Johnstown, Co Kilkenny, used to be on the main road from Dublin to Cork: just north of Urlingford-of-the-buses, it has now been bypassed, and its delights can be appreciated more easily. In particular, it has an elegant diamond where the R435 to Freshford and the R502 to Templemore cross the old N7 from Dublin to Cork.
The north-west corner
The south-west corner
The north-east corner
The south-west corner: one of two buildings (this one had music coming from the roof)
The south-west corner: the silent building
Canal Road, Johnstown
The road to the west, where the tractor is going, is the R502 to Templemore, Co Tipperary (a road that, about half way along, crosses a bog and has one of the worst surfaces in Ireland). But at this point, it is called Canal Road. To the trained historian (and even to this amateur), a name like that is a clue: it suggests that there is, or was, a canal nearby.
And indeed a canal is marked as such on the 1839/1842 OS map and shown on the Griffiths Valuation map, but I haven’t seen it mentioned in anything I’ve read. I understand it to be a cut bypassing a section of the River Goul and to have been dug by order of a member of the Hely family, who owned Johnstown and had their seat at Violet Hill (according to Lewis: there is reference elsewhere to Hely of Foulkscourt, which is nearby).
Maps both old and new show an elaborate network of cuts in the area, perhaps having been used to drain bogs. I understand that Coillte, the forestry authority, owns some of the land and may have damaged a Hely boathouse. The historian Susan Garrett of Johnstown has very kindly promised to send me some information about the canal. But in the meantime, here are some photos of features that may be relevant. Without local knowledge, I can’t be sure what they were for. All of these photos are of a small area quite close to Johnstown, near a sharp bend in the road.
First, here is the River Goul, which seems to be popular with anglers. This marks the western end of the area of study.
The River Goul south of the road
Evidence of identification (looking north)
Another shot looking north
Now, back eastwards, starting at the side closest to Johnstown. What looks like a realignment of the road gave me somewhere to park …
A place to park
… while turning left to photograph a drain. This looks far too narrow ever to have been a canal, but I couldn’t resist the little bridge.
The smallest bridge (looking north)
Panning left (west) shows the far wall of the field, which will be the next stop.
The far wall of the field
But before leaving this spot, turn through 180 degrees to face south and see this unidentified stonework. Is there a water channel under the ruin?
A moment ago we looked across at “the far wall of the field”. Here it is, with a convenient parking place (used by the Goul anglers).
The far wall and the parking place
At this point the road has curved around and is heading roughly north, but at the parking place it makes a sharp left turn to head west. A water channel seems to be heading for the road but doesn’t quite make it.
The channel 1
Venturing into the trees behind the parking place provides another shot of the water …
The channel 2
… and shows that it was probably heading for this bridge …
The bridge (north-east side)
… which emerges on the bend here.
The bridge (south-west side)
The channel would fit the line shown for Old Canal on the OS map. It is not clear from the map where it went after the bridge, but I think it rejoined the Goul. (It is also possible that goods arriving by road were transferred here to boats and carried to Foulkscourt.) The map also shows a line of blue (not marked as a canal) roughly where The smallest bridge is.
The OS map shows several straight channels in a bog to the south of the road, all connected to the Goul and (probably) to the canal.North of the road, the canal goes quite close to Foulkscourt House (with a little network of watercourses) but neither the canal nor the Goul passes particularly close to Violet Hill, which was to the south-east of the road.
I have failed to find anything written about this waterway, so I await enlightenment from local experts.
By the way, I know there are Canal Roads in Letterkenny and Tralee, but what about anywhere else? And what sort of canal did Letterkenny have?