I have been no further up the Slaney than the premises of the estimable Wexford Harbour Boat and Tennis Club, whose history is told here, but it is a gap in this site’s coverage that needs to be filled.
Wexford is at the downstream end of the Slaney, close to the Irish Sea.
Just upstream of Wexford is a large bend in the river. The Sow flows into the northern reach of the bend; it was navigable to Castlebridge.
Much effort was put into land reclamation; you can read about that (and much else) on the excellent Carnsore Chronicles website. The impressive pumping station at Drinagh is now the base for the Wexford Wildfowl Reserve.
Down The Slaney
It is possible to canoe on the Slaney well upstream of Enniscorthy, as the members of the Tullow Kayak Club will no doubt attest. F T E Prothero canoed downriver from Tullow, to which he had travelled by train, in 1894.
In F E Prothero and W A Clark eds A New Oarsman’s Guide to the Rivers and Canals of Great Britain and Ireland, a Cruising Club Manual [George Philip & Son, London 1896], Prothero wrote:
The isolated position and difficult character of this lovely river perhaps account for the fact that when, in the autumn of 1894, the writer of this article arrived at Wexford with a canoe which he had worked down the river from Tullow, he was told that no one else had done so for 18 years. […]
There is little likeness between the Slaney and her neighbour the Barrow. She has a sort of general likeness to the Cork Blackwater — not perhaps quite so beautiful, though she is on a larger scale, and very much more formidable, owing to her rocky cataracts. She is everywhere perfectly transparent, running over a beautiful gravel bottom, and not much afflicted with weeds. The transition at Enniscorthy from a swift, clear, shallow stream to a deep tidal river is remarkably abrupt.
There does not seem to have been any carrying of goods above Enniscorthy, though, so let us follow Prothero downstream from there. The numbers he gives are miles from Tullow.
I have interspersed some extracts from Ordnance Survey 6″ maps, which were made between 1825 and 1846; they don’t show some features, eg railway stations, to which Prothero referred, and you may prefer to follow him on the OSI 25″ map (of around 1900) instead. However, they do show some features that may be of navigational interest. There are some boathouses, probably for pleasure boats rather than carrying craft, and some indentations that might have been small harbours or landing-places.
28 Enniscorthy Bridge. Station. Bennett’s Hotel. Ruined castle. Close by is Vinegar Hill (1798). The river now becomes tidal.
30¾ Black Castle (l). Remains of a Franciscan monastery.
31⅜ Edermine Ferry. Station (r). Edermine House, just below (l) (Sir J Power).
32⅞ Macmine Castle (r). (Mr Richards), and King’s Island.
33¾ Macmine Station (r).
34⅞ Bellevue and Brookhill (r).
36 Lonsdale (l).
37 Killurin Bridge. Station (r).
37⅝ Newtown House (l).
38¼ Healthfield (r).
39⅜ Ardcandrisk (r).
40⅞ Carrig Bridge. Crosses at a point where the river suddenly narrows, spreading out again into a wide reach immediately below. Remains of Fitz-Stephen’s castle. Monument to Captain Valloton, treacherously murdered by rebels (1793).
42½ Park Point Buoy. In the reach below Carrig the place which is conspicuous to the left front is Castle Bridge. Wexford is out of sight to the right until Park Point is rounded.
43 Wexford. Wexford Rowing Club boat-house just above the bridge (r). White’s Hotel. Ruins of Selskar Priory. Fine modern R C Cathedral, by Putin, on the top of the hill. The streets are extraordinarily narrow, and the town reminds one of Falmouth. Steamers weekly to Liverpool and Bristol. The boat can also be sent by rail, 28 miles, to New Ross on the Barrow […]. Wexford harbour is a wide lagoon, with a comparatively narrow passage to the open sea, between Raven and Rosslare Points.
Canoes have been round along the coast to Waterford, but from Rosslare to Hook Point is 40 miles of open sea, and off the latter point is usually a nasty lop. A half-way landing can be made at Crossfarnoge or Kilmore, nearly 30 miles from Wexford.
Commercial carrying on the Slaney
In the 1830s the Railway Commissioners attempted to assess all traffic — passengers, goods and everything else – by land and water within Ireland. They gave the results for inland navigations in Appendix B No 6 of their second report. Here is what they said about the Slaney.
Description. — Extracts from Communications received from R D Gibbons Esq dated 23rd and 29th November 1836
The Slaney River is navigable for any vessel that can come over the harbour bar to about six miles above Wexford: but scarcely any ever go beyond the draw-bridge. It is a natural river, and no means are used either to maintain or improve it. The entire traffic is carried on by Cots (flat bottomed Boats of 15 to 20 tons), these can go always loaded to within about 4 miles of Enniscorthy, generally to within about 2 miles, and sometimes the entire way.
The tide flows up the river about 10 statute miles, so as to affect the water; but the level of the river is affected by back water up to the town of Enniscorthy, which is about 18 statute miles from Wexford by the River, and 14 by the Mail Coach road.
There is no source of ascertaining precisely the amount of traffic on the River, but a calculation has been made by persons well acquainted with the matter, by which it would appear, that the traffic averages about 1200 tons per week, or about 60,000 tons per year. Down the river almost exclusively Grain, and up Limestone for Manure, Coals, Timber, and imported Ship Goods.
The Boats vary from 15 to 20 tons, and draw from 3 feet 3 inches to 4 feet waterr. The Boats are occasionally interrupted by a scour at about 4 to 4½ miles from Enniscorthy, but this occurs only when the waters are very low and at neap low water. The scours, where they are generally stopped, are about 2 to 2½ Irish miles from the town.
The figure of 60000 tons sounds very high: it’s more than the [measured] totals for the Lagan and the Lower Boyne plus the [estimated] Suir [Carrick to Clonmel] put together.
It is particularly hard to understand if, as Gibbons said, few went above the drawbridge at Ferrycarrig. With Enniscorthy accounting for little of the traffic, most of it must have been between Castlebridge and Wexford — or from the sea to either place, in which case it’s coastal rather than inland navigation. I would welcome enlightenment on this.
The cots were carrying cots rather than fishing cots like that shown here (or indeed here or here). These racing cots, and this one, seem to be larger than fishing would require [although I am not an expert on the subject] but smaller than a carrying boat. This, which seems to be a video of the launch of a reproduction gabbard, may be more the size, but I have no more information about it.
There seems to have been some traffic upriver, though, because apart from the inlets and boathouses the OSI map shows three other features of interest.
I wrote here about pills in general and St John’s Pill in Waterford in particular. I found three pills on the Slaney.
The other two are described as landing pills; the phrase is one that I have never come across before and that even Messrs Google are not familiar with.
They look like short, artificial [because straight or angled rather than curved] cuts that would allow boats to shelter from the current while loading and unloading; the Mackmine Castle example also gets nearer to what was presumably an inhabited dwelling. I would welcome more information about landing pills.
Cecil Miller’s guide to the Slaney is available here but AFAIK it has not been updated for many years.