Tag Archives: Strabane

Canal restoration: Strabane and Broharris

Alas, the Derry Journal [h/t Industrial Heritage Ireland, the indispensable source of IH news] tells us that

STEVE BRADLEY believes Derry’s forgotten canal heritage could boost the region’s economic fortunes

No, it couldn’t.

Mr Bradley’s article is extremely interesting. He describes the history of the Strabane and the Broharris canals and, in the process, shows me that my page about the Broharris was entirely wrong. I am about to update that page but I am grateful to him for the information he provided. I hope he will forgive me, then, if I disagree with him about the economic potential of canal restoration.

He makes no exaggerated claims about the potential of the Broharris as anything other than a walking route; it could not be used by boats larger than canoes or kayaks and, even for them, there are no obvious launching or recovery sites.

But he wants more for the Strabane. He says that digging up the canal basin in the town, and restoring the navigable link to the Foyle, would provide a new Canal Quarter to attract investment even though it would, he concedes, be an expensive project.

But it is on the navigation aspects that he goes seriously astray:

Restoring the canal would hopefully also kick-start the use of the Foyle for leisure, recreation and tourism purposes. And restoring the 200 years old link between Strabane and the Foyle would be a great flagship project for a new council district with Derry and Strabane as its two main population centres.

Towns elsewhere have shown how restored canals can help bring new life and prosperity to the districts they flow through, yet locally we have neglected our water assets. It is time to give serious consideration to the role that our forgotten canal heritage could make towards improving the economic fortunes of our area.

I wrote about the Strabane Canal here and here. Sinn Féin, always keen on eighteenth century economics, tried to get Waterways Ireland to waste some of its money on the thing but, happily, failed.

The real problem with this is that there seem to be very few boats on the Foyle; I suspect that many of them are sailing boats that are not terribly suitable for use on canals, while others are fast seagoing vessels that would damage the banks. And boats will not come from Britain or Ireland or anywhere else to visit Strabane by canal: a boat suitable for the sea passage to the Foyle would be inherently unsuitable for the canal, even assuming that the delights of Strabane were sufficient to entice boaters to make the journey.

Irish waterways promoters have operated for years on the principle that, if the government gives them the money to build the canal, the traffic will come. Anyone who believes that should visit Tralee, where a similar canal, short and isolated, linking a town to the sea, is not used other than by walkers and the local rowing club. Seagoing boats go to Fenit instead.

And, on “how restored canals can help bring new life and prosperity to the districts they flow through”, I recommend a visit to the Royal Canal, which is very nice but has very little traffic. As, indeed, does the Grand Canal. English experience with a large connected network of canals is not relevant to Irish conditions, whether on geographic or on economic grounds.


Sinn Féin’s sheughs

I have remarked before that Sinn Féin seems to be devoted to the leading-edge communications technology of the eighteenth century, the canal. I have no idea why it takes such an interest in the subject, but further evidence of its devotion has emerged in the last week.

The Fermanagh Herald reported, on 5 May 2013, that Michelle Gildernew MP [whose Sinn Féin page seems to have disappeared] listed the Clones Sheugh amongst the jobs on which European taxpayers should spend money. She did so at a meeting with Colette Fitzgerald, head of the European Commission’s Belfast office; Ms Fitzgerald made polite noises but did not promise any money.

But Sinn Féin does not confine itself to Clones. Carál Ní Chuilín MLA, whose Sinn Féin web page is live but well out of date, is (as Minister of Culture, Arts and Leisure) the NI minister responsible for Waterways Ireland. We learn from the Londonderry Sentinel that she wanted Waterways Ireland to be landed with responsibility for the Strabane Sheugh.

Happily, the North South Ministerial Council shot that down, but the minister wants to see whether the unfortunate Strategic Investment Board can find any loot for the canal. It might be better if they were asked to find a use for it first: even if it were restored, it would be unlikely ever to see more than a few small boats in a year. It might provide a walking route, for which (pace the Clones dudes) neither locks nor water would be needed, but the Londonderry Sentinel leaves me unclear whether the towpath is usable. It says:

A year ago the Sentinel reported the ‘tow path’ section of the Strabane Canal was to open for the first time in 50 years in June 2012.

