Category Archives: Restoration and rebuilding

Willie Leech interview

This article, about the last of the Royal Canal boatmen, was based on an interview, arranged by Niall Galway, with Willie Leech of Killucan. Niall has now made the original interview available on YouTube, in two parts [Part 1, Part 2], with apologies for the sound.

Big it up for Banagher

Banagher: the old canal (OSI 6″ map ~1830s)

I was in Banagher yesterday, visiting the site of the old (pre-Shannon Commissioners) canal on the north (virtual west) bank. The area is a park operated by a community group [I would welcome details and a link] and includes a pitch-and-putt course, an outdoor swimming pool in the river and storage for canoes (a group of young people was about to get afloat as I left).

It is also, as the map above shows, rich in waterways and military artefacts. Much of the waterways material can still be seen and a series of signs shows old drawings and provides useful information (though the lock, surprisingly, has no sign). I think I am right in deducing that the signs reflect the work of historian James Scully, one of those who gave an extremely enlightening and entertaining talk about Banagher Bridge a few years ago.

The park is well used by local people but it should also attract many tourists to take the short walk from their boats on the far side of the bridge. It is an excellent example of local initiative drawing on local expertise to illuminate local history and create a sense of place and it could be emulated at many other waterways sites along the Shannon.

Furthermore, added to Banagher’s other historic and literary associations, it shows the wealth of interesting material offered in this town. It is not, unfortunately, on the main tourist routes by road, but it should be possible to attract the interest (and the spending) of water-borne visitors.

I hope that will work for the community; in the meantime, I applaud their initiative.

 

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.

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.

Ferry King

According to the Heritage Boat Association, the steamer Ferry King was built in 1918 by Camper and Nicholson and operated by the Gosport and Portsea Steam Launch Association until 1955. It was then sold to the Solent Boating Company, fitted with a Gardner diesel and renamed Solent Queen. In 1985 it was sold to Waterford owners, renamed Crystal Rose and operated as a cruising bar and disco on the Barrow, Nore and Suir estuaries. Grounded and abandoned some time later, it was bought in 2005  and berthed at Ballinagoth Quay on the River Nore, where restoration work began.

Ferry King in 2009: view from the bow

Ferry King in 2009: view from the stern

Ferry King in 2009: steelwork in progress

Ferry King in 2009: portholes

Ferry King in 2009: stern

Ferry King in 2009: rear deck

On 18 April 2017, Kilkenny County Council published this notice:

Notice of Intention to Remove and Dispose of a Wreck situated at Ballinagoth Quay, Ballinagoth, County Kilkenny0

KILKENNY COUNTY COUNCIL

Section 52 Merchant Shipping (Salvage and Wreck) Act 1993

NOTICE OF INTENTION TO REMOVE AND DISPOSE OF A WRECK

Re:- “The Ferry King”, situated at Ballinagoth Quay, Ballinagoth, County Kilkenny.

WHEREAS: Kilkenny County Council is the local authority for the County of Kilkenny (hereinafter called “The Council”)

AND WHEREAS: There is located at Ballinagoth Quay, Ballinagoth, County Kilkenny a vessel known as “The Ferry King” (hereinafter called “the Wreck”) which the Council is of the view constitutes a wreck for the purpose of the Merchant Shipping (Salvage and Wreck) Act 1993 (hereinafter called “the Act”)

AND WHEREAS: The Council is of the opinion that the Wreck constitutes a threat of harm to the marine environment or to related interests (as defined in the Act)

NOW TAKE NOTICE that the Council, after the lapse of thirty days from the date of this Notice, intend to take, do the following:

  1. Take possession of the Wreck and remove the Wreck from Ballinagoth Quay,
  2. Sell or otherwise dispose of the Wreck,
  3. Retain out of the proceeds of sale the expenses incurred by the Council in relation to the removal of the Wreck.

Dated this 18th day of April 2017

Tim Butler
———————————————–
For and on behalf of Kilkenny County Council
County Hall,
John Street,
Kilkenny.

