Category Archives: Restoration and rebuilding

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.

 

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].