Freeman’s Journal called for the Hind works to be resumed, and a few days later the Roscommon Messenger revealed that £19000, left over from the previous year, was to be spent on the river: £8000 on drainage and £11000 on the navigation between Ballymurray Bridge and the Shannon. About 1600 labourers would be employed on the 2½ miles of the navigation and the work would include the building of harbours.
In June 1849 Lionel Gisbourne CE was appointed District Engineer for several drainage districts, including the Hind, in Counties Roscommon, Longford, Mayo and Sligo. He immediately resumed the drainage works in all but one of his districts but found that progress was slow: no preparation had been made for resumption, labour was scarce and work became impossible during a very wet autumn.
In July 1849 Thomas J Mulvany produced a revised plan for the Hind (presumably he had started work on it before Gisborne replaced him), in which — as the Roscommon Messenger had forecast — the river would be made navigable only as far as Ballymurray Bridge rather than continuing to Lissadean Mill. In August the Roscommon Messenger pointed out that navigation works had not started and that only 500 men had been employed:
We have not heard that any directions have as yet been received to carry on the Navigation Works of this river; and this has been long and anxiously expected by hundreds who would be thereby employed. Indeed the proceedings of the Commissioners seems most unexplicable in this particular, and the season will shortly be so far advanced that it will be impossible to do anything this year. As Parliament are not sitting, they deem willing to exercise an irresponsible authority, which must, however, at no distant day be accounted for. ‘Tis absolutely monstrous to witness, in any public body, such an absolute indifference not only to the opinions, but to the lives of the people, without their condescending to offer any the slightest explanation.
A month later, however, the newspaper was able to explain the Commissioners’ proceedings: it had learned that “several parties” had not yet “signed the necessary documents” giving their assent to the work and it threatened to publish their names in its next issue. As Gisbourne pointed out in his report for the year, without the assents he was confined to working on drainage improvements between Ballymurray and Derrydonnell. However, William S Mulvany, the commissioner responsible for drainage, was “well pleased” with the progress of the Hind drainage works, supervised by John Williams CE, when he and Gisbourne inspected them in October. The Board of Public Works report covering 1849 showed “Hind (The River)” as a scheme of “drainage and navigation combined” and, in February 1850, the Roscommon Messenger announced the impending resumption of work on the Hind, as the necessary assents had been given.
The Hind and the Suck
However, what seemed like a favourable development in March 1850 actually heralded the onset of a final and fatal delay to the construction of the Hind navigation. The Roscommon Messenger said that the Hind “is now being made navigable” and that “two parts of the distance […] from the Shannon to the Suck, has been to a certain extent completed”. The Suck was mentioned because of a new proposal: to divert the head waters of the Suck into the Hind, so that they would flow into the Shannon at Lough Ree rather than into the callows at Shannonbridge, downstream of Lough Ree (between the locks at Athlone and Meelick). The proposal was referred to in the eleventh report of the Shannon Commissioners; the Board of Public Works resident engineer, Mr Williams, was taking soundings on the Suck at Ballygar and the Messenger hoped that there might be a continuous navigation between the two rivers, with steamers plying between Athlone and Castlerea.
A report on draining the Suck had been drawn up by Frederick Barry CE, for the Board of Public Works, in 1847, and published, with surveys and plans, in 1849. Barry costed the project at £242060, of which £50000 was for navigation and mill-power, and the land owners decided not to pursue the project. However, in April 1850 the Roscommon Messenger reported on the plan to drain the upper reaches of the Suck by diverting them into the River Hind.
We have it on high authority that it is proposed to divide the river Suck into two parts, near the town of Athleague, and make a cut from near Castlestrange and through Hazelwood, and on by Wade’s mill down to the Hind river, and to make the Hind and Suck navigable for steam-boats from Athlone to Castlerea, going within a mile of Roscommon. It is asserted that there will be a saving of £20000 in cutting the Suck this way instead of following the old course.
