Tag Archives: Shannon Commissioners

Foynes

The Shannon Commissioners built or improved seven piers and quays on the Shannon Estuary in the 1840s. In their eleventh and final report, the Commissioners gave the total income at six of them, for quayage, wharfage and cranage, for the year 1849. [Eleventh and Final Report of the Commissioners, Under the Act 2 & 3 Vict c61, for the Improvement of the Navigation of the River Shannon, Ireland; with an Appendix Ordered, by The House of Commons, to be Printed, 3 June 1850 407]

Kilteery                                   £0   4s 10d
Kildysart [Inishmurry]      £0  17s  8d
Querrin                                  £7  15s  4d
Saleen                                 £24    0s 10d
Clare [Clarecastle]          £67  14s   7d
Kilrush                             £105   5s  10d

The Shannon Commissioners quay at Querrin

The Shannon Commissioners quay at Querrin

 

The only two with any significant traffic were the existing ports of Kilrush [which was the only one to have a crane] and Clare. The other four were a waste of money [but are nowadays delightful places to visit].

Shannon Estuary (OSI ~1900)

Approximate positions of Commissioners’ quays on the Shannon Estuary (OSI ~1900)

The seventh quay, at Foynes, was not included because work had not been completed: the original plans were replaced by a more elaborate scheme, with a landing wharf, a pier, a slip and a harbour, towards which the proprietor, Lord Monteagle, had subscribed £4250, the largest amount paid by any landowner on the estuary. The Commissioners said:

Foynes Harbour, when complete, will consequently give secure quayage to sea-going vessels at all times of tides, and in fact will be the only port on the Shannon possessing that advantage; all the others, including the quays of Limerick, being dry, or nearly so, at low-water.

Foynes undeveloped (OSI ~1840)

Foynes undeveloped (OSI ~1840)

And so indeed it proved to be. Foynes, sheltered by its island to the north, grew as a result of the development of the quays.

Foynes (OSI ~1900)

Foynes (OSI ~1900)

But Foynes never became quite as important as some folk hoped, in the 1850s, that it would become.

The Irish packet station Commissioners

On 30 August 1850, C E Trevelyan, Assistant Secretary to HM Treasury [who is perhaps best known as the author, with Stafford H Northcote, of the Northcote-Trevelyan Report on the reform of Her Majesty’s Civil Service], wrote a Treasury Minute:

My Lords [of the Treasury] have before them a letter from the Secretary to the Admiralty, dated the 23rd instant, enclosing copies of a letter from the Board of Trade, dated the 8th instant, and an extract from a petition signed by a large number of landed proprietors in Ireland, praying for an inquiry with a view to the adoption as a Packet Station of one of the harbours in Ireland, and suggesting the appointment of a Commission for the above purpose.

Write to the Secretary to the Admiralty, and desire that he will state to the Lords Commissioners that my Lords are pleased to appoint a Commission as recommended by them, consisting of the following gentlemen:—

The Right Hon the Earl Granville, Chairman
The Hon William Cowper, MP and one of the Lords of the Admiralty
Sir James Alexander Gordon KCB, Rear Admiral of the Red, and Lieutenant-Governor of Greenwich Hospital
Sir John Fox Burgoyne KCB, Major-General, and Inspector-General of Fortifications
Captain Stephen Ellerby, one of the Elder Brethren of the Trinity House.

And my Lords desire that three of the said Commissioners form a quorum,

My Lords also concur with the Lords Commissioners of the Admiralty that the above-mentioned petition should be referred to the Commissioners, and that they be instructed to make inquiry —

1st. As to the harbours in Ireland best suited for a Packet Station.
2nd. The advantages and disadvantages of adopting a harbour in Ireland for a Packet Station, so far as regards the trade and other interests of the empire, and to report the evidence to the Admiralty, with such observations as may enable Her Majesty’s Government to form a judgment on the premises.

My Lords request that the Lords Commissioners of the Admiralty will give such further directions as may be required for the meeting of the Commissioners, and for the conduct of their proceedings.

(Signed) C E Trevelyan

[Report of the Commissioners appointed to inquire as to the proposal for an Irish Packet Station. Presented to both Houses of Parliament by Command of Her Majesty. HMSO, London 1851]

The background to this was the transatlantic mail service, for which the UK contract was won by Samuel Cunard in 1839. Steamers left Liverpool every Saturday in summer (April to November) and every second Saturday in winter “alternately via Halifax to Boston and direct to New York”, with return services on Wednesdays: a packet ship was one providing a regular scheduled service, often but not necessarily carring mails. Cunard’s was not the only north Atlantic packet service: the US government had contracts with

  • Collins and Brown of New York, for a Liverpool–New York service, fortnightly in summer and monthly in winter
  • a line serving Bremen and New York, calling at Southampton
  • a third line serving Havre and New York, also calling at Southampton.

The Irish petition, which was concerned only with the UK mails contract, claimed that the total time required, from Liverpool to Halifax or New York, would be shorter if the mails went

  • by train from Liverpool to Holyhead [which the Commissioners reckoned would take 4 hours]
  • by steamer from Holyhead to Kingstown [6 hours]
  • from Dublin by rail to one of several Irish ports
  • thence by steamer across the Atlantic.

The Commissioners allowed for time on transits between steamers and railways; they assumed that the railways could operate at 30 miles per hour, which was 5 mph faster than the average at the time. They considered nine possible Irish ports: Cork, Long Island Sound, Berehaven, Crookhaven, Dunmanus Bay, Valentia, Galway and, in the Shannon Estuary, Foynes and Tarbert. Most of those had no rail connection to Dublin, but the Commissioners gave them the benefit of the doubt, assuming that a line would be built to wherever the packet station might be located.

