Tag Archives: Shannon-Erne Waterway

The hire business, as we know and love it …

… is screwed.

That is my interpretation [and not, I should stress, to be attributed to the report’s authors, sponsors or supporters] of the results of the June 2014 report Ireland’s Inland Waterways – Review & Outlook  prepared by  Tourism & Transport Consult International for the Irish Tourist Industry Confederation “with support from the Irish Boat Rental Association (IBRA)” and downloadable here [PDF].

The report is well worth reading. I’ve been charting the decline in the cruiser hire industry, as indicated by Shannon lock passages, for some time now; a source within the industry told me recently that the decline was actually worse than those figures indicated. The report shows that the IBRA fleet size went from 388 in 1992 to a peak of 533 in 1997 but down to 225 in 2013.

The fleet refinancing problems look to be horrific and it doesn’t seem to me that more marketing (if marketing is taken to be Promotion rather than any of the other Ps) is going to be enough: another P, Product, needs to be redefined rather more usefully than in Tourism Ireland’s segmentation waffle about “Great Escapers” and the “Culturally Curious”. Tourism is good for waterways, but products other than (or as well as) straightforward cruising need to be offered.

And consider this:

Over the past 10 years upwards of €200 million in state expenditure has been invested in upgrading infrastructural facilities along the waterways. The investment has helped to transform the quality and quantity of moorings, navigational aids, signposting. Mooring capacity has been doubled over the period as well as the developments of several integrated harbors including berths with associated on-shore facilities including toilet and shower blocks, picnic and play areas, looped walks, etc. Such developments have taken place at locations on the Shannon and Grand Canal, including Boyle, Clondara, and Killaloe.

No wonder WI’s budget is being cut, if €200 million went to subsidising the Irish bourgeoisie rather than to bringing in more tourists. Of course if the Clones Sheugh were reconstructed tourists would come flocking from Germany, Austria and Switzerland: indeed from all around the world.

And the report says of the Lakelands and Inland Waterways Initiative, about which I have expressed scepticism,

The relevance of the well intentioned initiative and proposed branding to the cruising business was diluted by the large area encompassed by the new regional initiative and the less than adequate resources invested in effective marketing in key source markets. Unfortunately the results of the marketing effort do not appear to have raised the profile of Shannon and linked waterways.

I did think it odd that Abbeyleix got funding ….

This report is a very welcome dose of realism. I want to give it more thought before commenting on individual points, so I’ll come back to it again, but in the meantime I urge everyone to read it (it’s pretty short).

h/t Antoin Daltún



And then there were …? [updated]


In the original version of this post, I wrote:

I don’t know whether the Irish Boat Rental Association [IBRA] still exists. I can’t find a website for it, although there are references to it, and information about it, on other websites. The online Eircom phone book doesn’t have an entry for it, although the Yelp directory has an address in Bray. This site may be IBRA’s, although I can’t find anything saying so. If you know the true position, do please let me know and I’ll amend this.

In a Comment, Steve Conlon said:

IBRA is most certainly alive and well. http://www.boatholidaysireland.com is IBRA’s portal site and the IBRA logo is prominently displayed on the top right hand corner of the page in question. IBRA members were also members of the Irish Marine Federation which explains the listing on their website. With regards to membership, this stands at 7 despite the current difficulties of Shannon Castle Line. Barrow Line Cruisers have recently joined as a full member of IBRA. The IBRA website and group brochure are currently being up dated and a new industry led study into the market for hire boats is being undertaken. IBRA is a member of ITIC, the Irish Tourist Industry Confederation. I hope that this clarifies.

And Sven Neubert said:

IBRA is still “alive and kickin’ ” and we do have regular meetings (next one in June). The webpage is indeed http://www.boatholidaysireland.com and the IBRA-logo can be clearly seen on it, in the top left corner.

But everything else you are saying on this subject is correct and the hire boat industry has suffered big time over the last number of years.

