Category Archives: Non-waterway

Daniel O’Connell and the Night of the Big Wind

In Liberator: the life and death of Daniel O’Connell 1830–1847 [Gill & Macmillan, Dublin 2010], the second volume of his biography of O’Connell, Patrick M Geoghegan writes

On 5 January 1839 a scandal engulfed the [Precursor] society, and O’Connell suffered one of the greatest betrayals of his life. He had spent the day with [Peter] Purcell [the most important mail-coach operator in Ireland and later founder-chairman of the Great Southern & Western Railway] at the Corn Exchange, attending various committee meetings, and afterwards they walked arm-in-arm in friendly conversation back to O’Connell’s home at Merrion Square.

O’Connell begged Purcell to join him and his family for dinner, but Purcell excused himself and the two men ‘parted at the door as friends part, who expect to meet next day’. There was some time before dinner, so O’Connell entered his study, where he picked up that day’s Freeman’s Journal.  He began reading it and was astonished to find a letter from Purcell exposing financial irregularities in the Precursor Society and threatening to resign unless they were resolved.

Purcell had discovered that the funds of the society had been lodged in O’Connell’s name in the National Bank, and implied that O’Connell had turned a political movement to his own pecuniary advantage and had used ‘the garb of patriotism’ for his own ends. Demanding a full investigation, Purcell called for the money to be placed in the hands of publicly appointed treasurers.

The source cited is John O’Connell Recollections and experiences during a parliamentary career from 1833 to 1848 2 vols London 1849 (although O’Connell did not, as far as I could see, give a date for the incident.

In fact, the date given is wrong. The Freeman’s Journal for 5 January 1839 contains no letter from, or information attributed to, Peter Purcell. His letter was written on 5 January, a Saturday, but was published on the following Monday, 7 January 1839.

O’Connell’s account is seriously misleading. The affecting scene in which the Liberator walks home arm in arm, all unconscious that his companion has just betrayed him, and only discovers the betrayal on chancing to read a newspaper shortly afterwards, is utter nonsense. He might have walked home with Purcell (who lived on the north side of Dublin) on Saturday 5 January, but he could not have read the letter on that day. He could, clearly, have read the letter on 7 January, but I think it utterly impossible either that he and Purcell would have been working all that day at the Corn Exchange or that they would have strolled to Merrion Square afterwards.

That’s because Sunday 6 January 1839 was the Night of the Big Wind. Admittedly, by daylight on Monday, the storm had “sunk back into a steady and heavy gale from the SW” but it “continued throughout the remainder of the day” [Freeman’s Journal 8 January 1839]. The whole city was “a scene of general devastation, houses unroofed, and windows broken in every direction”. Chimneys fell into the street or into the buildings; some houses lost their front walls.

In Stephen’s-green, Merrion-square, and Fitzwilliam-square, there were few houses which escaped the general desolation. Those of the two former localities suffered in particular, stacks of chimnies [sic] being thrown down in every direction, and crushing the roofs beneath them, the streets below being literally covered with slates and brick. But it has as yet been impossible for us to ascertain the remotest approximation to the extent of the damages, or the innumerable injuries which must have been inflicted in the interior. […] The stately trees which ornamented the lawn in front of Leinster-house, in Merrion-square, were almost all torn from their roots, leaving but a few of the smaller ones standing, and that enchanting spot has lost its beauty for ever.

If Daniel O’Connell and Peter Purcell were strolling arm in arm through that lot, they were better men than I am, Gunga Din. In fact, unless O’Connell’s house escaped damage, I doubt if he would have been sitting quietly reading the paper in his study while waiting for dinner: I’m sure he’d have been up on the roof with a tarpaulin, a hammer and a bag of nails from B&Q.

But that is the less important, if more amusing, respect in which John O’Connell’s account is inaccurate. He entirely misrepresents the nature of Purcell’s letter. Purcell said nothing to suggest that he believed O’Connell to be guilty of “peculation under the garb of patriotism”; indeed he explicitly said the opposite:

[…] I consider so sacred a fund as that which has been collected from the hard earnings of a confiding peasantry should not only be secure (which I fully believe it to be in the hands of Mr O’Connell), but that it should be so placed as to be above suspicion, even in the minds of our political enemies.

I have placed here a PDF of the text of Purcell’s letter, transcribed from the Freeman’s Journal of 7 January 1839, with paragraphing and punctuation adjusted to suit my tastes.

It seems clear to me that Purcell did not accuse O’Connell of dishonesty. He was instead objecting to two things:

  • O’Connell’s blurring of the line between the personal and the organisational
  • O’Connell’s refusal to honour his own promises, promises which had led Purcell to mislead others about the future management of the funds.

O’Connellites successfully defended their leader against an accusation that Purcell had not made: they showed that he had not helped himself to the money and pretended that there was therefore nothing to worry about.