The Athlone Sentinel pointed out in June 1850 that the flooding of the Shannon below Athlone was caused mainly by the River Suck and would be “considerably abated” by diverting half the water into the Hind and thus into Lough Ree. It is not clear who came up with the idea; in 1851 the Roscommon Journal praised the “indefatigable exertions” of one Thomas N Bagott Esq, but he seemed to be lobbying for a revival of Barry’s scheme, with the Suck made navigable from the Shannon to Ballymoe, downstream of Castlereagh. In February 1852 the Roscommon Journal said that the scheme was set out in a “very able pamphlet just published at J I Whitty’s AM CE Dublin” and that J A Holmes Esq was actively promoting it amongst land owners; Holmes described himself as “agent to a proprietor whose lands are materially affected by the inundations of the River Suck”. Both the Journal and the Messenger printed the text of the pamphlet, which was dated January 1852; the Messenger also printed a critique signed “A Suckling”. This is the essence of the scheme:
The Road from Roscommon to Athleague crosses the upper end of Ballinturly Turlough, which is flooded by the Suck waters. On the other side of the road a considerable flat has just been reclaimed from the inundation of the Hazlebrook Stream, a tributary of the Hind River, which debouches into Lough Ree. The summit between these two waters is only 14 feet, and the distance three-quarters of a mile. The proposition now advocated is to cut through this barrier, and divert the Suck water below Castle Strange Bridge through the Valley of the Hind into Lough Ree, a distance of ten miles, instead of letting them flow in a very flat and tortuous course of forty-four miles, to join the Shannon at Shannon Bridge. Two-fifths of the Suck waters will thus be diverted from their natural channel, and sent into Lough Ree, which affords a large surface for them to spread over, and thus prevent rapid and high floods in the Shannon below Athlone.
Sending a large amount of extra water down the Hind, even if only in flood season, would have required greater capacity in the channel and would have had implications for bridges and other structures. The Hind navigation works would thus become more difficult and more expensive and were therefore postponed while the new proposal was being considered by the Board of Public Works.
Awaiting a decision
The drainage work continued, however. The District Engineer, Lionel Gisborne, said that 1850 had been a good year for arterial drainage work: there had been no interruptions caused by “want of funds, sudden suspension of works, and other similar accidents”. The progress made would show the land owners that drainage was not just a good investment but also a training school to improve the physique and morale of the lower classes, “whose improvement is so directly connected with the prosperity of the country”. The benefits were not confined to the land owners and the lower classes: they trickled upwards to the “tradesmen and shopkeepers” as the wages paid stimulated “a considerable circulation of money” in the area. By the end of 1850 drainage work in the Hind district was almost finished, with three exceptions:
- the stretch below Ballymurray Bridge, “connected with a navigation which has not yet been commenced”
- the reach above Lissadurn mill, which would be finished in summer, when lower water levels would reduce the cost of stopping the mill, which had to be done while a new weir was built and the machinery was lowered
- a cut into the townland of Loughnanean, west of Roscommon: the land owner, Lord Essex, felt that earlier drainage work was enough.
In 1851 drainage work did not resume until June, to the benefit of “the unfortunate labouring class” for whom no other work was available; by July over 500 labourers were at work and by November the “labouring population” continued to get “constant employment” while the landed proprietors had “thousands of acres of hitherto unproductive flooded land” transformed into “good herbitage and tilliage ground” [sic]. In his annual report for 1851, Lionel Gisborne said that the Hind drainage works would be completed and ready for award in May 1852. The drainage had converted a large swamp near Roscommon town into a fertile plain producing potatoes, turnips and oats and supporting many heavy cattle; the health of the population of the town had been improved. Work had been done on the outlet into Lough Ree and at Lissadean, where the two mills had been underpinned and their machinery lowered by 4½ feet; a new 40-foot weir had been built. A new water-wheel was to be installed at the mill at Wades on the Hazlebrook branch; with a new 20-foot weir, the fall would be increased from three to six feet. Main drains and conduits in the upper reaches would be cleared in 1852. However, the navigation works from Lough Ree to Ballymurray had been delayed because the Board was still considering the proposal that the upper waters of the Suck be diverted into the Hind. The proposal would improve the navigability of the Hind, enabling it to be used by large steamers, not just by “lumber boats” (unpowered barges). Furthermore, the Hind navigation could be extended two miles closer to Roscommon town. Local land owners were interested in the idea and were considering holding a meeting to discuss it. It is not clear why the Suck–Hind proposal received so much coverage in February 1852, but not until then, almost two years after it was first made. Thomas J Mulvany took charge of the Hind district again in March 1852, when all drainage work had been finished (apart from some minor drains and channels, which were finished early in May). At that point all drainage work ended, as did spending on the district. Mulvany said that the drainage had worked perfectly during the winter’s heavy rain and floods, but that the lower end of the Hind was flooded from the Shannon. In April 1852 William T Mulvany, the commissioner, his brother Thomas, the district engineer, and John Williams, the resident engineer, spent two days “examining the proposed line of the junction” between the Suck and the Hind. But by the end of the year the navigation works were still awaiting a decision on the proposal:
An examination and sections of this line have been taken, and a report is in preparation as to the feasibility and probable cost of the proposed work.
