Category Archives: Built heritage

The mysterious capitalist

In 1847 George Lewis Smyth wrote [in Ireland: Historical and Statistical Vol II Whittaker and Co, London 1847 Chapter 14]

Another favourite object of praise and assistance is the Dublin and Kingstown Railway. The large sums lent to this railway and to the Ulster Canal are represented in certain circles in Dublin to have been matters of personal obligation. A capitalist holding a considerable interest in both undertakings is familiarly described as always carrying a commissioner in his breeches pocket.

Who was the capitalist in question? One possibility is Peirce [or Pierce] Mahony, solicitor to both the Dublin and Kingstown Railway and the Ulster Canal Company, but perhaps “capitalist” in not quite the mot juste for him. Another is James Perry, quondam director of the railway and Managing Director of the Ulster Canal Steam Carrying Company, which was owned (from 1843) by William Dargan, the contractor who built the Dublin and Kingstown Railway.

Perry had fingers in many other pies, including the Ringsend Iron Works which, in 1842, built an iron steamer for the use of the City of Dublin Steam Packet Company on the Shannon. The steamer was named the Lady Burgoyne.

 

The Shannon–Erne Waterway

The Shannon–Erne Waterway, a mix of canal, river and small lake, links the Shannon (at Leitrim) to the Erne (near Belturbet). Formerly the Ballinamore & Ballyconnell Canal, and originally the Junction Canal in the Ballinamore and Ballyconnell Drainage District (or some such combination of elements), it was rebuilt in the early 1990s with automated (boater-operated) locks, service blocks, a logo, marketing and other such new-fangled extras that had not engaged the attention of the Office of Public Works.

I have not been able to find a proper cost-benefit analysis, but my impression is that Irish taxpayers paid relatively little of the cost, so that it was a good investment for them. It has been used as an example of the regenerative power of restored waterways, although (unlike, say, the River Suck or the proposed Clones Sheugh) it was a link between two busy boating areas, rather than a dead-end canal. Even so, several of the businesses that were started in the early years have since vanished, although there are some new ones like Ballinamore Marina.

On a recent visit (from Leitrim to Haughton’s Shore and return), though, I felt that the waterway had an air of neglect. This view may have been formed by two nights (one on the outward, one on the return journey) at Keshcarrigan in the rain. Some improvement work was started at the harbour some time ago, but it seems to have been suspended or abandoned: fencing, equipment and materials were left on site. Given that Keshcarrigan was one of the areas afflicted by post-Celtic-Tiger ghost estates, the state of the harbour does not encourage visitors, despite the pleasure of staring at what appear to be the resident boats (one of which, sporting a “For sale” notice, was occupying one of the few long spaces and monopolising one of the few shore-power sockets).

Ballinamore, however, was much more cheerful, especially with a festival going on (the rain drowned the nighttime noise of the funfair), and Haughton’s Shore was peaceful, with not even one dancing van.

But the infrastructure seems to need attention. The paint on many of the navigation markers had faded, although admittedly that rarely caused a navigation problem.

The waterway seemed to me to have become shallower in places (we were told that we would meet even shallower bits if we went on to Ballyconnell), even making allowances for a dry summer. It felt as though there were bars of sand or clay underneath when coming out of locks (going down), but even on some of the stretches between locks the water felt shallower than it should be. This is of course only a series of impressions, but I would be interested to know whether the waterway’s profile has changed since it was rebuilt. It would not be surprising to find that it had: the passage of boats, and especially of those travelling fast, may have undermined the banks. I do not know what programme of dredging Waterways Ireland carries out.

The worst feature is the trees, which don’t seem to have been cut back for some time. They need a large amount of serious industrial-scale equipment to be applied to them for weeks or months.

In some places, large branches had fallen in and not been removed. In others, there was less than the width of the boat between the trees stretching from the two sides. They seriously impeded the ability to see the lines of bends, to judge the approaches to bridges or even to spot oncoming boats: for most of those we met, we had very little time to react (so it was just as well that, except for the lake sections, we didn’t get above tickover speed for the entire journey). Had there been kayaks or other small craft using the waterway, I suspect we wouldn’t have seen them until the last moment.

In some places the trees stretched out so far that it was hard to stay in the (presumably) deep water in the centre of the channel. But the really challenging part was when trees impeded the approach to a bridge, making it impossible to line up properly. Several of the bridges are on sharp bends and, with a large boat, the trees caused severe problems.

The extent of the overgrowth is such that it requires a major commitment to tree-cutting. I can imagine that that would be hard to organise: the bird-fanciers have limited the cutting season to the more unpleasant months of the year, when days are short; getting to and from the cutting site takes several hours out of the limited working day; removal of cuttings would be a major undertaking. But something will have to be done: it’s already bad enough that I won’t return unless I know that the trees have been cut, and if they’re left for another year or two even smaller vessels will have problems.