From my point of view this has been widely ignored by the powers to be. The industry may be too small, but some important people seem to forget, that we bring in many tourist every year, and a good share of them spend another while in the country. But that fact doesn’t appear in the statistics…

It is very sad to see the company of a colleague go, with Shannon Castle Line being one of the oldest IBRA members.

You can see my responses in the Comments.

Shannon Castle Line and Waveline

CarrickCraft and Waveline have announced today that they will be merging after the 2014 season [the same press release is on the two websites]. The combined fleet of 125 boats is to be based at the CarrickCraft bases.

And, according to InsolvencyJournal.ie, receivers have been appointed to Skyline Entertainment Ltd and to Twinross Holdings Ltd, two of the companies that have registered the business name Shannon Castle Line. On 11 April 2014 that business name was registered by DDL Marine Limited, a company whose application to register with the Companies Registration Office was lodged on 7 March 2014. For both Skyline and Twinross,

Brian McEnery of BDO was appointed Receiver and Manager by Bank of Scotland Plc on 30th April 2014.

[Update] The 7 May 2014 issue of Iris Oifigiúil covers the matter.

The shrinking of the Shannon hire business, to which I have often drawn attention on this site, seems to be continuing.


Crossborderality and euroloot

I wrote here about last week’s NSMC meeting. I noted that the inland waterways meeting seemed to have transformed itself into an SEUPB [Euroloot] meeting: it is unusual for spending ministers to represent the government and executive on such occasions and it is also odd that the SEUPB did not have a meeting to itself, given that it is a separate body. I have asked the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform why spending ministers were allowed into the sweetshop unsupervised.

I now learn that this week there will be celebrations of the twentieth anniversary of the reopening of the Junction Canal in the Ballinamore and Ballyconnell Drainage District, now known as the Shannon–Erne Waterway. So watch for messages to the effect that cross-border waterways bring peace and prosperity … improved relationships in these islands … historic visit … peace in our time … as it happens, we have another sheugh up the road … how about it, Angela, another few quid for the other sheugh?



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.

A sense of proportion

Waterways Ireland’s funding comes from Ireland [RoI] and Northern Ireland [NI] in the ratio 85:15. I understand that the ratio reflects the length of WI-run waterway in each jurisdiction, although I am not sure how length is measured on lakes.

The proportions of boats in the two jurisdictions are not 85:15. As of December 2013 there were 5570 boats on the Erne Register and 8816 on the Shannon Register. These numbers may or may not reflect the numbers of boats on the waterways as (a) there may be unregistered boats and (b) folk may not always deregister boats that have moved off the navigation. I do not know how many boats there are on the Lower Bann; boats on the Shannon–Erne Waterway should be on either the Erne or the Shannon Register.

Waterways Ireland reckoned that there were 520 boats on the Grand, Royal and Barrow at the end of 2013. Adding them to the Shannon number gives us

  • RoI 9336
  • NI (excl Lr Bann) 5570.

The ratio is RoI 63, NI 37.

On programme costs, though, matters are otherwise. Granted that the 2011 figures, the most recent available, may not be representative of long-term average costs: the Royal has not been reopened long enough for us to get such a long-term average, and the 2011 figure may be unusually high.

The other difficulty is with the allocation of the costs of the Shannon–Erne Waterway. I have arbitrarily divided it 50/50 between the two jurisdictions, although they probably exaggerates the proportion attributable to NI.

Shannon + Royal + Grand + Barrow + ½ SEW = €7275000

Erne + Lower Bann + ½ SEW = €807000

The ratio is RoI 90%, NI 10%.


  • funding: NI 15%
  • number of boats: NI 37%
  • spending: NI 10%.

All subject to caveats.

No particular point: I just thought it was interesting.

Matters of minor importance

Some recent(ish) discussions amongst the People’s Representatives. I haven’t time to analyse them all. All links courtesy of the estimable KildareStreeet.com.

