Tag Archives: canal boat

Canal Boat No 279

There is a mystery about Canal Boat No 279, which sank in the entrance to Spencer Dock, on the Royal Canal, in December 1873. Actually, there are several mysteries, and readers’ comments, information and suggestions would be welcome. Read the story here.

Canal boat sunk on the Liffey

In a comment here I wondered what a canal boat was doing as far up the Liffey as Grattan Bridge in 1873. Here is a report from the Freeman’s Journal of 10 March 1875 that may provide a possible explanation.

THE LATE WRECK IN THE RIVER LIFFEY:— The porter-laden canal boat which was swamped on Monday by being borne by the flood in the river against the southern abutments, at the western side of Grattan-bridge, still remains in the place where she sank. Though she came with great force against the structure, she did not inflict the slightest injury upon it. Measures will be at once taken for floating the sunken vessel, which does not in any way interfere with the river traffic, as the centre arches are quite clear. All the porter which was on board the canal boat when she went down has been secured.

Remember that Guinness built its wharf on the Liffey in 1873 but did not start building its own fleet of barges for the Liffey until 1877. It did, however, have “a few small tugs” that were used to draw laden boats.

Guinness had easy access to the Grand Canal Harbour at James’s Street, so it seems unlikely to me that Grand Canal boats would risk the Liffey passage to supply pubs along the Grand, the Barrow and the lower Shannon. It therefore seems more likely that the boats were either Royal Canal boats or were being used to supply ships in the port.

Grand Canal: propulsion

This is a point that I do not recall seeing before. It arises in a short report from the Freeman’s Journal of 17 July 1876.

SAVED FROM DROWNING. — On Saturday evening a man named Patrick Fitzsimons, while employed with others in getting a canal boat through the lock of the Portobello-bridge, fell into the basin and sank. He rose to the surface in about a minute, and was apparently exhausted, for, after a vain attempt to hold on by the projecting ledge of the boat, he went down again. There now seemed to be great danger of the man’s life being lost, but some of his companions held out one of their long “sweep” oars towards the place where he sank, and when he came up the third time he succeeded in grasping the oar and holding on till he was taken out of the water. He was then in a very weak state, and it appeared very plainly that when he fell into the basin he was not in the best condition to protect himself from accident.

I suspect that the last phrase means that he was drunk. But what is more interesting, at least to me, is that a canal boat was equipped with oars. I do not recall having read that anywhere. But we know little about the design, equipment and operation of nineteenth century canal boats. Oars would certainly be useful for moving around basins and on rivers like the Liffey, but how were the oars pivoted and how many men did it take to row a loaded canal boat?

Steam on the Grand Canal 1877

Freeman’s Journal 25 April 1877


Yesterday Henry L Harty, Esq, county coroner, held an inquest on the body of Patrick Savage, aged 75, who was found drowned in the Grand Canal at Portobello on Monday. The jury found that deceased was found drowned, having a fracture of the skull and jaw, and four ribs; but there was no evidence to show how the injuries were caused. One of the witnesses, named James Rea, of Reilly’s Cottages, Clanbrassil-street, said that previous to his seeing the body floating, a canal boat passed down the canal, and also a small steamer. This, the coroner said, might have caused the injuries.

Old boats

I’ve set up a new page on which I intend to collect pics showing older Irish inland (and estuarial) working boats. I’ve started it off with a copy of the posting (below) about Portobello and a photo of a yawl at Clonmel; this is a page that will have material added as I come across it.