The abandoned Main Line of the Grand Canal 1

First of all, an apology: I’ve had to split this topic over four pages, because there is quite a lot of material and there are many photos. It is impossible to consider the Grand Canal Company’s line to its harbour without also considering the Guinness brewery and the water supply to the south side of Dublin city. So this is Page 1 of 4, taking us from the outskirts of Dublin to the vicinity of the canal harbour.

At present, a boat entering Dublin on the Grand Canal from the west starts at the Twelfth Lock, at the Lucan Road Bridge, usually very early in the morning. Waterways Ireland, the navigation authority, has to be warned in advance and has to supply keepers to open the locks because they’re kept, er, locked.

Filling the 12th Lock. Note the Omer lockhouse in the background

Filling the 12th Lock. Note the Omer lockhouse in the background

The metal housing contains the locking gear

The metal housing contains the locking gear

Between the Ninth and Eighth Locks, the canal passes under the M50, the C-shaped motorway around Dublin, and then passes the Filter Beds above the Eighth Lock. This photo is taken from the upstream end of the beds, with a sculpture forming the wavy line at the left side. The red-and-green building is one of the many office blocks in ParkWest industrial estate. The white line in front of that building is the side of one of the two covered filter beds. The canal is beyond the wire fence on the right of the picture.

The filter beds at the Eighth Lock

The filter beds at the Eighth Lock

There is a second set of filter beds at the Fifth Lock.

The filter beds at the Fifth Lock

The filter beds at the Fifth Lock

These filter beds still supply water to Guinness but nowadays the water is used only for washing. In bygone days, Guinness was made not, as some wags assert, with Liffey water but with canal water. Other breweries and distilleries were supplied with water by both the Royal and the Grand Canal, as were citizens.

Leaving the Third Lock, the boat passes under Blackhorse Bridge at Inchicore and then has both Davitt Road and the LUAS (tram: “luas” is the Irish-language word for “speed”) on its right, down through the Second Lock and the First, a double.

The LUAS at Lock 1

The LUAS at Lock 1

That photo was taken from Suir Road Bridge, and the canal goes under the bridge. Immediately afterwards, though, it makes a sharp right turn, goes under the (much older) Griffith Bridge and then travels through Dolphin’s Barn, Portobello and Dublin 4 to the Grand Canal Docks and eventually the River Liffey. Strictly speaking, from the turn it’s the Circular Line of the canal, and its seven locks have their own numbering system, starting at the Grand Canal Docks. So you go from the 1st Lock at Suir Road Bridge to the 7th Lock at Portobello.

The Circular Line from Griffith Bridge

The Circular Line from Griffith Bridge

Griffith Bridge from the Circular Line

Griffith Bridge from the Circular Line

The Circular Line is actually a modern innovation, built between 1790 and 1796. The Main Line originally went straight on, to the Grand Canal Harbour at James’s Street. That section of the line was closed in 1974 and, between 2001 and 2004, most of it became part of the route of the Red Line LUAS tram system. And between the Suir Road Bridge and Griffith Bridge is Ann Devlin Bridge, which carries the LUAS line.

Ann Devlin Bridge

Ann Devlin Bridge (from Griffith Bridge)

LUAS crossing the canal (seen from Suir Road bridge)

LUAS crossing the canal (seen from Suir Road bridge)

This sketch map might help.

Grand Canal Main Line

Grand Canal Main Line

This map shows elements that did not co-exist. Coming in from the west (left), the Circular Line heads south-east after Suir Road Bridge. The old Main Line heads east, under Rialto Bridge, passes the old City Basin (reservoir, now no longer with us) and curves around to the Grand Canal Company’s James’s Street Harbour. There is a further small harbour to the east of that, which was owned by Guinness, who occupy much of the land from there to the River Liffey (the blue bits at the top). I’ve shown only two streets: Echlin Street leads north from the curve of the harbour to James’s Street.

The section of the LUAS line that occupies the canal bed is shown in red; it curves north into St James’s Hospital before carrying on to Heuston (formerly Kingsbridge) Railway Station and on again to Connolly (formerly Amiens Street) Railway Station, much further east. I’ve shown a few main line railtracks ending at Heuston.

Now, before we look in more detail at the canal, look at the position of Guinness. It has the Grand Canal beside it, bringing malt in and carrying porter (and later stout) out. It’s close to the City Basin (spelt “Bason” when Uncle Arthur set up), and Guinness had the right to draw water from the open culvert that carried water from the River Poddle to the Basin; from 1777, the canal itself fed the Basin. When Guinness expanded into the area north of James’s Street, as far as Victoria Quay, it was able to build its own landing-stages on the Liffey, where its own barges could carry its barrels down the Liffey to its own ships. It had a standard-gauge line linking its premises to the Kingsbridge goods-yard. And, linking the entire area, it had its own 1′ 10″-gauge tramway, which ran in a tunnel under James’s Street and in a spiral to reach the upper level. The narrow-gauge locomotives could even be mounted on “haulage wagons” to enable them to haul trains of standard-gauge wagons. [For more on the Guinness tramway, see the excellent article by Paul Ellison here.] Here are some photos taken in the Guinness Storehouse.