Brendan Smith [FF, Cavan-Monaghan] wants a sheugh in Clones; he got the usual answer. And he allowed Jimmy Deenihan [FG, Kerry North/West Limerick] to announce, on 19 December 2013, the death of the suggested extension of the Erne navigation to Lough Oughter [loud cheers]:

Brendan Smith: To ask the Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht if he has received the feasibility study on the proposed extension of the Erne navigation from Belturbet to Killeshandra and Killykeen; and if he will make a statement on the matter.

Jimmy Deenihan: I am informed by Waterways Ireland that it commissioned a Strategic Environment Assessment for the possible extension of the Erne Navigation from Belturbet to Killeshandra and Killykeen.

On reviewing the environmental information from this process, Waterways Ireland considers that the environmental designations of this lake complex make the feasibility of the proposed navigation extension highly unviable. For that reason, I am advised that Waterways Ireland does not propose to pursue this project any further at this time.

Well, that’s one minor victory for sanity. Here’s how a dredger got to Lough Oughter in 1857.

Maureen O’Sullivan is anxious to recreate the economy of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries by using canals for carrying cargoes. Especially on the Shannon–Erne Waterway, where commercial carrying was so successful before. [What is it about the Irish left?] Thank goodness that the sainted Leo Varadkar gave not an inch: someone should make that man Taoiseach, President and Minister for Finance. And Supreme Ruler of The Universe and Space.

The web-footed inhabitants of the midlands, who have discovered that they live in a flat area with rivers, keep wittering on about Shannon flooding, failing to realise that it is a message from The Lord, telling them to either (a) move to higher ground, eg Dublin, or build arks. On 15 January 2014 Brian Hayes told Denis Naughten, inter alia, that info from the recent OPW/CFRAM monitoring of water levels on Lough Ree (which I think was when the levels were lowered) would be placed on the OPW website “in the coming days”; I haven’t been able to find it yet so I’ve emailed the OPW to ask about it. And on 21 January one James Bannon said that he intends to introduce a bill setting up a Shannon authority, which will have magical powers. Well, if it doesn’t have magical powers it won’t be able to stop the Shannon flooding, but perhaps it’s designed to allow the unemployed landowners of Ireland another forum in which to demand taxpayers’ money to prop up their uneconomic activities.

Finally, a senator called John Whelan wants a longer consultation period on the proposed amendments to the canals bye-laws. I suppose I’d better read them  myself.

A query

I have emailed this query to Waterways Ireland today:

I would be grateful if you could tell me

(a) which, if any, persons Waterways Ireland has appointed as authorised persons for the purposes of Part 2 of the Maritime Safety Act 2005

(b) which, if any, authorised persons have been provided with training and instruction in the exercise of the power of arrest, as provided for in Section 13 (2) (b), and have been issued with warrants as
provided for in Section 13 (2) (c).

I note in Section 17 that

(9) Every authorised person appointed under this section shall be furnished with a warrant of his or her appointment as an authorised person and when exercising any power conferred on him or her by this Part as an authorised person shall, unless in uniform, if requested by a person affected, produce the warrant or a copy thereof to that person.

I regret that I had not noticed those provisions earlier.

Reading list

Waterways Ireland has been putting out more and more stuff on its website.

If you haven’t already seen them, you can get the full set of Product Development Studies, in PDF format, here.

Even more interesting, to this site, are the waterway heritage surveys. Those for all waterways other than the Shannon are available here. The Shannon study was done some years ago (I remember making some comments on it at the time) and will be uploaded “in due course”.

I was in a WI office yesterday and had a quick look at the Lower Bann survey, which was done by Fred Hamond (so we know it will be good), and I’m looking forward to learning more about the waterway I know least about. It is done thematically and has lots of illustrations: Fred is able to see and present the bigger picture, but a full database, with all the supporting information, is available on request.