It doesn’t say that the towpath did reopen, which seems odd; a Belfast Telegraph article of June 2012 says that it was reopened temporarily but WalkNI says that it is being restored. So is it open or not? I’d like to know, because I favour walking routes along unrestored canals, as does the learned IndustrialHeritageIreland, which also notes encouraging interest from Monaghan County Council.

Thon Strabane sheugh

[I’m practising Ulster Scots in a spirit of parity of esteem and such.]

I wrote the other day about a Sinn Féin campaign to have the Strabane Canal foisted upon the unfortunate Waterways Ireland (as though it didn’t have enough trouble already, what with smooth newts and mooring permits).

I once went looking for the Strabane Canal but I couldn’t find it (and wasn’t allowed to spend enough time searching). I don’t know that area at all, so I thought it would be useful to send a drone [well, actually, I used Google Maps in Photos view] to capture an aerial view of the Foyle. I was particularly interested in the likely demand for the Strabane Canal and I thought the number of pleasure craft on the Foyle might be a useful indicator.

This might be the Google view of the downstream lock on the canal.

So I flew the Googledrone down one bank from Strabane to the sea, crossed the mouth of the estuary and came back on the far side. And as far as I can see, there are very few pleasure boats on the Foyle. Londonderry Port and Harbour Commissioners have a small marina in Stroke City, Lough Foyle Yacht Club races dinghies and Foyle Punts from Culmore Point and there is a port at Greencastle, but that seems to be about it. I saw no serried ranks of motor cruisers, narrowboats or barges parked anywhere. It is of course possible that I missed them in my flyover, but where are the boats to come from to sue the Strabane Canal?

Northern Ireland seeks cutting-edge technology … of the 18th century

IndustrialHeritageIreland reports on two recent outbreaks of cargo cultism in Norn Iron. Folk in Tyrone want the whole of the Ulster Canal to be restored to its, er, former glory, which presumably means without any water west of Monaghan, while a Sinn Féin MLA wants to lumber Waterways Ireland with responsibility for the useless Strabane Canal on which £1.3 million has already been wasted.

What is it with Sinn Féin and canals? I realise that Irish republicanism is by definition a backward-looking creed, with little contact with reality, but why not look to (say) early nineteenth century technology, like the steam railway, rather than that of the eighteenth century?

Part of the problem, I suspect, is that Sinn Féin folk, especially those who are subjects of Her current Majesty, adopt a British conception of inland waterways. In Britain, canals dominate and boats must travel slowly, no faster than the horse-drawn vessels of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. But Irish waterways are dominated by lakes, whereon modern folk like to zoom around in fast boats: jetskis, speedboats and skiboats, fast cruisers. Such boats are entirely unsuitable for canals: they damage the banks and the pace bores their owners.

As it happens, we have lots of lakes where owners can zoom. [I’d prefer if they didn’t, but that’s the way it is.] And with reductions in the amount of boating activity, we don’t need any additional waterways. Sinn Féin, though, doesn’t seem to have grasped this. Stuck in the eighteenth century, it wants canals. I suppose we should be grateful it isn’t proposing to have the taxpayer stump up for coal-mines as well.

The Strabane Canal and the Foyle

Here is a short account of the Foyle and the Strabane Canal in the 1890s.

Something in the water?

Readers may have realised that I don’t think much of the proposal to restore or rebuild the Ulster Canal. But I have to admit that it is not the most insane canal restoration proposal to have been made in the last few years. Even the restoration of the Strabane Canal doesn’t merit that accolade.

No: the outright winner has to be the Erne Canal proposal. Happily, despite support from Mary Coughlan, TD for the area and Tánaiste (deputy prime minister), the proposal doesn’t seem to have got anywhere.

What do all three of these proposals have in common?

Northsouthery, that’s what.