Category Archives: Tourism

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.

 

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 Traveller’s Map of the River Shannon (1830)

The Traveller’s Map of the River Shannon. Arranged as a Guide to its Lakes and the Several Towns, Gentlemens’ Seats, Ancient Castles, Ruins, Mines, Quarries, Trading Stations, and General Scenery on Its Banks, Source in Lough Allen to the Sea, Leitrim, Longford, Roscommon, Westmeath, King’s County, Tipperary, Galway, Limerick, Kerry and Clare, Accurately Taken from the Survey made by J. Grantham, by order of the Irish Government, under the direction of the late J. Rennie. Printed and published for the Irish Inland Steam Navigation Company, 1830.

Oblong folio, 15 numbered maps printed in black with river and water features coloured in light blue. Original quarter calf green cloth boards, russet title to centre of upper boards, stamped in gilt with gilt fillet boarder. Repair to rear of plate 15, otherwise all maps in very good to fine condition.

Contents: 1. Map of Ireland, 2. Index Map. Lough Derg to the sea, 3. Index Map. Lough Derg to Lough Allen., 4. Kilrush to Tarbert and Foynes Island, 5. Foynes Island to Grass Island, 6. Grass Island to Limerick and O’Brien’s Bridge. 7. O’Briens Bridge to Killaloe and Dromineer. 8. Dromineer to Portumna and Redwood Castle. 9. Redwood Castle to Banagher, and Seven [Churches (Clonmacnoise)], 10. Seven Churches to Athlone and Lough Ree, 11. Lough Ree to Lough Forbes. 12 Lough Forbes to near Leitrim. 13. Leitrim to Head of Lough Allen. 14. map of Limerick, 15. Map of Killaloe.

Map 1 shows Ireland and its waterways at scale of 1″ equals 20 miles, Maps 2 and 3 show the key for 4-13, with table of falls of water along the route on former and table of distances on latter; Maps 4-14 each have a short descriptive panel; Map 14 shows Limerick from the north of King’s Island to the New Barrack in the south with key Map 15 from the town at left to Beal Boru at right.

Yours for only €1800 at Ulysses Rare Books in Dublin.

Manby, Napier, Oldham, Williams, Grantham

Here is a piece about the Aaron Manby, the first iron steamer to make a sea voyage, and its links to Irish inland waterways transport.

The piece was first published in the rally magazine of the Inland Waterways Association of Ireland Lough Derg Branch in July 2017.

Handsacrosstheborderism

I see from the blatts that there are

Fears over future of Narrow Water bridge project

and that

Planning permission for development at Carlingford Lough due to expire in October.

This is encouraging: I hope that the planning permission will be allowed to expire, unmourned by anyone, and that the project will be buried at the crossroads with a stake through its heart.

Like the Clones Sheugh, this scheme put symbolism over practicality and usefulness. It would require motorists from the south to drive to the middle of nowhere to cross the Newry River, when what is needed is an eastern bypass of Newry. Those living towards the eastern end of Carlingford Lough would be better served by a ferry, and I see that such a service is now proposed, to run between Greenore and Greencastle.

The only possible justification for the proposed bridge would be to build it without access roads, name it Garvaghy Road and allow — nay, sentence — Orange Order members to march up and down it in perpetuity.

 

The Lady of the Shannon

Folk interested in early steam transport in Ireland may wish to know that the latest issue [Vol 41] of The Other Clare, journal of the Shannon Archaeological & Historical Society, has an article, “Mr Paterson’s steamer”, about the Lady of the Shannon, the steamer built on the Clyde in 1816 for James Paterson of Kilrush.

While the steamer and its operations are well known (see for instance the page by Senan Scanlan on the Clare County Library site), a lack of contextual information has meant that the scale of Paterson’s achievement is not widely appreciated. His steam boat was built only four years after PS Comet, Europe’s first commercially viable steamer, began operations on the Clyde. Paterson, who built baths at Kilrush at the same time as he acquired his steamer, may have intended to imitate Henry Bell’s operations.

