Omer and Ockenden

Now, as Ireland lies, incomparably, more obvious to the Intercourse of the World, and may also open many Thorough-fares, from Sea to Sea, for an inland Navigation, of which China is not capable. Thus circumstanced, I say, with tenfold the Advantages that China can boast, what can hinder her from attaining, at least, an equal Prosperity?

This Prospect, God be praised, is now opened to our View. The Navigation, so desirable, hath, for several Years, employed the Heads, and lain at the Hearts of the Well-wishers of Ireland.

After some Attempts, near our Coasts, or by narrow Channels, an Undertaking hath lately been enterprized of opening a Canal for Vessels of a hundred and fifty Tun Burthen, from Dublin to the Shannon, and from thence to the Sea, by Limeric. And this stupendous Work was originally projected, and is now actually brought into Agitation and Effect, by a Patriot Name that will be reverable to our Posterity.

The Diffidence, or rather Despair, that has been generally conceived of the Success of this Undertaking, is not to be wondered at.

A few Adventures of the like Nature had formerly been made, and large Hopes conceived thereof, and larger Sums expended thereon; but, through some unlucky Defects, in Point of Capacity, or Probity, the Expectations of the Public were wholly defeated.

From these Disappointments People were taught to fear and surmize that the like would at all Times ensue. That similary Causes would for ever entail a Train of unhappy Effects on Ireland, and her public Funds be converted into Jobb and private Property.

To prevent the Evils apprehended, our Commissioners inquired, abroad, for Persons already skilled and experienced in such Matters, and most approved for their Capacity and Integrity in the Execution; and, accordingly, in the Years 1755 and 1756, Mr Omer and Mr Ockenden were called over to this Kingdom.

Within this very small Term, the Navigation of several of our Rivers, as well as that of the Grand Canal, has commenced and been carried on with a Success and Rapidity that is admirable and still encreasing.

Mr Ockenden, on the Black-water, has cleared one Mile of River and compleated upwards of three Miles of Canal, making four Miles of Navigation, within which He has finished two double Locks of wrought Marble 160 Feet in Length from the upper to the lower Gates.

On the River Nore Mr Ockenden has also compleated a Navigation of near five Miles from Kilkenny down to Bennet’s-Bridge, in which He has built a Stone Aquaeduct that conveys a Stream under the Canal, as also three Guard-Locks, and five Double-Locks of wrought Marble and of the same Dimensions with those on the Blackwater, the Gates, when open being 21 Feet wide, and capable of receiving Vessels of 200 Ton Burden.

On the Shannon near Limeric, Mr Ockenden met with Difficulties that required extraordinary Address, Ingenuity, and Perseverance to conquer. A large Bog of 40 Feet in Depth from the Summit to the Bottom of the Canal, which, however, he has already reduced to a Depth of about 25 Feet, and, thereby, rendered it practicable beyond all Doubt. Add to this, a Morass covered with Water every Spring-Tide, and, a Hill 30 Feet in Depth, partly composed of solid Marble, not to be moved but by the Force of Gun-Powder.

Notwithstanding these Obstacles, at first judged insurmountable, he has cut a Mile of Canal through the said Morass and Hill, whereby, he has obtained Three Miles of Navigation; and, under the City where the Canal joins the Tide-water of the Shannon, he has built a large single Lock of wrought Marble 30 Feet in Height from the Foundation to the Top of the Walls, during which Operation, he was obliged to bay out a Head of Water which, at the Rise of the Tide, was 23 Feet in Depth.

Before the Year 1756, Mr Omer began his first Lock at Banagher, of a Firmness and Model till then unknown in this Kingdom. Since that Time, he has compleated Five Locks on the Shannon, and, thereby, opened an uninterrupted Navigation of 60 Miles in Length.

Before Mr Omer came over, an impotent Undertaking had been long carried on toward making the Boyne navigable from Drogheda to Trim, but, all the Locks proved insufficient, and the Channels too narrow for Boats of any Burden. As Mr Omer proceeds, he is obliged to undo the former Works, and, in about 3 Years he has compleated 10 Locks, beside several Guard Gates between Drogheda and Trim, and opened a Navigation of about 16 Miles.

On the River Lagan, within the same Term, He has also finished 8 Locks of hewen Stone, and compleated a Navigation of about 6 Miles between Belfast and Lisburn.

The Grand Canal was generally affirmed to be impracticable for several Reasons; first, on Account of the Rocks of Clondalken near Dublin; 2dly, of the long Hills of Sallens and Downings; and 3dly, of the high Quaggs of the Bog of Allen, the very Attempt of which was laughed at as absurd and ridiculous.

To remove these Objections, Mr Omer, in May 1757, first opened the Line through a Part of the Bog, where a Bird could scarce have Footing; where the Labourers, who stood on Planks, were in frequent Danger of being swallowed up; and, where I have seen Poles to a Depth of near 40 Feet run down as through Water. This, however, he effectually reduced, within a few Months, by Machines of a new Contrivance, that carried Stuff of two Ton Weight over quaggy or uneven Ground where no other Carriage could pass, as also by Means of several parallel Lines and a Number of small Cuts perpendicular thereto, and the said Quagg now stands as firm and as even as a Wall.

In the following Winter, He cut through the Rocks of Clondalken; and he has, since, carried Works of a stupendous Capacity through the forementioned Hills, for the Bottoming of which a Machine, of a new though simple Invention, has been also contrived and approved, whereby a Man can easily raise and carry off, from any given Depth, double the Weight that he can move on level Ground by any other Carriage in Use or yet known; which Machine would undoubtedly prove of infinate Advantage, in deep Quarries, in raising Stones of the greatest Size to the highest Buildings, in loading and unloading Ships, and in the conveying of heavy Commodities to Upper-Warehouses, &c,

Independent of the said Works, whereby all Doubt of the Practicability of this great Undertaking is clearly removed, Mr Omer has nearly compleated Nine Miles of uninterrupted Navigation, between Dublin and the Liffey, whereon he has erected Four Bridges and built many single, double, and treble Aquaeducts, for the duscharging of Under-Water, all of the most durable and beautiful Structure; insomuch, that what he has done, in little more than Two Years, on the grand Canal, may be estimated at least tantamount to 18 Miles of finished Navigation.

It is amazing that, in so very short a Term as Three Years, a Term scarce sufficient for the Commencement and Entrance on such prodigious Enterprises, that Two Men, I say, in this small Space, should nearly compleat a Navigation of One Hundred and Twenty Miles through the Body of this Kingdom, with the due Appendages of Locks, Bridges, and Aquaeducts, whose durable Beauty must attest the Skill of the Operators to the End of Time, and all this, I repeat it, with less Money than was formerly expended, in this Way, on a few insignificant and fruitless Attempts.

Should these Men persevere, for a few Years more, with the same Spirit and Success, They will be Instruments in the Hands of our Parliament and Commissioners for doing the greatest of all Human Works, that of MAKING A GREAT OF A LITTLE NATION, they will thereby intitle themselves to a National Acknowledgement, and the Names of OMER and OCKENDEN will be honourable to our Posterity.

Extracted from Henry Brooke The Interests of Ireland considered, stated, and recommended, particularly with Respect to Inland Navigation Dublin 1759

More on Brooke here and here

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