The Roscommon Messenger had been told that the benefits of making the Suck navigable “would not, in any degree, repay the immense sums to be expended on it” but it still hoped that the link to the Hind would be made. It noted, though, that “there are not now the same crowds of labourers seeking for employment” so that public works were less important. At the end of June 1853 a meeting of “the intelligent and influential men” of Roscommon town and the surrounding area called for action on the Hind navigation, and appointed a committee to write to the Board of Public Works. But no work — drainage or navigation — was done in the Hind district during 1853, although Thomas Mulvany had sent a report on the Suck–Hind proposal to the project’s proposers.
The end of the dream
By then, though, it was too late: Irish drainage schemes, the Board of Public Works and William T Mulvany were all in trouble. One of Mulvany’s first problems arose on Lough Corrib. A private company, the Lough Corrib Improvement Company, had been set up under an earlier drainage act (referred to as More O’Ferrall’s Act) to carry out works on that lake. It therefore had certain legal rights but Mulvany ignored them and went ahead with his own scheme. The company sued; the government was forced to pass the Lough Corrib Act 1850 to allow the Commissioners for Public Works to buy out the company’s interests for £5000. Then, in 1852, the House of Lords set up a Select Committee “to inquire into the Operation of the Acts relating to the Drainage of Lands in Ireland, as administered by the Board of Works”. As awards came to be made, some land owners found that the cost greatly exceeded the estimates; their assent to the increases had not been sought. The committee found that Mulvany, the Commissioner responsible for drainage, had greatly exceeded his powers; the land owners should have been kept informed; there should have been an appeals system. The Treasury appointed commissioners to investigate twelve (later reduced to eleven) districts in which there were disputes over costs; it subsequently referred other districts to them for a report, which found (inter alia) that the original estimate for drainage works on the Hind was £14280 but the actual cost was £18651. The estimate for navigation was £11230 but the works had not been proceeded with. The commissioners noted that much of the increased expenditure arose because the Board of Public Works had been unable to examine drainage plans and estimates properly because of pressure of work in 1846, when many schemes were approved to provide employment during the Great Famine. Furthermore, many plans had been altered afterwards, usually to provide more comprehensive drainage. And labour costs had increased because the supply of labour had reduced and there were competing demands from agriculture and from railway construction. As a result, the commissioners recommended that land owners in the eleven disputed districts should not be charged the full cost of the remaining work. Another drainage act, the Drainage and Improvement of Lands (Ireland) Act 1853, enabled the commissioners’ recommendations to be put into effect. The Treasury directed that “no new responsibilities [were] to be undertaken” and, on 11 March 1853, Sir Charles Trevelyan told the Board of Public Works to make awards as soon as possible for all completed drainage schemes. In the following year, the Board reported that
Under this head we have only to record the steps taken during 1854, towards closing the Arterial Drainage Works, which have been commenced.
But the Board had to report another problem, this one specific to the drainage-cum-navigation schemes. Half the cost was to be paid by a grant from parliament, the other half (with interest) by the district. However, the costs were well above budget and the works were still incomplete. While the districts could be forced to pay their half of whatever the ultimate cost proved to be, there was no legal authority for increasing the grant: the Drainage and Improvement of Lands (Ireland) Act 1853 did not apply to navigation work. Yet another act, the Drainage and Improvement of Lands (Ireland) Act 1855, was required to enable the completion of the schemes to be funded; another, the Drainage (Ireland) Act 1856, followed a year later.
The drainage works were being shut down; Mulvany and the Board of Public Works had lost credibility; the drainage-cum-navigation works had caused political difficulties. Labour was more expensive, relief works were no longer required and railways were likely to remove the need for new waterways. There was no chance that the Hind navigation would be funded, with or without the diversion of the upper waters of the Suck. A return published in 1854 noted, for the Hind,
Revised estimate amounts to 15,766l 17s. Second assents given by the proprietors. A further estimate for navigation, 11,230l 4s; Works not proceeded with.
