Moveable bridges on the Ulster Canal

I don’t recall reading anywhere, until recently, that there were several opening bridges across the Ulster Canal.

I should interject here that by “Ulster Canal” here I mean the real, now derelict, navigation built to link Lough Erne and Lough Neagh; I do not mean the River Finn, a tributary of the Erne, which the Irish Department of Fairytales of Arts Heritage and the Gaeltacht has recently renamed “The Ulster Canal”.

There is a list of types of mov[e]able bridges here, but I think only two types, swing bridges and drawbridges, were used on the Ulster Canal. I use the term “opening bridge” to cover both. Such bridges were swung or lowered across the canal for wheeled or legged traffic, then swung back or raised to allow boats through. Given the pathetic levels of traffic on the Ulster Canal, it is likely that they spent most of their time across the canal.

From January 1865 until April 1889 the Ulster Canal was managed by the Board of Public Works [aka the Commissioners of Public Works, the Board of Works or, nowadays, the Office of Public Works] who reported, each year, on the work done, the pathetic amount of toll income and the large amount of expenditure on the canal. From 1865 until 1872, while remedial works were being carried out, the reports were written by John S Mason CE, the Engineer in Charge; until 1882 they were written by Robert Adams, the Inspector; the published reports after that date do not contain such detailed reports.

Mason, in his report for 1872, wrote:

The five timber bridges which cross the canal required occasional repairs, and they were effectively maintained.

I assume, therefore, that there were five timber bridges and I further assume that they were constructed in timber so that they could be moved: swung or lifted to allow boats (lighters) to pass along the canal. At no point (that I can see) did Mason or Adams say “here is a list of the opening bridges” and I have not found such a list anywhere else: indeed the only other evidence I have comes from the Ordnance Survey 25″ maps from around 1900. If therefore, Gentle Reader, you have any information about these bridges, or if you are able to visit an archive to find out more about them, I would be glad to hear from you: please leave a Comment below.

Although the Board of Public Works reports do not list the opening bridges, they do mention individual bridges and locations from time to time. Based on those mentions, I have compiled a tentative list of five possible locations.

Lough Erne to Clones

In the 1880 report, Adams says that work on the seven-mile stretch between Clones and Lough Erne included “painting White-Hall, Drumsloe and Edergoole timber bridges”. I am assuming (but willing to accept evidence to the contrary) that a timber bridge was an opening bridge. I tried to find those three locations.

Edergoole poss lifting bridge (OSI ~1840)

Edergool(e) (OSI ~1840)

Edergoole was easy to find: it’s the area where the Ulster Canal (which we may designate A) joins the River Finn (which we may designate B, pointing out to any wandering ministers, or Sinn Féin supporters, that A B).

But apart from confirming the existence and location of Edergoole, the Ordnance Survey maps do not help. The canal had not been completed at the Lough Erne end (and work was still in progress at the Lough Neagh end) when the surveys for the 6″ maps were undertaken. So the 6″ map, of around 1840, does not show an opening bridge. And as the area is in Northern Ireland, and the Ordnance Survey of Northern Ireland has not published the 25″ maps, of around 1900, on the interweb [and has a godawful search system], I am unable to check whether the 25″ map shows a bridge.

Drumsloe swing bridge on the Ulster Canal (OSI ~1900)

Swing bridge at Drumsloe (OSI ~1900)

However, slightly further towards Clones, we are back in the republic and the 25″ OSI map does indeed show a swing bridge at Drumsloe. This bridge was mentioned in the report for 1868 as well as that for 1880, and the 1875 report mentioned, but did not identify, a timber swivel bridge between Clones and Lough Erne.

The third timber bridge between Clones and Lough Erne was named as White-Hall in the 1880 report; I have not been able to find an area of that name. However, Clones had a street called Whitehall Street, now MacCurtain Street, running south from the town to a bridge over the Ulster Canal.

Whitehall Street Clones site of swing bridge on the Ulster Canal (OSI ~1900)

Whitehall Street, Clones (OSI ~1900)

Furthermore, the 1871 report mentions a timber bridge at Clones. I have been unable to find any information about the history of the current bridge; I wonder whether it might have replaced a swing bridge but I have no evidence one way or the other.

Clones to Smithboro[ugh]

The 1868 report mentioned a timber bridge between Smithboro and Clones. The 1871, 1875 and 1880 reports mentioned a timber swivel bridge at Carney’s Island, which is indeed between Clones and Smithborough, and the 25″ OSI map shows a swing bridge.

Carney's Island swing bridge on the Ulster Canal (OSI ~1900)

Swing bridge at Carney’s Island (OSI ~1900)

The fifth bridge

Finding the fifth bridge runs into the same problem as at Edergoole. Although work was more advanced at the Lough Neagh end when the 6″ OSI map surveys were done, and the line of the canal itself was clearly marked, work was still under way with, at two possible locations, “Unfinished” and “New line of road” (as well as the old) labelling two bridges. And the fifth bridge is almost certainly in Northern Ireland, so I can’t look for it on the 25″ OSI map.

The clues are:

  • a timber accommodation bridge on the Caledon level (1867). Unfortunately it’s a very long level
  • a timber lifting bridge at Tynan (1868)
  • a timber drawbridge, with chains and balancing weights, at Corfeehan, between Caledon and Monaghan (1871); it’s called Corfehan in 1878.

I suspect that the bridge was between the 9th Lock and Caledon Bridge, but I don’t know the area at all and would be glad to hear form anyone who does.

Corfehan and Tynan site of swing bridge on the Ulster Canal (OSI ~1900)

Corfehan and Tynan Abbey (OSI ~1840)

Envoi

We have, then:

  • two swing bridges whose location can be identified
  • one drawbridge, Corfehan, whose location cannot be identified
  • one bridge of unknown type somewhere in Edergoole
  • one timber bridge of unknown type that might have been at Whitehall Street in Clones.

If you can provide more information, or suggest more sources, please leave a Comment below. I have read two canoeists’ accounts, Prothero’s book, the IWAI Guide to the canal, McCutcheon’s book on the Canals of Northern Ireland and a biography of Dargan, all without learning anything about opening bridges. I have also searched in vain for an account of the industrial heritage of the Ulster Canal: I had an idea that a survey was conducted some years ago but, if it was, I can’t find it.

 

My OSI logo and permit number for website[wut/uc50]

 

5 responses to “Moveable bridges on the Ulster Canal

  1. Brian,
    I enclosed a number of photos I took in December at the Benburb section. There are some photos of a bridge, which could possibly be lifted; indeed given its height it would need to be to let any type of vessel through. It runs parallel to the Blackwater at Benburb which also has a bridge similar to the canal bridge.

  2. Re the bridge at Clones – when I was up there last year taking photos, I did note that the road was at a level that wouldn’t have allowed for navigation – it the bridge here was a swing bridge, that would make sense.

  3. Interesting; thanks. Is there any sign of a lowering of the road? bjg

  4. Here’s a link to the page. The bridges are about half way down. It would be nice to know more about the dates of their construction. In general, I’d expect opening bridges to be used in flat terrain, where expensive approach ramps would be needed for a fixed bridge. bjg

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