Construction of the Junction Navigation at Aghoo

Some folk think that the Ballinamore & Ballyconnell Canal, abandoned in the nineteenth century and rebuilt in the twentieth, should not have been renamed as the Shannon—Erne Waterway. But even B&B was not its original name: during construction it was referred to as the Junction Canal or Junction Navigation in the Ballinamore and Ballyconnell Drainage District.

This page focuses on construction in the area around Aghoo (Lock 4). There is a page here about how the navigation came to be built, one about dredgers here and one about lock mechanisms here.

The Mulvany connection

T J (Thomas J, Thos J) Mulvany was a chartered engineer and the youngest brother of John Skipton Mulvany and of William Thomas Mulvany, who was Commissioner for Drainage at the Board of Public Works. In 1839 William Thomas Mulvany had reported on three possible lines for a canal to link the River Shannon to the River Erne; he favoured a line through Ballinamore, which would join the Erne upstream of Belturbet, where a lock would be provided[i].

The waterway eventually built did pass through Ballinamore, but it was a mixture of canal, lake and river and was undertaken as an offshoot of a drainage project. W T Mulvany’s brother T J was one of the engineers working on it.

1849 overview

Here is a lengthy extract from T J Mulvany’s report on work completed in 1849; it is useful in giving an overview of the scale of the work and of the issues to be dealt with. Later extracts are shorter, focusing on the area around Aghoo.

Ballinamore and Ballyconnell District, or Junction Canal between the Shannon and Erne—Counties of Leitrim, Cavan, Fermanagh, and Roscommon

A large amount of work, chiefly belonging to the navigation part of this project, has been executed during the year. The number of labourers and tradesmen employed has been equivalent to an average number of 1,646 men per diem for the whole year, and when at full work in the months of June and July, there were upwards of 4,000 men daily employed.

The earthworks of the main channel are in a very forward state, particularly between Lough Erne and Ballyconnell, which part is nearly finished; between Garadice and St. John’s Loughs, between Drummanny and Lough Scur, the summit level, and on the Shannon side of the summit between Kilcare and Leitrim, which part is to be almost entirely a still-water navigation, and all the earthworks of which will be completed early next season.

The heavy rockcutting at the summit level is also progressing steadily, and will be finished as soon as the rest of the line. Two locks have been built at Caroul and Ballyconnell, ready to receive the gates. A third is nearly built at Ballynamore, and a fourth is now in progress on the Shannon side of the summit, and a great quantity of cut stone and rubble is prepared and laid down at the sites of all the other locks.

Two new bridges over the main channel at Aghalane and Ballyconnell, and one over the navigation cut at Ballinamore, are now completed, and have been for some time open to the public. Ballyduff Bridge is built, and the approaches are nearly completed, and three public road bridges over the canal, between the summit and the Shannon, have been built up to springing level. Two of these latter are oblique bridges, at Kilclare and Newbrook, and one at Leitrim is square. Two accommodation bridges have also been erected, one at Drummany and one at Sheffield[ii].

The weir at Ballyconnell is built, with the exception of a gap left for the convenience of unwatering the upper works, and stone is prepared for the wharf at that place.

A dredging-vessel, worked by men, which was purchased for the use of the Lough Oughter district, has been transferred to this district, and is now employed clearing away the dams, &c, at Aghalane. A spoon and bag-dredge has been also fitted up, to work Demagore and Carrickalease, and it is in contemplation to provide one or two additional dredgers, worked either by steam or manual power, to form the channel through the lakes, and in other places where the work can be done cheaper by dredging than by excavation in the ordinary manner.

The navigation from Lough Erne to Ballyconnell may be conveniently opened by the latter end of next summer, and if the works are proceeded with vigorously, and without any unforeseen stoppage, the whole line of navigation from Lough Erne to the Shannon may, it is hoped, be opened before the winter of 1851.

An important feature in the design for this district, is the mode of dealing with several mountain streams which emptied themselves directly into the main river, causing great inconvenience, by the suddenness of their floods, and the large quantities of gravel and sand which they carried down and deposited in the river course. Advantage has been taken of any natural facilities which presented themselves for diverting the course of those streams into the lakes through which the main river flows, where the mountain floods will be received and regulated, and where the deposits of gravel will not be productive of such injurious results to the drainage and navigation as they would be in the narrow river channel. […][iii]

Aghoo

Construction of the navigation did not begin until after the ~1840 OSI maps were compiled and it was abandoned long before the ~1900 maps came out. Nonetheless, you can see the shape of the lock and the weir on the later map.

Aghoo bridge and lock ~1900

You can see the location, and indeed follow the line of the navigation, on the current OSI map here.