The Commissioners took their job seriously. They circulated queries and received responses from 83 individuals and institutions including shipping firms, naval and coastguard officers, government departments, chambers of commerce, local politicians and officials. They interviewed 32 individuals and deputations, some of them more than once. They considered 36 items of “further documentary evidence” and 53 “further papers, reports &c” and wrote up the whole lot, including two plans (maps).

The Commissioners were not keen on using any port in the west of Ireland:

It appears, from the evidence of the majority of the naval officers to whom we have referred, that the navigation of the west coast of Ireland is dangerous, particularly in the winter. The coast from Mizen Head round to Galway Bay is, in nautical language, “steep-to”; there being 100 fathoms water at 18 to 29 miles off its outlying dangers. It is also subject to fogs and hazy weather, and to frequent heavy gales of wind blowing towards a lee-shore, with high Atlantic seas and very uncertain soundings.

Balancing the time to be saved on the transatlantic crossing and the “nautical qualifications” and resources of each port, the Commissioners said that the two best options were Foynes and Galway. However, the Commissioners did not think any Irish packet station would be a good idea:

We find no reason to conclude that the local and particular advantages resulting from the proposed measure would be so great, or the saving of time so important, as to counterbalance the large additional expense which would be entailed upon the Imperial Revenue, and the evils and inconvenience which would be inflicted on the great body of the mercantile and travelling portion of the community by removing the packets from the place where they were originally established, as being the focus of the commercial transactions of the United Kingdom with the North American continent.

None of the suggested locations for an Irish packet station would save more than 12 hours in a voyage of about 11 days, so the benefit to be gained for the mail service was small. But the principal problem was the effect on the passenger service (and the small amounts of high-value, low-bulk freight which could be sent by steamer). The steamer owners needed the income from both passengers and mails to make their operations pay, and the Irish proposal would have imposed great inconvenience on passengers. Instead of loading themselves and their luggage on the steamer in Liverpool, and unloading in Halifax or New York, passengers would have had to change

  • from steamer to railway at Kingstown
  • from railway to carriage in Dublin
  • from carriage to railway at Kingsbridge or Broadstone
  • from railway to carriage at or near the Irish packet station
  • possibly from carriage to a small steamer acting as tender
  • from tender to transatlantic steamer.

Apart from the inconvenience, the process would have introduced several opportunities for delays.

The Galway and Shannon ports Committee

The Commissioners, then, rejected both Foynes and Galway. But several people in Ireland rejected the Commissioners’ findings, mostly on grounds that were entirely irrelevant. There was a particularly colourful diatribe in the Galway Mercury, and Weekly Connaught Advertiser of 8 May 1852, which lauded Galway’s “glorious expanse of water, deep, and capacious and sheltered as it is, and pronounced by the most competent naval authorities to be one of the finest ports in the whole world”. The decision not to base the packet station there was “a fair specimen of Saxon justice to Ireland”: basing the packet station in Galway would “have the effect, in the course of a few years, of destroying in a great measure the commercial pre-eminence of that country [England, rather than Great Britain or the United Kingdom, it seems], and transferring much of its wealth and its greatness to this island which it hates so cordially, and which for six centuries it has ceased not to plunder and oppress”.

The editor did not, alas, have space to consider such mundane matters as the inconvenience to British passengers of being forced to travel to America via Galway. But the focus of the promoters of an Irish packet station, and especially of the vociferous Galway gang, turned to communication between Ireland and the USA. There were unsuccessful attempts to set up steamship companies; Packet Station Committees were set up [eg Tipperary Free Press 28 January 1852 on Mr Wagstaff and on the Dublin Packet Station Committee;  Galway Mercury, and Connaught Weekly Advertiser 31 January 1852 on the Irish and American Steamship Company]; the merchants of Belfast were persuaded that, with a packet station in Galway, American merchants and buyers would visit Ireland and (once a railway link was provided) especially Belfast before visiting England and Scotland [Northern Whig 12 February 1852; Morning Post 16 February 1852; Belfast News-Letter 23 February 1852]. Also in February, the Limerick Packet Station Committee was forced to publish a pained refutation of the recommendations of one James Whiteside, a member of the Dublin committee who was a strong advocate of the Galway proposal [Report of the Dublin Committee Considered, and Mr Whiteside’s Statement Reviewed, with remarks on the relative advantages of the Shannon and Galway Bay published by direction of the Limerick Packet Station Cmmittee, Browne & Nolan, Dublin 1852].

Unfortunately, in the same month, Lord John Russell’s Whig government collapsed and the Earl of Derby set up a minority Conservative government — in which the same James Whiteside, MP for Enniskillen, became Solicitor-General for Ireland. The Tribes of Galway soon descended on the unfortunate Prime Minister, with a “numerous and influential deputation” led by that turbulent priest, the Very Rev Peter Daly, a spiritual father of Monsignor James Horan, determined to wring every penny he could from the temporal power.

The Rt Hon Earl said that improving Galway’s harbour would make sense, in an imperial context, only as a packet station. And because the Irish Packet Station Commissioners had recommended two Irish ports, Foynes and Galway, the first step was to decide between the two of them. Accordingly, the government had decided to appoint three naval officers to visit the two ports, inquire into their relative advantages and report back. He could not commit himself to anything more until he had the report and he was sure that the deputation understood that [Dublin Evening Mail 10 May 1852].