Fans of recreated recreational waterways might consider that they need serious amounts spent on maintenance. It is not clear that all proposed recreations could generate the traffic to justify the expenditure.

 

Liveaboards

I do hope that Waterways Ireland finds inspiration in this story from the Grauniad, wherein we learn that the Canal and River Trust, which manages many waterways in England and Wales, is able to charge over £12000 for city-centre moorings.

Assistance to canals in Ireland

The assistance given to canals belonging to companies in Ireland in the last and commencement of the present century was chiefly in the form of loans of public money or by grants from special or general taxes; but we have been unable to obtain from the records of inland navigation in Ireland a complete account of the public loans which were made for such purpose.

Report of the Commissioners appointed to inspect the accounts and examine the works of Railways in Ireland, made to the Lords Commissioners of Her Majesty’s Treasury HMSO, London 1868

How true those words are even today.

I would be grateful if anyone could tell me the full cost of the restoration of the Royal Canal and the Ballinamore & Ballyconnell Canal, now the Shannon–Erne Waterway.

 

The current at Killaloe

I have been known to complain about the absence [on the interweb] of information about the state of the Shannon downstream of Banagher and Meelick.

Waterways Ireland

On the Waterways Ireland website, on the “About Us” menu, there’s a “Water Levels” option which takes you to this OTT Hydromet page. Perhaps my security settings are too high (or too eccentric), but at the top of the page all I see is

Alternate HTML content should be placed here. This content requires the Adobe Flash Player. Get Flash

At the bottom I read

Click here to obtain list of todays 9am Values. Please Note – Levels are recorded in meters to MSL Malin Head.

There is also a disclaimer.

The link goes to this page where the locations of various gauges are categorised by waterway. The furthest south [on the Shannon] I can find is …

Meelick Weir Gauge SS_MEELICK Water level 0001 32.62m 2018-07-07 07:30:00 5400

… from which I deduce that the water level at Meelick Weir is 32.62 metres above mean sea level at Malin Head. From that, of course, I can deduce the depth of the water at Meelick, or I could if I knew how far the bed of the river was above MSL Malin Head, and by charting the daily returns I could see whether the level was increasing or decreasing.

OPW

Alternatively, I could use the OPW’s gauge at Banagher, only a little way upstream, which shows me the depth, the change over 35 days and the level in relation to various percentiles of previous levels. That is a lot easier to read and a lot more useful: although a measure of flow would be more useful still, I can assume that a high level will be accompanied by a faster flow.

ESB

I have recently discovered that the ESB has a page with (admittedly for a small number of sites) information in a more user-friendly format than either WI or the OPW. To find it from the home page, select “Our Businesses”, then “Generation & Energy Trading”, then “Hydrometric Information”, then “River Shannon”, then “Beware of the leopard”. Alternatively, try www.esbhydro.ie/shannon for a list of PDFs.

Either way, the files available include

  • a hydrometric forecast for the Shannon
  • one-year charts showing levels at each of five locations: Bellantra sluices, Lough Ree; Thatch, Lough Ree; Athlone Weir downstream; Portumna Bridge; Pier Head, Killaloe
  • even more useful for anyone going near Killaloe Bridge, the total flow [in cubic metres per second] at Parteen Villa Weir and at Ardnacrusha.

Here, in flagrant breach of the ESB’s copyright, is the chart for Parteen Villa Weir:

The flow at Parteen Villa Weir

The flow has been pretty well flat, at 0, for some time. The Parteen and Ardnacrusha charts have accompanying tables giving the figures for the last 30 days; here are those for Ardnacrusha:

The flow at Ardnacrusha

Each of Ardnacrusha’s four turbines uses about 100 cubic metres per second [cumec]. The flow through Parteen Villa Weir is divided between the old course of the Shannon [which must get 10 cumec] and the new channel through Ardnacrusha. The combined flow through Parteen has been 11 cumec for the past week, and Ardnacrusha has been getting nothing (except a tiny amount on 3 July). That explains why the level of water at Castleconnell, on the old course, is slightly higher than normal summer levels (11 rather than 10 cumec).

And with no water going through Ardnacrusha, the level of Lough Derg is normal (see the chart for Killaloe) and there is no strong current at Killaloe.

Note, by the way, that the levels shown by the ESB are referenced to the older Poolbeg ordnance datum, not the Malin Head used since 1970: “Poolbeg OD was about 2.7 metres lower than Malin OD.”

Other sites?

If, Gentle Reader, you know of any other accessible web pages with user-friendly information on flows or depths on the waterways, do please leave a Comment below.

