The Christmas canals

In the small Parish of Listine, is Whitfield’s town, where was, at the time of Petty’s survey, an ancient castle, William Dobbin proprietor. At present, it is an elegant seat, belonging to Thomas Christmas, esq; and is situated three miles south west of Waterford. […]

To the north front of the house, is a large and beautiful canal, at the further end of which is, a Jet D’eau, that casts up water to a considerable height. To the west are other basons, cut in an oval form. […]

On the other side of the house, is a beautiful cascade, of a considerable fall. To the west of the garden, is a wilderness, and through it are cut several vistas, which, terminating in different regular views of the house, agreeably catch the eyes of a traveller.

Thus Charles Smith MD, in his The Ancient and Present State of the County and City of Waterford [3rd edition, edited by Donald Brady, Waterford County Council in association with Waterford City Council 2008, based on the second edition of 1774. The first edition was published in 1746].

According to the Landed Estates database,

In 1850 William Christmas held Whitfield in fee when it was valued at £49. The National Inventory of Architectural Heritage indicates the house was built by him between 1820-1849, replacing an earlier house. Local sources indicate that this earlier house was in the townland of Whitfield and the name was transferred to the existing house when it was built in the adjacent townland of Dooneen. Leet records the earlier property as the seat of Thomas Christmas in 1814. Smith, writing in 1774, mentions the house as “an elegant seat belonging to Thomas Christmas, formerly a Dobbyn castle”. In 1786 Wilson refers to Whitfield as the seat of William Christmas. The nineteenth century house is still extant but no longer occupied.

Samuel Lewis [Samuel Lewis A Topographical Dictionary of Ireland, comprising the several counties, cities, boroughs, corporate, market, and post towns, parishes, and villages, with historical and statistical descriptions, embellished with engravings of the arms of the cities, bishopricks, corporate towns, and boroughs, and of the seals of the several municipal corporations; with an appendix describing the electoral boundaries of the several boroughs, as defined by the Act of the 2d and 3d of William IV S Lewis & Co, London 1837] noted the demolition of the earlier house:

LISNAKILL, a parish, in the barony of MIDDLETHIRD, county of WATERFORD, and province of MUNSTER, 4 miles (W. by S.) from Waterford; containing 667 inhabitants. It comprises 2462 statute acres, as applotted under the tithe act; the soil is various, and, in the north-western extremity, slate of good quality for roofing was formerly quarried. At Whitfield was the seat of W. Christmas, Esq., the principal landed proprietor, but the mansion has lately been taken down.

The Parliamentary Gazetteer [The Parliamentary Gazetteer of Ireland, adapted to the new Poor-Law, franchise, municipal and ecclesiastical arrangements, and compiled with a special reference to the lines of railroad and canal communication, as existing in 1844–45; illustrated by a series of maps, and other plates; and presenting the results, in detail, of the census of 1841, compared with that of 1831 A Fullarton and Co, Dublin London and Edinburgh 1846] said much the same:

WHITFIELD, the beautiful demesne of William Christmas, Esq., in the parishes of Kilmeaden and Lisnakill, barony of Middlethird, co. Waterford, Munster. It adjoins the Waterford and Cork mail-road, 1 mile south of the river Suir, and 4½ miles west-south-west of Waterford. A quarry of roofing slates was worked to some extent on the Whitfield estate; but, in consequence of the smallness of the slates, it was relinquished.

So far, then, we have the Christmas family having demolished their old house and built a new one, in the townland of Dooneen, but giving the new house the name, Whitfield, of the old house and townland. You can see the new house, in the Dooneen townland, on the OSI 6″ map: it’s south of Mount Congreve, which itself is on the south bank of the River Suir.

Whitfield and Mount Congreve [OSI ~1840]

Whitfield and Mount Congreve [OSI ~1840]

There is something interesting near the top right of the map.

Feature at top right [OSI ~1840]

Feature at top right [OSI ~1840]

Here is a link to that spot on the full-size OSI map. It appears to be the junction of a small canal system with the River Suir. There seem to be two parallel watercourses with a bridge over them. Just north of the road they separate, running around two sides of a brick field.

Further south, they come closer together. There are several bridges. The left (western) branch throws off a cul-de-sac branch. East of Whitfield, the house, the two watercourses are very close to each other. Further south again, they seem to join up; if you switch to the Historic 25″ map you’ll see that they seem to be fed by the Ballymoat Stream. And if you go north again on the 25″ map, you’ll see that it designates the eastern branch as Old Canal.

The watercourse stands out even today as (I hope) this Google satellite image shows.

And Waterford County Museum has a couple of photos here; select nos UK4380 and UK4381.

The Pre-1923 Survey of the Industrial Archaeological Heritage of the County of Waterford [PDF] conducted by Dublin Civic Trust for Waterford County Council and published in 2008 says

The canals in Waterford were not part of the major navigation systems in Ireland. The Lismore Canal was the most industrious. Some of the others, such as the Dooneen/Whitfield canal appear to have been private ventures by wealthy land owners.

Well, yes, but private ventures for what? I can think of three main possibilities:

  • the canal might have been decorative, like that described by Charles Smith. I don’t know whether the canal he described was the same as that shown on the OSI maps
  • the canal might have been intended for drainage
  • the canal might have been intended for navigation (or, having been built for drainage, might have been used for navigation too).

It seems rather too extensive a system to be purely for decoration. I don’t know anything about the land in that area so I can’t say whether it might have helped with drainage. It might have been useful for a landowner to have a way of conveying produce to the Waterford market; the canal might also have carried bricks from the brick field — and slates from the quarry (which I can’t find).

There is no more information in the survey and I haven’t found anything more myself. I would therefore be glad to hear from anyone (leave a Comment below) who knows any more about this canal system.

My OSI logo and permit number for website

[middlesuir20]

4 responses to “The Christmas canals

  1. Anthony M. Sheedy

    The Canal was a joint effort between the Two Estates to bring irrigation into the Mount Congreve Estate

  2. Thank you. Has anything been published on the subject? bjg

  3. Pingback: A Suir thing | Irish waterways history

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