Tag Archives: turf

Shannon history

Folk interested in the history of the Shannon Navigation, and in particular in the work of the Shannon Commissioners in the 1840s, may like to get hold of an article “Steam, the Shannon and the Great British breakfast”, published in the Journal of the Railway & Canal Historical Society Vol 38 Part 4 No 222 March 2015.

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.

The madness of Daniel O’Connell

In 1828 Daniel O’Connell was elected to the House of Commons for County Clare. As a Roman Catholic, he could not take the Oath of Supremacy [Frizzell, the illustrator, seems to have got his date wrong] and so could not take his seat, but the Emancipation Act 1829 removed that obstacle. However, it was not retrospective, so O’Connell had to stand again in County Clare; he was elected unopposed in July 1829.

On Sunday 31 January 1830 “The Patriotic member for Clare, Daniel O’Connell Esq, sailed from Howth […] at 8 o’clock, for England, to attend his Parliamentary duties” [Tipperary Free Press 3 February 1830] and when Parliament resumed on Thursday 4 February 1830

Daniel O’Connell Esq took the oaths prescribed by the Catholic Relief Bill, and his seat as a member for the county of Clare. The honourable member seated himself on the third row of the opposition side of the house, and exactly opposite to Mr Peel.

[London] Standard 5 February 1830

O’Connell’s letter

Before he left Ireland, O’Connell issued a letter to “the people of the County of Clare”; according to the Morning Post of 20 January 1830 it was issued from the Parliamentary Intelligence Office, 26 Stephen-street, on 15 January 1830. It began

MY FRIENDS AND BRETHREN — I take up the pledges which I made to you when I called on you to repose in me the high and awful trust of being your Representative. I will endeavour honestly to redeem those pledges.

For this purpose I propose to leave Dublin on the 26th of this month. I go off at the commencement of Term, and I shall be absent for two, if not three, entire Terms. Men will sneer at me for talking of these sacrifices to public duty, who, themselves, seek their own individual advantage in all their political exertions. I readily consent, and will proceed to do my duty to you with alacrity, zeal, and perseverance.

There was more along those lines, and then he said

My Parliamentary duties will naturally divide themselves into two distinct branches: the first relates to your local concerns; the second, to those mighty interests in which your prosperity is involved with that of all Ireland.

There were four local concerns: two about canals and two about ports.

An asylum harbour

West Clare [OSI ~1900]

West Clare [OSI ~1900]

The first port proposal was to build an “asylum harbour” on the west coast. An asylum harbour was a port that provided refuge in storms: Kingstown [Dun Laoghaire] was an asylum harbour (amongst other things). O’Connell thought an asylum harbour on the west coast would provide a safe haven for vessels coming across the Atlantic, feeling the force of the Gulf Stream and the prevailing westerly winds: they risked being “embayed on the iron-bound coast between Loop Head and Hag’s Head” where the Cliffs of Moher are. It is not clear how vessels could safely enter such a harbour, given that it would require them to come close to the lee shore, but O’Connell said

The existence of an asylum harbour on Malbay would be of the greatest value to the trade of the British Isles. I do hope to be able to realise this project, in the execution of which the talents of my most valued friend THOMAS STEELE would be found to be most highly beneficial to that county which he adorns by his abilities and patriotism.

O’Connell no doubt had in mind Thomas Steele’s talents as a urinator.

Carrigaholt and Kilrush

O’Connell also wanted

[…] the construction of two suitable piers, with other works, completely to protect shipping; the one on the Bay of Carrigaholt, the other on Scattery or Kilrush Harbour.

The commerce of Kerry, Clare, and Limerick, are interested in these works. We shall certainly obtain the powerful assistance of the patriotic Member for Limerick. His assiduity, information, and public spirit, render him a model which Irish representatives should imitate.

He wasn’t quite as complimentary about Thomas Spring Rice a few years later, when O’Connell’s five-hour speech in favour of the repeal of the Acts of Union was topped by Spring Rice’s six-hour contribution.

Here is a page about Kilrush. I haven’t done a page about Carrigaholt so there follows some information to fill the gap until I get around to doing it properly.

The earlier pier at Carrigaholt was built by Alexander Nimmo and was more successful than his harbour down the road at Kilbaha. Despite the description on the DIA site, I assume that it is the one shown on the 6″ OSI map.

Carrigaholt map 1

The old quay at Carrigaholt (OSI ~1840)

Here’s a photo.

Carrigaholt August 2011 7_resize

The old quay at Carrigaholt as extended

Commander James Wolfe’s Sailing Directions [PDF], compiled some time before 1848, say

Round Kilcradan, to the northward, and protected by it, is the anchorage or Road of Carrigaholt. It is a very fine secure anchorage with all winds from the westward, but from the ENE to S much sea prevails, though not heavy enough to endanger a vessel well found in ground tackling. With SW gales, a long rolling swell sets in round Kilcradan Point, which renders riding here at those times very uneasy. These roads have the advantage of being free from any great strength of tide.

