Category Archives: Roads

A sign of the times

Driving through the village of Castleconnell [Co Limerick] recently, I found that it had acquired one — nay, two — of those stupid signs.

Road closed display 1

They’re stupid because, with the information spread over several displays, you can’t take it all in quickly. Unless, of course, you’re prepared to focus entirely on reading the sign, ignoring everything else on and around the road. Which in this case is passing a primary school.

I suppose you could stop and photograph it ….

Road closed display 2

The information on the first two displays could have been compressed and put on one:

8AM 13th – 6PM 14th

That still leaves two displays, but on the last one, the important one, compression has been taken too far:

Road closed display 3

 

 

Road closed at X, eh? Well, there’s a useful piece of information … or it might be, if we had Long John Silver’s map, with X marking the spot.

X is, of course, the unknown quantity, so this sign is telling us that the road will be closed at a specified time but at an unspecified place.

What dictionary are road-users to consult to find the meaning of X?

And why can’t the powers-that-be communicate clearly in English?

 

 

 

Ennis to Dublin 1838

The public car from Ennis to Williamstown was quite a treat in the way of public travelling; a leather strap, and afterwards a branch of a tree, sufficed for a whip, until an innocent country lad was coaxed into an exchange pro tempore — that is to say, he very good-naturedly lent our driver his whip on a simple promise to return it, and took the branch instead. Although half an hour too late at starting, our loquacious conductor assured us that we would arrive in due time at Williamstown to meet the packet, ‘barring accidents’ — which was well put in, for the wheels were once or twice so hot and the horses so lazy that a stoppage at one time seemed inevitable.

A voyage in a large steamboat of one hundred horse power was quite a novelty to be enjoyed in an inland piece of water, and I greatly enjoyed both this and the voyage up the Shannon, in a less steamboat of twenty four horse power. I had never in my life travelled in a canal passage-boat, and the voyage therein from Shannon Harbour to Dublin was described by a Limerick attorney as a nuisance, horrible beyond endurance. I have never, however, been disposed to rely so much on the opinion of others as on my own experience, and therefore I resolved to try the voyage.

Never was I more agreeably surprised that to find, after sailing in it eighteen hours, I arrived at Dublin too soon, so far as the pleasantness of the journey was concerned. I heard the best Irish songs and recitations, and had a most interesting account of Irish scenery and superstitions from Mr Dennis Leonard, of Kilrush; besides this, I had a very comfortable night’s rest and was altogether much interested and pleased with my first journey on a canal.

From Chapter XV Ireland and the Irish 1838 of Benjamin Ward Richardson Thomas Sopwith MA CE FRS, with excerpts from his diary of fifty-seven years Longmans, Green & Co, London 1891

 

 

The Newry bypass

I hesitate to criticise the Newry & Portadown Branch of the Inland Waterways Association of Ireland, admirable folk who conduct regular work parties improving the Newry Canal. So perhaps I should say that I disagree with them instead — at least on the proposal for a Southern Relief Road, aka bypass, around Newry, linking “the Warrenpoint Dual Carriageway to the A1 Dublin/ Belfast Road“.

Such a bypass is a very good idea and, of course, far better than the insane Narrow Water handsacrosstheborder project. But the new road must cross  the Newry River and the Newry Ship Canal, and I would be vastly surprised if there were any economic justification for the cost of an opening section or for the disruption that each opening would cause to traffic. Certainly six or twelve sailing vessels would no longer be able to reach the Albert Basin in Newry, but the greatest good of the greatest number should surely prevail.

I can’t see that the absence of sailing pleasure craft from Newry would in any  way diminish the heritage or historic value of the ship canal or the basin, and they are of course entirely irrelevant to the stillwater canal.

A spokesman from the Inland Waterways Association of Ireland” says that

The IWAI was formed in 1954 to stop the building of low bridges on the River Shannon. Fortunately this campaign was successful otherwise there would be no hire boats on the Shannon today. Think of the loss of revenue. This should be a lesson to the bridge builders in Newry.

This is rubbish, for two reasons. First, sailing vessels on Carlingford Lough are never going to be available for hire on the Newry Canal, so their inability to reach Albert Basin would have little effect.

Second, the IWAI campaign on the Shannon was notably unsuccessful. Instead of swivelling bridges that would allow masted vessels through, the Shannon now has fixed bridges (Banagher, Shannonbridge, Athlone) and lifting bridges (Roosky, Tarmonbarry) that lift enough to allow motor cruisers through, but not enough for sailing vessels.

Ruth Delany [in Ireland’s Inland Waterways: celebrating 300 years Appletree Press, Belfast 2004] says that the IWAI Shannon campaign resulted in there being a minimum clearance of 4.3m on the Shannon, which is a long way from the 35m that the Newry & Portadown folk are seeking. The only Shannon bridge providing that clearance is Portumna, a swivel bridge, which (unlike the others mentioned above) was not — or its ancestor was not — built by the Shannon Commissioners.

By using the Shannon as a model, the N&P folk have actually weakened their case: the 9m clearance suggested for the Newry bypass is more than twice what the Shannon provides.

 

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.

Evasion of postage

General Post-office, Dublin, 17 March 1838

Sir

I beg to acknowledge the receipt of your letter of the 13th instant, desiring some information as to the modes of sending letters otherwise than by post.

Every species of contrivance that ingenuity can devise is resorted to for the purpose of evading the payment of postage; and though I cannot state decidedly the extent to which it is carried, but judging from the cases wherein the practice has been detected, I can have no hesitation in believing that it exceeds any idea persons in general may have formed of it.

