Category Archives: Restoration and rebuilding

Up the Inny

I have added some photos to my page on the Inny. They were taken in relatively poor light on 17 November 2018 and cover some places between the Red Bridge and Ballinalack. My attempt to find the canal in Baronstown was unsuccessful and I didn’t have time to go as far as Lough Derravaragh, alas.

Pumping the Royal

Waterways Ireland is still pumping water from the River Inny into the Royal Canal at the Whitworth Aqueduct near Abbeyshrule, but the level is still well down. I imagine that that makes it impossible, at least for larger boats, to travel the canal at present.

The location

The inflow from the pump

The level on the aqueduct

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.

Update 26 September 2018

Waterways Ireland’s Marine Notice 99 of 2018 says that “tree trimming and hedge cutting will be carried out at various locations on the Shannon-Erne Waterway” between September 2018 and February 2019.

This is good news; I hope that the shrubbery will be given a thorough cutting.

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.

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.