Geoghegan-Spence steam locomotive 1' 10" gauge

Geoghegan-Spence 1′ 10″ gauge steam locomotive

Planet (S G Hibbert) 1' 10" gauge diesel locomotive

Planet (S G Hibbert) 1′ 10″ gauge diesel locomotive

Model of Guinness Liffey barge

Model of Guinness Liffey barge. Note that Guinness left canal transport to the Grand Canal Company: it did not run its own barges on the canal

Tramway 1' 10" tracks at the entrance to the Guinness Storehouse

Tramway 1′ 10″ tracks at the entrance to the Guinness Storehouse

Anyway, back to the canal at Suir Road Bridge. Here’s a photo looking back up under Suir Road Bridge to First Lock.

Looking back up under Suir Road Bridge

Looking back west under Suir Road Bridge

Close-up of a LUAS (for railway fans)

Close-up of a LUAS (for railway fans)

There is a linear park along this stretch as far as Rialto Bridge. The line dips to enable the LUAS to pass under Rialto Bridge.

Looking west from the north side of Rialto Bridge

Looking west from the north side of Rialto Bridge

LUAS passing under Rialto Bridge. Note the raised parapet on the bridge

LUAS passing under Rialto Bridge. Note the raised parapet on the bridge

Elegant double flight of steps on the north-east side of Rialto Bridge

Elegant double flight of steps on the north-east side of Rialto Bridge

There is a road along the south side of the canal on the stretch east of Rialto Bridge, but let’s skip down towards the far end to the point where the LUAS leaves the line of the canal.

The LUAS curves north ...

Looking back west, we see the LUAS curving north …

... around the curved building and into the grounds of St James's Hospital

… around the curved building and into the grounds of St James’s Hospital

Walking a little further east, and then looking back to the west to the LUAS line, you can see the almost-buried line of stone before the trees. I wonder whether that might have been the edge of the canal. It narrowed in near this point, where the canal passed the bottom of the City Basin and then curved north towards the Harbour. The narrow section was known as The Gut.

Looking west to the LUAS

Looking west to the LUAS

We have now arrived at the general area of the City Basin, the Grand Canal harbour and the Guinness brewery. I’m not going to continue the tour from this point, though: I’m going to skip up to James’s Street, to its junction with Echlin Street, and to take an anti-clockwise route from there. To continue, click here to go to Page 2 of 4.

28 responses to “The abandoned Main Line of the Grand Canal 1

  1. The barge picture reminds me of the old song as sung by Margaret Barry:

    Our barges neat by Watling Street
    Rock gently to and fro,
    And hoist and sling the barrels swing
    Down to the hold below.
    With holds and decks packed with Double X
    They sail down with the tide-
    All specially made for the English trade
    Down by the Liffey side.

  2. That’s a great song, Jack, and one I haven’t come across before. Google can’t find it. Do you know the rest? What was the tune?


  3. Well done. An excellently put together piece, with good research and photographs. Will be a very useful resource for years to come.

  4. Thanks, Keith.


  5. A record of “Two Hundred Years a-Brewing” by Margaret Barry played together with Michael Gorman is on the CD “Voice of the People – Volume 13”
    You can buy it as an mp3-file for example here:

    Apropos Double X, do you know the song “The Wreck of the Vartry” of 1907?


  6. Tina

    Thanks for those suggestions. I have now ordered both “Irish Street Ballads” and “More Irish Street Ballads” by Colm O’Lochlainn, which between them seem to have lots of songs about Irish inland waterways. I’ll download the Margaret Barry track when I get back from the wilds of the North Shannon.


  7. Hi Brian,

    Apologies for being an anorak, but I have a pathological hatred of the Irish railway gauge of 5’3″ being referred to as broad. In the context of the island of Ireland, it is the legal standard gauge, being declared so by S.1 of the Gauge of Railways Act of 1846.