That got Derby through the general election in June, after which he formed another minority government, which lasted only until December. In the meantime, though, the three naval officers — Captains F W Beechey, Henry Smith and James Crawford Caffin — visited Galway and inteviewed witnesses recommended by the Harbour Commissioners and other authorities; they also inspected the port and considered what works might be necessary. They then embarked on HM steam sloop Geyser and sailed to Limerick: they were thus able to see the approaches to both ports. They visited both Foynes and Tarbert on a small steamer and, again, interviewed witnesses. They returned to Dublin by railway.

Their focus was on whether Galway and the Shannon would be accessible at all states of the tide, at all times day or night, and in all weathers. Only with such access could the “greatest regularity and dispatch” be maintained for “steamers of the largest class”. That access was needed whether the ports were to be packet stations or harbours of refuge or both. It was appreciated that both ports would probably need engineering works to be carried out, as well as links to the railways.

On 15 September 1852 the Limerick and Clare Examiner reported Lord Monteagle [former Chancellor of the Exchequer; landlord at Foynes] as saying that the naval officers’ report had been submitted to the Admiralty and that they had preferred Foynes to Galway. However, in its issue of 25 September 1852 the Examiner carried extracts from the report itself, in which the three captains said:

  • the Shannon was better than Galway for the “safety and expedition with which a vessel when arriving can be got within the limits of her port” or clear the land on departure
  • neither location could provide the required “security and accommodation of the packets, and the convenience for landing and embarking passengers and dispatching the mails”. Facilities could be developed at Galway or at Foynes or Tarbert in the Shannon Estuary; Galway would be much more expensive
  • either Galway or the Shannon could act as a harbour of refuge for vessels that had good anchors and cables, but for those without the Shannon provided more safe options
  • the west coast of Ireland was “subject to higher seas and worse weather than other parts of the British Islands not so situated, and that weather in which no vessel would be justified in running for a port, does appear to prevail to a greater extent off the western ports of Ireland than at other ports”, which would mean that the “greatest regularity and dispatch” could not be assured
  • accordingly, neither Galway nor the Shannon was suitable as a packet station.

The report is Galway and Shannon Ports: Return to an Order of the Honourable The House of Commons dated 31 March 1859 for a copy of the instructions of the 11th day of June 1852 from the Admiralty to the Committee appointed to inquire into the suitableness and capabilities of the Ports of Galway and of the Shannon for a Transatlantic Packet Station, in connexion with a harbour of refuge … Ordered, by The House of Commons, to be Printed 19 April 1859 257.

Only the Cork [Cork Examiner 27 September 1852] and Belfast papers [Belfast Mercantile Register and Weekly Advertiser 28 September 1852] were pleased, seeing an opportunity … as did the Earl of Mayo, who wanted the packet station set up in Blacksod Bay.

The packet station schemes

It seems that the packet station enthusiasts wanted

  • the government to pay for whatever harbour and other works were needed
  • the government to designate the chosen port as a packet station for the mails
  • one or other of the private-sector contractors to be forced to use that station
  • the Post Office to cope with the many links in the chain from the Atlantic through Galway and Dublin to Britain, each link providing an opportunity for things to go wrong — and all of them on the critical path.

There do not seem to have been any serious attempts to quantify the likely passenger traffic: at that time, as in the early days of air travel, only small numbers of passengers could be carried and high fares were required. Furthermore, only for small, high-value or perishable freight was the extra cost of steam travel worth paying: for anything else, sail was cheaper. But the enthusiasts do not seem to have been willing or able (at least at that time) to come up with the money required to set up their own steam shipping company: the Dublin committee had decided that it would be too risky an investment given the competition from established operators at British ports.

The whole thing sounds like the mad attempt to get a canal to Clones.

The Department of Communications, Climate Action & Environment

But the politicians have not yet finished with Foynes. According to the Limerick Leader of 10 November 2016,

Foynes in line to be US transit hub, says minister

Hundreds of jobs could be created at port

I can’t find any mention of this on the website of the Department of Communications, Climate Action & Environment, so I am unable to check the newspaper report. It begins:

FOYNES Port is poised to become a major European link with the US in the wake of Brexit, in a new Government proposal that could create hundreds of local jobs.

Now, we must immediately eliminate the exaggeration that might be the fault of the minister or the journalist: “in line to be” and “poised to become” might suggest that there is some plan or perhaps even some agreement between the USA and some undefined European body, whereas all we have, it seems, is a bright idea, the first phase of the underpants gnomes’ business plan.

It seems that there might be a demand for the use of facilities at Foynes for one or more of these reasons:

  • Brexit (which, of course, means Brexit)
  • “US pre-clearance for ships crossing the Atlantic”
  • congestion at Rotterdam
  • Foynes as a transit point for freight to and from North America.

This mishmash of unconnected ideas may or may not be the minister’s fault. Let’s see if we can make sense of it.

Brexit

According to the article

“Our second biggest export destination is the USA. From a Brexit point of view this is an opportunity to attract industries from right across Europe that are exporting into the US,” said Minister Naughten.

“The reality is that post-Brexit exports into the UK are going to be put under pressure, so this is an opportunity to make a new market and make it far more efficient for the export of goods.”

A ‘hard Brexit’ could result in EU borders, which would increase costs for freight companies shipping out of Britain into Europe. This proposal means that Foynes could become a more attractive destination for these companies to ship from.

The first paragraph is nonsense. Existing trade with the US is irrelevant to the proposal. As for the “opportunity to attract industries from right across Europe”, their ability to export to the USA is entirely unaffected by Brexit, unless that nice Mr Trump arranges something really insane with Ambassador at Large Farage. If you’re exporting widgets from Dusseldorf to the USA, why would Brexit cause you to route them through Foynes?