Où est la plume de ma tante?

21 February 2018: voici une mise à jour.

Post originally written in January 2014 follows

Où sont les neiges d’antan? [That’s French for “Where is Anto’s stash of heroin?”] Où est l’étoile d’émeraude?

I remarked in August, on sighting le grand bateau de Monsieur Thibault in Athlone, that it carried the Le Boat brand, not that of Emerald Star. Emerald Star is now one speck within Le Boat, which is one of the activities within the Marine Division of the Specialist & Activity Sector of TUI Travel, which employs 54000 people.

Le le Boat bateau

Le le Boat bateau

I wrote to Messrs TUI Travel’s “corporate communications” department at the time to ask whether the Emerald Star name was being phased out, but answer came there none: no doubt all 54000 employees were busy at the time. But I noticed today that a hapless seeker after truth, searching for “emerald star”, ended up here, so I had a look myself. There is no emeraldstar.ie website (and emeraldstar.com is unrelated) but the UK Le Boat site has a little badge on the top left of the page saying “Emerald Star from le Boat”. I wonder whether that appears if the site detects that you’re accessing it from outside Ireland. I could find no other mention of Emerald Star, so I suspect the brand is doing a Cheshire Cat.

I was glad to find that Messrs Le Boat have found Google Translate useful. At least, I assume that’s how they produced this paragraph under their “Useful info” tab:

Useful Info for the Ireland

The Irish coast rises tallish from the sea, and yet the terrain drops farther inland, creating a sort of cup where the water gathers. One fifth of the water drains inward to the Shannon River, Ireland’s largest at 360 kilometres (224 miles). The fall on the navigable middle section of the river is slight at only 9 metres (29 feet), which means the water moves slowly. A Shannon River map also reveals the large number of lakes in the Shannon system, a real plus for canal boat cruising!

No, I’ve checked: it’s not Ulster Scots.

Then there’s this:

Feel the irresistible lure of the Shannon-Erne

The Shannon River gives Ireland’s central reaches their character. It’s an obvious feature if you study a Shannon River map. At a glance, it’s clear that the waters influence the land. The fishing is superb and golf is extremely popular! The towpath is level, so you’re in cycling heaven! […]

You learn something every day: I never knew that the Shannon had a towpath. I wonder where it is.

But that’s not the only puzzle. Messrs Le Boat list some suggested cruises, eg:

The Celtic Cruise Ireland
Oneway: Portumna to Carrick-on-Shannon


The golf course calls! The fishing itch must be scratched! Castles loom tall! Feel the warm embrace of Celtic charm!

Who writes this rubbish? But this is the puzzling one:

The Northern Shannon Cruise Ireland
Return Trip: Carrick-on-Shannon, via Belturbet


Travelling in the thousand lakes area takes you from the Lake Niegocin to the Lake Sztynorckie, with plenty to see on the way!

Well, I admit I don’t know the north Shannon as well as I do Lough Derg [“Lough Derg, an angler’s paradise, casts an Irish spell of contentment to keep you fishing and having too much fun!”], but I can’t find either of those lakes on any Shannon or Erne map. Où sont les mille lacs de M. Thibault? Où sont les Niegocins, Antoin? Ils sont dans le jardin avec la plume de ma tante.

Our Glorious Leader …

is to address, on Sunday night, anyone who watches television but doesn’t have a choice of television channels. There will be a medium term economic strategy too, promising a new and better future for all our people. But as Finfacts says:

… past experience coupled with signals so far, suggest that [the strategy] will be a promotional brochure for an international audience with some questionable claims and omissions. The expected plunge in services exports by as much as €50bn during the time horizon is not likely to be acknowledged.

There is an urgent need for a credible growth strategy that has an unvarnished assessment of the challenges with an honest analysis of strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats, using data that is free of the outsize impact of the foreign-owned exporting sector.

I wonder whether the strategy will include any sheughs.