Category Archives: Sources

Steam, Kilrush and trade

Appendix D

Letter from Mr O’Brien, Agent to the Inland Steam Navigation Company
Kilrush Steam Packet Office, December, 1837

Gentlemen — I beg to inclose the Return which you requested; I also send a Statement of our Exports and Imports for the last ten years.

It affords me much pleasure in being able to state, that the trade and conditions of the people in this district appear much improved since the introduction of Steamers on the Lower Shannon.

I recollect when first Mr Williams commenced on the Lower Shannon, Kilrush was a very insignificant little place, quite deserted, without trade or commerce; it is now a rising town, with a number of respectable inhabitants and merchants; and the corn market, which was formerly rated at 2d per stone under Limerick, is now fully equal, and, in some cases, better than the latter.

This improvement, so important to the farmer, was certainly caused by the cheap and expeditious conveyance between this port and Limerick; because the country farmer at once saw the absurdity of selling his corn in Kilrush, at 6d per stone, when he could get it conveyed to Limerick by steam, for one farthing per stone, where the price was 8d per stone. This soon created a competition in the price, and soon broke down the old monoply [sic], so injurious to the public.

The facility of conveyance between Kilrush and Limerick had also a tendency to bring competitors into the field; and now, instead of one corn merchant, as was the case formerly, we have eleven; and instead of two grocers, we have fifteen; and instead of two woollen drapers, we have twelve, and so on.

Kilkee and Miltown, on the Clare side, and Ballybunion, on the Kerry side, have been equally benefited. Previous to the introduction of Steamers on the Lower Shannon, these places were scarcely known; they are now rising towns, and will, I trust, after a little time, compete with some of your English favourite watering places.

At Kilkee there are 305 very fine lodges, some of which brought £30 per month, last season; at Miltown there are 204, and at Ballybunion there are 96, with excellent hotels and boarding houses.

Persons leaving Limerick in the morning, are now enabled to breakfast at Kilkee — thus performing a journey of 60 miles in the short space of five hours.

This Company has rendered invaluable services to this part of the country, which are not generally known, but for which the people seem much indebted. A great deal still remains to be done to perfect our trade in this quarter; our pier is quite unequal to the trade, which is every day increasing.

At present there are nine vessels at the pier, and so crowded are we, that the steamer is put completely out of berth, and is obliged to anchor in the stream, and land her cargoes and passengers in open boats — a very dangerous process at this season of the year.

I am, Gentlemen, with great respect, your obedient Servant, P B O’Brien

To the Commissioners for the Improvement of the River Shannon

Statement of the Number of Vessels frequenting the Kilrush Pier for the last Three Years

Vessels at Kilrush [y/e 1 November]

This Statement does not comprise the Steamers which ply daily, but which, I fear, will be obliged to stop for want of a berth for discharging or taking in.

Abstract of the Imports and Exports of Kilrush, for the last Ten Years

Imports

Sundries (1835 only)

5 tons of Fish, 1 bale of Coffee, 1 bag of Rice, 1 cask of Indigo, Paints, Oil, Pitch, Tar, and Cordage.

Observations

This market does not embrace the foreign trade, which is blended in the Limerick accounts, and consists of timber from the British colonies, with a variety of wrecked goods in the winter season. Nor does it give more than a few of the principal articles imported from Great Britain, several being exempt from coast regulation; and owing to the facility of steam navigation, the greater part of the goods are imported to Limerick, and by canal from Dublin.

Exports. This account does not include the shipments made by small traders to Limerick, Cork, &c.

[Note: the quantity exported in 1836 was given as 87 firkins. Peter M Solar (“The Irish Butter Trade in the Nineteenth Century: New Estimates and Their Implications” in Studia Hibernica No 25 1990) suggests an average weight of 67.6 lb per firkin at Limerick in the early 1820s. Applying that figure gives a weight of 5881.2 lb or 52.5 long UK hundredweight, rounded to 53 cwt. There is nothing to say whether any of the amounts for Kilrush exports are gross or net weight; Solar says that “Earlier in the nineteenth century the weight of the cask was generally taken to be a fifth of the weight of butter it contained.”]

