Category Archives: Forgotten navigations

Ulster Canal increased emigration

The Ulster Canal (recently renamed the Clones Sheugh but now known as Saunderson’s Sheugh) seems to have led to an increase in emigration. Working on its construction reclaimed many from “those habits of reckless indifference and that passion for ardent spirits which are so fatal to the happiness of the working classes in Ireland”:

With the power of saving out of their wages, the habit [of saving] has arisen. The whiskey-shop has been abandoned, and several among those who were first employed, have laid by sufficient money to enable them to emigrate to the United States and to Canada, where they have constituted themselves proprietors, and have before them the certainty of future comfort and independence.

G R Porter The Progress of the Nation in its various social and economical relations, from the beginning of the nineteenth century to the present time Sections III and IV Interchange, and Revenue and Expenditure: Charles Knight and Co, London 1838

Those who suggested more recently that restoration would provide employment in local pubs and eateries obviously hadn’t learned from experience. I presume that, to this day, the inhabitants of Monaghan and Fermanagh still won’t touch a drop of whiskey.

 

Lock lox

Fishing extraordinary

Banagher: the old canal (OSI 6″ map ~1830s)

Banagher, June 13. On Friday evening last a scene of a truly interesting nature to all lovers [of] angling took place near the old bridge which crosses the Shannon at Banagher, in the King’s County. An old and experienced fishermen, well known in that part of the country by the appellation of Tugg, between the hours of seven and eight o’clock in the evening, hooked a salmon of enormous weight and strength, a little above the bridge; the fish, after making a few violent efforts to extricate himself —

Flew through the glassy waves with finny wings,
Whilst Tugg still kept behind.

From eight until past eleven the contest was carried on with doubtful success, in nearly the centre of the river, which is here about half a mile wide — during which time the salmon was played (as anglers term it) up the stream, as far as Bird’s Island, a distance of more than an English mile from the place where the fish was first hooked; still the salmon was unwearied, and struggled as hard as when first hooked, notwithstanding the utmost skill of Tugg to weaken and bring him within reach of the gaff.

Bird’s Island, Banagher Bridge and the head of the canal (OSI 6″ map ~1830)

The town clock struck twelve at night, and yet victory had not declared for the indefatigable Tugg. Three hours more rolled by, when Tugg, nearly as exhausted as his adversary (after nine hours’ display of the utmost skill and perseverance in the Piscal art), had recourse to a strategem by which he made himself master of his finny prey.

Connecting the navigable parts of the Shannon above and below the bridge at Banagher, is a canal of about half a mile in length; into this canal, Tugg, with his wonted skill, coaxed the fish, and then letting him down to the lock, at the farther extremity, the upper gate of which had been opened to receive him, he was allowed to pass in, and the gate being immediately closed, the water was let off by the lower one, and thus the finny monster became an easy prey.

The salmon weighed 43½ lbs, and was presented by honest Tugg to our worthy and highly esteemed Magistrate, Thomas George Armstrong Esq of Gavey Castle. The sporting gentry of Banagher and its vicinity intend raising a sum by subscription to reward poor Tugg, in testimony of their approbation of his unwearied assiduity, skill, and, above all, for the strategem by which he became at length master of this noble fish.

Dublin Mercantile Advertiser, and Weekly Price Current 28 June 1830

Hamilton Lockhouse …

… is for sale.

h/t Ewan Duffy

Canals and popery

Between 1768 and 1774

… means were devised to provide secure investment facilities for Catholics in projects of national and public utility, which at the same time left the whole system of the popery laws intact.

The earliest example I have found of this opening of the back door to Catholic investment was an act of 1768 for improving navigation between Limerick and Killaloe. To encourage Catholics to invest in the enterprise all shares were to be regarded as ‘personal estate and not subject to any of the laws to prevent the growth of popery’. Thus the indirect ownership of land involved in such investment would not be at the mercy of Protestant discoverers.

A blanket concession on similar lines was given in 1772 to Catholic shareholders in all inland navigation companies and in insurance companies. The fact that these acts now made it possible for Catholics to become shareholders and sometimes directors in such companies as the Grand Canal Company, must have served to break down segregation barriers to some slight extent.

Maureen Wall “Catholics in Economic Life” in L M Cullen ed The Formation of the Irish Economy The Mercier Press, Cork 1969, rp 1976

 

Broharris and Ballykelly

I have revised and expanded my page on the Broharris Canal, distinguishing between it and the Ballykelly Canal. However, there are still mysteries, and I will welcome comments from anyone who can cast light on the two subjects.

Canal restoration: Strabane and Broharris

Alas, the Derry Journal [h/t Industrial Heritage Ireland, the indispensable source of IH news] tells us that

STEVE BRADLEY believes Derry’s forgotten canal heritage could boost the region’s economic fortunes

No, it couldn’t.

Mr Bradley’s article is extremely interesting. He describes the history of the Strabane and the Broharris canals and, in the process, shows me that my page about the Broharris was entirely wrong. I am about to update that page but I am grateful to him for the information he provided. I hope he will forgive me, then, if I disagree with him about the economic potential of canal restoration.

He makes no exaggerated claims about the potential of the Broharris as anything other than a walking route; it could not be used by boats larger than canoes or kayaks and, even for them, there are no obvious launching or recovery sites.

But he wants more for the Strabane. He says that digging up the canal basin in the town, and restoring the navigable link to the Foyle, would provide a new Canal Quarter to attract investment even though it would, he concedes, be an expensive project.

