Category Archives: The cattle trade

Irish waterways in context

More than 25,000 barges were being used on Britain’s inland waterways in the middle decades of the nineteenth century.

Philip S Bagwell The Transport Revolution from 1770 B T Batsford Ltd, London 1974

I wonder what the figure for Ireland was. My guess is that, including small turf boats and cots, it was probably less than one tenth of the British figure.

Horses for towing? Bullocks!

The Colthurst canals.

Pigs in the parlour

Irish cabins

To the Editor of the Morning Chronicle


Whenever I contemplate a wretched Irish hovel, the blood mounts in my cheeks, and I vent certain short and very emphatic ejaculations upon the ruinous infatuation which keeps the Irish Proprietors in another country, while their presence is so indispensably necessary at home. The residence of the wealthy is as essential to the prosperity of a country, as the distribution of the blood by the heart to the health and strength of the body — no agent can effect these salutary purposes — the countenance of the master, and the sweet and conciliating benevolence of his wife and children, that anticipates with considerate kindness the wants of the tenantry, can alone render Ireland what it might and what it ought to be, and superadd to the natural advantages of its fertility, the blessings of civilization, and all the minor comforts and decencies which flow from its diffusion.

I have been led into these reflections by some circumstances which occurred during a walk which I lately took through part of the county of Wicklow; towards evening I approached a very tolerable looking dwelling, and with the instinctive curiosity of a Pedestrian Tourist, poked my nose into an apartment, which from its being boarded, was, I conjectured, originally intended for a parlour. I heard an odd rustling at the other end of the room, and after a few minutes perceived the snout of a sow maternally employed in arranging the litter for her interesting and numerous family — though an Irishman, I confess I felt a little hurt at this subversion of all order in lodgment, and exclaimed to the man of the house who just then came out of the kitchen, “My good friend, why in the name of decency do you put your pig in the parlour?” “Why, then, in troth I’ll tell you that, Honey,” rejoined Mr O’Shea, “I put the pig in the parlour bekase there’s every conveniency in it for a pig.”

As this was the literal truth, I had nothing further to say on the subject, but followed my host into the kitchen, where his wife and family were just about to sit down to their supper. As I was advancing to take a seat in the chimney corner, my stomach came in very unpleasant contact with a hard substance, which, upon investigation, I found to be the horn of a cow. “Why, what brings the cow here?” I demanded. “Why our little Sally, plase your honour: she brings her in every evening now that the nights are growing short and could; for my woman says nothing makes a cow fall off sooner in her milking than her being out under the could, and I never gainsays Peggy in these things, for there’s no better milker in the country.”

As I had no reason to question Peggy’s talents in the milky way, I sat down quietly on the three-legged stool, and while she was busied in preparing some rashers of bacon and eggs for my supper, I began to ruminate on the strange fatality that converts every cabin into a kind of Noah’s Ark. I had just turned up my face to the roof, in the act of ejaculating my wonder, when, to my infinite surprise, I felt a warm substance descending on my nose, which, upon further and more accurate inquiry, I found reason to attribute to a cock and six hens, who were just poising themselves for the enjoyment of a comfortable nap, during the night, upon a tie of the rafters.

I own I was a little provoked at this accident, and expostulated sharply with Mrs O’Shea upon the subject; but the same argument of heat that was submitted in favour of the cow was urged with still more cogency on behalf of the hens, to whose regular laying, I was assured, warmth to be essentially necessary. Having nothing further to object on this point, I proceeded to search for my handkerchief to wipe off the unpleasant topic of our altercation, when, to my still further dismay, my hand, in its progress to my pocket, popped into the mouth of the calf, who, mistaking it for the accustomed fist of Miss Molly O’Shea, began to suck it with the most indefatigable perseverance. From this last and most alarming dilemma I at length extricated myself, and having in vain offered some pecuniary remuneration for my entertainment, I departed with a high sense of the hospitality of my hosts, and with genuine concern that they were not better accommodated.

Since this occurrence, I have spoken frequently and strongly to some of the few Irish Proprietors who have real feeling on this interesting subject, and they have promised me to do what they can towards the amendment of cottage building; and putting from humanity out of the question, I conceive it to be strongly and decidedly their interest to promote such an improvement. From the encreased extension of our agriculture, the race of labourers are becoming daily objects of the most important and increasing care; and when it is considered how materially their health and strength depend upon the comfort and cleanliness of their habitations, those who have the means and opportunity will surely spare no effort in promoting the well-being of their workmen, by attention to those essential particulars.