Every coachman, carman, boatman, or other person whose business leads him to travel regularly between fixed places, is a carrier of letters; of this we have daily proof from the number of letters put into this office to be delivered by the penny-post, which have evidently been brought to Dublin by private hands, and which the officers of the sorting-office have estimated at about 400 per day.

Previous to the consolidation of the Post-office laws in August last, an Act, 53 Geo 3 c58, was in force in Ireland, which empowered the Postmaster-general to issue a warrant, upon sworn information, to search for letters illegally conveyed; and in May last a warrant of that description was issued against Patrick Gill, a carrier who travelled regularly between Granard and Dublin, and on his person were found 57 letters directed to persons in Dublin, which he had collected on the road; this Act was however repealed, and the clause which gave that power to the Postmaster-general was omitted in the Consolidation Acts: the Post-office has not now, therefore, that means of checking the illegal conveyance of letters. The fly-boats on the Royal and the Grand Canals, I am informed, carry great number of letters; the former extends to a distance of 90 miles from Dublin, and the latter to 94 miles, and through the entire distance of each of these lines letters are constantly collected for conveyance to Dublin.

The illegal transmission of letters to and from Great Britain has very much increased since the introduction of steam navigation: with the exception of Sunday, private steam-vessels pass daily between Dublin and Liverpool, and in the offices of the agents of such vessels a tin box is kept for the reception, they say, of consignees’ letters; but it is well known that vast numbers of letters of all descriptions are put into them, and the commanders not being compelled by the Custom-house to make the declaration required from masters of vessels from foreign ports, that all have been delivered at the Post-office, do not hesitate to convey them; but I have not any means of giving you a correct idea of the number of letters thus illegally conveyed.

The evasion of postage by means of newspapers, which is similarly injurious to the revenue with the illegal conveyance of letters, is also carried on to a great extent; it is the duty of the Post-office to examine newspapers to see that they are duly stamped and do not contain any writing or enclosure, and it is the practice to do so, as far as the vast number of them and the shortness of time will admit, without delaying the dispatch of the mails. I enclose an account showing the amount of postage charged in Dublin during each month from the 6th July 1836 to 5th January 1838 on newspapers containing writing or enclosures, amounting to a total of £2828 15s; and in the country offices the amount charged on newspapers in the year 1836, was £2122 9s 11d, and in 1837 it amounted to £3196 16s 11d. The practice is therefore increasing, and this I am inclined to believe scarcely amounts to one quarter of the postage on what are liable to charge, if it were possible that all newspapers could undergo a proper examination. I fear the practice is not absolutely confined to second-hand newspapers, but that the accounts of many news-agents are transmitted to subscribers in the same way; their papers are, however, so numerous, and are put into the office so short a time before the despatch of the mails, it is quite impossible to examine them.

Another mode of evading the payment of postage, or rather the writing of letters, is resorted to by factors, who publish printed circulars showing the state of the markets as respects their own particular trade; such circulars they get stamped as newspapers, which entitles them to free transmission by post, and their correspondents are distinguished therein by numbers. I have one now before me with the following communications in one of its columns: “No 17, You have a remittance this post.” “No 20, 84 sacks at 18s are sold.” “No 27, Yours not yet received.” “No 50, Nothing as yet done in yours.” These are taken from Mooney’s Corn and Flour Circular, which is published once a week, and 15s a year is the charge for it.

No instance of the illegal conveyance of letters to or from the villages in the neighbourhood of Dublin has ever come to my knowledge; many may be carried by occasional passengers, but I have not had any reason to suppose that an illegal collection of letters is made at any of the villages.

The enclosed piece of paper, which shows the pains and trouble taken to evade the payment of postage, was put into my hand this morning by the president of the sorting-office; it was found in the letter-box, and seems to be part of an old letter with a memorandum directing the person it was intended for, to inquire at two very respectable and well-known houses in Dublin, if they could send some letters to Tralee.

I have communicated to the solicitor (Mr Thompson) the postscript to your letter; he will search his books and papers and extract any useful information he possesses on the subject; he is summoned as a witness before the Kinsale Election Committee, and is to be in London on the 27th instant; perhaps, therefore, you may prefer examining him before the Committee on Postage, to any statement he may be able to make in writing.

I have &c
Aug[ustus] Godby

From Appendix 9 to First Report from the Select Committee on Postage; together with the minutes of evidence, and appendix Ordered to be Printed 10th May 1838 [149]

Killaloe/Ballina talk on steamers

Wednesday 28 February 2018, Wood & Bell café, Killaloe, 7.00pm; details here.

Killaloe Bridge

A new bridge for Killaloe:

We may here state that in the projected improvements of the Shannon, the rapids will be lowered, a new bridge erected, and the navigation of the river between Killaloe and Limerick materially altered.

James Fraser, Landscape Gardener and Designer of Rural Improvements A Hand Book for Travellers in Ireland, descriptive of its scenery, towns, seats, antiquities, etc with various statistical tables. Also an outline of its mineral structure, a brief view of its botany, and information for anglers William Curry, Jun and Company, Dublin; Longman and Company, London; Fraser and Co, Edinburgh 1844

It took a while, but the new bridge seems to be on its way. The old bridge — which has been altered in many ways over the years — has done enough and deserves to be relieved of the volume of traffic crossing it daily.

Anyone intending to create any further delays to the bypass should be invited to go and boil his or her head.

 

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.

 

Float Bridge

I have added some information to the post The Avarice of the Ferryman about Float Bridge. The Comments too contain useful points.

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.