Category Archives: Industrial 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.

 

Useless information about a railway

The Irish Times has a piece about the numbers of people travelling on some or all of a railway line from Limerick to Galway. But the article is entirely useless in enabling assessment of whether the line should be kept open. It tells us nothing about the costs of running the line, the cost of the £110 million of capital spent on it or the income generated by the passengers. Furthermore, it does not discuss the alternatives (buses) and their costs, whether to the user or to the taxpayer.

I can’t find information about individual lines either in the CIE annual report for 2017 [PDF] or in the most recent annual report for Iarnród Éireann (which runs the railways), which is for 2015.

I suspect, therefore (but am of course open to correction), that this is fake news, marketing or PR: a partial account of the line’s operations, intended to give the impression that it is a Good Thing. And because the important information is omitted, I suspect that it is not favourable to those arguing for ever-larger train sets whereon they may play with the choo-choos.

Incidentally, the number of passengers is about one quarter of that achieved by the Dublin & Kingstown Railway in its first year of operation in the 1830s.

 

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.

 

Exciting news for Clones

Goodbye Clones Sheugh, hello Clones Duckpond.

Canal Boats for sale

The Directors of the Grand Canal Company hereby give notice that they will SELL, to such parties as may require them, NINE SWIFT PASSAGE BOATS, and TWO HEAVY NIGHT PASSAGE BOATS, several of which are in perfect repair, and of the following dimensions, viz:—

FLY BOATS

Average length, from Stem to Stern, 60 feet, and average breadth of beam, 6 feet 6 inches.

NIGHT BOATS

Average length 60 feet, and breadth of beam, 7 feet 9 inches.

Applications from parties desirous of purchasing same to be addressed to the Secretary.

By Order, JOHN M’MULLEN, Sec, Grand Canal House, William-street,
11th February, 1848

Dublin Evening Mail 25 February 1848

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.

 

Selling the Shannon

We have purchased the steamer Ballymurtagh on favourable terms, and have placed her on the river Shannon, for the purpose of facilitating your trade in that district. This steamer carries its own cargo, and can be worked with economy in conjunction with your steamers already plying on the Shannon. The arrangement so made places at your disposal the steamer Shannon, which has been employed heretofore in towing boats between Carrick-on-Shannon and Killaloe. We purpose selling the steamer Shannon, when a suitable price can be obtained.

From the report of the directors of the Grand Canal Company, to be presented at its half-yearly meeting on Monday 24 August 1868, reported in the Galway Vindicator, and Connaught Advertiser
22 August 1868

SCREW STEAMER FOR SALE BY AUCTION

FOR SALE BY AUCTION, on Tuesday, the 21st July 1868, at Ringsend Docks, Dublin, at One o’Clock, By order of the Directors of the Grand Canal Company,

Their powerful and strong-built Towing Steamer

SHANNON

She is 71 feet long, 15 feet 6 inches beam, iron-built, and fitted with Marine condensing engines, 45 horse power. Her machinery is in excellent repair, and a large sum of money has been recently laid out on her boiler.

She can be seen at Ringsend Dock, Dublin, and further particulars may be had from Mr Samuel Healy, Grand Canal Harbour, James’s-street, Dublin; William Digby Cooke, Esq, Secretary, or JAMES FOXALL, Broker.

Freeman’s Journal 18 July 1868