At the time, most steamers operated on rivers and estuaries, but some undertook longer delivery voyages to new areas of operation in Britain and Europe. But Paterson’s may have been the first to brave the rigours of the Atlantic: it probably travelled west off Ireland’s north coast, and then down the west coast to the Shannon. Ensuring that coal was available along the way must have required a good deal of planning.

Commercially, Paterson’s steamer was not a long-term success, and the possible reasons for its failure are explored briefly in the article.

The Shannon Archaeological & Historical Society does not itself appear to sell its journal online; Scéal Eile Books in Ennis may be able to supply it by post, as may the Celtic Bookshop in Limerick.

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.

Scarriff

Both the OSI and Logainm.ie show the spelling as Scarriff, but the version with one R seems to be common in the area and is used on the area’s website. I’m sticking to the longer version, so that I can at some future time work up a joke about Scaelbowiff.

Scarriff is a small town in County Clare, a little distance upriver from the end of Lough Derg’s western arm.

Lough Derg’s western arm (OSI ~1900)

In the 1840s the Shannon Commissioners made the river navigable to the town: before then Reddan’s Pier at Tuamgraney seems to have been the head of the river, at least for larger boats.

Reddan’s Quay at Tuamgraney (aka Tomgraney) (OSI ~1900)

Tuamgraney is a pleasant spot. A short distance up the road to the village is a restored limekiln.

However, Reddan’s Quay is on a bloody awful bend in the river. Large boats may have difficulty in making the turn without assistance, especially if they’re coming downstream with a flow. Anyone moored at Reddan’s Quay in such circumstances might need a new paint job afterwards.

Scarriff Harbour (OSI ~1900)

 

harbour facilities

Scarriff Harbour was expanded in recent times by the addition of concrete finger jetties, which provide more mooring spaces for modern cruisers. The jetties don’t touch the old quay: I gather that this was to preserve the ancient monument or something [perhaps, Gentle Reader, you can correct me on that]. The quay still sports a Shannon Commissioners crane (no longer working) . Two long berths were provided during the expansion: half of one long berth is occupied by a boat (one of three such) that was not occupied last weekend and the other is the pump-out berth.

At the inner end of the harbour are some floating pontoons suitable for open boats and for launching kayaks and canoes. However, despite the presence of a lock-up cage for the safe storage of kayaks and canoes, indicating that small-boat activity is welcome, low barriers (only 1.8m) at the entrance to the harbour require those arriving by car to unload the kayak or canoe outside the harbour and carry it in, then return to drive the car in and unload the vessel’s equipment and cargo.

There is no slipway.

The barriers might deter camper-vans, alas: another example of discrimination against RV-users.

The harbour has a toilet-and-shower block, a pump-out, two double-socket mains electricity pillars, lights and a supply of water, which latter is used by persons arriving by car with numbers of plastic containers.

However, the harbour has not a single bin of any kind. Thus, late-evening carousers are forced to jettison their empty bottles and cans and their cardboard containers around the harbour, smashing some on the concrete in the process. A civic-minded citizen might try to sweep up the broken glass but then has nowhere to put it. [Incidentally, the carousers had left by about midnight and there was none of the threatening atmosphere that is sometimes to be felt: apart from their regrettable habits in the matter of rubbish disposal, these seemed to be quite civilised carousers.]

But back to bins. A civic-minded dog-owner who cleans up after Fido must then carry the remains around. In hot weather, dog poo on a boat begins to smell after a while; any outbreaks of cholera can be attributed to what Waterways Ireland calls its “Leave no trace” policy, which might better be termed “Pay no local authority bin charges”. As a policy, “Leave no trace” is simply an encouragement to dog-owners not to clean up: it’s far, far less trouble to leave the stuff for someone else to walk in.

The exiles

In 1997 Síle de Valera, a local TD, became Minister for Fairytales. Waterways Ireland was set up during her reign and cursed by being given several regional offices; the Western region (ie Shannon) office was built at the harbour in Scarriff, in Ms de Valera’s constituency, and some unfortunate staff were sentenced to transportation to East Clare.

