Category Archives: Irish waterways general

Woodman, don’t spare that tree

I have updated my recent post about the overgrowth of trees on the Shannon–Erne Waterway to welcome today’s news that “tree trimming and hedge cutting will be carried out at various locations on the Shannon-Erne Waterway” between September 2018 and February 2019.

I hope that “trimming” is a polite understatement and that the trees will be cut right back to, or beyond, the edge of the waterway.

 

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.

Sinn Féin asks useful PQ about waterways shock

Yes, Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin, SF TD for Cavan-Monaghan, has asked a useful question about waterways, one that doesn’t seem to have been designed to promote an insane restoration proposal. He asked for “the current and capital expenditure by Waterways Ireland in each of the years 2014 to 2016; the estimated level of current and capital expenditure for 2017″. The answer included this table:

WI budgets

 

Current spending comes 85% from the Free State and 15% from Norn Iron; capital spending is paid for by the administration in whose territory the montey is to be spent.

There may be a problem here in that I have a feeling that, if there is no NI Executive, spending is limited to 90% of the previous year’s figure [I am open to correction on this], which might cut the NI contribution to current spending: I presume that the RoI contribution would then be cut too, to maintain the 85:15 ratio.

The Minister for Fairytales also said that WI gets money from “third-party funding contributions towards specific projects and from its own income from licences and property.” However, its own income is pathetically small.

I am writing less about current waterways affairs because I’m concentrating on those of the nineteenth century (unlike Sinn Féin, which focuses on the eighteenth), but I did read WI’s Annual Report and Accounts for 2016 [PDF] with interest. Despite the considerable challenges it faces [including the pensions nightmare], the organisation has been expanding its range of activities and looking to new users and new uses. I hope that the Brexit hard border, which I suspect is now unavoidable, doesn’t completely bugger things up.

If it does, we might need to ask Sinn Féin whether it can think of anyone who could help smuggle motor-cruisers across the border to enable boats to move between the Shannon and the Erne. Perhaps their day will come.

 

Mr Moran’s delusions

Kevin Moran is an independent TD for Longford-Westmeath and is now Minister of State for the Office of Public Works and Flood Relief. On 12 October 2017 he said in the Dáil:

I thank the Acting Chairman for giving me time to speak on the very important issue of budget 2018. Flooding is a huge issue that falls under the remit of my Department. Not one Deputy spoke about flooding during the budget debate. Nobody has come to my door to talk about flooding. Deputy Canney has not spoken yet. I assure the House that I have a sum of €432 million, which is a huge investment in flooding measures by the Cabinet. The funding for flooding schemes will increase from €45 million to €70 million next year. There will be a roll out of more schemes to protect people in their homes. There will be €5 million for the minor works scheme which is very important to protect people. Everyone has talked about putting diggers on the Shannon. I am the first Minister in the House to put a machine on the Shannon since Queen Victoria. I have heard every political party in here talk about it but they could not do it.

If Mr Moran would care to glance at this page on this site, he could look at photos of workboats and dredgers employed by Waterways Ireland (and some of them before that by his own department) on the Shannon and elsewhere — and considerably later than the time of Her late Majesty Victoria.

I am not sure, though, that “diggers on the Shannon” would be very useful: they would probably sink.

The vast utility of internal navigation

As a manifest proof of the vast utility and advantage of internal navigation, the present price of land carriage to Banagher, which is that particular part which the Canal is to extend to in its Westerly progress, is 2s 4d per hundred weight, or 2l 6s 8d the ton, but the freightage and tonnage by the Canal cannot exceed thirteen shillings, which in some articles, either sent to or from the capital, must reduce the price upwards of forty per cent.

From this calculation we suppose the tonnage to be three halfpence a mile and the freightage a penny, but there will be many loadings that will not be rated or charged at so high a price; as for instance, lime, stones, flag and slate, which are to pay but a halfpenny, fuel a farthing, and dung, marl, and gravel for manure, entirely exempt from any charge.