Tidying up the drainage work
Nothing was done on the Hind drainage scheme in 1854, but maintenance work resumed in May 1855 under resident engineer John S Mason CE. Most of the work, “done by working drags and hoes from floats”, was in removing weeds from thirteen miles of the main channels; stones and other obstructions were also removed and some channels were improved. Two mill weirs were repaired; three accommodation bridges were built at Clooneybeirne, a timber bridge was repaired at Clooncah and a temporary accommodation bridge was built at Curry. The lands were now fully drained, the river being brimful in only a few places during the highest floods. The final awards for the District of the Hind River in the County of Roscommon were made in 1856. The Commissioners of Public Works advertised their intention of making the awards and said that anyone could inspect the draft document at the office of the Clerk for the Peace for Co Roscommon; objections could be sent to the Secretary of the Board of Public Works in Dublin. A meeting of interested persons would be held at the Roscommon Court House on 20 May 1856. The draft awards set the amounts of principal and interest to be paid by each land owner “for the benefits conferred by the drainage operation”. Many of the land owners attended the meeting in May, at which the Board was represented by its chairman, Richard Griffith, and Captain M’Kerlie. Griffith said that the commissioners had spent £20179 on the district, of which £1411 was repaid by the county, leaving £18768 to be paid by the land owners. However, the Treasury had decided to charge them only £11500, a reduction of £7268, which he thought was a very small sum indeed, and he hoped that any objections would soon be disposed of. They were not: one third of the objections had not been heard by 5.30pm so the meeting was continued on the following day. When objections remained unheard on the second day, the meeting was adjourned until July 1856. Objections continued to be presented at the Custom House in Dublin on 11 July, but most of them were fruitless and the commissioners made the final award. The land owners were to pay 44 half-yearly instalments of £366 4s 8d to cover principal and interest. The commissioners arranged a further meeting of land owners, under An Act to promote the Drainage of Lands and Improvement of Navigation and Water-power in connexion with such Drainage in Ireland and later amending legislation, to elect trustees to manage the drainage district. At the meeting, held at the Court House in Roscommon on 8 September 1856, the land owners took the opportunity to say that they acted under protest in appointing trustees, but that they wanted to obey the law and to remove the works “from the mismanagement and reckless expenditure of the Commissioners”. The Board of Public Works annual report for the year listed the Hind River district amongst those for which awards had been made during 1856. The area improved was 2966 acres, 2 roods, 32 perches; the amounts given differed slightly from those cited to the land owners, presumably reflecting changes made in response to objections:
The cost per acre of the drainage, including interest, was £5 8s 8d; the resulting increase in the annual letting value of the lands was £763 8s 5d, not much greater than the annual payments of £732 9s 4d.
Work in and after 1856
The Resident Engineer, John S Mason CE, reported that work in 1856 included a twenty-foot timber accommodation bridge, with stone abutments, at Fearagh. Fences had been improved and various drains had been widened and deepened
[…] but the original project of merely relieving the lands from flooding seems to have been quite forgotten, owing to the increasing desire which is manifested for deep drainage; and many parties are now found to complain of the works, as being incomplete, if the flood rises to within three or four feet of the surface.
Mason said that low-lying land had been cultivated and produced excellent crops “and an appearance of rich verdure distinguishes most of the formerly waste and swampy bottoms”. Thereafter repayments continued to be made and small amounts continued to be spent on the drainage district: £111 in 1857, when a Return said that the Hind River was “Entirely abandoned as to navigation”, which was appropriate in the year that the Roscommon Messenger discussed the possibility of running a railway line along the valley of the Hind from Ballymurry. County Roscommon paid off the whole of the £1411 it owed for bridges, roads etc and the proprietors paid off £312 7s 2d. In 1858 the Dublin Evening Mail reported several criticisms of the Board of Public Works, including a noble lord saying that the River Hind drainage works were “the most disgracefully executed works he had ever seen”. The board spent just over £120 in that year but received unspecified income of 5s and repayments of £934 5s 5d. The engineer had nothing to say about the Hind. The repayments were £1541 10s 4d in 1859, £659 19s 14 in the fifteen months ending 31 March 1861 [the Board changed the date of the end of its accounting year] and £646 10s 5d in year ending 31 March 1862. The following year’s report gave no details but repayments continued at about £600 a year until 1878; the last four repayments, in 1879–1882, were £288 16s 4d, 0, 0 and 10s 6d. From 1861 on
The Board’s duties in connexion with the works of Arterial Drainage […] have been confined […] to determining, on the application of proprietors, the amount of increased rent to be paid by tenants holding under leases in respect of the benefit derived by them from improvements in their holdings, resulting from the Drainage operations, and to giving information, assistance, and advice to the Trustees of Districts, on such points connected with their trusts as they might request, and which we have felt it within our province to give, all executive operations having been long since brought to a close.