  8. Thanks, Ewan. Fixed two instances. bjg

  9. I have a small architects practice working from the old Fatima area in Rialto. Thanks a million for a great site. I am thankful for my working roots and look forward to expanding my connections with same
    Happy New Year to All
    keep floating
    Brian Brennan

  10. Thanks, Brian. Tough times for architects, I imagine, but good luck with it.


  11. my question, I am writinga scene in my book about 1837, set on a barge trip to Galway from Dublin.
    How were to barges porpelled?, by mules or horses , how long would the journey take, and would there be seats under cover?
    I have looked everywhere for this info. Thank you

  12. It is not and never was possible to travel by barge from Dublin to Galway. At best, you could get to County Galway, perhaps to Ballinasloe or Portumna, but not to Galway City. However, there were coach connections to Galway from Ballinasloe.

    You need a copy of Ruth Delany’s book The Grand Canal of Ireland (David and Charles, Newton Abbot, 1973); abebooks has copies. Charles Lever and Anthony Trollope included canal passages in their novels.

    Passage boats (and later fly boats) were towed by horses. There were two classes of cabins. Length of passage depended on where it was going, whether it was a passage boat or a fly boat and whether it travelled by day or by night. You would need to read at least Ruth Delany’s book to be able to describe the journey with any degree of realism.


  13. I was interested to see that Hipkiss’ scanned old map website – – has just recently posted a map of Dublin scanned from the Michelin guide to the British Isles, 1911, which clearly shows the Grand Canal’s branches. Thought it might be of interest to you too. The specific map of Dublin is here:

  14. I wasn’t aware of that site; very glad to know about it, thanks. I see that that map applies the name “Grand Canal” to the Royal as well as to the Grand! bjg

  15. very interesting, my grandad was actually the lockkeeper on the 1st lock at inchicore. the house is long gone.have you any advice as im starting to do a bit of research on the house and lockkeepers in general. thank you, lisa lynch.

  16. The Grand Canal Company minutes are in the National Archive. I haven’t consulted them myself so I don’t know how much other material there is. I recommend Gerard D’Arcy’s *Portrait of the Grand Canal* (Transport Research Associates 1969, reprinted by IWAI) for a background understanding. I’m sure you’ve seen the OPW Inchicore and Kilmainham book. The best listing of books is on the IWAI books page. You might also talk to some of the lockkeepers outside Dublin, some of them members of families who have held the post for many, many years. I’ll email you direct with one other suggestion. bjg

  17. Deborah O'Brien

    do you have a description of the work that was carried out on the grand canal at rialto bridge in the 70s, my memory says part of the canal was filled in, is this true

  18. Yes: the old Main Line ran from Suir Road in to Grand Canal Harbour beside Guinness. The Circular Line, which runs to Grand Canal Dock at Ringsend, was a branch. The Main Line was filled in and that’s what the Luas runs on as far as St James’s Hospital. You’ll see it on this sequence of pages. bjg

  19. Just looking at 25 in map (osi site) on a completely unconnected search when came across James’s Basin, which corresponds with City Basin in your excellent study. Basin to me suggests more than a reservoir but the map shows no access from the canal main line. Was it ever more than a storage tank ? Having discovered the 25″ map I think I’m going to have a few late nights, wonderful detail and, never mind LUAS, tramway everywhere !

  20. Gerry: the City bason is older than the canal:

    In 1721 the corporation constructed a new basin (Bason in the spelling of the time) or reservoir at James’s Street. The City Watercourse, suitably raised by embankments and masonry, was diverted into this new reservoir. This arrangement led to the area extending from Dolphin’s Barn up to the present Grand Canal becoming known as “The Back of the Pipes”.

    However, although the reservoir had much greater capacity than its predecessor, the supply from the Poddle and from Islandbridge was inadequate, so there were shortages until the Grand Canal water arrived in August 1777.

    That’s from an excellent book called Our Good health: a history of Dublin’s water and drainage by Michael Corcoran, published by Dublin City Council in 2005: well worth tracking down, perhaps in a library.


  21. John O'Sullivan

    Excellent memories for me!

  22. I lived on both the 8th & 5th lock filter beds during the 1960s and 70s. Many memories. Thank you.

  23. You’re welcome. bjg

  24. I’ve only just found this article. My grandfather was lock keeper at the 17th lock and my father was born in the (now ruined) house there. He had many stories about both Guinness and turf barges. He tried to buy the lock house from CIE in the ’70s but they couldn’t sell it. In the ’90s the OPW tried to sell it to him but it was a wreck by that stage. Thanks for the article.

  25. You’re welcome. Was that Landenstown where your grandfather was? bjg

  26. Yes. It was the 17th. Initially my grand-uncle had it, but he died young & granddad picked it up. In the ’70s CIE combined the 16th and 17th under 1 person. Dad always claimed that WT Cosgrave spent childhood holidays at a (now vanished) house beside the 17th lock (the family who owned it were called Nixon) but I’ve never been able to find evidence.

  27. Nice photo and gud location gud historical , def i will going trying to take photos there

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