Of what infinite use it will be to the manufactures of this kingdom in the article of fuel only, may be evinced by the price of Kilkenny coal being reduced more than one-half, and corn, flour, with an infinite variety of other matters, being sent much cheaper to this city. The profits resulting will enable this useful design to be still extended, by forming collateral branches, with all the navigable rivers in the central counties, and perhaps making communication with the remotest part of this kingdom.

Saunders’s News-Letter 24 October 1785

The usefulness of the Oireachtas …

… lies in its library, which has been collecting, digitising and publishing interesting stuff. A quick search found material about the Ballinamore and Ballyconnell drainage district, the drainage of the Shannon and of the Maigue, the dissolution of the Lough and River Erne Drainage and Navigation Board (which I’d never heard of), railways in Donegal and an extraordinarily long poem about a steam boat (page 61, after some other stuff about Cork or Cobh).

Big it up for the Oireachtas librarians.

Towing paths and trackways

…  it shall be lawful for any grand jury in Ireland to present at any assizes such sums of money as may be necessary to repair or widen, to any width not exceeding fifteen feet, any towing path and trackway on the bank of any navigable river on which boats have been accustomed to be towed by horses, such sums to be levied off all the baronies and half baronies in the county or riding of the county in which such towing path and trackway are situate; and such sums so to be levied may be originally presented for at the presentment sessions held in and for the barony in which such towing path and trackway are locally situate.

The Grand Jury (Ireland) Act, 1873

78. A trackway on the bank of any navigable river within the meaning of the Grand Juries Act, 1873, shall, without prejudice to the reasonable use thereof for any purpose connected with navigation, be a public highway, and shall continue to be maintainable as provided by that Act.

Local Government (Ireland) Act, 1898

 

Who stole the technology?

I was thinking of buying a (secondhand) copy of Juliana Adelman and Éadaoin Agnew eds Science and technology in nineteenth-century Ireland Four Courts Press, Dublin 2011. But, even though the secondhand copy was much, much cheaper even than the publishers’ reduced price, I thought I should check what I’d be getting for my money. I therefore had a look at the contents list, which I reproduce here having nicked it from the publishers’ web page:

The list of contents

 

Is it just me, or is there a big gap there? How can you discuss nineteenth-century technology without an extended discussion of steam power, whether in ships, on railways, for drainage or in mills and other manufactories?

 

Tories on the Barrow and the Shannon

I read here that Olivia O’Leary, who chairs a Save the Barrow Line committee, says that the Barrow Line (trackway or towing-path)

[…] is a natural amenity and should be maintained as it is.

It isn’t. It is an entirely artificial creation, built to enable the use of horses to tow boats. Any geraniums, beetles, butterflies or tweetie-birds using it are interlopers, squatters and trespassers and should be paying rent; at the very least they should take second place to humans.

The Grand Canal Company often complained about the poor quality of the Barrow trackway: the surface was not up to the job. If it is to cater for more users, it may well need to be improved. That is an engineering decision on which I am not competent to pronounce but, as the Barrow is pretty well a dead loss for long-distance cruising by larger boats, it needs to be redesigned for walkers, cyclists and canoeists.

But at least the Barrow NIMBYs are prepared to accept more boats. Dr William O’Connor of the Old River Shannon Research Group writes about the Shannon here, complaining about the small number of “garish canoes” that occasionally travel downstream from Castleconnell to Clareville. Dr O’Connor asks

[…] why has it become a free-for-all for canoeists?

The answer is that there is a right to navigate, as I pointed out here (with an addendum here): I have had no response from the ESB so, while being open to correction, I maintain my position. Anglers may believe that their interests are paramount on that stretch of the Shannon: I disagree. Of course I would be all in favour of discussions between anglers, kayakers, dog-walkers and other users (even environmentalists), but such discussions cannot be based on a presumption that one group has all the rights, or that one activity is of supreme importance, and that the rest are secondary.

