Tag Archives: Cong

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

The navigation of Lough Mask

TO BE SOLD, the large well grown Woods standing on the following Lands, viz Tourmacady, Cappaghduff, Drimcoggy, Gortmuncullen, Deryviny, and Cullentragh, consisting principally of well grown Oak fit for any Use, and partly of Sally, Ash, Birch, and Alder, on the Banks of the Lake called Lough Mask, which is navigable to Cong, within a mile of Lough Corrib, a navigable River to Galway; said Woods are very convenient to and near several Iron Works in the County of Mayo, and as they are distant from each other they will be Sold separately, if required. Proposals for said Woods to be received by Sir Henry Lynch, Bart, at Castlecarra, or by Robert Lynch Blosse Esq in Tuam.

Pue’s Occurrences 10 July 1756 from the
British Newspaper Archive

From the BNA

Where do correct ideas come from?

Where do correct ideas come from? Do they drop from the skies? No. Are they innate in the mind? No. They come from social practice, and from it alone; they come from three kinds of social practice, the struggle for production, the class struggle and scientific experiment.

Readers will not, I am sure, need to be reminded that those are the words of the late Comrade Mao Tse-tung [or Mao Zedong, as the younger comrades say] in the Draft Decision of the Central Committee of the Chinese Communist Party on Certain Problems in Our Present Rural Work of May 1963.

Maurice Semple, in By the Corribside [self-published, 1981], lists writers who, from 1868 onwards, agreed with the view of the Cong Canal expressed by Sir William Wilde:

[…] for it was discovered, that like many other undertakings, the great canal at Cong “would not hold water.”

Those writers’ view is echoed by local people, and even by engineers, to the present day. Their case is, in effect, that the Board of Works engineers did not know what they were doing or did not properly survey the ground and were therefore surprised to find, on admitting water to the bed of the canal, that it vanished into sinkholes or swallow-holes in the karst.

One oddity about that belief is that the Cong Canal does actually hold water: it is full in winter, as the photos on this page, taken in February 2013, clearly show. It is empty in summer, but that is because water is unable to get in at the upper end, not (I suggest) because it flows out through the bottom.

What interests me at the moment is that I can find no evidence to support Wilde’s contention. Samuel Roberts, the engineer in charge of the work, knew that the work would be difficult but there is no hint in any of his annual reports that he feared that the difficulties might be insuperable. Furthermore, it is clear from his own reports and from other evidence that he was ordered to cease work on the navigation aspects of the canal before it was finished: there was never a moment when water was admitted to a completed navigation canal.

I have not been able to find any report from the 1850s in the Freeman’s Journal, the Cork Examiner, the Dublin Evening Mail or the Belfast News-Letter, or in any British newspaper, that supports William Wilde’s account of events. What, then, is its basis?

Of course my inability to find evidence does not mean that it doesn’t exist, but I would be grateful if anyone could point me towards it. I should say that I do not regard later accounts, like Wilde’s, as valid unless they include some evidence from 1854, the year of which Roberts wrote

The masonry in the Cong lock was commenced in March, and was progressing rapidly when I received instructions from the Board, in April, to suspend the execution of all navigation works in this division of the district, and complete only such as were necessary for the regulation of the waters of Lough Mask, for drainage purposes.

What I am looking for is an eyewitness, an official or some other reliable account, from 1854, that says “the canal was completed; water was let in; it vanished, to the surprise of the engineers”. If no such account exists, I may be forced to conclude that Wilde’s style of work is opposed to the fundamental spirit of Marxism-Leninism. As the Great Helmsman put it in the Little Red Book:

To behave like “a blindfolded man catching sparrows”, or “a blind man groping for fish”, to be crude and careless, to indulge in verbiage, to rest content with a smattering of knowledge — such is the extremely bad style of work that still exists among many comrades in our Party, a style utterly opposed to the fundamental spirit of Marxism-Leninism. Marx, Engels, Lenin and Stalin have taught us that it is necessary to study conditions conscientiously and to proceed from objective reality and not from subjective wishes; but many of our comrades act in direct violation of this truth.


The abandonment of the Cong Canal

I am speaking tomorrow, 23 August 2014, at Lough Mask School House’s Heritage Day about the history of the Cong Canal.

Apart from an overview of the initial proposal, the construction and the current state of the canal, I intend to present what I think is an entirely new explanation for its abandonment before completion. At least, it’s an explanation that I have not seen published elsewhere.


The visit of Her late Majesty Victoria, by the Grace of God of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland Queen, to Messrs Guinness in Dublin in 1900 [h/t Adrian Padfield]. It is not known whether Her late Majesty was forced to drink a pint of Guinness. And here is a less dramatic day at the Guinness wharf.

Pics of Cong here and here; no date given.

Canal carrying 1846: the Grand Canal

Isaac Slater’s Directory[i] of 1846 lists those carrying goods on inland waterways. Most of the carriers on the Grand Canal, which runs from Dublin to the River Shannon with various branches, claim to serve a modest number of places, but Thomas Berry & Co have a very lengthy list. So long is their list that it will require two maps to show all the places they served, with a third map for the rest of the carriers.

Note that the maps are from the 25″ Ordnance Survey map of around 1900 rather than the 6″ of around 1840: I used it because it was clearer, but it shows features (eg railway lines) that were not present in 1846.

There may be some cases where I have misidentified a destination; I would be grateful to have my attention drawn to such cases.

Click on a map to get a slightly larger version.