The second paragraph is no better.

The reality is that post-Brexit exports into the UK are going to be put under pressure, so this is an opportunity to make a new market and make it far more efficient for the export of goods.

Whose exports are we talking about? What new market? Far more efficient than what?

The third paragraph is confusing.

A ‘hard Brexit’ could result in EU borders, which would increase costs for freight companies shipping out of Britain into Europe. This proposal means that Foynes could become a more attractive destination for these companies to ship from.

There are, we are told, freight companies shipping out of Britain into Europe. I don’t know why we’re discussing freight companies rather than manufacturers or distributors [the ultimate emptors, who will pay the freight companies for the cost or inconvenience]. But anyway, these companies are shipping “out of Britain into Europe”, so we can assume that the goods start in Britain. If they are to get to Foynes, they still have to be shipped out of Britain into an EU member state, ie Ireland. So instead of going straight to Calais, say, they get shipped to the far side of Ireland and then back to the continent. How does this make the freight companies’ lives easier? Why would the UK/Ireland border be any less hard, or less bureaucratic, than the UK/France?

US pre-clearance

This seems to deal with a separate set of exporters: presumably those remaining in the EU and exporting to the USA. The idea seems to be that they will send their stuff to Foynes, where

“Freight would come into Foynes, get scanned there, get certified, and land in New York and would be the same as an internal shipment.”

According to the Department, Mr Naughten met with the US Ambassador to Ireland Kevin O’Malley and asked him to support the proposal, which would involve US custom official staff being based in Foynes to give full pre-clearance.

I can see that this might create a job or two in Foynes for US customs officials, and perhaps some local admin support. But I see two possible problems. The first is that this might count as an international trade agreement, and Ireland may not be entitled to make its own agreements outside the EU system. I do not, however, know whether that it so. But the second problem seems to me to be more serious: it is that the idea cannot be copyrighted or protected. There would be nothing to stop any other port applying to set up a similar arrangement, getting the benefits of US pre-clearance without the cost and loss of time in sending ships via Foynes.

Congestion at Rotterdam

I do not know whether there is congestion at Rotterdam, but if the volume of world trade is falling that problem might solve itself. Nonetheless, it is useful to keep things in proportion. Here is a map showing the whole of the Shannon Estuary. I’ve circled Foynes.

foynes-resize

Shannon Estuary (Imagery copyright 2016 DigitalGlobe, map data copyright 2016 Google)

And here, on the same scale, is Rotterdam. All those bits that look artificial, too straight to be natural, are docks. You can fly over it yourself here [short URL].

rotterdam-resize

Rotterdam (Imagery copyright 2016 DigitalGlobe, map data copyright 2016 Google)

 

Here’s Foynes in close-up.

Shannon Estuary (Imagery copyright 2016 DigitalGlobe, map data copyright 2016 Google)

Foynes (Imagery copyright 2016 DigitalGlobe, map data copyright 2016 Google)

I don’t think much of the overflow from Rotterdam will fit at Foynes. Of course there is lots of space elsewhere in the estuary, but it can’t be used: it’s reserved for the tweetie-birds.

That may be a bit of an exaggeration, as you can read here, but the Shannon Estuary isn’t going to get to even 1% of Rotterdam’s capacity.

Foynes as a transit point

I don’t know what that means. Maybe it’s just attaching another buzzword to the pre-clearance idea. If, though, it involves any sort of transhipment, forget it.

Solutions in search of problems

The Shannon Estuary may contain more wasted public-sector investment than any other estuary in Ireland, from the Wellesley [sorry: Sarsfield] Bridge through the Shannon Commissioners’ piers to the minor railways. [As if three loss-making railway lines — to Galway, Ballybrophy and Waterford — weren’t enough, there is a campaign to restore a fourth, to Foynes.]

Both the Shannon Commissioners’ piers and the packet station campaign sought public money to build facilities in the hope that they would attract private investment. In those cases, and with this present campaign, it might be better to wait for a private-sector investor to put money on the table first.

My OSI logo and permit number for website

Mr Mullins’s steamer

Here is a little information about the steamer Cupid, which was owned or used by the contractor Bernard Mullins on the Shannon in the 1840s.

Cots and canoes at Castleconnell

Castleconnell, in Co Limerick, is on the section of the River Shannon that includes the (broadly defined) Falls of Doonass. That section was bypassed by the Plassey–Errina Canal, one of the five parts of the Limerick Navigation, which navigation was largely abandoned after the construction of the Shannon hydroelectric power scheme in the 1920s. After that, vessels used the headrace, lock and tailrace of the Ardnacrusha power station to pass between Lough Derg and Limerick.

On 27 May 2015 I noted a statement by the Limerick and District Anglers Association about the Castleconnell section of the Shannon:

Therefore canoeists who enter this section of river without permission are trespassing.

Cots

That section of river was not, as far as I can tell, navigated by cargo-carrying vessels; it would be surprising had they been able to do so, even downstream. However, it was navigated by narrow cots. Lady Chatterton in her Rambles in the South of Ireland during the year 1838 [Vol II Saunders and Otley, London 1839], wrote

We have passed the last few days at Doonass, a beautiful place near the rapids of the Shannon. The sound of those rushing and falling waters was most soothing and melodious, as heard from the house, which is situated at some distance, in a beautiful park, sloping down to the river.

I walked several times on its banks to enjoy the splendid sight, and to watch some people who were fishing for salmon. It made me quite nervous to see the boats shoot some of the falls, knowing that unless they had kept exactly the right course, they would have been inevitably dashed to pieces.