However, with a high population of yoghurt-knitting yurt-dwellers, East Clare is quite an interesting place. The Friday smallholders’ market had lots of good breads and cakes, jams, preserves and mushroom salt, as well as a stock of African decorative items. The fruit and veg shop on the same side of the road had a good range, while across the way the Graney sells healthfoods, veg, good cheeses, chocolate and much other stuff. No doubt other shops in Scarriff are equally good in their own fields, but I didn’t get to visit them.

Boats

On a sunny weekend (and no doubt at other times too) Scarriff was an extremely pleasant place to be, yet there were very few boats there (apart from the three unoccupied boats). [In the next photo, taken early on Friday, the unoccupied boats are out of shot to the left.] One occupied boat left at lunchtime on Friday when we arrived; one more came later, so there were two occupied boats in the harbour that night.

Saturday was slightly busier: the boat that had arrived on Friday left, but two other private boats arrived and, between 2230 and 2245, two large Emerald Star hire boats arrived too, making five occupied boats in the harbour.

Some small boats, mostly of the zoomy variety, visited briefly on Saturday. I realise that drivers may find it exciting to travel fast on a narrow, winding river where they can’t see what’s coming, but paddlers of canoes and kayaks may find less amusement in dealing with the wash from the speedsters. They in turn might find it less amusing were they to collide with 45 tons of steel coming downriver. Perhaps purchasers of fast boats should be required to demonstrate the possession of IQs in at least double figures before being allowed to take the wheel.

Scarriff June 2017

 

 

Make more use of Scarriff

The small numbers of boats made it seem that a fine facility was being wasted (although it is dangerous to make generalisations on the basis of a single visit). It also seemed that local people made little use of the facility: I saw two anglers, a few dog- or baby-walkers and one or two others.

Here are some (cheap-to-implement, I hope) suggestions to bring more life to the harbour by encouraging both residents and visitors to use it.

  1. Encourage camper-vans. At weekends, they could use the Waterways Ireland staff car park (which had only two cars in it over the weekend). The office has cameras watching it; one or two could be redirected to monitor the vans.
  2. Encourage canoeists and kayakers. Sell them special smart cards (or something) that would allow them to open the barriers to get closer to the launch pontoons. If there isn’t a local canoe club, encourage one.
  3. Encourage camping.
  4. Build a basketball court or a play area or something for local young people (and visitors).
  5. Provide barbeque facilities, seats and tables.
  6. Provide bins. Perhaps the local off-licence might sponsor them.
  7. Encourage local businesses and activity-providers to advertise their wares and happenings at the harbour.
  8. Persuade the operators of the Scariff.ie website to do more to encourage boat-borne visitors. As it stands, the site doesn’t even acknowledge that you can get there by boat. And [at time of writing] it has no information about a 2017 Scarriff Harbour Festival; I don’t know whether there is to be one.
  9. Improve the chart of the river: it’s too small to provide useful warning of the twists and turns.

On the same weekend, Dromineer seemed to be packed with boats and with non-boat people; Scarriff didn’t have many of either, and it seems a pity.

Giving confidence to our Lady friends

The water has also been kept at a proper level by lowering the river bar at Galway, and constructing a regulating weir there. At some time the navigation channel in the narrow rocky portions of the lake was deepened, the rocks raised; and by buoying and marking with pillars, rocks, and irons, the steamer’s track, it has been rendered navigable from Galway to Cong, and also to Oughterard, and to within a couple of miles of Maam hotel.

All the marks on the eastern side of our upward course from Galway are coloured white, and those on the western side dark.

It will help to give confidence to our Lady friends, who can almost touch some of these marks, triangles, and gridirons, from the Eglinton, to know that all these rocks were lifted by the present captain of the vessel, who was formerly employed here as a diver.

Sir William R Wilde MD Lough Corrib, its shores and islands: with notices of Lough Mask McGlashan & Gill, Dublin; Longmans, Green, and Co, London 1867