For some reason, canoes operated by commercial providers are particularly to be condemned, although it is not clear how salmon and lampreys can distinguish between public-sector, private-sector and voluntary-sector canoes — or whether they would be bothered anyway: Dr William O’Connor says

It is noted that there has been little scientific research on the ecological impact of canoeing.

In other words, there is no reason to believe that there is any basis for the concerns expressed by Dr O’Connor or by various anglers.

More broadly, though, the common factor on the Shannon and the Barrow is that existing users of public facilities are resisting new or expanded uses and seeking to protect their privileges. Irish Toryism is alive and well.

Addendum: this is probably the solution to the salmon problem.

Royal towpath Clonsilla

Visiting the Royal Canal at Clonsilla recently, I noted some interesting features of the canal’s stonework. I do not know how old they are or what they were for; I would welcome information from readers.

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Clonsilla (Callaghan) canal bridge in the foreground; a railway signal box behind it

The towpath crossed from the south to the north bank at Porterstown (Kennan) Bridge, just east of this one. The passage boat Longford sank in 1845 between these two bridges; fifteen people died.

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Looking west from the bridge

Clonsilla (Callaghan) Bridge (OSI ~1900)

Clonsilla (Callaghan) Bridge (OSI ~1900)

The Ordnance Survey of Ireland 25″ map of around 1900 shows what looks like a ramp leading up from the towpath, on the east side, to the level of the bridge and the road; the earlier 6″ map (late 1820s to 1840s) is less clear and I cannot tell whether the ramp existed then. However, the recent photograph, taken from the bridge, does suggest that the wing wall of the ramp has been built up, with newer stone, and that much of the area of the ramp has been taken in to the gardens above. This, of course, is speculation on my part and I would welcome clarification (leave a Comment below).

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Built-up wall

Note what looks like a very tall gate pillar half way along. I don’t know much about architecture or construction, but the fact that the canal side is vertical makes it look to me more like a gate pillar than a supporting buttress for the wall of the ramp.

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The eastern pillar from the towpath

Here’s a close-up. You can also see what looks like the dividing line between the older stone of the ramp, which slopes away from the towpath, and what I assume to be newer stone, built vertically, integrating part of the ramp (presumably with infill) with the garden above.

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The eastern pillar from the towpath (close-up)

Here it is looking eastward (away from the bridge).

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Looking eastward

There is a similar structure on the west side of the bridge.

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The west side of the bridge with a pedestrian bridge beside it; the railway station is on the right

Here is what looks like the remains of a similar gate pillar.

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Western pillar (looking west)

Note the vertical face of the pillar against the slope of stones on the embankment,

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Vertical face (with missing stones)

These pillars may have some engineering significance in holding up the embankment, but I wonder whether they might have been used to hang gates closing off access to the towpath for some reason. I don’t know whether other bridges have similar arrangements.

Waterways Ireland commissioned a Heritage Survey of the Royal Canal, which is available here [PDF], but that document does not contain any of the details and, judging by WI’s Heritage Surveys page, it does not seem that the “detailed database report” on the Royal will be made available on the WI website. Accordingly, I do not know what the survey says about these pillars.

All information welcome.

Addendum December 2016

Peter Clarke, in The Royal Canal: the complete story Elo Publications, Dublin 1992, points out that, in 1807, there was a passenger service from Dublin to Clonsilla: the six miles cost 1/7½ in first and 1/1 in second class.

Could it be that the passenger station was under the bridge, with access controlled by gates at either end? Horses could have been changed too, with the ramp providing access for horses to the road. Passengers too could use the ramps, but horses could not use steps. And, as modern canal users will attest, it is always easier to embark and disembark passengers under bridges, where there is deep water at the edge and where the boat does not have to go off its course.

If that is so, there might be similar stonework at the other passenger stations that were located at bridges rather than at harbours. There would be traces of gate pillars at either side of a bridge. Ramps would be required only where the canal bank’s level was significantly above or below that of the road.

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