Sundries

1826: —
1827: —
1828: 2 boxes [contents unspecified]
1829: 29 bales [nature unspecified]
1830: 4 sacks of Sea Moss
1831: 94 Marble blocks
1832: —
1833: 19 cwt 3 qrs 9 lb of Staves
1834: 40 packages of Bacon
1835: 140 tons of Hides
1836: 20 bags of dried Leaves; 14 puncheons

Source

Second Report of the Commissioners appointed pursuant to the Act 5 & 6 William IV cap 67 for the improvement of the navigation of the River Shannon; with maps, plans, and estimates HMSO, Dublin 1837

Limerick Navigation

Last week’s talk at the Killaloe Ballina Local History Society, on the subject of the Limerick Navigation, was recorded by Scariff Bay Community Radio; a podcast (1 hr 13 min 11 sec) is available here.

The Limerick Navigation: a talk

Killaloe–Ballina Local History Society, 15 January 2020, Lakeside Hotel, 7.30pm (more info).

Romance on the Shannon

Elopement

We are informed that Maurice O’Connell Esq, MP for Clare, has proceeded to Scotland on a matrimonial excursion. Our correspondent states that on Saturday morning the Member for Clare induced Miss Scott to leave her father’s residence at Cahircon and proceed with him to Gretna Green. The Lady is young, handsome, and an heiress.

Wexford Conservative 3 October 1832

A letter has just arrived in town from a friend of the member for Clare, which states that, on Saturday morning, a Miss Scott eloped from Cahir Con (between Knock and Kildysart), with Maurice O’Connell, MP. They crossed the Shannon in a pleasure-boat, and landed at Shanagolden, county of Limerick. From thence they proceeded in a chaise through Limerick. Their route will probably be through Waterford to Bristol, and thence northward to Gretna Green. Miss Scott has, or will have, it is said, £20,000.

Spectator 6 October 1832 citing “Dublin Paper”

It’s not safe to believe conservative papers.

Marriages

At Tralee, by special licence, by the Very Rev Dr McEnery, and afterwards at Kenmare, by the Rev William Godfrey, Rector of that parish, Maurice O’Connell, MP for the County of Clare, to Mary Frances, only daughter of Bindon Scott Esq of Caheracon in that County.

Limerick Chronicle 3 October 1832

Who said Cahircon was boring?

Mind you, Mary Frances may have inherited less than she expected. Perhaps if her father had spent less on the house of the dead, he might not have ended up as the only Shannon Estuary landlord unable to pay his debt to the Shannon Commissioners. His estate was offered for sale in the Encumbered Estates court in 1854.

Kilrush fisheries

Letter from James Patterson, Kilrush, to the Commissioners of Fisheries, 31 May 1823

Sir

Encouraged by the erection of the fishery piers on this coast, two persons registered themselves as fish-curers, viz Francis Coffee, on the 10th of March, at Liscannor, and James Shannon, on the 26th of April, at Seafield.

On the 26th instant I had a request note from the former to attend at his curing-house on the 28th, to inspect seven hundred and sixty ling, and nine hundred and ninety-six cod; I accordingly attended, and have great pleasure in saying, that a finer parcel of fish I never beheld; I at the same time registered twenty-six row-boats.

Kilrush, Seafield and Liscannor, Co Clare (OSI 25″ ~1900)

From thence I proceeded to Seafield to see what was going on there, where, I am sorry to say, I found the fishermen very desponding; they had an immense quantity of fish, offering at 1½d per dozen; but few purchasers, Mr Shannon not having as yet begun to cure. At Liscannor, agreeable to a previous arrangement made with the fishermen, Mr Coffee pays 3½d per dozen.

It would tend greatly to promote this speculation if some little additions were made to the bounty in lieu of the drawback on the salt, which they find it very difficult to recover, principally owing to the great distance to any custom-house, and the difficulty of travelling bad roads.