The ground is level all over the road, but from six fathoms it shoals gradually towards the shores; the bottom, of sand over clay and mud, is generally considered good holding ground. The best anchorage for a large ship is with the top of Ray Hill in one with the Coast-guard Watchhouse W ¾ N, and Moyarta Lodge, just open of the point on which Carrigaholt Castle stands, nearly N ½ W in 5½ to 6 fathoms low-water springs.

The shore forms two smaller bays, the northern of which takes its name from the village which stands on its shores, and the southern is called Kilcradan. Both are very flat and shallow; in the latter there is a coast-guard station, but it is not a boarding station. The village is a poor miserable place, and does not afford supplies of any sort, nor can a ship complete water here. At the village is a small pier, accessible only (to loaded boats) at high water. It is used by the turf-boats, though most of these load on the beach.

Carrigaholt Castle, a high square tower on the point, and the chapel, a cruciform building, with its belfry, are very conspicuous objects.

As those directions were written some years ago, I suggest that you should not use them for navigating nowadays. You can tell that they are out of date because the village does now afford most excellent supplies, chiefly in the Long Dock. The Long Dock does not, alas, seem to have updated its website since 2006, having gone over to the Dark Side of FaceTweet which, at least to me, is impossible to search, so I can’t point you to a list of the interesting beers the Long Dock stocks in addition to its excellent food.

My spies tell me that, if you happen to be driving a barge from, say, Donegal to Limerick — not that I’m encouraging you to do anything of the sort — Mr Luke Aston of the Carrigaholt Sea Angling Centre will be able to advise on moorings. He’s got a Lochin, so he must be sound. You can have a day’s sea angling with him or a day watching dolphins with Geoff Magee (to whom I owe a glass of sherry), followed by a meal at the Long Dock: what more could you want?

Carrigaholt new harbour 24

Luke Aston’s Lochin [I assume] and Geoff Magee’s Draíocht

Well, if you were Daniel O’Connell, you’d want a new pier or quay.

Carrigaholt map 2

Carrigaholt old and new quays [OSI ~1900]

The old quay was extended at some stage and a new quay was built at the castle. I don’t know have dates for either of those, but I think the new quay was built as a fisheries pier in the 1890s. If, Gentle Reader, you know the dates, and can save me from having to plough through years of Board of Works reports, do please leave a Comment below.

If O’Connell had any role in having the old pier extended, that would have been the only one of his four local concerns on which he had any success, although he could also claim a minor supporting role in having the pier at Cappa, Kilrush, extended in the 1840s.

Carrigaholt new harbour 30_resize

Carrigaholt new quay seen from the old quay

The canal to Ennis

Daniel O’Connell’s third local concern was

The opening of the navigation of the Fergus to Ennis, so as to make that town a sea-port. The tide rises about half a mile beyond that town; and if there were a short canal cut near the village of Clare, of about 300 yards, vessels of burden could deliver their cargoes at Ennis, and carry away the produce of the country to the most remote markets.

This was a proposal that came up several times, but it was never implemented. The Shannon Commissioners built a fine quay at Clare [now Clarecastle] in the 1840s, but they left it as the head of the navigation.

Wolfe’s Sailing Directions made it clear that the passage of the Fergus estuary was not to be undertaken lightly:

A mile to the eastward of the Beeves is the principal and only navigable entrance to the River Fergus, which comes from the NNE amid vast banks of mud, and numerous islets and rocks. Having passed the Beeves, steer up for Feenish Island till you bring the tall square tower of an old castle (called Court Brown) in one with the north point of Low Island, WNW¼W, which is studded with white houses.

You must then keep rather more to the northward for the round hill of Coney Island, until Cannon Castle is in one with the peak of Grady Island, W¼S, when you must bear away for the east point of Coney Island; you will then shortly come into five and six fathoms, where you must anchor with the sharp peak of Coney Island bearing N by E and Cannon Castle WSW1/3W in about six fathoms soft muddy bottom.

Grady's and Cannon Islands from off Innish Corker [Admiralty Surveyors 1841 by kind permission of the UK National Archives]

Grady’s and Cannon Islands from off Innish Corker [Admiralty Surveyors 1841 by kind permission of the UK National Archives]

Beyond this it would be impossible to proceed without a pilot. The river beyond Coney Island winds through vast banks of mud, extending from 1 to 1½ miles from the shore, decreasing gradually in width from 600 yards, and varying in depth from nine to three feet up to the town of Clare, nearly seven miles in a direct line, and nine following the channel.

At Clare the bed of the river is dry at low water, but there is a quay, alongside of which vessels load. Clare is a miserable place, though the shipping port of Ennis. It is a military station.

Pilots may be had at Low Island, but no vessel above 150 tons should go up to Clare.

Clare_resize

The bridge at Clare[castle] [OSI ~1840]

As well as a lock, some opening mechanism would have been required for vessels to get though the bridge, which was not the current flat structure; here is a photo of the old bridge.