The Board of Public Works reports, for 1863 and subsequent years, listed the Hind as “Drainage, Navigation abandoned”. But the Board was not entirely free of responsibilities for the district. The Drainage Maintenance Act 1866 empowered the Board either to carry out works itself or to lend money to local drainage boards to carry them out. In the year ending 31 March 1877 the Board received such an application, for removal of obstructions at the mouth of the river at Lough Ree, and took the steps required by the act. In the following year, the Board did nothing on the Hind as the Trustees agreed to carry out the required maintenance. But two years later, the Board was itself involved again. In general, it felt that, in districts managed by trustees, drainage had seriously deteriorated. It considered calling on the trustees, under the 1866 act, to carry out repairs, offering them cheap loans for the purpose; such repair work would have created employment. The Board decided not to do that, but in the Hind and one other district the act was put into operation and the Board carried out some repairs at a cost of £488 1s 1d. The work was not completed by the end of the year and was suspended for the winter; it continued in 1881 and 1882, the year in which the last portion of the original loan, ten shillings and sixpence, was repaid. By then the River Hind’s prospects of becoming a navigation were long forgotten. The railway had reached Roscommon in 1860.
Addendum August 2020
The Antiquarian has an interesting new piece here about even earlier works on the Hind.
Notes and sources
 This account does not draw on the archives of the Office of Public Works, in the National Archives of Ireland, or on any local records. It should therefore be regarded as a provisional account, open to correction and subject to amendment  Variants: Hine, Hinde  This account draws on Isaac Weld Statistical Survey of the County of Roscommon, drawn up under the directions of the Royal Dublin Society Dublin 1832  Calculated from Table 5 in Ruth Delany The Grand Canal of Ireland David & Charles, Newton Abbot 1973  From “Scope and Content” of online catalogue entry for CSO/RP/1828/1973 Chief Secretary’s Office Registered Papers, National Archives of Ireland  Dublin Morning Register 3 November 1830  Weld op cit  First Annual Report. Drainage — Ireland HMSO, London 1843  A R G Griffiths The Irish Board of Works, 1831–1878 Garland Publishing Inc, New York and London 1987  For an outline of Mulvany’s career see the Dictionary of Irish Architects 1720–1940 www.dia.ie. See also John J O’Sullivan Breaking Ground: the story of William T Mulvany Mercier Press, Cork   Fifteenth Annual Report from the Board of Public Works in Ireland HMSO, London 1847  8th and 9th Vict c69  Fourth Annual Report. Drainage — Ireland HMSO, London 1846  9 Vict c4  10 & 11 Vict c79  Fourth Annual Report. Drainage — Ireland HMSO, London 1846  Report from the Select Committee of the House of Lords appointed to inquire into the Operation of the Acts relating to the Drainage of Lands in Ireland, as administered by the Board of Works; and to report thereon to the House: together with the Minutes of Evidence, and Appendix 1852  Note that this does not purport to be a complete description of the provisions governing the undertaking of drainage projects by the Board of Public Works: for that, see Griffiths op cit  Fourth Annual Report. Drainage — Ireland HMSO, London 1846  Date taken from Arterial Drainage (Ireland) I Return of all the Works which have been commenced in Ireland … Ordered, by The House of Commons, to be Printed, 23 March 1852 186  Roscommon and Leitrim Gazette 3 October 1846  Sixteenth Report from the Board of Public Works, Ireland, with Appendices HMSO, London 1848. The report said that 451 applications for drainage works had been received. Arterial Drainage (Ireland) I Return of all the Works which have been commenced in Ireland … 186 said that work began on 10 April 1847  Second Annual Report. Drainage — Ireland 1844  Griffiths op cit  ibid  Sixteenth Report from the