Afterwards, O’Connell and his supporters, especially the increasingly insane Thomas Steele, constantly attacked and insulted Purcell. However, Purcell achieved far more in the remaining few years of his life [he died in 1846] than O’Connell did [he died in 1847], and I suggest that the incident of the Freeman’s Journal letter shows why.

O’Connell was a tribal chief, requiring loyalty to himself and seeking to build a dynasty rather than an organisation. In his last years he alienated many who might have made alliances with him, even if they would not have supported him, and when his country’s need was greatest, in the Famine, he had no influence that he could wield to help it.

Purcell, on the other hand, was a modern business man: he had built a huge and successful operation (and ran several ancillary businesses too) and, when he lost his mail-coach business, he built another and even more enduring organisation, the Great Southern and Western Railway. It was the most successful railway in Ireland and its descendant, CIÉ, is still with us. Getting it off the ground (as it were) required cooperation with people of very different backgrounds and views, balancing the advice of a range of technical experts, seeing off competitors and opponents and managing extremely large amounts of money.

O’Connell by 1840 had made himself into a single-issue, single-constituency chief; Purcell was (to echo Brian Farrell’s terminology) a supremely competent chairman. Had O’Connell listened to Purcell in late 1838 and early 1839, they might have built a powerful and lasting organisation that united rather than divided Irish interest groups. But that prospect had blown away before the Night of the Big Wind.

 

 

 

The good old English plan

Browsing the Dublin Morning Register of 1 August 1828, I came across this item, taken from the Waterford Mirror:

On Tuesday, John Purcell Fitzgerald, of London, Esq, entertained his numerous tenantry of this neighbourhood at dinner, at his ancient castle at the Little Island, in the river Suir, about two miles below Waterford, on the good old English plan, a plan which we would by no means be sorry to see in more general imitation in Ireland. About five hundred sat to table.

Here is Little Island in the Suir estuary below Waterford:

Waterford Castle (OSI 6″ ~1840)

 

 

It is now a hotel with activities (shooting, archery, croquet and the unmentionable (which involves mashie-niblicks, joggers and cleeks)).

Waterford Castle car ferry (some years ago: I think there may be a new one now)

John Purcell Fitzgerald was born John Purcell, son of a Dublin doctor; he became a Fitzgerald when his already-wealthy wife became even wealthier on inheriting her father’s estates. His main achievement was fathering Edward Fitzgerald, translator of the Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam.

Neither of them, though, was half as important as John’s brother Peter, the greatest mail-coach operator in Ireland, hotelier, coachbuilder, promoter of agricultural improvement, lobbyist for Catholic emancipation and against slavery, supporter of innumerable charities and first chairman of the Great Southern and Western Railway. He was one of a generation of supremely capable Irish transport entrepreneurs who managed the transition to steam power on land and water.

This is how the Dublin Weekly Nation of 30 May 1846 announced Purcell’s death:

DEATH OF PETER PURCELL ESQ

We regret to announce the death of this gentleman, which took place at his house, 3, Rutland-square, on Friday morning. He was a man of kind and generous nature; a good landlord, a liberal and considerate employer, and a practical philanthropist. His enterprise did nearly as much as that of Mr Bianconi in supplying facilities of intercourse on a great scale to this country.

He was the greatest coach proprietor, and one of the largest railway shareholders, in Ireland. The Agricultural Society, the Testimonial to Father Mathew, and other national projects in which he was engaged, and the liberal spirit in which he sustained similar movements, are evidences that he had a real and unselfish interest in the prosperity of Ireland.

He was an active member of the Precursor Society till his unhappy quarrel with O’Connell, to which this is not a moment to allude further. In the estimation of his fellow-citizens he occupied a creditable place, and the grief for his death is deep and general.

The Mail of last night, generously oblivious of the political differences between it and Mr Purcell, says:

“As a man of business, whether as a government contractor, or as a proprietor and cultivator of land, he bore the character of a man of energy, enterprise, and honesty; punctual in his engagements — liberal in his expenditure — judicious in his management — a great employer of labour — a charitable benefactor of poverty and distress.

“In the private relations of friendship and family affections, he won all hearts by the homeliness and sincerity of his manner — the unaffected simplicity of his tastes — the hospitality of his table — and the genuine kindliness of his domestic dispositions.

“Strong good sense and natural good humour were his distinguishing qualities in his intercourse with the world. Many a good joke we have run upon him as a public man, in this journal; and we must do him justice to say, they were taken by him, as meant by us, as effusions of a tolerant spirit, which, while it must condemn the exertions of opponent parties, is still willing to soften the acerbities of political strife by as much good humour as can be thrown into the political cauldron.

“We wish we had many such to deal with as Peter Purcell — was.

“We write the word with sorrow. He departed this life — we trust for a better — at an early hour this morning, at his residence in Rutland-square.”