I send herewith the production bounty debenture. As the curer has but a small capital, I hope the board will order payment with as little delay as possible; every little encouragement that can be given this speculation in its infancy will greatly tend to promote it; and I have no doubt, in a short time, it will become very general, and productive of great advantage to the country.

I am, Sir, &c, &c, (signed) James Patterson

Report from the Select Committee on the Employment of the Poor in Ireland Ordered, by The House of Commons, to be Printed, 16 July 1823 [561] with edits by me

Kerrygold

It is, no doubt, well known that the first transatlantic steam shipping company was founded by a Kerryman and was to be based in his home county: indeed on his own estate at Valentia Island. The transatlantic steamers would run thence to Halifax, Nova Scotia: that was amongst the shortest possible ocean crossing, which was important in the early days of steam navigation, when inefficient engines required prodigious quantities of coal. There were to be feeder services at both ends of the route, thus linking London with New York, and a second line from Valentia to the West Indies.

The Kerryman was Sir Maurice Fitzgerald MP, the 18th Knight of Kerry.  A meeting of supporters was held in London in June 1824 and, a year later, an Act of Parliament permitted the formation of a joint stock company with limited liability for its shareholders. However, the American and Colonial Steam Navigation Company did not last long: it softly and suddenly vanished away in 1828, its single steamer, the Calpé, sold to the Dutch government before completing a single voyage (although, under her new ownership, she ran a successful transatlantic mail service to Surinam and Curacao).

The prospectus, published before the meeting in June 1824, said of Valentia:

Ballast cargoes may be obtained there in slates, butter, and coarse linen, for the American markets.

However, Alexander Nimmo, writing to Fitzgerald, said

Remember, your whole peninsula only affords 100 tons of butter per annum, and all Kerry would not provide for a constant trade.

The gallant knight would therefore, I am sure, be delighted with the news from the Americas that “Irish Butter Kerrygold Has Conquered America’s Kitchens“. I hope he would have known enough to realise that “[…] Ireland’s landscape and economy, which both remain dominated by agriculture” may be true of the landscape but is not true of the economy.

Sources

John Armstong and David M Williams “The Perception and Understanding of New Technology: A Failed Attempt to Establish Transatlantic Steamship Liner Services 1824-1828” in The Northern Mariner/le marin du nord XVII no 4 [October 2007]

Letters and papers of Maurice FitzGerald in Public Record Office for Northern Ireland ref MIC639/6

Public Ledger and Daily Advertiser 28 June 1824

Expected benefits of the Ulster Canal (aka the Clones Sheugh)

The members for Donegal, Cavan, Fermanagh, Monaghan, and Tyrone, assisted by the leading gentry of each county, have joined in the grand object of improving the navigation of Lough Erne, and are at present in communication with sseveral experienced civil engineers, the Board of Works, and Colonel Burgoyne. Mr Saunderson, of Castle Saunderson, is indefatigable in improving the Upper Lough, and it is probably his exertions will be met and well seconded by John Creighton Esq, Crom Castle.

Already have several gentlemen been summoned from Enniskillen to value the land at Newtownbutler through which the Ulster Canal is to pass; and when its junction with Lough Erne is effected, and a stream of Commercial communication is opened between Ballyshannon and Belfast, the central point of which must be Enniskillen, enterprising individuals will not be wanted to establish steamboats and vessels of large tonnage upon the lake, which will render such encouragement to manufacturers and commerce by the quick and cheap transmission of goods and mails, as will in a few years render this a most flourishing town.

Ballyshannon Herald 20 April 1838

Cupid at Athlone

Aquatic Excursion (from a correspondent)

Athlone (2003)

September 17, 1846 — The Amateur Band of St Peter’s, who deserve so much from the inhabitants of Athlone for the many opportunities they seize upon, to amuse them, having provided — on a large scale — for themselves and guests a sumptuous and plentiful feast, with the necessary teetotal drinks, sailed up the lake on last Sunday in the Cupid Steamer. The day was beautiful and inviting and the placid stream of the noble Shannon — as if in harmony with the circumstance — opening wide its expansive bosom to receive them, displayed in gorgeous grandeur, the verdant beauties of its multitudinous islands and grove-covered promontories of its indented coasts.