In A Week at Killarney [Jeremiah How, London 1843] Mr & Mrs Samuel Carter Hall wrote

Castle Connell, a village about six miles from the city [of Limerick], is perhaps unrivalled in the kingdom for natural graces; and immediately below it are the Falls of Doonas, where the river rushes over huge mountain-rocks, affording a passage which the more daring only will make, for the current — narrowed to a boat’s breadth — rushes along with such frightful rapidity, that the deviation of a few inches would be inevitable destruction. [*]

This, although the most remarkable of the falls, is succeeded by several others, between Castle Connell and Limerick — the whole scene, however discouraging to the political economist, as presenting a picture of wasted strength, being delicious in the highest degree to the lover of natural beauty.

0125 The Falls of Doonass_resize

The river at Castleconnell by night in the floods of 2009

[*] We cannot easily forget our sensations of mingled alarm and enjoyment, while rushing along this course — at night, but by the light of a brilliant moon; it was exciting to the highest degree. We had confidence in our helmsman (if so we must term the man with the paddle-rudder he held in his hand); yet every now and then the voyage was a startling one, and the danger quite sufficient to shake stronger nerves than ours. He had nothing to do but to keep a keen eye upon the rocks at either side, and guide his “cot” by pushing aside a wave with a strong arm, so as to keep in the centre of the current; and he did so with wonderful accuracy.

Copy of 0107 Mr & Mrs S C Hall at Doonass (1843)

The Halls’ sketch of a cot

We were afterwards convinced that there was in reality no more peril than there would have been upon the Thames; for the boatmen are so skilful and so well-practised, that they govern their boats with absolute certainty.

The boats are flat-bottomed (for often the stream is not above a few inches deep), narrowed, and squared at the stem and stern. The paddle is a piece of flat wood, about three feet long, increasing from the handle to the breadth of about ten inches; only one is used, which the man changes from side to side according to the direction in which he desires to proceed — using it alternately to advance the boat, and as a helm to steer its course. We refer more especially to the boats used by the fishermen, in which the oars are seldom resorted to; for they are pushed up the stream by a long pole, and the current takes them down it without an effort.

And who can forget the stirring scene in L A Hall’s short story “Which was the bravest?” [in The Magnet Stories for Summer Days and Winter Nights Groombridge and Sons, London, no date, but my copy was a Christmas present in 1862, albeit not to me] in which Herbert, the English youth, falls over when attempting to pole a cot up the river at Castleconnell? The boatman, Lawlor, speaks:

“Sure the young gintleman wanted to try what stuff the Irish poles were made of, and small blame to him if the Irish rock and the Irish ash were too hard for him.”

This was all the work of a moment, during which Lucius [Herbert’s cousin, who lives near Doonass], well accustomed to the Shannon navigation, manfully stemmed the torrent with his single pole.

Not many Etonians could manage that nowadays, I imagine. But then there may not be as many Etonians around Doonass.

The Shannon Navigation

Note that L A Hall [of whom both Google and I are largely ignorant] used the term “Shannon navigation”. I had initially assumed that the Limerick Navigation Company, in its several manifestations, would have had no interest in this stretch of river and that therefore the Shannon Commissioners, and their successors the Board of [Public] Works and, now, Waterways Ireland would not have acquired any interest in its navigation.

I thought that there might have been a public right of navigation, as outlined by Douglas Caffyn, but that in any case such a right had been protected by the beneficence of Her late Majesty Victoria, by the Grace of God of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland Queen, who caused Her ministers to insert this provision in the Shannon Navigation Act 1839 [CAP LXI An Act for the Improvement of the Navigation of the River Shannon 17th August 1839]

XXXVI. And be it enacted and declared, That the said River Shannon is and for ever hereafter shall be, to all Intents and Purposes a public navigable River; and that all the Queen’s liege Subjects may have and lawfully enjoy their free Passage in, along, through, and upon the said River Shannon, with Boats, Barges, Lighters, and other Vessels, and also all necessary and convenient Liberties for navigating the same, without Let, Hindrance, or Obstruction whatever, on paying such Rates, Tolls, and Duties as are by this Act appointed to be paid, and complying with such Rules, Orders, Regulations, and Bye Laws as shall be made by the said Commissioners under the Provisions of this Act: Provided always, that nothing herein contained shall be construed to exempt any Person or Thing from the Payment of any Tonnage, Quayage, Rateage, or other Dues payable under an Act passed in the Fourth Year of the Reign of His late Majesty King George the Fourth, intituled An Act for the Erection of a Bridge across the River Shannon, and of a Floating Dock to accommodate sharp Vessels frequenting the Port of Limerick, and of an Act passed in the Fourth and Fifth Years of the Reign of His late Majesty King William the Fourth, intituled An Act to amend an Act passed in the Fourth Year of the Reign of His late Majesty King George the Fourth, intituled “An Act for the Erection of a Bridge across the River Shannon, and of a Floating Dock to accommodate sharp Vessels frequenting the Port of Limerick”, or from Compliance with any Rules or Regulations imposed or to be imposed by the Commissioners appointed under the said Two last-mentioned Acts.

There is one possible complication in the same act:

XXXIX. And be it enacted, That the said Commissioners shall, within Six Months from the passing of this Act, or at such other Time or Times as shall seem to them most expedient, fix and determine the Limits of the said River Shannon, and such of the Rivers aforesaid, or Parts thereof, as shall be improved under this Act, as to them shall seem expedient, within which all the Powers and Authorities by this Act given to the said Commissioners for the Care and Conservancy of the said Rivers respectively shall and may be exercised; and a printed Notice giving such Description of the Limits so fixed, with such Map or Plan thereof as to the said Commissioners shall seem expedient, shall be posted on each Toll House on or near the said River Shannon, and such of the Rivers aforesaid as to them shall seem expedient, and at every Place where a Table of the Tolls or Rates to be taken on the said River respectively shall be posted, and at such other Places as to the said Commissioners shall seem expedient.