I am, Sir, your humble servant, TT

Morning Chronicle 18 September 1812. Apart from a reference to guinea-pigs in a parlour, this is the earliest use of the phrase “pig[s] in the parlour” found in the invaluable online British Newspaper Archive on 3 March 2016. The British Newspaper Archive is run by Findmypast Newspaper Archive Limited, in partnership with the British Library.

Tralee Ship Canal

The principal export trade of Tralee is in grain, cattle, and pork; they are sent to Cork by land. The harbour is exceedingly bad and dangerous, and, at the time of my visit, a ship-canal was in process of cutting from the bay. By some men of intelligence and experience, a railway was considered preferable.[1]

[1] Jonathan Binns The Miseries and Beauties of Ireland Longman, Orme, Brown and Co, London 1837

Waterways Ireland draft heritage plan

Boogie on over to the WI website for a copy of the WI draft heritage plan, and send WI your comments by 6 November 2015.

WI staff have put a lot of work into this and consulted various people, including me. I argued for a more activist approach, with more history and less about communities, and I would have let the twitchers and other nature-lovers look after themselves and their little feathered friends …

Birds hijacking facility at Athlone intended for (and paid for by) humans

Freeloading birds hijacking facility at Athlone intended for (and paid for by) humans. And who’s going to have to pay for cleaning it? Humans, that’s who. Human rights, that’s what we need …

… but I quite appreciate that Waterways Ireland has to be polite to all these people and can’t disobey the law, no matter how insane the legislation is.

But I digress. Get some comments in, preferably plugging industrial and transport heritage and economic history.

Hamilton Lock

Victoria (Meelick) and Hamilton Locks (OSI ~1900)

Victoria (Meelick) and Hamilton Locks (OSI ~1900)

Lord Dunkellin: Do you know the Victoria lock at Meelick?

Sir Richard Griffith: I do.

Victoria Lock, Meelick

Victoria Lock, Meelick

Dunkellin: Do you know what is called the Old Cut, the old canal?

Griffith: Yes.

Dunkellin: The Victoria lock is a new work, is it not?

Griffith: It is.

Dunkellin: Should you be surprised to hear that vessels do not use that frequently, but go by the old cut?

Griffith: In times of very high flood I am aware that the canal boats find it advisable and beneficial to go by the Hamilton lock, on the old cut, in preference to the other.

Dunkellin: Prima facie, one would have thought that a new work like the Victoria lock would have the effect of regulating the state of things?

Griffith: It arises from the Counsellers’ Ford, as it is called, above Meelick; it has not been sufficiently excavated, and there is a strong current, and the boats are not able to get up to it in times of high flood.

Dunkellin: Then the boats made use of the old canal instead of the new lock?

Griffith: Under those peculiar circumstances they did.

Evidence of Sir Richard Griffith to the Select Committee on the Shannon River 12 June 1865

My OSI logo and permit number for website

WI and oral history

I learn from the Heritage Council that Waterways Ireland is seeking tenders for a pilot oral history project. The winner is to

  • Undertake a minimum of 3 interviews per waterway under our jurisdiction (see list above in Introduction). Any interviews relating to the Ulster Canal will be included as part of the Lough Erne Collection for the purposes of this pilot project. […] The interview questionnaire (to be agreed with Waterways Ireland) should endeavour to elicit material that adds to our existing archive, would be beneficial in our schools education programme and used in a broader promotion capacity.

  • Devise an oral history handbook for Waterways Ireland so staff members and community groups can advance this project in years to come.

  • Deliver training on best practices and guidelines in oral history interview skills and techniques. All training to be delivered in Waterways Ireland offices.

This is very interesting for several reasons. Let me get two quibbles out of the way first:

  • Why is the Clones Sheugh treated as part of the Erne? And why mention that specifically? What sensitivity is being addressed here?
  • Why is this tender not mentioned on WI’s Tenders page or the Current tenders page to which it links or anywhere else that the WI search engine can find?

I think there are four important points about this.

First, it is good that WI is devoting resources to the collection of oral history.

Second, it is good that it has applications in mind for the material: it may be used both in WI educational programmes and in marketing.

Third, the requirement for a training programme and a handbook is yet more evidence [on top of Éanna Rowe’s appointment to manage the Shannon] that the balance of skills required within Waterways Ireland nowadays is different from that of the past. While engineering will always be important, given the extent of the waterways infrastructure that has to be maintained, WI needs a higher proportion of people engaging with users, potential users and communities or devising product variants to attract such users. The marketing department can’t do all the work by itself.

