Tag Archives: Meelick

Deadlock?

Victoria Lock, Meelick

Victoria Lock, Meelick

I like spending the night above the lock at Meelick: a pleasant, sheltered and quiet place. But there is a mystery about it.

Last time we were there, several groups of young folks came down to the lock after the keeper had knocked off for the night and gone home. It had been a warm day and I imagine that they were there to swim below the lock. Afterwards, some of them stayed around, chatting and hitting balls with their hurling mallets. They were quiet and caused no annoyance to anyone (although they might have removed their rubbish, in accordance with Waterways Ireland’s Leave no Trace policy).

But I did wonder what would have happened if there had been any horseplay, or even a mild slip, and someone had fallen into the lock chamber.

Both sets of gates were closed for the night, so the victim (even if conscious and uninjured) would have been unable to swim out and no rescue boat could get in.

There are no ladders in the lock chamber, so the victim could not have climbed out and any rescuer could only dive in, which would mean two people in the chamber rather than one. Nor was there anything in the chamber on which the victim might rest.

There was no information (that I could see) at the lock to tell the victim’s friends what to do, how to summon help or to get the gate opened. Any boater present might use VHF to call the Coast Guard and request a helicopter, but non-boaters might not think of that (or even of asking for the Coast Guard on ringing 999 or 112).

So that’s the mystery: if someone falls into a closed lock after operating hours, how is that person to be rescued? And how are others present to know what they should do? It would be nice if Waterways Ireland were to make information available on the spot.

 

 

Hamilton Lock

Victoria (Meelick) and Hamilton Locks (OSI ~1900)

Victoria (Meelick) and Hamilton Locks (OSI ~1900)

Lord Dunkellin: Do you know the Victoria lock at Meelick?

Sir Richard Griffith: I do.

Victoria Lock, Meelick

Victoria Lock, Meelick

Dunkellin: Do you know what is called the Old Cut, the old canal?

Griffith: Yes.

Dunkellin: The Victoria lock is a new work, is it not?

Griffith: It is.

Dunkellin: Should you be surprised to hear that vessels do not use that frequently, but go by the old cut?

Griffith: In times of very high flood I am aware that the canal boats find it advisable and beneficial to go by the Hamilton lock, on the old cut, in preference to the other.

Dunkellin: Prima facie, one would have thought that a new work like the Victoria lock would have the effect of regulating the state of things?

Griffith: It arises from the Counsellers’ Ford, as it is called, above Meelick; it has not been sufficiently excavated, and there is a strong current, and the boats are not able to get up to it in times of high flood.

Dunkellin: Then the boats made use of the old canal instead of the new lock?

Griffith: Under those peculiar circumstances they did.

Evidence of Sir Richard Griffith to the Select Committee on the Shannon River 12 June 1865

My OSI logo and permit number for website

ESB and the Shannon

I wrote here that I had written to the ESB, on 27 May 2015, to ask about navigation on the Shannon from Castleconnell downstream. One month later, I have not yet received a reply.

I did hear this weekend that ESB had contacted certain boat-owners to inform them that they were not to moor to the ESB embankments between Portumna and Meelick. As a riparian landowner, ESB is no doubt within its rights, but it would be interesting to know how much of the bed of the Shannon it claims to own in that area.

I have still not been able to find out, from the ESB, the clearance under its high-voltage lines crossing the Shannon (and other navigations). I gather that the ESB works on the principle that, if it provides no information, it can’t be blamed if owners of masted vessels electrocute themselves, whereas if it did provide information it might be sued. Strange that a public sector body should have such a blasé attitude to the prospect of the electrocution of the citizenry.

Perhaps if I asked questions under the Access to Information on the Environment Regulations 2007/2011 I might get replies.

 

Shannon traffic figures to December 2014

I am grateful to Waterways Ireland for sending me the Shannon traffic figures for the last three months of 2014. They sent them last month but I didn’t have time to deal with them until now.

Regular readers may wish to skip this section

All the usual caveats apply:

  • the underlying figures do not record total waterways usage (even for the Shannon) as, for instance, sailing, fishing or waterskiing on lakes or river stretches, which did not involve a passage through a lock or Portumna Bridge, would not be recorded
  • the passage records would not show, for instance, a change in the balance of types of activities from those in larger cruising boats to those in smaller (sailing, fishing, waterskiing) boats
  • figures like these will not necessarily be representative of those for the year as a whole. The winter months, January to March, see little traffic in any year; for April, May and June, the weather can have a large influence on the amount of activity especially, I suspect, in private boats.