The limits were set out in maps and minute books, which are listed in Schedule E of the Third Report of the Commissioners for the Improvement of the Navigation of the River Shannon published in 1842 [I don’t think that report is available online]. I’ve never seen the maps and minute books and so I don’t know whether they say anything about navigation on the relevant stretch of river, but the list includes:

Map 2 Map of part of the Shannon and the Canal, from Arthur’s Ferry to Castleconnel and World’s End (County of the City of Limerick, Counties of Limerick and Clare); Minute Book pages 7 to 11 inclusive; also 14 to 21 inclusive […]

Map 2B Plan and Sections of Clareville, or Prospect Mill-dam (County of the City of Limerick, County of Clare); Minute Book pages 9, 10, and 11

Map 2C Plan and Sections of Doonass Salmon-cribs, and of Water Park Bleach Mill-dam (Counties of Limerick and Clare); Minute Book pages 9, 10, 11, and 12

Map 3 Map from World’s End to Killaloe (Counties of Clare, Limerick, and Tipperary); Minute Book pages 11 & 12; also 21 to 26 inclusive; also 30 to 32 inclusive.

Apart from Map 2, those seem to be about water (mill) rights and salmon rather than about navigation, but I hope to check that with Waterways Ireland. The Commissioners may have decided that the Castleconnell stretch of the river lay outside the limits of the Shannon, and that navigation thereon was not therefore protected by the provisions of Section XXXVI. Even then, though, a public right to navigate may have continued to exist. On the other hand, the Commissioners’ limits may not have affected navigation on this stretch of river.

It is also possible that some later enactment affected navigation.

the ESB

An entire series of enactments, from the Shannon Electricity Act 1925 onwards, empowered either the Minister for Industry and Commerce or the Electricity Supply Board [ESB] to do various things connected, more or less, to the construction and operation of the hydroelectric power station at Ardnacrusha. Under the 1925 act, for instance, the minister was empowered [inter alia] to

3. […] (b) impound, hold up, divert, take, and use the waters of the River Shannon and any river or stream tributary thereto and any lake, pond, or canal thereon or connected thereto;

(c) embank, dam, dredge, deepen, widen, straighten, divert, and otherwise alter the River Shannon or any river or stream tributary thereto;

(d) embank, dam, dredge, alter the level of, and otherwise affect any lake, pond, or other water on or connected directly or indirectly with the River Shannon;

(e) remove, or alter, repair, construct, and maintain such sluices, weirs, dams, embankments, and other works as may be necessary for or incidental to the doing of any of the things mentioned in the foregoing paragraphs […].

Under the Electricity (Supply) Act 1927 the minister was empowered to prohibit navigation during construction; blocking off the river with Parteen Villa Weir probably made that easy to enforce. The Board was also empowered to prohibit navigation after taking over the works:

(3) When the handing over of the Shannon works to the Board under this Act is completed the Board, notwithstanding any such enactment as aforesaid, may by order, for the purposes of the operation of the Shannon works or of the exercise of any of the powers or the performance of any of the duties or functions conferred and imposed on the Board by or under this Act prohibit navigation in or upon the River Shannon or any particular part thereof specified in such order for such limited period of time specified in that behalf in such order as may be required by the Board for the purposes aforesaid.

That came before the ESB got the fisheries rights, so I can’t see that it’s relevant to any restriction of navigation in the interests of fisheries.

I searched the splendid Irish Statute Book for both Acts and Statutory Instruments with combinations of terms like Shannon, electricity, navigation, salmon and fishery. I then read — well, searched and skimmed — every relevant enactment I could find. I am not a lawyer, but it seemed to me that the only enactment under which the ESB might restrict, or have restricted, navigation, by kayaks or canoes or anything else, on the Shannon through Castleconnell, is the Shannon Fisheries Act 1935, of which more below.

Just for completeness, I should say that the Shannon Fisheries Act 1938 includes this section:

3.—Nothing in this Act shall operate to prejudice or affect any right of the Commissioners of Public Works in Ireland in relation to the navigation of the waters of the River Shannon.

That’s a useless provision, I think, because if the Commissioners of Public Works lost anything it was under the 1935 Act; the 1938 Act did nothing to restore any rights lost under the 1935.

Finally, the Electricity (Supply) (Amendment) Act 1945 allows the ESB to prohibit navigation but it doesn’t seem to apply to the Shannon: only to rivers on which power stations were to be built after 1945.

The Shannon Fisheries Act 1935

The most important part of the act is Section 9 (1) (d) but 9 (2) (a) may also be of interest:

(1) It shall be lawful for the Board to do all such things, carry out all such transactions, and fulfil all such functions as shall be necessary or proper for or incidental or ancillary to the due performance of the duties in relation to the Shannon fisheries imposed on the Board by this Part of this Act, and in particular and without prejudice to the generality of the foregoing powers, it shall be lawful for the Board to do all or any of the following things, that is to say:—

[…]

(d) terminate, restrict, or otherwise interfere with, either permanently or temporarily and either compulsorily or by agreement, any easement, way-leave, water-right, fishing right, or other right over or in respect of any land or water;

[…]

(2) Nothing in this section shall operate to authorise the Board—

(a) to do anything compulsorily without paying compensation therefor […].