According to the Kilkenny People,

‘The Ferry King’ is in poor condition and has remained at the quay for more than a decade now. Local councillor Michael Doyle has raised the issue on a number of occasions, saying that the vessel had become unsightly, as well as a health and safety problem.

The article linked within that quotation did not mention either Ballinagoth or Ferry King, so it may be about a different vessel.

Update 22 June 2017

I asked Kilkenny County Council whether the vessel was actually removed 30 days after 18 April. I was told that letters have gone out today seeking tenders for its removal, so Ferry King is still there.

Update September 2017

By 8 August (see Ted’s comment below) Ferry King had been cut up and removed and

A steel structure has been placed at the river end of the inlet to prevent any other large vessel occupying the berth in which she lay.

Here are some photos courtesy of John Dimond, who owns the copyright on them [(c) John Dimond 2017].

 

 

 

 

Scarriff

Both the OSI and Logainm.ie show the spelling as Scarriff, but the version with one R seems to be common in the area and is used on the area’s website. I’m sticking to the longer version, so that I can at some future time work up a joke about Scaelbowiff.

Scarriff is a small town in County Clare, a little distance upriver from the end of Lough Derg’s western arm.

Lough Derg’s western arm (OSI ~1900)

In the 1840s the Shannon Commissioners made the river navigable to the town: before then Reddan’s Pier at Tuamgraney seems to have been the head of the river, at least for larger boats.

Reddan’s Quay at Tuamgraney (aka Tomgraney) (OSI ~1900)

Tuamgraney is a pleasant spot. A short distance up the road to the village is a restored limekiln.

However, Reddan’s Quay is on a bloody awful bend in the river. Large boats may have difficulty in making the turn without assistance, especially if they’re coming downstream with a flow. Anyone moored at Reddan’s Quay in such circumstances might need a new paint job afterwards.

Scarriff Harbour (OSI ~1900)

 

harbour facilities

Scarriff Harbour was expanded in recent times by the addition of concrete finger jetties, which provide more mooring spaces for modern cruisers. The jetties don’t touch the old quay: I gather that this was to preserve the ancient monument or something [perhaps, Gentle Reader, you can correct me on that]. The quay still sports a Shannon Commissioners crane (no longer working) . Two long berths were provided during the expansion: half of one long berth is occupied by a boat (one of three such) that was not occupied last weekend and the other is the pump-out berth.

At the inner end of the harbour are some floating pontoons suitable for open boats and for launching kayaks and canoes. However, despite the presence of a lock-up cage for the safe storage of kayaks and canoes, indicating that small-boat activity is welcome, low barriers (only 1.8m) at the entrance to the harbour require those arriving by car to unload the kayak or canoe outside the harbour and carry it in, then return to drive the car in and unload the vessel’s equipment and cargo.

There is no slipway.

The barriers might deter camper-vans, alas: another example of discrimination against RV-users.

The harbour has a toilet-and-shower block, a pump-out, two double-socket mains electricity pillars, lights and a supply of water, which latter is used by persons arriving by car with numbers of plastic containers.

However, the harbour has not a single bin of any kind. Thus, late-evening carousers are forced to jettison their empty bottles and cans and their cardboard containers around the harbour, smashing some on the concrete in the process. A civic-minded citizen might try to sweep up the broken glass but then has nowhere to put it. [Incidentally, the carousers had left by about midnight and there was none of the threatening atmosphere that is sometimes to be felt: apart from their regrettable habits in the matter of rubbish disposal, these seemed to be quite civilised carousers.]

But back to bins. A civic-minded dog-owner who cleans up after Fido must then carry the remains around. In hot weather, dog poo on a boat begins to smell after a while; any outbreaks of cholera can be attributed to what Waterways Ireland calls its “Leave no trace” policy, which might better be termed “Pay no local authority bin charges”. As a policy, “Leave no trace” is simply an encouragement to dog-owners not to clean up: it’s far, far less trouble to leave the stuff for someone else to walk in.

The exiles

In 1997 Síle de Valera, a local TD, became Minister for Fairytales. Waterways Ireland was set up during her reign and cursed by being given several regional offices; the Western region (ie Shannon) office was built at the harbour in Scarriff, in Ms de Valera’s constituency, and some unfortunate staff were sentenced to transportation to East Clare.