On the other hand, the figures do include the Shannon’s most significant tourism activity, the cruiser hire business. And they are our only consistent long-term indicator of usage of the inland waterways.

All boats

Shannon 2003-2014 01-12 all boats_resize

Total (private + hired) traffic for the full year

As we saw in September, traffic is down on 2013, but there has been little change over the last three years.

Private boats

Shannon 2003-2014 01-12 private boats_resize

Private-boat traffic for the full years 2003 to 2014

The vertical scale on this chart is different from that for hired boats so the changes in private boating from one year to another are exaggerated (by comparison). The good weather did not prevent a fall in activity.

Hire boats

Shannon 2003-2014 01-12 hired boats_resize

Hire-boat traffic for the full years 2003 to 2014

Again, the lowest figure in my records, but the drop was small; perhaps the hire trade is bouncing along the bottom (as it were). I wonder whether anyone has a Grand Plan for recovery or rejuvenation.

Percentages of 2003 levels

Shannon 2003-2014 01-12 compared with 2003_resize

Percentages of 2003 levels

Private traffic at just over 90% of 2003 levels, hire traffic at just over 40%.

Private -v- hired

Shannon 2003-2014 01-12 private -v- hired_resize

Still roughly 50:50

Seasons

In the five months January, February, March, November and December, there were 385 passages altogether, less than 1% of total boat movements for the year. If money can be saved by ceasing to operate the locks and bridge during the winter, they should be closed except, perhaps, for one Saturday per month, to be arranged for a non-flood day.

Regions

Here is the order of popularity.

ALBERT LOCK 7205
ATHLONE LOCK  5775
CLARENDON LOCK 5650
ROOSKY LOCK 5565
PORTUMNA BRIDGE 5395
VICTORIA LOCK 4934
TARMONBARRY LOCK 3885
POLLBOY LOCK 1222
CLONDRA LOCK 1020
BATTLEBRIDGE 835
DRUMLEAGUE 797
DRUMSHANBO LOCK 387
SARSFIELD LOCK 97

Lough Allen is a delightful place but it is not popular.

The Shannon in winter

Downriver from Shannon Harbour to Dromineer in December 2014. It began as a bright, cold morning.

Shannon Harbour to Dromineer December 2014 01_resize

Leaving Shannon Harbour after icebreaking between the locks

Shannon Harbour to Dromineer December 2014 02_resize

Flooding to the south-east

Shannon Harbour to Dromineer December 2014 03_resize

But southward, look …

Shannon Harbour to Dromineer December 2014 06_resize

The Brosna

Shannon Harbour to Dromineer December 2014 73_resize

Heading for Banagher Bridge 1

Shannon Harbour to Dromineer December 2014 75_resize

Keeping close to the pontoons

Shannon Harbour to Dromineer December 2014 98_resize

Heading for Banagher Bridge 2

Shannon Harbour to Dromineer December 2014 103_resize

Heading for Banagher Bridge 3

There is a YouTube video of the shooting of the bridge here. It seems to start automatically, including sound; I don’t know how to avoid that.

Shannon Harbour to Dromineer December 2014 107_resize

Looking back at Banagher

Shannon Harbour to Dromineer December 2014 116_resize

Colours

Shannon Harbour to Dromineer December 2014 124_resize

Invernisk

Shannon Harbour to Dromineer December 2014 129_resize

Shannon Grove

Shannon Harbour to Dromineer December 2014 134_resize

Current

Shannon Harbour to Dromineer December 2014 140_resize

Scarpering heron

Shannon Harbour to Dromineer December 2014 146_resize

Colours

Shannon Harbour to Dromineer December 2014 149_resize

Marker and gauge

Shannon Harbour to Dromineer December 2014 151_resize

House

Shannon Harbour to Dromineer December 2014 169_resize

Boats at Meelick

Shannon Harbour to Dromineer December 2014 170_resize

Meelick weir

Shannon Harbour to Dromineer December 2014 174_resize

East bank

Shannon Harbour to Dromineer December 2014 176_resize

Protective boom

Shannon Harbour to Dromineer December 2014 181_resize

Sluices

Shannon Harbour to Dromineer December 2014 198_resize

Through Meelick Lock

Shannon Harbour to Dromineer December 2014 205_resize

One bird

Shannon Harbour to Dromineer December 2014 213_resize

Many birds

Shannon Harbour to Dromineer December 2014 221_resize

Reeds

Shannon Harbour to Dromineer December 2014 226_resize

Architecture

Shannon Harbour to Dromineer December 2014 228_resize

Munster Harbour

Shannon Harbour to Dromineer December 2014 233_resize

Delaying Eamon Egan

Shannon Harbour to Dromineer December 2014 235_resize

Gateway to civilisation

Shannon Harbour to Dromineer December 2014 237_resize

Connacht Harbour

Shannon Harbour to Dromineer December 2014 239_resize

Lough Derg: weather has changed

Shannon Harbour to Dromineer December 2014 243_resize

Journey’s end, Dromineer

 

Pumps and crisps

Thanks to Colin Becker, I have updated this page to show the location of the ESB’s third pumping station between Meelick and Portumna: I had known only where two of them were.