Implementation

In order to check my conclusion, I emailed the ESB fisheries department on 26 May 2015:

I note that you say that canoeists and kayakers must seek your permission to use the Shannon at Castleconnell. I would be grateful if you could tell me:

(a) the legislation (Acts or Statutory Instruments) empowering you to make that stipulation

(b) the details of the Board decisions making it and

(c) the details of the stipulation itself. Does it, for instance, apply only to kayaks and canoes or are other vessels, and non-vessels such as jetskis or hovercraft, covered too?

The fisheries department very kindly replied on the same day:

Please note that ESB is not seeking to prevent kayakers or canoeists from using the river but as we operate the stretch of the Shannon River in Castleconnell as a private salmon fishery we are obliged to consider the interests of the anglers who use the fishery and pay to do so.

Since we introduced the requirement for kayakers to contact ESB Fisheries when intending to use the river at Castleconnell, no kayaker has been refused permission.

The legislation empowering ESB to regulate activity on the Shannon is contained in the Shannon Fisheries Act 1935 – Section 9.1 (D).

If you wish to discuss the matter please contact [name and telephone number redacted].

I prefer to have records of such discussions so I replied by email on 27 May 2015:

[…] I should say that I have no interest or stake in either angling or canoeing/kayaking per se. My interest is in the management of the Shannon, and in particular in navigation thereon, past and present.

[…] my interest in the navigation of the Shannon from Castleconnell downstream was excited recently by some comments by anglers on what kayakers might or might not do. Accordingly, I searched the Irish Statute Book database for all Acts and Statutory Instruments dealing with the ESB, the Shannon and salmon fisheries. I read every Act or SI I found on those subjects.

I found nothing to indicate that the right to navigate the Shannon, from Castleconnell downstream, had been extinguished or that the ESB had been appointed as a navigation authority with the right to control navigation; I note that the ESB makes charges for boats on some other fisheries but not on the Shannon.

I acknowledge of course that there may be documents I have not seen and that I may have missed or misinterpreted something in those I did read.

ESB> Shannon Fisheries Act 1935 – Section 9.1 (D)

That was the only enactment I found under which I thought the ESB could take any action that affected navigation. Indeed the section appears to allow the ESB to use helicopter gunships to deter poachers if it so desires.

However, that is an extremely broad enactment, and I have not found, in the Irish Statute Book or anywhere else, any information about these matters:

  • what strategic decisions the Board has made on this subject, or what decision-making powers it has conferred on its fisheries staff
  • in the implementation of that Section, what decision-making process the ESB followed and how it consulted citizens (other than anglers)
  • whether the Board has actually decided to “terminate, restrict, or otherwise interfere with, either permanently or temporarily and either compulsorily or by agreement, any easement, way- leave, water-right, fishing right, or other right over or in respect of any land or water”
  • if it has so decided, what the details of the decision are: details both of its making and of its application
  • how such decision is consonant with other legislation
  • how the decision was promulgated and where the details can now be found
  • what appeal and compensation mechanisms have been set up to enable the Board to meet the provisions of Section 9.2 (a)
  • what case law exists on the subject.

I have also been unable to find any enactment providing that citizens are obliged to obey any such decision or that any action can be taken against them if they decide to ignore it.

Let me say again that I acknowledge that my inability to find information doesn’t mean that it does not exist. However, I would have expected that, in any case where my [presumed] rights [eg to navigate] were affected, the relevant regulations would be readily available and the authority under which they were made would be clear. I would therefore be grateful if you would let me have the details, which I would like to publish on my website.

I sent that two weeks ago today; I have not yet had a response.

My current understanding

I acknowledge that the ESB has the right to ban navigation on the Shannon through Castleconnell if it wants to do so. I also acknowledge that it is possible that it has done so and even that it may have taken its decision validly and in accordance with the principles of natural or constitutional justice.

However, the ESB has not yet shown that it has taken that decision and done so validly and in accordance with the principles of natural or constitutional justice. I have found no evidence that it has and, in two weeks, the ESB has not provided any. All we have to go on is a pair of unsupported assertions, one by the  Limerick and District Anglers Association [whose concept of trespass I do not understand] and the other by the ESB fisheries department, saying that would-be navigators must contact them, but without citing any authority for that demand.

As matters stand, I see no reason why that demand should be complied with. But, again, I acknowledge that I do not have full information.

The Deel navigation

The Deel linked the Co Limerick town of Askeaton to the south side of the Shannon Estuary. Here is a page about the navigation and some of its quays. Note that it is a long page with many maps and photos, although they’re all reduced in size to minimise the strain on tinterweb.

No queue for the quay …

… at Querrin on the Shannon Estuary. The page discusses its building and the early years of its operation.

Lough Derg Regatta 1849

The Dublin Evening Mail of 19 September 1849 has come to hand.

LOUGH DERG REGATTA

The Regatta on the above-named beautiful lake came off last week. Monday, the 10th of September commenced the annual aquatic sports: the day was tolerably fine, and at two o’clock, PM, the Commodore, the Right Hon Lord Viscount Avonmore, started four yachts for a 30 Guinea Challenge Cup, with £12 added. After a drifting match (for it fell flat calm shortly after three o’clock), they came in as under:—

Gem, 12 tons, James Spaight, Esq
Hero, 8 tons, Dash Gainor, Esq
Iris, 19 tons, Wills C Gason, Esq
Foam, 24 tons, Lord Avonmore.

This was a time race.

While the yachts were absent several cot races came off.