I never saw the lake to such advantage as on that occasion. We had about eighty persons on board, amongst whom were the Rev Mr Philips CC and RW, Mr Keating and family, and other pic-nic parties, with viands and refreshments in abundance. As the steamer made the lake and swept through an Archipelago of islands — namely, Carbery, Kid, the Wren, and Crow Islands, &c, having the wood-embosomed Hare Island, the present insulated residence of my Lord Castlemaine, on the right and the grove-crested cape of the Yeu or, as some call it, the Loo Point on the left — then it was that she breasted the serene bosom of this inland ocean not as Byron says, “walking the waters like a thing of life”, but bounding over its mirrored surface like an impetuous courser she seemed to devour the distance, while she tossed a road of foaming surges from her heels.

On each side appeared emerging from wood and grove beautiful villas and noble ruins, towers and antiquated telegraphs, with their declivous lawns sweeping to the water’s edge. As we passed between Inchmore, Innisbofin, the Nun’s Island, the cultivated and rich callows of the Longford coasts, and Warren’s Point, St John’s and Mount Plunket on the Roscommon side, hill and dale land and water reverbrated with the dulcet tones of our excellent band under their inimitable instructor, Mr Keating, while at intervals the gay and cheerful dance on deck, to the music of the violin, enlivened the enjoyment of the exhilirating prospects that accumulated around us.

One or two objects which I observed, struck me very forcibly, and reminded me of the left-handed, nay, monopolising policy of former days, and the state of vassalage under which we yet groan and which “Ireland for the Irish” would never tolerate. In a beautiful valley, and modestly peeping from the clustering foliage of circumnambient trees and in accommodating contiguity to the “big house” stood the snug and aristocratic church of the minority, styled in legal parlance “the Established”, while at a distance on the bleak hill of Newtown, exposed to wind and weather, a chapel dedicated to the worship of the millions, displayed all the frigid isolation of a step-mother’s care.

We now arrived at Quaker’s Island, and having tacked about, we made for Warren’s Point, on our way home, and went on shore at St John’s Castle. With feelings of deep melancholy mingled with admiration, we viewed the venerable ruins of this once majestic pile (huge masses of which lay scattered here and there), its dismantled bastions, deep fosse, and the roofless walls of its antiquated chapel, while on a neighbouring hill stands the shell of its watch-tower to give timely warning of the approach of the feudal rival who would dare contest sovereignity with its lord. We then warmly and eagerly discussed the viands abundantly spread on the verdant sward at the base of

These ivy crowned turrets, the pride of past ages,
Tho’ mould’ring in ruins still grandeur impart.

After which the merry dance commenced, unconstrained laughter and encouraging shouts accompanying the performers, bringing the memory back to the times of rural felicity; when under the fostering tutelage of a domestic legislature, every family had its own quern to grind its own grain, every peasant could drink his own beer and the daily toil of virtuous industry being over, the children of simplicity, to the sounds of the oaten reed or the violin, or the more national bag-pipes, tripped it gaily on the “light fantastic toe”. And this was the happy and tranquil state of “Old Ireland” before the importation into it of such exotic materials as Sir Walter Raleigh and his rotten potatoes. To return to the ruins. I wish Lever, Carlton, or some one of those compilers of Irish legendary lore, had visited Lough Ree, he would find there more traditionary facts connected with the pristine magnificence of the different localities, than very many of those which have been already noticed in Magazines.

Having embarked once more we soon arrived home, and thus ended to the satisfaction of all parties, one of the most amusing days I, at least, ever spent in my life. To Bernard Mullins Esq, the young men composing the band return their sincere acknowledgements, for his kindness in accommodating them with the Cupid for this very pleasant excursion.

O’B

Athlone Sentinel 18 September 1846

Irish slobs

The word “slob” is a provincial term, and applied to banks of mud in the same way that the word “warp” is used to signify similar formations in the River Humber.