I have also added to the page some rude remarks about the ESB’s policy of not revealing the clearance of their cables above navigable waterways. If, dear reader, you know of a change in the policy, or if you can effect such a change, or if you know the clearances, do please let me know by leaving a Comment.

 

Shannon traffic 2013

Some weeks ago Waterways Ireland kindly supplied me with the Shannon traffic figures for the final three months of 2013 and I have just now had a chance to add them to my spreadsheets and produce some graphs.

The usual caveats apply: the underlying figures do not record total waterways usage (even for the Shannon) as, for instance, sailing, fishing or waterskiing on lakes or river stretches, which did not involve a passage through a lock or Portumna Bridge, would not be recorded. The passage records are our only consistent long-term indicator of usage of the Shannon but they would not show, for instance, a change in the balance of types of activities from those in larger cruising boats to those in smaller (sailing, fishing, waterskiing) boats. On the other hand, they do include the Shannon’s most significant tourism activity, the cruiser hire business.

It is good to note, incidentally, that, in its draft Corporate Plan 2014–2016, Waterways Ireland says that it intends to

Develop and implement a research programme to measure waterway usage and inform planning and development.

It won’t be easy to do, but we need much better measures of all types of activities on all seven of the waterways managed by WI.

The final outcome for 2013 won’t greatly surprise anyone who has read earlier bulletins on this subject, like this covering the figures to end-September 2013. All the illustrations are based on information supplied by Waterways Ireland, with some minor adjustments by me to eliminate anomalies, but the interpretation and comments are mine own.

All boats full year

Total Shannon traffic 2003–2013, private and hired

The decline in traffic since 2003 seems to have been halted …

All boats full year %

Total Shannon traffic as a percentage of 2003 traffic

… but it is 40% below what it was in 2003.

Private boats full year %

Private-boat traffic 2003–2013 as a percentage of 2003 traffic

Traffic in private boats seems to be recovering, but what is perhaps more significant is that it never went more than 10% above or below the 2003 figure. It has been remarkably stable over the period, despite the economic crash and despite the anecdotal evidence of boats being sold to overseas owners and trucked out of the country. Perhaps larger boats were replaced by smaller? Perhaps only boats bought in the boom were sold in the bust? Unfortunately the deficiencies of the registration system make it very difficult to determine what has been happening.

Hire boats full year %

Hire-boat traffic 2003–2013 as a percentage of 2003 traffic

But if private-boat traffic has been remarkably stable since 2003, the same cannot be said of hire-boat traffic. The best that can be said of 2013 is that the figures didn’t get [much] worse, but a 60% decline since 2003 is really, really dreadful.

WI’s draft Corporate Plan, which does not explicitly mention the hire industry, talks of

… unlocking opportunities to achieve recreational growth, and economic and social development.

I don’t know whether that omission means that WI sees little prospect of a rejuvenated hire-boat industry. And I note that, other than in the titles of organisations, the draft plan rarely mentions tourism or tourists. Are the waterways only for natives? If so, is that a deliberate policy decision? Or is there something that could be done, cheaply, to help to revive waterways tourism?

Emma Kennedy, writing in the Sunday Business Post on 23 February 2014, wrote about Fáilte Ireland’s latest brainwave, which is to “target” three groups:

  • social energisers, which are gangs of young people interested in “new and vibrant destinations”, which I take to mean Temple Bar
  • culturally curious folk aged 50 or over, with money, who are interested in “exploring new landscapes, history and culture”
  • great escapers, who like energetic rural holidays with their partners.

No families with kids, I see, although “Families & Loved Ones” (the latter term, by the way, nowadays seems to mean either dead people or their relicts) were one of the two “primary target customer segments” identified in Fáilte Ireland’s Inland Cruising Market Development Strategy. (Fat lot of good that strategy did, but we mustn’t be bitter.)

Anyway, without having done any market studies (though WI has funded lots of them), it seems to me that there is scope for more tourism on the waterways, but it might not be on traditional cruisers. It might involve outdoor activities like cycling and walking along the canals and Barrow: WI’s plan discusses them, but without adverting to an overseas market. And it might involve small-boat activities — canoeing, touring rowing, small-boat sailing, camping — on Shannon, Erne and SEW: WI says it will support micro-enterprises, and those providing outdoor activity holidays may need expertise and assistance rather than hard cash.