On Tuesday, the 11th, the yachts sailed down in fleet to Killaloe, but the following day it blew a whole gale of wind, and the match that was to have been sailed for on that day was put off till the next; however, in the evening there were some well contested cot races.

The course was as usual — start from the Jetty, over the diagonal wall (built by the Shannon Commissioners to keep the water to a proper level in summer), under the bridge, round Friar’s Island, and back: to a stranger, it is astonishing to see a boat go down an incline nearly four feet high, which they are obliged to do in the race, and what is more extraordinary, any cot that is not rowed at it pretty fast, is almost certain of being upset.

Thursday, the 12th, at the Commodore’s signal, all the yachts got under weigh, and came to anchor off Derry, and at two o’clock, PM, five yachts started for a Silver Cup, valued at £15, witn £5 added. This was a time race for yachts under twelve tons. The wind was WNW, and blew a fine gaff-topsail breeze; at half-past four o’clock the yachts came in as under:—

Hero, 8 tons, Dash Gainor, Esq
Gem, 12 tons, James Spaight, Esq
Willy Wa, 9 tons, Captain Hon F Yelverton
Vampire, 9 tons, Arthur Vincent, Esq
Midge, 7 tons, Bassett W Holmes, Esq.

This was a beautiful race, all the yachts coming in almost together: the Hero only winning by 27 seconds — indeed she may thank the Midge for winning the prize, as going free the first round she got the Gem under her lee, and kept her back some minutes. Shortly after the signal was given to weigh anchor, and start for Portumna, where the fleet arrived at a late hour. In passing Scilly Island the Foam carried away her rudder head, and was near going ashore.

Next day, Friday the 14th, the yachts assembled off Portumna Castle, and at three o’clock, PM, the Commodore started the following boats for a 40 Guinea Challenge Cup, with a purse of Sovereigns added, for all yachts. A handicap race.

Novice, 4 tons, Dash Ryan, Esq
Midge, 7 tons, Bassett W Holmes, Esq
Vampire, 9 tons, Arthur Vincent, Esq
Gem, 12 tons, James Spaight, Esq
Foam, 24 tons, Lord Avonmore
Iris, 18 tons, Wills C Gason, Esq.

This was a most exciting race, and during the first hour it was difficult to tell which would be the winner. Before rounding the second flag boat the Novice put about and gave up the race, and off Church Island, the Midge carried away the jaws of her gaff, and was obliged to give up the race, which she was almost sure of winning — having gained two minutes the first round. The course was a long one, and the race was not over till after eight o’clock, when the four boats came in as follows:—

Iris
Foam
Gem
Vampire.

During each day of the Regatta, the City of Dublin Steam Company placed one of their fine steamers at the disposal of the Sailing Committee, who took out all their friends, and accompanied the yachts each day during the race.

In the evening, after several cot races and other amusements too numerous to relate. The ladies and gentlemen present were entertained at Belle Isle, the beautiful seat and hospitable mansion of Lord Avonmore; and at a later hour assembled some 120 of the elite of Tipperary, Galway, and King’s County, at the Clanricarde Arms, Portumna, where dancing was kept up with spirit until morning.

The population of the Portumna DED declined by 30.46% between 1841 and 1851.

Blunderbuses on the Shannon

Saturday 10 May 1845

[…] On our way to Rooskey this Morning we visited Cloneen [Clooneen] & Cox shoal and they were going on very well with about 60 Men

I ordered them to double that Number to my astonishment I found 4 Policemen Barricked in one of our houses and a new Barrick erecting for 30 or 40 more Men this was being done in consequence of three villains placing themselves on the opposite bank of the River and deliberately firing four rounds of Ball from Blunderbuses some of which went into the office and from the marks made by one Ball must have been only a few inches from striking Joe Lambs head — afterwards the villains retired to the Bogs — the object of this outrage was revenge on the Men for not striking for 1/6 [8p] Pd day — the average being about 1/2 [6p] — which is considered at present ample

From David Brooke ed The diary of William Mackenzie, the first international railway contractor Thomas Telford Publishing, London 2000

What the blurb doesn’t say is that Mackenzie was the contractor for works on four areas of the Shannon, working for the Shannon Commissioners in the 1840s. He was responsible for Killaloe, Meelick, Banagher and Rooskey and also held a dredging contract.

Lanesborough to Rooskey showing Lough Forbes

Clooneen (Cox) is the area at the upstream end of Lough Forbes; other Clooneens lie to the north on the east side of the river. Joe Lamb was the ganger.

Clooneen (Cox)

Who built the quay at Kildysart?

The Shannon Commissioners didn’t, but who did? Read about it here. Topics covered include a quad bike, a gandalow and a mausoleum.

Location

Page 84 of Ruth Delany’s The Shannon Navigation (Lilliput Press 2008) has a drawing with this caption:

A drawing by Edward Jones which it is thought might depict the Shannon Commission’s survey in progress at an unidentified location possibly down the Shannon Estuary. (Courtesy of the Society of Antiquaries of London)

I suggest that the drawing is of Saleen, on the Ballylongford Creek in Co Kerry, on the lower reaches of the Shannon Estuary. The first word written on the  drawing looks like “Sawline”, which might be a version of “Saleen”.

Clondra Lock

The lock at Clondra may be the only one on the Shannon that is in the same place, and doing the same job, since the days of the Commissioners of Inland Navigation in the middle of the eighteenth century. The lock itself has been refurbished several times, and in recent years the lock furniture has been altered to make it impossible for boaters to work their own boats through it. But it has a very interesting collection of gear and it is well worth using, even if you’re not going to the Royal Canal at Richmond Harbour.