In his report for 1850, Mulvany described works on three sections, the second of which was between Aghoo and St John’s Lough. Of Aghoo itself, he wrote:

In the second division, the earthworks are nearly complete from the site of Lock No 4 at Aghoo up to Ballinamore, and thence up nearly to the junction of the old course of the Yellow River; some troublesome bottom-excavation, however, still remains to be done in the reach above Ballinamore. […] nearly all the materials are prepared for the Locks No. 4, 5, and 7. The regulating weir at Ballinamore is completed with the exception of the sluice, and most of the materials prepared for the weirs at Locks 4, 5, and 7, with the exception of the coping.[iv]

Nothing was done at Aghoo in 1851[v], but in the following year, 25,000 cubic yards were removed from the channel between Garadice Lake and Aghoo …

… the deepening having been carried out only to the level of back-water kept up in Garadice Lake by the works already described at Skalon.[vi]

In May 1853, the new bridge at Aghoo was built and the old one was removed. There was more excavation between Garadice Lake and Aghoo and some old drains were filled in above Aghoo, the land being restored to the owners and sown mostly with potatoes[vii]. Excavation continued and work on the weir and lock at Aghoo began in 1854:

[…] at the close of the year, the weir, with sluice and fish-pass, was about one-half built, but little progress had been made with the actual building of the lock, owing to the difficulty of unwatering the foundations at that season.[viii]

There were changes in personnel in that year:

Mr Robert Armstrong, who had been in charge of the works in the Ballyconnell division of this district almost since their commencement, died very unexpectedly in October last. This event rendered it necessary to make new arrangements, and Mr Leonard, the resident engineer for the remainder of the district, was placed in charge of the Ballyconnell division also; at the close of the year, Mr Leonard resigned his appointment, having accepted of employment in India, and all the works now remaining to be done in this district have since been placed under the superintendence of Mr Farrell, who is also resident engineer for the Lough Oughter district. These changes in the parties charged with the immediate superintendence of the works, and the difficulties to be overcome by a stranger to the district before he can possibly become familiar with all the details of such extensive works, must have some tendency to interfere with the economical and speedy carrying out of the works; but from the arrangements that have been made, and the exertions that have been, and, I have no doubt, will be made by Mr Farrell, there is every reason to hope that the inconvenience will not be of importance.[ix]

Mulvany resigned in 1855 and went to Germany to help his brother to develop the Ruhr, and Martin Farrell wrote the next report, in which he said that timber had been put on the weir at Skelan Lock (No 3, the next lock downstream of Aghoo and of Garadice Lake) to raise the level for navigation to Aghoo. The level upstream of Aghoo, between there and Ballinamore, was widened and deepened. And at Aghoo itself:

The lock and weir at Aghoo are now completed in all respects, with the exception of the weir sluices. The getting in of the lower gates was attended with great difficulty, and the expense of unwatering was considerable.[x]

The difficulty was caused by the bursting, in October floods, of a dam at Lisnatullagh. The horse-powered pumps were unable to cope, but the carpenters and stone-cutters were at Aghoo, ready to begin work, and Farrell did not want to send them away as it might not be possible to get them back again. Accordingly, men who might otherwise have been working on excavating were put to work with hand-pumps and the work on the lock proceeded.[xi]

In 1856, there was dredging near Aghoo and work on a lock-house:

On the Ballinamore and Ballyconnell district the works done during the past year have been principally confined to the dredging, with two steam-dredges and four of the other descriptions of dredge-boats, the reaches of Aghoo …. The Lock-houses at Killarcan, Lisconnor, Castlefore, Ballinamore, and Aghoo, have been laid out for the contractors.[xii]

The lock-house was the main focus in 1857, with a shortage of skilled labour causing problems:

On the Ballinamore and Ballyconnell District, the contractors for building the lock-houses were delayed by unfavourable weather in the early part of the year, by additional work in foundations, and by the difficulty of getting tradesmen for the building. Though the works of masonry on the district had collected a number of masons, yet, as the mason-work of the canal had been finished some time before the lock-houses were commenced, the men had left the country, and not more than five masons out of the great number that had been collected on the several works could be got by the lock-house contractors.

As the building of places of worship and of private houses has much increased in the counties of Leitrim and Cavan within the last few years, the number of tradesmen employed on the lock-houses was constantly varying, and the class of contractors that tendered for the houses being poor, a regular staff of workmen would not remain with them; this has caused much delay, and great difficulty in getting the work fairly done. […] The foundations of the lock-house were sunk from four to five feet below the level of the lock coping. The masonry of the house was commenced in July, and is not yet altogether completed. […] Stops have been put in the fish pass.[xiii]

The Aghoo reach (I’m not certain, but I think that means the level above rather than below Aghoo Lock) had been dredged in 1856 but needed dredging again in 1857:

A quantity of deposit was dredged from this reach by the hand dredger and two spoon-and-bag boats, in March, and by the two latter to the 25th June. There must also have been a “rising” of the soft bottom to some extent, as bog timber was found over the required level in ground which had been dredged to the full depth by the steam-dredger in the previous year.[xiv]