I admit to having little evidence on this, but it seems to me to be too early to give up on the tourism potential of the waterways. And the decline of the cruiser hire business does not necessarily mean that all waterway tourism is doomed.

Private -v- hire full year

Private boats overtake hire boats

That said, 2013 was the year when, for the first time since Noah was an Able Seaman, the number of passages by private boats exceeded that by hire boats.

Checkpoints 2013

The points at which numbers were recorded

Finally, this chart suggests that any structures that were not built by the Shannon Commissioners in the 1840s will not attract many visitors. The extensions off the main stem of the Shannon — south to Limerick, west to Ballinasloe, east through Clondra, north to Lough Allen — are much less used than the main line from Lough Derg to Lough Key. It seems unlikely that any further extensions, especially to small towns that it would take three hours (at canal speed) to get to, are likely to be any more successful in attracting traffic.

Big it up for the OPW

I’ve just been reading some particularly nitwitted Dáil discussions and I need some time to calm down enough to report on them to the Learned Readers of this site. Let me just say that anyone who thinks that politicians cannot distinguish fact from fiction is absolutely right. But enough of that for the moment.

I reported earlier on an oddity in the results from the OPW’s Athlone waterlevel gauge. I emailed the OPW about it and a helpful chap got back on more or less immediately.

He explained that the data we see on the waterlevel.ie site is, as it were, live: raw unfiltered data with nothing added, nothing taken away. The same data goes in to the OPW and they spotted that the Athlone gauge was reading too high. They found the sensor was faulty; they have now adjusted it and the new, lower readings are correct.

The disappearance of the placenames is because of some work in progress on improving the website; they will be back.

He kindly pointed me to a list, in .xlsm format, downloadable from here; it shows all hydrometric stations in Ireland. It shows who operates them, whether they’re active and whether they use telemetry (which I take to mean that they can be monitored remotely). Unfortunately OPW itself doesn’t seem to have any gauges on Lough Derg and nor does Waterways Ireland. OPW does have a rather excitable gauge at Scarriff and gauges upstream of Meelick Weir and Meelick (Victoria) Lock. The ESB has gauges with telemetry at Ballyvalley (25073) and Killaloe (25074) but I can’t find any website giving the levels. If, Gentle Reader, you can find one, perhaps you would let us know.

The consoling part of dealing with the OPW is that you get the distinct impression that they know some useful stuff. Unlike, say, some folk working in Kildare Street ….

Lusmites rejoice

P J Norris commented here on the need for a walkway across Meelick Weir. The excellent KildareStreet.com tells us that the drought will end, as a Dáil written answer on 22 October 2013 showed.

Michael Kitt [FF, Galway East] had asked the Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht

… when it is proposed to reopen the walkway which spans the weir on the River Shannon in Meelick, County Galway; if funding has been provided for this work; if his attention has been drawn to the fact that this is an important local and tourist amenity; and if he will make a statement on the matter.

Jimmy Deenihan [FG, Kerry North/West Limerick] said

I am informed by Waterways Ireland that it is currently preparing a submission for planning permission to construct a new walkway over the River Shannon at Meelick. Indeed, environmental studies are underway to support the planning application.

I must advise the Deputy that construction work may only commence when all necessary permits have been received. It is Waterways Ireland’s intention to undertake works at the weir during 2014, subject to the appropriate statutory approvals being granted and financial resources being available.

Financial resources, eh? Perhaps a coin- (or note-)operated toll-gate on the walkway would be best.

Water levels in Athlone

At time of writing, the depth of water at Athlone Weir is 1.7m. “Staff gauge zero is 35.360m above Poolbeg datum”, which means the water level is 37.06m OD (Poolbeg). According to Bob Cullen’s 2002 article for Inland Waterways News [PDF], “The minimum navigation level in Lough Ree is 36.88m OD”, so if the level drops another 0.18m, about 7 inches, there may be a WI Marine Notice.

It seems that the dropping of the level of Lough Ree is intended to provide a buffer against flooding in the area from Athlone downstream to Meelick. According to Brian Hayes “A meeting between the ESB, Waterways Ireland and the Office of Public Works to review the interim operating regime is due to take place shortly.” [I have asked Waterways Ireland for a report on the meeting.]

But, if we are to believe the Dublin Evening Mail, the Shannon Commissioners took a rather more robust attitude to flooding downstream of Athlone: steamers [and PR] came first.