At the Grand Canal Company’s half-yearly meeting on 24 August 1889, the chairman Brindley Hone said:
A good deal of pressure was brought upon the directors during last summer to institute a passenger steam service on the Shannon and Lough Derg, between Banagher and Killaloe.
My own opinion is that the local traffic in that district certainly would not pay the expenses of working it as a passenger route; but it has been suggested, and I think with justice, that the scenery of the Shannon and Lough Derg would be so attractive to tourists that if we could enter into satisfactory traffic arrangements with the railway company for through traffic, and possibly, as was suggested, with a hotelkeeper at Limerick, who would propose to run a coach between Killaloe and Limerick, which in itself is a very pretty bit of scenery, that the traffic might be made to pay.
We had an estimate made by our mechanical engineer, Mr Johnson, of the cost of converting a steamer, the Ballymurtagh, which we might spare for the purpose, into a passenger boat, with sufficient accommodation to suit the requirements of the Board of Trade, and he thought the conversion might be made at so moderate a cost as £100. Therefore, I think if this meets the wish of the shareholders, and if we can make suitable traffic arrangements next summer, we would be inclined to try this project.
The Ballymurtagh was built by Harland and Wolff as a hopper barge for Wicklow Mining Company and completed on 4 September 1860. The Grand Canal Company [GCC] bought it in 1868 for £650 and sold the Shannon [launched in 1846] in 1869.
It seems likely that the Ballymurtagh was ab initio a steam barge, not a dumb barge, because on 26 February 1870, at its half-yearly meeting, the GCC chairman said
They had charged an exceptional item of £1023 19s 5d, which paid off the balance due for the purchase of the steamer Ballymurtagh, and for the repairs of other steamers […].
By 1883 the Ballymurtagh needed new boilers and machinery. At the half-yearly meeting on 18 August 1883 the chairman said that he proposed not to distribute the entire balance as a dividend but to carry over £995 3s 6d to the next account. That would cover £650 for new boilers and machinery for the Ballymurtagh. He was happy to say that
[…] their mechanical engineer reported that the use of the improved surface-condensing boilers which were to be put in would reduce the cost of fuel to such an extent that the outlay would be recouped in two or three years’ time.
Newspaper accounts of the next directors’ report and of the half-yearly meeting in February 1884 do not mention the Ballymurtagh but by August 1884 the work had been completed. At the half-yearly meeting on 23 August 1884 the chairman reported expenditure on “three particular items”:
- centrifugal steam pumps at Ringsend docks, described as “an important addition to the working of our graving docks there in pumping them out”
- a new trade boat built by the company itself, in its own works and using its own labour, for a cost of £252
- Ballymurtagh‘s new machinery, at a cost of £376.
It is not clear whether the machinery cost had turned out to be much less than the original estimate of £650 or whether part of the cost was covered in the previous half year, ending in February 1884. At any rate,
This closes the Ballymurtagh account, and it is satisfactory to be able to state that the steamer is working most admirably for our trade; and also we have effected a very large saving in the consumption of fuel by this improved machinery.
Five years later came the proposal to convert the Ballymurtagh to a passenger steamer, but it is not clear whether anything ever came of it. At the half-yearly meeting on 22 February 1890 the chairman said:
With regard to passenger traffic on Lough Derg the directors decided to fit out their steamer, the Ballymurtagh, to ply from Killaloe to Banagher from July to the end of September. The project was warmly supported by many, but the slow speed of the steamer rendered it difficult to arrange a time-table. The project, however, would be carried out if possible.
There was some discussion: Mr Porter said it would be well to work that branch of the tourists’ traffic in connection with the railway. He trusted that the navigation from Athlone to Carrick-on-Shannon would not be forgotten and he asked whether it was desirable to go to Limerick; the chairman shot that idea down straight away.
But thereafter the proposal was not discussed and I have found no mention of the Ballymurtagh as a passenger vessel. From 1897 services for tourists were provided by the Shannon Development Company, but the Ballymurtagh continued in its humble role until it was scrapped in 1928.