 

 

Ardnacrusha tours 2018

Tours of the Ardnacrusha power station are available again this year; info here.

An Athlone nitwit

Councillor Frankie Keena “is asking for a feasibility study on reopening the Athlone canal to navigation to be carried out. Cllr Frankie Keena will table a motion to this effect at Monday’s meeting of the Athlone Municipal District of Westmeath County Council.”

I presume that the point of the proposal is to get Cllr Keena’s photograph in the local papers. Goodness knows why they fall for that sort of thing.

 

Tarmonbarry 1851

To the Editor of the [Dublin] Evening Mail

Sir

In your impression of the 3d instant, under the head of “The Famine Advances and the English Press”, I find a reference to the (so called) improvement of the Shannon; that of the sum of £313009 advanced by government, £230325 has been repaid. In this case you say (and most truly say) “the jobbing was most flagrant, and the reckless waste of the public money unparalleled”.

So far you are correct, but you are, no doubt, labouring under a very common mistake when you say the works have very recently been completed, such not being the case. Some handsome bridges, with swivel arches, and spacious locks — one in this neighbourhood too small to admit an ordinary river steamer. Nor was the level properly taken, there not being sufficient water to carry tonnage drawing more than 5 feet 6 inches, during the greater part of the summer.

Now, I should wish to know, through your well informed medium, to what cause is to be attributed the present state of the weir, or lock dam, adjoining Tarmonbarry, a span of nearly 500 feet. Owing to the improper manner in which the same has been executed, upwards of 60 feet have given way, and when examined by the engineer of the board, the entire is found in such a state as will involve the rebuilding.

In justice to this gentlemen, I am bound to say he was not the engineer under whom it was constructed, nor do I think, until very lately, he had anything to do with the Shannon Commission, every work in which he has been engaged, being acknowledged to be well executed.

I am not aware whether you are in possession of this fact, that in order to make the Shannon improvements available or remunerative, it has been considered necessary to construct a canal to “Lough Erne”, adjoining Belturbet, and thence to communicate with Belfast, by “the Ulster canal”. You will, I am sure, agree with me in the old adage, that “this would be going round the world to look for a short cut”; but the cut I allude to is not so short, as it involves, I am informed, thirty miles of new canal, and several large and expensive locks.

But, Sir, I must inform you, that the tolls of the river Shannon, from Carrick-on-Shannon to Limerick city, are barely sufficient to pay the lock-keepers’ salaries. The Shannon Commission I would henceforth style “the Shannon job”.

I remain, Sir, though a bad dancer, one who must

Pay the Piper

[Dublin] Evening Mail 17 November 1851

From the British Newspaper Archive

Costs on the Royal and the Grand 1843 and 1844

The second half-yearly meeting of the Grand Canal Company in 1844 seems to have been an extended affair. It was adjourned to allow the directors to amend their report on “the state of the company’s works” and, when it reassembled on Saturday 23 November, there was an unusually large attendance and a fractious debate, with several criticisms of the accounts and their “ambiguity and unintelligible nature”. The inconclusive meeting was eventually adjourned until 14 December, to allow proprietors [shareholders] to examine the accounts.

Amongst the critics of the directors was Mr H Bruce, who was unhappy with several aspects of the management of the company, one of them the extravagance of the directors. He said

He had taken the trouble of comparing the Grand Canal with the Royal Canal Company for two consecutive years, and he would give the meeting the result of that comparison.

Here are the elements of that comparison in tabular format.

Those with a keen interest in the Royal Canal Company will no doubt have been surprised to find its management being complimented for anything, but the comparison is interesting even if, as Sir John Kingston James pointed out, the Royal Canal Company had fewer [passenger-carrying] boats “and consequently they had to pay less for horse power”: it would have been fairer to compare the costs per mile.

On repairs, Mr Bruce said that

Every one knew that the Royal Canal was a much more perishable canal than the Grand Canal, for instead of being excavated, a great part of it was built. No canal was more liable to the danger of an outbreak on the country, and of being bored through, than the Royal Canal, consequently it required more money to keep it in repair than the Grand Canal […]. Yet, what was the amount charged for repairing the Royal Canal in 1844, though in that year a serious breach took place in it? — why, only £1869.

Note that salaries cost considerably more than did the boat crews and that horse contracts, for hauling the boats, were about four times the cost of masters and crew on the Grand and aboout six times that cost on the Royal.

Dublin Evening Post 26 November 1844

Spencer Harbour

Excellent article about the Lough Allen Clay Company on the Dromahair Heritage website, though the schoolboy speculation on the naming of the harbour is not, I think, to be relied upon: the fifth Earl Spencer, twice Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, is I think the source of the name.

h/t COM for the link