And a few lines from the Dublin Evening Packet and Correspondent of the same day:

From Mr Purcell we differed in political opinion, and we have frequently in this journal felt it our duty to comment with freedom on his public conduct, but we never did, and never could deny that he was a fair, straightforward, honorable, and manly opponent, to whose personal character no exception could be taken, and whose sincerity in whatever views he advocated was unquestionable.

Purcell — who worked for Catholic Emancipation but did not want the Act of Union to be repealed — was, for a few years, active in local politics in Dublin. His quarrel with Daniel O’Connell came when he found that the funds of the Precursor Society were lodged in O’Connell’s own bank account. O’Connell promised Purcell several times that he would put them under the control of the society’s trustees but did not honour his promise. Purcell eventually felt that he had no option but to resign and to make public his reasons for doing so.

There is a memorial to Peter Purcell (by John Hogan) in the Pro-Cathedral in Dublin.

Ardnacrusha by train

Here’s an event.

I think that Heuston Station means Kingsbridge.

Shannon flooding

First, a caveat. The links below are to a site called Brinkwire, about which I have found little independent information. I cannot say that the site is safe to visit or that its information is reliable.

The site itself says that it is

… a news hub for blogs, online communities, content affiliates, publishers and members of the connected internet who are interested in commercial news.

Brinkwire charges PR agencies, marketing agencies and in-house communication teams to upload their news to our hub.

The story about the Shannon is here. It says (inter alia)

The plight of a suckler farmer on the banks of the River Shannon in Co Offaly encapsulates the many challenges facing small Irish farmers today.

Paddy Towey (63), who has been farming in Shannon Harbour for over 10 years, had tears in his eyes as he expressed his belief that this season may well be his last.

[…]

He was pleased to hear that work was planned to remove the top portion of Meelick Weir, but he said the measure has come too late for him.

Mr Towey has been affected by floods.

The story is said to be “BY BRINKWIRE ON “; it is not clear what PR agency, marketing agency or in-house communication team might have placed it there.

 

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.

 

Goodbye Shannon–Erne Waterway?

Brian Lucey suggests that we should consider [note: not that we should definitely decide on] sealing the border with Northern Ireland. That would mean running a wall down the middle of the Woodford River section of the Shannon–Erne Waterway and would put paid to this business idea. We could of course cover it with solar panels, but I hope Prof Brian isn’t suggesting the Mexicans should pay for it.

Handsacrosstheborderism

I see from the blatts that there are

Fears over future of Narrow Water bridge project

and that

Planning permission for development at Carlingford Lough due to expire in October.

This is encouraging: I hope that the planning permission will be allowed to expire, unmourned by anyone, and that the project will be buried at the crossroads with a stake through its heart.

Like the Clones Sheugh, this scheme put symbolism over practicality and usefulness. It would require motorists from the south to drive to the middle of nowhere to cross the Newry River, when what is needed is an eastern bypass of Newry. Those living towards the eastern end of Carlingford Lough would be better served by a ferry, and I see that such a service is now proposed, to run between Greenore and Greencastle.

The only possible justification for the proposed bridge would be to build it without access roads, name it Garvaghy Road and allow — nay, sentence — Orange Order members to march up and down it in perpetuity.

 

A post-Brexit business opportunity

While running trip-boats has not always been the way to wealth on Irish waterways, we must always be alert to new business opportunities arising from changing circumstances. Brexit, the impending departure of HM Realm from the European Union may offer one such opportunity for a tourism-related business on the Shannon–Erne Waterway, perhaps around Aghalane.

The old bridge at Aghalane (OSI ~1840)

Here, scenic boat trips could be provided. Of course not everybody likes long boat trips, so there could be a market for short trips, perhaps from one side of the Woodford River (which here constitutes the Shannon–Erne Waterway) to the other.

The new bridge at Aghalane

Such trips could feature in package tours, including flights into Ireland, accommodation and leisure activities. But the Irish tourism board (whatever it’s called nowadays) needs to open up new markets: these tours might be attractive to our fellow-EU citizens from Eastern Europe.

There is another possibility for development here, combining economic growth with humanitarianism. Ireland could offer to open refugee camps in the area, thus sharing the burden with Calais, Greece, Italy and other places currently accommodating these unfortunates. This would not be entirely selfless: there would be a stimulus to the local economy from the construction and operation of the camps. Should demand for camps along waterways exceed supply, the re-opening of the Clones Sheugh could be considered.

I regret that the north side of the river is blank on the modern OSI map; that area is part of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland.

The Cong Canal and the Ballinrobe navigation

I have extended my page on the Cong Canal by adding some photos of the sluices and the embankments on the Cong Canal and by improving some maps. I have also added some photos of Ballinrobe, including the quay from which it was hoped that boats would depart for Lough Mask and, via the Cong Canal, Galway. When the Cong Canal was abandoned, so too was the Ballinrobe navigation.