Clarecastle Fergus Navigation June 2007 07_resize

Looking from the Shannon Commissioners 1840s quay at Clare towards the bridge

Clarecastle November 2014 16_resize

Clarecastle gandalows at the quay

Clarecastle old quay from far side 03_resize

The quay from across the river

Very low water at Clarecastle 5_resize

Low water at Clarecastle

The interesting thing is that, even though a boat could not pass through Clarecastle to the estuary, there must have been some navigation on the Fergus; I would like to know more about what and how much was carried when. There was a quay, Parson’s Quay, in Ennis …

Ennis_resize

Parson’s Quay in Ennis [OSI ~1840]

… and another quay further downstream. I put the next map in black and white to make it easier to see things; it’s scaled down from the Ennis map.

Quays_resize

Ennis and district [OSI ~1840]

The map also shows that O’Connell was right about the tide: it did flow well above Ennis.

The other canal

Although the first three proposals were not implemented, and probably would have been either uneconomic or unsuccessful, they weren’t absolutely bonkers. His fourth idea, though, was nuts.

The fourth local concern relates to a communication by a canal from the bay of Galway to Limerick. The point of junction should be somewhere in the neighbourhood of Killaloe. The entire of the western and midland counties of Ireland would derive great advantage from such a canal.

Getting through the hills above Killaloe would have been fun. But the real problem with the proposal is that O’Connell fundamentally misunderstood the nature of the Irish economy. Each Irish port served its own hinterland, shipping out its produce and shipping in coal, timber and other overseas goods. But the ports did not need to trade with each other, as each performed the same function.

The exception to that was created by the application of steam on the inland Shannon, which allowed perishable produce from the Limerick area to be carried across Ireland for export through Dublin to Britain. That role was soon taken over by the railways.

But there was no point in connecting two westward-facing ports by canal: if they needed to trade with each other, they could do so by sea.

My OSI logo and permit number for website

The storm on the Shannon

Turf boat above Killaloe: Admiralty Surveyors' sketch 1839 [by kind permission of the UK National Archives]

Turf boat above Killaloe: Admiralty Surveyors’ sketch 1839 [by kind permission of the UK National Archives]

On Tuesday last, a boat laden with turf, and manned by three persons — two Quins, brothers, young boys, and the owner, Martin Houlagan — left the County of Galway side of the Shannon for Killaloe. The weather became so very rough, it was late before they neared the quay at Derry Castle; but, unfortunately, when within view of safety, a squall split the sail, and the little vessel capsized, and, with the two Quins, sank to the bottom.

Houlagan swam to the shore, but it was so dark he could not find his way; he got inside a sheltered ditch from the inclemency of the night, but was found, in the morning, a lifeless corpse.

Northern Whig 26 November 1840 quoting the Nenagh Guardian

Steam, the Shannon and the Great British Breakfast

That is the title of the Railway and Canal Historical Society‘s 2014 Clinker Memorial Lecture, to be held at the Birmingham and Midland Institute, Margaret Street, Birmingham B3 3BS, at 1415 on Saturday 18 October 2014.

The lecture will concentrate on the period before 1850 with such interesting topics as

  • Shannon steamers
  • the Grand and Royal Canals
  • the first Irish turf (peat) to reach the USA (possibly)
  • port developments in Dublin, Limerick and Kingstonw
  • the Dublin and Kingstown Ship Canal
  • the Midland Great Western Railway
  • what “cattle class” really means
  • bacon and eggs.

Admission is free and booking is not required. However, if you plan to attend, it would be helpful if you could e-mail […] to this effect.

The Clinker Memorial Lecture is named for Charles R Clinker, an eminent railway authoe and one-time historian of the Great Western Railway, who died in 1983.

If you would like the contact email address, leave a Comment below and I’ll get in touch with you direct.

 

 

Mayo’s canal system

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

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

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

 

 

A little information on Lacy’s Canal

Here is a new page about Lacy’s Canal.

Who writes this stuff?

The National Inventory of Architectural Heritage on the Black Bridge at Plass[e]y and on Baal’s Bridge in Limerick.

It would be nice if the NIAH provided reliable historical information.

 

Shannon history in Birmingham

According to the Railway & Canal Historical Society’s Events page, its annual Clinker Memorial Lecture, to be held in Birmingham in October 2014, will be about River Shannon steamers in the second quarter of the nineteenth century:

The 2014 Clinker Memorial Lecture will be held in Birmingham on the afternoon of Saturday 18th October 2014. The speaker will be Brian Goggin, BA (Mod), MA.

Brian graduated from Trinity College, Dublin in Economics and Politics, and spent some years as honorary Editor of the quarterly magazine of the Inland Waterways Association of Ireland. He and his wife Anne have been boating on Irish inland waterways since the late 1970s. He is currently working on a book on the Shannon steamers of the 1830s and 1840s, and the Clinker Lecture will draw on his research.

Before lunch (and independent of the Lecture) there will be a walking tour of central Birmingham, focusing on sites of waterway and railway interest.

 

Rural nitwits and retirement communities

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

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

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

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

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