However, with a high population of yoghurt-knitting yurt-dwellers, East Clare is quite an interesting place. The Friday smallholders’ market had lots of good breads and cakes, jams, preserves and mushroom salt, as well as a stock of African decorative items. The fruit and veg shop on the same side of the road had a good range, while across the way the Graney sells healthfoods, veg, good cheeses, chocolate and much other stuff. No doubt other shops in Scarriff are equally good in their own fields, but I didn’t get to visit them.

Boats

On a sunny weekend (and no doubt at other times too) Scarriff was an extremely pleasant place to be, yet there were very few boats there (apart from the three unoccupied boats). [In the next photo, taken early on Friday, the unoccupied boats are out of shot to the left.] One occupied boat left at lunchtime on Friday when we arrived; one more came later, so there were two occupied boats in the harbour that night.

Saturday was slightly busier: the boat that had arrived on Friday left, but two other private boats arrived and, between 2230 and 2245, two large Emerald Star hire boats arrived too, making five occupied boats in the harbour.

Some small boats, mostly of the zoomy variety, visited briefly on Saturday. I realise that drivers may find it exciting to travel fast on a narrow, winding river where they can’t see what’s coming, but paddlers of canoes and kayaks may find less amusement in dealing with the wash from the speedsters. They in turn might find it less amusing were they to collide with 45 tons of steel coming downriver. Perhaps purchasers of fast boats should be required to demonstrate the possession of IQs in at least double figures before being allowed to take the wheel.

Scarriff June 2017

 

 

Make more use of Scarriff

The small numbers of boats made it seem that a fine facility was being wasted (although it is dangerous to make generalisations on the basis of a single visit). It also seemed that local people made little use of the facility: I saw two anglers, a few dog- or baby-walkers and one or two others.

Here are some (cheap-to-implement, I hope) suggestions to bring more life to the harbour by encouraging both residents and visitors to use it.

  1. Encourage camper-vans. At weekends, they could use the Waterways Ireland staff car park (which had only two cars in it over the weekend). The office has cameras watching it; one or two could be redirected to monitor the vans.
  2. Encourage canoeists and kayakers. Sell them special smart cards (or something) that would allow them to open the barriers to get closer to the launch pontoons. If there isn’t a local canoe club, encourage one.
  3. Encourage camping.
  4. Build a basketball court or a play area or something for local young people (and visitors).
  5. Provide barbeque facilities, seats and tables.
  6. Provide bins. Perhaps the local off-licence might sponsor them.
  7. Encourage local businesses and activity-providers to advertise their wares and happenings at the harbour.
  8. Persuade the operators of the Scariff.ie website to do more to encourage boat-borne visitors. As it stands, the site doesn’t even acknowledge that you can get there by boat. And [at time of writing] it has no information about a 2017 Scarriff Harbour Festival; I don’t know whether there is to be one.
  9. Improve the chart of the river: it’s too small to provide useful warning of the twists and turns.

On the same weekend, Dromineer seemed to be packed with boats and with non-boat people; Scarriff didn’t have many of either, and it seems a pity.

The origins of the Royal Canal

The Royal Canal’s origins have never been satisfactorily explained: a later legend even seeks to explain its origins in an obscure dispute between a retired shoemaker and other members of the Grand Canal Company. But in fact its origins were political. As the Grand Canal Company was taken over by the conservative La Touche clique, the opposition launched a new venture: its patron was the duke of Leinster; businessmen and opposition politicians rallied to it; and Gleadowes, rivals of the La Touches, were bankers to the company. In other words, there was to be a left-wing as well as a right-wing way to reach the Shannon. Almost symbolically on its more northerly route to the Shannon, it passed through the duke of Leinster’s land.

L M Cullen “Politics and Institutions, 1731–1835” in Economy, Trade and Irish Merchants at home and abroad, 1600–1988 Four Courts Press, Dublin 2012

The opening of the Royal Canal

On 27 May 2017 the Royal Canal Amenity Group and Waterways Ireland are to commemorate the fact that

In May 1817 the Royal Canal was officially opened from Dublin to the Shannon ….