Board of Public Works, Ireland, with Appendices HMSO, London 1848  Second Annual Report. Drainage — Ireland 1844  Third Annual Report. Drainage — Ireland 1845  Fourth Annual Report. Drainage — Ireland HMSO, London 1846  Sixteenth Report from the Board of Public Works, Ireland, with Appendices HMSO, London 1848  Dublin Evening Mail 16 June 1847  ibid  HC Deb 08 July 1847 vol 94 cc49-72 on http://hansard.millbanksystems.com  The History of Parliament Online http://www.historyofparliamentonline.org/volume/1820-1832/member/oconor-denis-1794-1847  HC Deb 30 April 1847 vol 92 cc208-97 on http://hansard.millbanksystems.com  Fourth Annual Report. Drainage — Ireland HMSO, London 1846  “Estimates, &c Civil Services: VII Miscellaneous Special and Temporary Objects for the year ending 31 March 1850” in Accounts and Papers Vol XXXI Estimates Session 1 February — 1 August 1849 1849 268–VII  Seventeenth Report from the Board of Public Works, Ireland, with Appendices HMSO, London 1849  Accounts and Papers Vol XXXI op cit  ibid  ibid  The History of Parliament Online op cit  Roscommon Journal, and Western Impartial Reporter 2 July 1853  Seventeenth Report from the Board of Public Works, Ireland, with Appendices HMSO, London 1849  ibid  ibid  Sixteenth Report from the Board of Public Works, Ireland, with Appendices HMSO, London 1848  Seventeenth Report from the Board of Public Works, Ireland, with Appendices HMSO, London 1849  Eighteenth Report from the Board of Public Works, Ireland, with Appendices HMSO, London 1850  Nineteenth Report from the Board of Public Works, Ireland, with Appendices HMSO, London 1851  Twentieth Report from the Board of Public Works, Ireland, with Appendices HMSO, London 1852  Twenty-first Report from the Board of Public Works, Ireland: with Appendices HMSO, Dublin 1853  Twenty-Second Report from the Board of Public Works, Ireland: with Appendices HMSO, Dublin 1854  Twenty-third Report from the Board of Public Works, Ireland: with Appendices. 1854 HMSO, Dublin 1855  Twenty-fourth Report from the Board of Public Works, Ireland: with Appendices. 1855 HMSO, Dublin 1856  Twenty-fifth Report from the Board of Public Works, Ireland: with the Appendices. 1856 HMSO, Dublin 1857  Roscommon Journal quoted in The Advocate: or, Irish Industrial Journal 14 March 1849  Freeman’s Journal 16 May 1849  Also spelt Ballymurry  Roscommon Messenger 19 May 1849  Sixteenth Report from the Board of Public Works, Ireland, with Appendices HMSO, London 1848  Seventeenth Report from the Board of Public Works, Ireland, with Appendices HMSO, London 1849  Eighteenth Report from the Board of Public Works, Ireland, with Appendices HMSO, London 1850  Nineteenth Report from the Board of Public Works, Ireland, with Appendices HMSO, London 1851  Twentieth Report from the Board of Public Works, Ireland, with Appendices HMSO, London 1852  Twenty-first Report from the Board of Public Works, Ireland: with Appendices HMSO, Dublin 1853  Twenty-Second Report from the Board of Public Works, Ireland: with Appendices HMSO, Dublin 1854  Twenty-third Report from the Board of Public Works, Ireland: with Appendices. 1854 HMSO, Dublin 1855  Twenty-fourth Report from the Board of Public Works, Ireland: with Appendices. 1855 HMSO, Dublin 1856  Twenty-fifth Report from the Board of Public Works, Ireland: with the Appendices. 1856 HMSO, Dublin 1857  Eighteenth Report from the Board of Public Works, Ireland, with Appendices HMSO, London 1850  Also spelt Lysadrun, Lisadurn, Lissadurn and Lissadorn  Roscommon Messenger 18 August 1849  Roscommon [Weekly] Messenger 15 September 1849  Eighteenth Report from the Board of Public Works, Ireland, with Appendices HMSO, London 1850; Roscommon Messenger 16 June 1849  Roscommon Messenger 6 October 1849  Eighteenth Report from the Board of Public Works, Ireland, with Appendices HMSO, London 1850, Appendix H1; Roscommon Messenger 16 June 1849  Roscommon Messenger 2 February 1850  Roscommon Messenger 9 March 1850  Eleventh and Final Report of the Commissioners, under the Act 2 & 3 Vict c61, for the improvement of the navigation