Category Archives: Sources

A summons from the sea

Older readers may, at some stage, have been forced encouraged to read some part of In Memoriam A H H, an extraordinarily long poem [make sandwiches (preferably anchovy) and a flask of coffee before you start reading it] written by Alfred Tennyson about the early death of his friend Arthur Henry Hallam. The poem was finished sixteen years after Hallam’s death in 1833.

In 1830 Tennyson and Hallam visited France and returned from Bordeaux by steamer. The steamer was the SS Leeds, owned by the City of Dublin Steam Packet Company, which had been operating on the route from Belfast to Dublin and Bordeaux, in the summer months, since 1827. Passengers from England were given free transport from Liverpool to Dublin [Saunders’s News-Letter 11 June 1827 via the British Newspaper Archive].

CoDSPCo ad from the Dublin Evening Mail of 8 August 1827. Image © The British Library Board. All rights reserved.

 

 

On their homeward journey, Tennyson and Hallam met the Tipperary-born landowner John Harden and his family. Harden lived in the English Lake District; he and his wife were “talented amateur artists”. The shipboard meeting is described in this extract from Leonee Ormond’s Alfred Tennyson: a literary life [Macmillan Press, Basingstoke 1993]. Harden sketched the group on deck`; here it is.

Tennyson, Hallam and the Harden family on board SS Leeds 1830

I cannot remember where I got that image. I presume that Harden’s copyright is long expired but it may be that a publisher or someone owns rights to the image. If I am in breach of copyright, leave a message below and I’ll remove the image.

 

 

 

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.

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.

 

The Hind

The River Hind Navigation is not well known, which may be attributable to its non-existence. There were several proposals to make the Hind navigable, to link the town of Roscommon to Lough Ree on the Shannon, but none of them were implemented. One of them almost made it, though, and such interest as the topic has is the result of the Hind’s inclusion (or semi-inclusion) on the list of navigations for which W T Mulvany, Commissioner for Drainage, was responsible in the late 1840s and early 1850s.

Mulvany was responsible for five drainage-cum-navigation projects (and many drainage projects), whereof the Hind was the least important. The other four were

  • the Lough Oughter navigation, upstream on Lough Erne from Belturbet, which was never completed: various (mostly Fianna Fáil) insane politicians in the area are still trying to have it completed
  • the Cong and Belturbet Canals, which were abandoned before they were finished
  • the Junction Canal in the Ballinamore and Ballyconnell Drainage District, later known as the Ballinamore and Ballyconnell Canal, which had a brief and notoriously unprofitable existence, but which was later transformed into the Shannon—Erne Waterway, which was a good investment for Ireland because the Germans [or someone] paid for it
  • the Lower Bann navigation, linking Lough Neagh (which already had two links to coastal ports) with the North Atlantic in the middle of a beach near Coleraine. This was the only one of Mulvany’s navigations that was completed and that remained open, despite its complete uselessness, as the railways got to the area before the navigation did.

In this catalogue of commercial nitwittedness, the Hind had the advantage that it was delayed: an even more insane proposal, to drain the Suck into the Hind, meant that the Hind navigation scheme was deferred long enough to be abandoned altogether, which was just as well as the railway soon made any navigation unnecessary.

However, the proposal was there and, if you are very bored, you might like to read about it. But this is for anoraks: the subject is unimportant, the detail [163 endnotes] outweighing what little interest the scheme possesses. There are no photos of boats or of locks, because there weren’t any; there aren’t even any cat videos.

 

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.

 

The vast utility of internal navigation

As a manifest proof of the vast utility and advantage of internal navigation, the present price of land carriage to Banagher, which is that particular part which the Canal is to extend to in its Westerly progress, is 2s 4d per hundred weight, or 2l 6s 8d the ton, but the freightage and tonnage by the Canal cannot exceed thirteen shillings, which in some articles, either sent to or from the capital, must reduce the price upwards of forty per cent.

From this calculation we suppose the tonnage to be three halfpence a mile and the freightage a penny, but there will be many loadings that will not be rated or charged at so high a price; as for instance, lime, stones, flag and slate, which are to pay but a halfpenny, fuel a farthing, and dung, marl, and gravel for manure, entirely exempt from any charge.

Of what infinite use it will be to the manufactures of this kingdom in the article of fuel only, may be evinced by the price of Kilkenny coal being reduced more than one-half, and corn, flour, with an infinite variety of other matters, being sent much cheaper to this city. The profits resulting will enable this useful design to be still extended, by forming collateral branches, with all the navigable rivers in the central counties, and perhaps making communication with the remotest part of this kingdom.

Saunders’s News-Letter 24 October 1785

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.

 

The fate of Captain John William White

John William White was captain of the steamer Dover Castle on the Shannon Estuary when it was owned by the Limerick Shipping Company. However, after the steamer was bought by the City of Dublin Steam Packet Company in 1841, his employment ceased. He became instead captain of a small schooner called Native, owned by Francis Spaight of Limerick and employed on the Limerick–London route. Here is the story of what happened to the Native and to Captain White.

Grand Canal announcements

The Grand Canal Company do hereby give Notice, that they are ready to receive Proposals for supplying Ashler Stones for repairing the Locks upon the Grand Canal; the Stretching Stones to be twelve Inches Bond, and the Heading Stones two Feet Bond. All Persons willing to furnish the same, are desired to apply to Captain Charles Tarrant, No 45, Cuffe street, who will inform them where the same are to be layed down. —

Proposals will be received for Building, by Contract, two Boats on the Canal (the Size and Dimentions to be known upon Application as above), the Contractor finding Timber and every Article requisite.

Also for furnishing Lime per Hogshead, in the Neighbourhood of Ballyfermott Bridge.

June 18, 1777. Signed by Order, R BAGGS, Sec

WHEREAS the Sluice erected upon the Canal in the Barrenrath Level, has been wantonly and feloniously broken down, a Reward of Twenty Guineas shall be paid for discovering and prosecuting to Conviction the Person or Persons who have committed the said Offence.

By Order of the Grand Canal Company, June 7, 1777, R BAGGS, Sec

Saunders’s News-Letter 23 June 1777