But it is on the navigation aspects that he goes seriously astray:

Restoring the canal would hopefully also kick-start the use of the Foyle for leisure, recreation and tourism purposes. And restoring the 200 years old link between Strabane and the Foyle would be a great flagship project for a new council district with Derry and Strabane as its two main population centres.

Towns elsewhere have shown how restored canals can help bring new life and prosperity to the districts they flow through, yet locally we have neglected our water assets. It is time to give serious consideration to the role that our forgotten canal heritage could make towards improving the economic fortunes of our area.

I wrote about the Strabane Canal here and here. Sinn Féin, always keen on eighteenth century economics, tried to get Waterways Ireland to waste some of its money on the thing but, happily, failed.

The real problem with this is that there seem to be very few boats on the Foyle; I suspect that many of them are sailing boats that are not terribly suitable for use on canals, while others are fast seagoing vessels that would damage the banks. And boats will not come from Britain or Ireland or anywhere else to visit Strabane by canal: a boat suitable for the sea passage to the Foyle would be inherently unsuitable for the canal, even assuming that the delights of Strabane were sufficient to entice boaters to make the journey.

Irish waterways promoters have operated for years on the principle that, if the government gives them the money to build the canal, the traffic will come. Anyone who believes that should visit Tralee, where a similar canal, short and isolated, linking a town to the sea, is not used other than by walkers and the local rowing club. Seagoing boats go to Fenit instead.

And, on “how restored canals can help bring new life and prosperity to the districts they flow through”, I recommend a visit to the Royal Canal, which is very nice but has very little traffic. As, indeed, does the Grand Canal. English experience with a large connected network of canals is not relevant to Irish conditions, whether on geographic or on economic grounds.

 

The Hind

The River Hind Navigation is not well known, which may be attributable to its non-existence. There were several proposals to make the Hind navigable, to link the town of Roscommon to Lough Ree on the Shannon, but none of them were implemented. One of them almost made it, though, and such interest as the topic has is the result of the Hind’s inclusion (or semi-inclusion) on the list of navigations for which W T Mulvany, Commissioner for Drainage, was responsible in the late 1840s and early 1850s.

Mulvany was responsible for five drainage-cum-navigation projects (and many drainage projects), whereof the Hind was the least important. The other four were

  • the Lough Oughter navigation, upstream on Lough Erne from Belturbet, which was never completed: various (mostly Fianna Fáil) insane politicians in the area are still trying to have it completed
  • the Cong and Belturbet Canals, which were abandoned before they were finished
  • the Junction Canal in the Ballinamore and Ballyconnell Drainage District, later known as the Ballinamore and Ballyconnell Canal, which had a brief and notoriously unprofitable existence, but which was later transformed into the Shannon—Erne Waterway, which was a good investment for Ireland because the Germans [or someone] paid for it
  • the Lower Bann navigation, linking Lough Neagh (which already had two links to coastal ports) with the North Atlantic in the middle of a beach near Coleraine. This was the only one of Mulvany’s navigations that was completed and that remained open, despite its complete uselessness, as the railways got to the area before the navigation did.

In this catalogue of commercial nitwittedness, the Hind had the advantage that it was delayed: an even more insane proposal, to drain the Suck into the Hind, meant that the Hind navigation scheme was deferred long enough to be abandoned altogether, which was just as well as the railway soon made any navigation unnecessary.

However, the proposal was there and, if you are very bored, you might like to read about it. But this is for anoraks: the subject is unimportant, the detail [163 endnotes] outweighing what little interest the scheme possesses. There are no photos of boats or of locks, because there weren’t any; there aren’t even any cat videos.

 

Ballycuirke Canal photos

Declan Maher has very kindly sent me five photos of the Ballycuirke Canal. I have put one of them on the canal’s main page and the others on the page of notes on navigating from Lough Corrib to Ross Lake.

Big it up for Banagher

Banagher: the old canal (OSI 6″ map ~1830s)

I was in Banagher yesterday, visiting the site of the old (pre-Shannon Commissioners) canal on the north (virtual west) bank. The area is a park operated by a community group [I would welcome details and a link] and includes a pitch-and-putt course, an outdoor swimming pool in the river and storage for canoes (a group of young people was about to get afloat as I left).

It is also, as the map above shows, rich in waterways and military artefacts. Much of the waterways material can still be seen and a series of signs shows old drawings and provides useful information (though the lock, surprisingly, has no sign). I think I am right in deducing that the signs reflect the work of historian James Scully, one of those who gave an extremely enlightening and entertaining talk about Banagher Bridge a few years ago.

The park is well used by local people but it should also attract many tourists to take the short walk from their boats on the far side of the bridge. It is an excellent example of local initiative drawing on local expertise to illuminate local history and create a sense of place and it could be emulated at many other waterways sites along the Shannon.

Furthermore, added to Banagher’s other historic and literary associations, it shows the wealth of interesting material offered in this town. It is not, unfortunately, on the main tourist routes by road, but it should be possible to attract the interest (and the spending) of water-borne visitors.

I hope that will work for the community; in the meantime, I applaud their initiative.

 

Gambling for the Grand

In the 1770s a group of trustees conducted an annual lottery to raise funds for a “canal of communication” between the Grand Canal and the River Liffey in Dublin. The intention was to go north from the area of the Grand Canal Harbour to reach the Liffey opposite the barracks. It seems that some construction work was done but no lottery was organised in 1780 or thereafter, perhaps because an Irish state lottery was instituted. The plan to build a link to the north was abandoned; the Circular Line was built instead.

Here is an incomplete account of the Grand Canal lottery. I would be glad to hear from anyone who knows more about it.