of the River Shannon, Ireland; with an Appendix 1850  Roscommon Messenger 9 March 1850  Also spelt Castlereagh  Roscommon Messenger 13 April 1850  Seventeenth Report from the Board of Public Works, Ireland, with Appendices HMSO, London 1849  Roscommon Messenger 16 June 1849. The same newspaper, on 21 February 1852, said that Barry gave the total cost as £227330  Grace’s Guide https://www.gracesguide.co.uk/Frederick_Barry  Also Castle Strange  Recte Hazelbrook  Roscommon Messenger 13 April 1850  Athlone Sentinel 19 June 1850  Spelt Bagot in Roscommon Journal, and Western Impartial Reporter 19 April 1851  Roscommon Journal, and Western Impartial Reporter 22 March 1851  Roscommon Journal, and Western Impartial Reporter 14 February 1852  Roscommon Messenger 21 February 1852  Roscommon Journal, and Western Impartial Reporter 14 February 1852  Nineteenth Report from the Board of Public Works, Ireland, with Appendices HMSO, London 1851  Roscommon Messenger 4 May 1850  Nineteenth Report from the Board of Public Works, Ireland, with Appendices HMSO, London 1851  Roscommon Journal, and Western Impartial Reporter 28 June 1851  Roscommon Journal, and Western Impartial Reporter 12 July 1851  Roscommon Journal, and Western Impartial Reporter 15 November 1851  Twentieth Report from the Board of Public Works, Ireland, with Appendices HMSO, London 1852  ibid  Roscommon Journal, and Western Impartial Reporter 3 April 1852  Twenty-first Report from the Board of Public Works, Ireland: with Appendices HMSO, Dublin 1853  Roscommon Messenger 6 November 1852  Roscommon Journal, and Western Impartial Reporter 2 July 1853  Twenty-Second Report from the Board of Public Works, Ireland: with Appendices HMSO, Dublin 1854  Lough Corrib Improvement Company: Return to an Order of the Honourable The House of Commons, dated 4 June 1847;—for, Copies of the Answer furnished by the Board of Public Works in Ireland, to the Proceedings instituted and Bills filed against the Board by the Lough Corrib Improvement Company; together with Copies of the several Documents referred to in such Answer (Mr Labouchere) Ordered, by The House of Commons, to be Printed, 14 July 1847   13 & 14 Vict c112 An Act to vest in the Commissioners of Public Works in Ireland certain Works and Rights of the Lough Corrib Improvement Company, and to compensate such Company for the same 1850  Report from the Select Committee of the House of Lords appointed to inquire into the Operation of the Acts relating to the Drainage of Lands in Ireland, as administered by the Board of Works; and to report thereon to the House; together with the Minutes of Evidence, and Appendix Session 1852  Copy of Treasury Minute, dated 13 July 1852, containing Instructions issued to Commissioners appointed to inquire into Arterial Drainage in Ireland Ordered, by The House of Commons, to be Printed, 6 April 1853 298  Return of the Works of Drainage in Ireland which have been referred to the Commissioners appointed by the Treasury, under the Act 16 & 17 Vict c130 … Ordered, by The House of Commons, to be Printed, 3 May 1854 205  Report of the Commissioners of Inquiry into the works of Arterial Drainage in eleven districts in Ireland Presented to the House of Commons by Command of Her Majesty June 16, 1853; Griffiths op cit  16 & 17 Vict c130  Twenty-Second Report from the Board of Public Works, Ireland: with Appendices HMSO, Dublin 1854  Arterial Drainage (Ireland) Copy of Treasury Letter of 11 March 1853 … Ordered, by The House of Commons, to be Printed, 18 April 1853 360  Twenty-third Report from the Board of Public Works, Ireland: with Appendices. 