Second Report of the Commissioners appointed pursuant to the Act 5 & 6 William IV cap 67 for the improvement of the navigation of the River Shannon; with maps, plans, and estimates HMSO, Dublin 1837

Staffing the Shannon

According to the eleventh and final report of the Shannon Commissioners, published in 1850 but covering the year 1849, each of the quays built by the commissioners on the Shannon Estuary had an officer stationed at it to collect tolls and other charges. Five of the six — Querrin, Saleen, Kilteery, Kildysart [aka Cahircon] and Clare [now Clarecastle] — had Second Class Collectors; Kilrush, being busier, had a First Class Collector.

Cappa [Kilrush] pier

Moving upriver, Limerick was one of only two places on the Shannon to have an Inspector; it also had a First Class Collector and a Lock-keeper. Park, the next lock up on the Limerick Navigation, also had a keeper, as did five of the six locks on the Plassey–Errina Canal — Plassey [aka Annaghbeg], Gillogue, Newtown, Cloonlara [so spelt] and Errina. Presumably the Cloonlara keeper also locked after the nearby Monaskeha Lock. Preusmably, too, the keepers collected any tolls or charges due at the locks: there were no separate collectors, yet from other evidence we know that tolls and wharfage were collected at Plassey [Annaghbeg] and Errina.

O’Briensbridge modern [ie 1830s] navigation arch

Back on the river, O’Briensbridge had a Second Class Collector. On the Killaloe Canal, each of the three locks — Cussane, Moyse [sic] and Killaloe — had a keeper; the Cussane keeper must have collected tolls and wharfage. Killaloe had a First Class Collector.

On Lough Derg, Scarriff and Portumna each had a Second Class Collector. Portumna, like several places upstream, had an opening bridge, but the Shannon Commissioners did not employ a bridge-keeper: the bridge was not built, owned or operated by the Shannon Commissioners.

Back on the river, on what used to be called the Middle Shannon, the commissioners employed both a Second Class Collector and a lock-keeper at Victoria Lock (Meelick). There was another Second Class Collector, and a bridge-keeper, at Banagher. At Wooden Bridge, the crossing of the Shannon from the Grand Canal’s main line to its Ballinasloe line, the commissioners employed two ferry boatmen: by that stage the bridge no longer existed and the commissioners had installed a ferry to carry horses and tow boats between the canals.

Shannon Bridge had a Second Class Collector and a bridge-keeper; Athlone had a bridge-keeper but earned itself a First Class Collector. On Lough Ree, Lecarrow and Lanesborough each had a Second Class Collector but Tarmonbarry had nobody: a First Class Collector was assigned to Cloondragh [so spelt] but presumably had to look after Clondra and Tarmonbarry locks, the weir, Tarmonbarry bridge and the collection of tolls. Mighty men they had back then.

The second Inspector was based at Rooskey, along with a lock-keeper who presumably also operated the bridge and did anything that needed doing on the weir. Albert Lock on the Jamestown Canal had a lock-keeper but Kilbride, the quay at the upper end of the canal, had a wharfinger, the only one on the Shannon.

Fermate at Kilbride Quay

The collection of tolls (presumably by the wharfinger) did not begin at Kilbride until March 1849 but in that year it took in £6 in tolls and £1 in wharfage, compared with £1 + £2 at Drumsna and £0 + £0 at Jamestown. Perhaps the road beside the quay made it a suitable place for cargoes from Roscommon to transfer from road to water transport.

Carrick-on-Shannon, not an important station on the Shannon, had just a Second Class Collector; there was a lock-keeper at Knockvicar for the Boyle Water and another at Battle Bridge who presumably looked after all the locks on the Lough Allen Canal.

Cranes were provided at several places but there is no mention of designated crane-operators.

Source: Eleventh and Final Report of the Commissioners under the Act 2 & 3 Vict c61 for the improvement of the Navigation of the River Shannon, Ireland; with an appendix Ordered, by The House of Commons, to be Printed, 3 June 1850 [407]