Fourth, it is good that “community groups” as well as “staff members” will be able to use the oral history handbook. I hope that the term “community groups” won’t be interpreted too strictly — that individual amateur historians, for example, will be able to use the handbook — so that all waterways oral history can follow a common format, that the records are conserved properly and that the appropriate consents to the use of the material are collected at the time of the interview.

I should perhaps make a declaration of non-interest: I am much occupied with the waterways of the early nineteenth century but have not, so far, found any survivors from that time whom I could interview. But I might, perhaps, be allowed to express the hope that WI won’t altogether neglect such earlier history, about which there is much yet to be learned.


Chains at the Black Bridge

It seems that the city edition of the Limerick Leader dated Saturday May 16 2015 carries a story saying that funding has been approved for the repair of the Black Bridge at Plassey. I can’t find the story on the Leader‘s website and I can’t find anything about it anywhere else [there is a limit to the amount of my life I am willing to spend trying to find anything on the Limerick Council website] except on the Leader‘s FaceTweet page, where I can expand the city edition front page.

There is a photo of several councillors, which of course is wonderful: no day is wasted if it offers an opportunity of looking at a photo of local councillors, especially important ones with chains.

From what I can read of the text, it seems that “councillors in City East” [which is not one of the Limerick districts listed here] are willing to spend €50,000 “to start work to make the walkway safe again”. And they hope that Clare County Council, the University of Limerick and Waterways Ireland will “also row in behind the project”.

Now, half a loaf is better than no bread, and €50,000 is better than a poke in the eye from a blind horse, but it’s not going to go very far towards the cost of repairing the Black Bridge. I don’t known whether it would even cover the cost of a full survey.

I’m sure that Waterways Ireland would be delighted to help, if the Department of Fairytales hadn’t raided its coffers to pay for Saunderson’s Sheugh. I have reason to believe that the university was willing to help — and that Clare County Council was not. I submitted a Freedom of Information request to the university, asking it for [recent] records relating to the Black Bridge. The university gave me three extracts from meetings of the Limerick Smarter Travel Steering Group:

9 January 2013
Funding not in place for Black Bridge

21 November 2013
Black Bridge: UL indicated that funding may be available from UL. LST [Limerick Smarter Travel] has indicated funding in the order of €100,000. UL may be able to mach [sic] this. Request for funding to be made formally to UL by LCCC and to include surveys and reports on bridge to date.

18 September 2014
RR said UL have set aside €100,000 towards Black bridge refurbishment but will need matched funding from LA [presumably local authority]. Black bridge will require a detailed study to identify what repair work will need to be carried out, also an AA study will be required, and proper consents from ABP [An Bord Pleanála?]. Funding currently not available from LA.
PON spoke to Clare Co Co. No funding available from them.
PC Department will not fund a pedestrian bridge.
RR can we look for alternative funding options, UL will ring fence for the moment.

An AA study is, I think, an Appropriate Assessment, a sort of employment creation scheme for bird-watchers who can read European directives [and sooner them than me].

The point to be remembered here is that Limerick County Council leased the bridge and undertook to keep it in repair; there is no obligation on Waterways Ireland, Clare County Council or the University of Limerick to spend a penny on it. The two parties on whom lies the responsibility for repairing the bridge are the Limerick Council and the Department of Finance, which latter has the power, under the lease, to do the work and charge it to the council. That would be a better use of its time and money than an unnecessary and intrusive footbridge in the middle of Limerick.

Riverfest in Limerick

Riverfest is an annual, er, happening in Limerick. I don’t know much about it: I’ve never been because I dislike both crowds and festivals and it would take something remarkably interesting to outweigh my dislike and persuade me to attend any part of the thing. I took notice of this year’s event only because I wanted to find out what streets would be closed to traffic; the festival organisers did not, alas, think to provide a map showing the closures.

I have only two other comments on the event:

  • the brochure [PDF] mentions a workshop called “Craft a River” but doesn’t say what, or indeed where, it is
  • in a city whose history is so intertwined with that of the food industry, and which has, in the Milk Market, the best Irish market outside Cork, it seems ludicrous to import a “continental market” instead of showcasing local producers.

But I acknowledge that I am not really entitled to comment; Brian Leddin, on the other hand, has a better informed view.

The industrial heritage of Mullingar …

in song.