Tag Archives: Mayo

The Cong Canal and the Ballinrobe navigation

I have extended my page on the Cong Canal by adding some photos of the sluices and the embankments on the Cong Canal and by improving some maps. I have also added some photos of Ballinrobe, including the quay from which it was hoped that boats would depart for Lough Mask and, via the Cong Canal, Galway. When the Cong Canal was abandoned, so too was the Ballinrobe navigation.

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.


Mayo’s canal system

No, not the Belmullet Canal, nor the Cong Canal. James McParlan MD, in his Statistical Survey of the County of Mayo, with observations on the means of improvement; drawn up in the year 1801, for the consideration, and under the direction of The Dublin Society [printed by Graisberry and Campbell, Dublin in 1802 and available here courtesy of Messrs Google], after mentioning some lakes and navigable rivers, said:

Those are the only navigations or navigable rivers in this county, except the Marquis of Sligo‘s canal, which winds for several miles through his demesne; it serves for conveying sea and other manures to different parts of the demesne, for conveying among the fields turnips and green feeding, and for several purposes.

I have looked on the OSI 6″ maps [~1840] at the Browne estates listed on the Landed Estates Database, but I have found no sign of the canals. I didn’t know where to look, and the good marquis owned a lot of land, so I may have missed something; furthermore almost forty years elapsed between McParlan’s work and the publication of the OSI maps and the canals may have fallen out of use in that period. If anyone knows where they were, and whether any trace remains, I would be grateful for information.



Rural nitwits and retirement communities

I’ve just been writing elsewhere to the effect that national politicians are a pack of nitwits. I was cheered therefore, in a sense, to note that local politicians, at least in Co Mayo, are (if possible) even more thick-headed than their national counterparts.

However, I am happy to be able to offer a solution, one that kills two birds with one stone. There are, it seems, many English pensioners living in poverty on boats on the canals and unable (or at least unwilling) to pay for the privilege. I had intended to suggest that Waterways Ireland should provide them with moorings away from the honeypot areas.

WI could then charge more for berths at, say, Hazelhatch, Sallins, Blanchardstown and Lowtown, catering for those in work who could afford a couple of thousand a year, while the pensioners, who don’t need to be within commuting distance of Dublin, could be accommodated in rural areas where their small additional spending would make a difference. That would help to increase those community and economic benefits to which the subsidy-seeking boat-owners draw our attention, bringing spending to deprived rural areas.

I was thinking of Pollagh, for instance: it has a pub, a shop, a church and a visiting burger van, and easy access to supplies of turf.

But the Mayo problem reminds me that Mayo too has lakes. So why not ship the boats to Mayo? As the canals byelaws provide that boats should not discharge any water other than from engine-cooling, these boats must be fitted with holding tanks or other non-discharging loos, so there would be no pollution problem. In fact Mayo could advertise itself to the world as offering floating retirement communities at modest cost, thus renewing its own population while solving a problem for boat-owners. I thnk this is a winner.

Prothero on the lakes of Galway and Mayo

The oarsman F E Prothero did not reach the west of Ireland, so his account of the lakes of Galway and Mayo is based on guidebooks. Here it is.

Getting the goat

What body is the “Inland Waterways” referred to in this story? I didn’t think that WI had operations in Co Mayo. Could it perhaps be “inland fisheries” that supplied the boat?