Category Archives: Restoration and rebuilding

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.

 

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

Victoria’s secrets

Victoria uncovered, as you’ve [probably] never seen her before: very interesting photos by Niall Galway here.

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.

 

Killaloe in the age of steam

That’s November’s talk at the Killaloe-Ballina historical society; details here and an account of Sandra Lefroy’s talk about the Phoenix here.

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.

 

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.

 

They haven’t gone away, you know ….

There we were, about to breathe a sigh of relief that the Clones Sheugh had been buried at the crossroads, with a stake through its heart and numerous rows of garlic planted around it, when a crack appeared in the earth and the shriek of the undead made the night hideous.

Yes, it seemed that the Minister for Fairytales had successfully diverted everyone’s attention away from Clones by (a) designating the River Finn as the Ulster Canal, which would lead to a scout camp at the spiritual home of Ulster Unionism rather than to Clones, and (b) supporting a greenway walking route to take care of the handsacrosstheborder bit (although ministers from up there seemed to be scarce at the launch. I suppose they’re scarce anyway).

The greenway seems like a better idea to me, given that it’s significantly cheaper than canal restoration and likely to attract far more users, although I wasn’t impressed by the economic assessment in Waterways Ireland’s Ulster Canal Greenway draft strategy document from April 2017 [PDF]. Here is the assessment in full:

6.2 Economic Assessment
Ultimately, the cost of developing a route will play a part in the decision-making process. It may be technically possible to overcome an obstacle, but the cost might make it unfeasible and a longer route chosen. All factors in the Greenway Strategy will be assessed and the most sustainable routes chosen.

That seems to suggest that the costs and benefits of the plan have been thought through with as much care and attention as Her Majesty’s Government over the way has given to Brexit. Which, I imagine, will put paid to much handsacrosstheborderism anyway; I hope it doesn’t put paid to Waterways Ireland as well, although it’s bound to increase the difficulties under which that body labours.

But revenons à nos moutons. Just when we thought it was safe to go out, the dead arose. Sinn Féin MEP Matt Carthy said

Clones needs the Ulster Canal if it’s to have a viable tourism future.

Also from the report of the meeting:

A presentation at the meeting revealed that over 50 percent of buildings in Fermanagh Street in Clones are derelict.

Frustration at the lack of progress with the Ulster Canal was voiced, with representatives stating that it was on the agenda in 1999 and is still on it now.

Perhaps Clones has not got the message: the Ulster Canal is off the agenda. But there is a more fundamental problem: [some] small rural towns are dying because there is no longer any economic need for them. The scale of things has changed since the late nineteenth century; consumers can travel to Aldi and Lidl in larger towns; local markets and fairs are no longer how business is done.

Tourism is unlikely to rescue Clones: if it could do so, why isn’t the town already a tourist destination? Why aren’t its attractions well known throughout Germany and wherever else tourists come from? Enabling tourists to visit by water is not going to attract significant numbers from abroad: there are more scenic and interesting waterways elsewhere, in Ireland and on the continent. There would be a very poor return on the millions that a canal to Clones would cost — not helped by proposals for significant overpayment for land.

I still don’t understand why Sinn Féin is so keen on canals generally and the Clones Sheugh in particular. But Clones might find a new economic role as a post-Brexit smuggling centre.