Folk seeking a historic voyage to emulate might consider that of five Kerry youths in 1844, who wanted to visit Daniel O’Connell while he was imprisoned in Dublin. The story is told by Catherine M O’Connell in her Excursions in Ireland during 1844 and 1850. With a visit to the late Daniel O’Connell MP (Richard Bentley, London 1852). She herself went to visit him and met the Kerry youths in prison.
Among the guests were five young lads whose story interested me greatly; they were from Mr O’Connell’s native county, Kerry, and two of them, remarkably fine youths, were the sons of an eminent physician in Tralee, a staunch repealer and a Protestant.
They loved O’Connell; they lamented his imprisonment, and with the frank fresh feeling of youth, they longed to show they sympathized in the wrong that had been done him; they would visit him, but how? the journey was a long and an expensive one.
Happy, courageous youth! not to be easily daunted. They possessed a boat, and in it they actually accomplished a visit to Dublin; it was a small four-oared gig, and manned by the five boys, left Blennerville, a seaport, a short distance from Tralee, came down Tralee bay, and across a very rough sea round Kerry-head to the Shannon; up the Shannon by Limerick, through Lough Derg, and to the junction of the Grand Canal, and by this canal to Dublin. And their honest, boyish love met a most kind, affectionate return from their imprisoned countryman. They had rowed nearly 200 miles to see him.
Bill Jehan, who runs the superb Blennerhassett Family Tree website, confirms that the “eminent physician” was Henry Blennerhassett MD. He says:
Rowland and Aremberg Blennerhassett [two of Henry’s seven sons] were leaders of a group of Tralee boys who on 29 June 1844 left Blennerville Quay to row the Colleen Dhas, a 24ft boat, to Dublin via the River Shannon and Grand Canal, to visit their hero Dan O’Connell in Richmond Goal. Brothers Thomas and Townsend Blennerhassett joined them for the final stage of the journey. The voyage took them a week but on arrival at Dublin the boys were invited by Dan O’Connell to dinner, inside the prison. In November that same year, following his release, Dan O’Connell visited Tralee where a parade was organized in his honour. At the head of the procession was carried their boat, the Colleen Dhas.
Some other connections between Daniel O’Connell and canals are discussed here.