Thomas Berry & Co

Thomas Berry & Co midland and south routes

Thomas Berry & Co midland and southern destinations (OSI)

The canal runs from Dublin, at the top right, left (roughly west) through Tullamore to Shannon Harbour, where it meets the river; there was an extension to Ballinasloe on the far side of the Shannon. Berrys served places along the canal and several others fairly close to it, but it looks to me as if there were three routes by road beyond that:

  • via Banagher (which has a bridge across the Shannon) to Eyrecourt and Killimor
  • from Ballinasloe to Loughrea and district and then south-west to Ennis in Co Clare
  • perhaps from Tullamore to Birr [Parsonstown], Roscrea (including Shinrone, Cloughjordan and Borrisokane) and Templemore.

There are also two outliers for which I can think of no plausible explanation: Baltinglass and Wexford. Perhaps their inclusion was a mistake. Certainly Berrys, like John M’Cann & Sons on the Royal Canal, seem to have had extensive road networks (perhaps using car-owning subcontractors?) to supplement their water-borne routes, but I don’t see why they would take on a route no part of which could sensibly have been conducted by inland navigation.

The next map shows the north-western destinations served by Berrys.

Thomas Berry & Co western routes

Thomas Berry & Co north-western destinations (OSI)

You can see that their network covered much of County Roscommon and went almost as far west into County Galway as it was possible to go; it also extended northwards into County Mayo.

I have not attempted to check what industries might have made these towns and villages worth serving. Berrys certainly seemed keen to take as much as possible of the traffic from west of the Shannon towards Dublin — excluding such of it as went by the Royal Canal: it is interesting to compare these maps with that for M’Cann on the Royal.

Finally, note that along the canal itself Berrys listed only destinations towards the western (Shannon Harbour) end: it seems likely that the roads took the valuable traffic from the eastern end into Dublin. There were no doubt turf boats taking fuel in from closer to Dublin, but they were not general carriers.

Other carriers

Now for the rest of the carriers.

Grand Canal carriers 1846 excl Thomas Berry

Grand Canal carriers 1846 excluding Thomas Berry (OSI)

I have included the Shannon here as well as the Grand Canal; however I have covered the Barrow Line of the Grand Canal, as well as the navigable rivers Barrow, Nore and Suir, in a separate post. Of the carriers listed here, only the City of Dublin Steam Packet Company [CoDSPCo] (which employed horses to pull its boats on canals) ventured on to the Barrow Line, serving Portarlington and Mountmellick.

Berrys and the CoDSPCo were by far the largest firms on the Grand. I don’t know the size of the Berrys fleet, but the CoDSPCo had 52 barges in addition to its Shannon (and Irish Sea) steamers. Note that only on the middle Shannon, around the junction with the Grand Canal, and at Ennis did the two firms serve the same destinations: the CoDSPCo seems to have had the lower Shannon trade to itself.

With one exception, all the carriers, including Berrys, had Dublin depots at Grand Canal Harbour, James St; the Grand Canal Docks at Ringsend, joined to the Liffey, were not mentioned.

The exception is Hugh Gallagher, whose only listed destination was Athlone. It would be interesting to know how he served Athlone: whether by road or by water and, in the latter case, whether he used a steamer. I do wonder whether Hugh Gallagher might be the same person as the Hugh Galaghan (also Gallaghan) who served Philipstown [now Daingean], Tullamore and Shannon Harbour.

George Tyrrell is another who is listed with but a single destination, Banagher, whereas James Tyrrell is listed as serving Tickneven, Philipstown, Tullamore — and Edgeworthstown, which must be a mistake as it is closer to the Royal Canal.

Finally, Cornelius Byrne is shown as serving two destinations: Philipstown and Kilbeggan (which has its own branch off the main line of the canal).

Other information

A little extra information is available from the entries for towns other than Dublin in the Directory:

  • Naas has its own branch from the main line of the canal, but the directory says that “TO DUBLIN, there are Boats, as occasion require, but they have no fixed periods of departure.”
  • Edenderry also has its own branch, short and lock-free, but there is no mention of its being served by trade boats
  • Kilbeggan, with a longer, leakier, lock-free branch, was served by the CoDSPCo’s and Thomas Byrne’s boats travelling to Dublin three times a week. Is this Thomas Byrne related to the Cornelius Byrne mentioned above? It seems that Byrne went only eastward for only the CoDSPCo’s boats went westward (to Shannon Harbour, Ballinasloe and Limerick) two or three times a week
  • at Banagher, Fleetwood Thomas Faulkner of Main Street was the CoDSPCo agent; a downstream steamer left Shannon Harbour after the [passenger] boat from Dublin arrived and called at Banagher’s Bridge Wharf; an upstream steamer from Limerick called every afternoon at 3.00pm and met the night boat travelling to Dublin by the Grand Canal. I presume that this happened on every day except Sunday.


As far as I know, little has been written about the carrying companies, especially those of the nineteenth century. I would be glad to hear from anyone who can correct, supplement or comment on this information.

My OSI logo and permit number for website

[i] I Slater’s National Commercial Directory of Ireland: including, in addition to the trades’ lists, alphabetical directories of Dublin, Belfast, Cork and Limerick. To which are added, classified directories of the important English towns of Manchester, Liverpool, Birmingham, Sheffield, Leeds and Bristol; and, in Scotland, those of Glasgow and Paisley. Embellished with a large new map of Ireland, faithfully depicting the lines of railways in operation or in progress, engraved on steel. I Slater, Manchester, 1846

Mystery solved

Nobody tried the Spot the canal I set the other day, so I must now reveal that the eel weir shown is at the upper end of the Cong Canal. There are many photos and maps on that page.