[Unfortunately I am unable to find anything about the commemorative event on WI’s website, although they did send me some information about it.]

I wondered how the opening might have been celebrated in 1817, but I haven’t been able to find out anything about it. I am hoping that some more knowledgeable person might be able to provide information: please leave a Comment below if you can help.

Ruth Delany gives 26 May 1817 as the date on which the contractors said that the western end of the canal (to the Shannon at Richmond Harbour) would be ready to hand over to the Directors General of Inland Navigation, who were running the show after the Royal Canal Company collapsed under the weight of its debts.

However, as far as I can see, the British Newspaper Archive contains no mention of any opening ceremony at any time in 1817. The Lanesborough Trader, the first boat to travel from the Shannon to Dublin did so in January 1818 [Saunders’s News-Letter 2 February 1818] and in May Mr Peel moved that a further £15000 be granted for completion of the navigation, where “shoals were
found to interfere” [Dublin Evening Post 23 May 1818].

Traffic increased later in 1818: in October the directors of the New Royal Canal Company went by boat

… from Dublin to Tarmonbury, and thence to the termination of the Canal, near the river Shannon, to inspect the works and give every necessary direction for the entire completion of that great and important undertaking ….
[Dublin Evening Post 20 October 1818]

The same newspaper reported that several boats of coal, found on the banks of the canal near Tarmonbury, had arrived in Dublin. It seems, therefore, that the canal was usable even if not entirely finished.

Later that month Christopher Dillon of Athlone, who had been trading on the Grand Canal and the Shannon, announced that he was moving his boats to the Royal Canal — but the western terminus for his boats was at Ballymahon, from which (although he did not say so) goods could be carried by road to Athlone: just the situation the Grand Canal Company had feared. [Dublin Evening Post 27 October 1818]

I have found no evidence of an opening ceremony in 1817; nor have I found evidence that the canal was actually open from the Shannon to the Liffey (or the Broadstone) in 1817, in that no boat seems to have travelled between the Shannon and the Liffey. At least one boat did so in 1818, but again I have no evidence of any opening ceremony.

There is one further mystery. The Royal Canal harbour at the junction with the Shannon is called Richmond Harbour. I presume that that is a compliment to the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, His Grace Charles Lennox, 4th Duke of Richmond, 4th Duke of Lennox, 4th Duke of Aubigny, KG, PC. But he had ceased to be Lord Lieutenant in 1813 and was presumably unable to dispense favours after that, so why was the harbour named after him? I don’t know when the construction of the harbour was begun or finished.

I have not visited the National Archives in Dublin to look at the papers of the Directors General of Inland Navigation, which may have something on the events of 1817 and 1818. Perhaps WI’s archive has something relevant too. I would therefore be glad to hear from anyone who has searched those archives or found other evidence about the period.

Newspapers cited here were accessed through the British Newspaper Archive.

 

The Lanesborough Trader

Inland Navigation

The numerous individuals interested in the prosperity of the Royal Canal, as well as the Public at large, must be highly gratified to learn, that the trade on the extended line of that navigation has commenced with all the spirit and activity that could have been anticipated by the most sanguine. The first boat from the Shannon (the Lanesborough Trader, Patrick Connor, owner) arrived at the Broadstone harbour on Saturday [31 January 1818], amid the cheers of numerous spectators, with a fiddler playing merrily upon her deck.

Saunders’s News-Letter 2 February 1818

St John’s Pill (River) in Waterford

Brian Simpson writes from Waterford:

There’s a new bridge being built on the Waterside in Waterford City and sadly it looks like it is going to be a death blow for the Friends of St John’s River and Waterford Small Boat Owners Association’s attempts to restore navigation along this waterway.

The new bridge at high tide (Brian Simpson)

Please find attached the Facebook link for comments and attached photo of bridge at high tide.

Half our canal was taken by a humpback bridge, Wyse Bridge, being replaced at Poleberry in 1980; this effectively stopped any chance of barges navigating the other part of the waterway, which was being done up to the 1950s.

I do hope that boats will still be able to use the Pill.

Update: a link to a video.