1854 HMSO, Dublin 1855  Ibid. The Board of Public Works reported to the Treasury on 26 June 1854. In By the Corribside [self-published, 1981] Maurice Semple said that the report was never printed but he reproduced part of the text under the date [which is probably one year out] “26th June, 1855”. The report lists four drainage navigations — (a) Loughs Oughter and Gowna, (b) Lough Neagh, (c) Ballinamore and Ballyconnell [originally the Junction Canal] and (d) Loughs Corrib, Mask and Carra, “all of which have been commenced and proceeded with in connection with works of Arterial Drainage” — which suggests that the Hind navigation proposal had been abandoned by then  18 & 19 Vict c110  19 & 20 Vict c62  Sixteenth Report from the Board of Public Works, Ireland, with Appendices HMSO, London 1848  Seventeenth Report from the Board of Public Works, Ireland, with Appendices HMSO, London 1849  Eighteenth Report from the Board of Public Works, Ireland, with Appendices HMSO, London 1850  Nineteenth Report from the Board of Public Works, Ireland, with Appendices HMSO, London 1851  Twentieth Report from the Board of Public Works, Ireland, with Appendices HMSO, London 1852  Twenty-first Report from the Board of Public Works, Ireland: with Appendices HMSO, Dublin 1853  Twenty-Second Report from the Board of Public Works, Ireland: with Appendices HMSO, Dublin 1854  Twenty-third Report from the Board of Public Works, Ireland: with Appendices. 1854 HMSO, Dublin 1855  Twenty-fourth Report from the Board of Public Works, Ireland: with Appendices. 1855 HMSO, Dublin 1856  Twenty-fifth Report from the Board of Public Works, Ireland: with the Appendices. 1856 HMSO, Dublin 1857  Drainage (Ireland) Return of the Works of Drainage in Ireland which have been referred to the Commissioners appointed by the Treasury … Ordered, by The House of Commons, to be Printed, 3 May 1854 265  Twenty-third Report from the Board of Public Works, Ireland: with Appendices. 1854 HMSO, Dublin 1855  Twenty-fourth Report from the Board of Public Works, Ireland: with Appendices. 1855 HMSO, Dublin 1856  Roscommon Messenger 29 March 1856 and elsewhere  All amounts rounded to the nearest pound  Freeman’s Journal 22 May 1856  Roscommon Messenger 24 May 1856  Saunders’s News-Letter 12 July 1856  Twenty-fifth Report from the Board of Public Works, Ireland: with the Appendices. 1856 HMSO, Dublin 1857  Roscommon Journal, and Western Impartial Reporter 16 August 1856  Dublin Daily Express 13 September 1856  All amounts rounded to the nearest pound  Twenty-fifth Report from the Board of Public Works, Ireland: with the Appendices. 1856 HMSO, Dublin 1857  ibid  Twenty-sixth Report from the Board of Public Works, Ireland: with the Appendices 1857 HMSO, Dublin 1858  Arterial Drainage (Ireland) Return of Navigations combined with Drainage Office of Public Works, Dublin 1857  Roscommon Messenger 26 September 1857  Dublin Evening Mail 17 November 1858  Twenty-seventh Report from the Board of Public Works, Ireland: with the Appendices 1858 HMSO, Dublin 1859  Twenty-eighth Report from the Board of Public Works, Ireland: with the Appendices 1859 HMSO, Dublin 1860  Twenty-ninth Report from the Board of Public Works, Ireland: with the Appendices 1860 HMSO, Dublin 1861  Thirtieth Report from the Board of Public Works, Ireland: with the Appendices 1861 HMSO, Dublin 1862  Thirty-first Report from the Board of Public Works, Ireland: with the Appendices 1862 HMSO, Dublin 1863  Thirty-sixth Report from the Board of Public Works, Ireland: with the Appendices, for the year 1867 HMSO, Dublin 1868  29 & 30 Vict c49  The President speaking in the Dáil at the committee stage of the Drainage Maintenance Bill 1924 on 18 July 1924 http://oireachtasdebates.oireachtas.ie .  Forty-fifth Annual Report from the Commissioners of Public Works in Ireland: with Appendices, for the year 1876–77 HMSO, Dublin 1877  Forty-sixth Annual Report from the Commissioners of Public Works in Ireland: with Appendices, for the year 1877–78 HMSO, Dublin 1878  Forty-eighth Annual Report from the Commissioners of Public Works in Ireland: with Appendices, for the year 1879–80 HMSO, Dublin 1880  Forty-ninth Annual Report from the Commissioners of Public Works in Ireland: with Appendices, for the year 1880–81 HMSO, Dublin 1881  Fiftieth Annual Report from the Commissioners of Public Works in Ireland: with Appendices, for the year 1881–82 HMSO, Dublin 1882  Ernie Shepherd The Midland Great Western Railway of Ireland: an illustrated history Midland Publishing Ltd, Leicester 1994