Farrell felt that little work remained to be completed in 1858, but that little included “the dredging of deposit between Garadice and Aghoo” (below Aghoo Lock). He found in the following year that more dredging was required above Aghoo:

The canal at Comogue, Lisnatullagh, and Aghoo, was cleared of stones and soft bottom material in February and April; a quantity of gravel deposit was removed from the channel above Aghoo lock, and the gravel was used to form the inclined tow-path from Aghoo bridge.[xv]

That was Farrell’s last report: he died in October 1859 and the report for that year was compiled by Mr W [probably William] Forsyth CE. He said that

The gravelling and fencing of the towing-path has been completed from Garadice to Ballinamore [which would have included Aghoo]. […] The navigation channel at Locks No 4 and 5 — Aghoo and Aghadark [now Ardrum] — has been completed […].[xvi]

In 1860 the navigation was vested in the Navigation Trustees[xvii]; between then and 1869 eight boats passed through, paying a total of £18 in tolls[xviii]. The navigation was effectively abandoned by the 1880s[xix].


[i] Patrick Flanagan The Ballinamore & Ballyconnell Canal David & Charles, Newton Abbot 1972

[ii] Sheffield is the area north of the waterway between Locks 14 (Drumduff) and 15 (Tirmactiernan)

[iii] Mr T J Mulvany CE in Appendix H Drainage to the Annual Reports for 1849 of the District Engineers in Public Works, Ireland: Eighteenth Report from the Board of Public Works, Ireland Presented to both Houses of Parliament by Command of Her Majesty; Her Majesty’s Stationery Office, London, 1850

[iv] Mr T J Mulvany CE, District Engineer, in Appendix D to Public Works, Ireland: Nineteenth Report from the Board of Public Works, Ireland Presented to both Houses of Parliament by Command of Her Majesty; Her Majesty’s Stationery Office, London, 1851

[v] Mr T J Mulvany CE, District Engineer, in Appendix E to Public Works, Ireland: Twentieth Report from the Board of Public Works, Ireland Presented to both Houses of Parliament by Command of Her Majesty; Her Majesty’s Stationery Office, London, 1852

[vi] Mr T J Mulvany CE, District Engineer, in Appendix C to Public Works, Ireland: Twenty-First Report from the Board of Public Works, Ireland Presented to both Houses of Parliament by Command of Her Majesty; Her Majesty’s Stationery Office, London, 1853

[vii] Mr T J Mulvany CE, District Engineer, in Appendix C to Public Works, Ireland: Twenty-Second Report from the Board of Public Works, Ireland Presented to both Houses of Parliament by Command of Her Majesty; Her Majesty’s Stationery Office, Dublin, 1854

[viii] Mr T J Mulvany CE, District Engineer, in Appendix C to Public Works, Ireland: Twenty-Third Report from the Board of Public Works, Ireland Presented to both Houses of Parliament by Command of Her Majesty; Her Majesty’s Stationery Office, Dublin, 1855

[ix] ibid

[x] Mr Martin Farrell CE, District Engineer, in Appendix C to Public Works, Ireland: Twenty-Fourth Report from the Board of Public Works, Ireland Presented to both Houses of Parliament by Command of Her Majesty; Her Majesty’s Stationery Office, Dublin, 1856

[xi] ibid

[xii] Mr Martin Farrell CE, District Engineer, in Appendix C to Public Works, Ireland: Twenty-Fifth Report from the Board of Public Works, Ireland Presented to both Houses of Parliament by Command of Her Majesty; Her Majesty’s Stationery Office, Dublin, 1857

[xiii] Mr. Martin Farrell CE, District Engineer, in Appendix C to Public Works, Ireland: Twenty-Sixth Report from the Board of Public Works, Ireland Presented to both Houses of Parliament by Command of Her Majesty; Her Majesty’s Stationery Office, Dublin, 1858

[xiv] ibid

[xv] Mr Martin Farrell CE, Resident Engineer, in Appendix C to Public Works, Ireland: Twenty-Seventh Report from the Board of Public Works, Ireland Presented to both Houses of Parliament by Command of Her Majesty; Her Majesty’s Stationery Office, Dublin, 1859

[xvi] Mr W [probably William] Forsyth CE in Appendix C to Public Works, Ireland: Twenty-Eighth Report from the Board of Public Works, Ireland Presented to both Houses of Parliament by Command of Her Majesty; Her Majesty’s Stationery Office, Dublin, 1860

[xvii] Flanagan op cit

[xviii] Ruth Delany Ireland’s Inland Waterways: Celebrating 300 years Appletree Press 2004

[xix] ibid

Links

The reason for the construction of the navigation is covered on this page, the old and new lock mechanisms are discussed here and here is a page about the Belturbet-built dredger used during construction.

[wut/jn30]

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