Menu
Allianz and Afloat - Supporting Irish Boating

Ireland's sailing, boating & maritime magazine

Are Ireland’s Canals Dying Before Our Eyes?

24th October 2021
File image of a canal lock gate in Dublin
File image of a canal lock gate in Dublin Credit: Waterways Ireland

Amid concerns over reduced water levels this year on the Grand and Royal Canals, Afloat.ie reader and former Oireachtas policy advisor Cathal Murphy fears for the future of Ireland’s inland waterways

Water levels on the canals plummeted over recent months. This was seen on the Royal Canal and Grand Canal and along the latter’s Barrow Line. They were so bad in parts that boats could not move on these 200-year-old navigations.

The water levels in parts were allegedly down over half a metre, the lowest in living memory. These historic pieces of heritage are under threat because if water levels continue to decrease they will not survive.

Is it structural problems? Is climate change responsible? The answers are yet to be found. The canals are supposed to have a stable water level, they are supplied off feeders which are water sources redirected from rivers.

These canals are great pieces of engineering, naturally maintaining their levels for boats to navigate. But suddenly after two centuries of functional infrastructure, we are seeing boats halted as water levels shrink.

The State at the moment is putting millions into greenway and blueway routes along these canals, but without the water and the boats these will become just paths along empty trenches in the countryside. It should be a basic function to keep water levels up as has been done for the past 200 years.

Illustrating the reduction in water levels on the Barrow Line in Co Laois in September 2021 | Credit: Cathal MurphyIllustrating the reduction in water levels on the Barrow Line in Co Laois in September 2021 | Credit: Cathal Murphy

It is not just the heritage affected. These waterways maintain immense biodiversity. Low water levels increase algal blooms, with devastating effects on fish and other invertebrates that use the habitat of the canal.

There is huge cultural and historical importance to the canals, forming a network upon which nature flourishes, history is functioning and people travel. Ireland needs them. They encourage tourism from both home and abroad so people can navigate these waterways like the canals of England and France.

Waterways Ireland, who maintain the canals, have said previously that low levels are due to leaks and not enough machinery to maintain the feeders that supply the canal, and maintain canal navigation.

Although this year we have seen some of the lowest levels, this has been an ongoing issue for a decade. This year marine notices stated that water levels were down 45cm in late August, and anecdotally they were down 60cm from Monastarevin to Athy along the Barrow Line.

The drying up of our canals is happening in front of our eyes. Some interim measures have been taken that have seen a rise in water levels in recent weeks but these are not long-term.

Whatever the reason for the water disappearing, the canals need to be protected, and to be seen as the asset of the State that they really are — and an amenity to all.

Afloat.ie Team

About The Author

Afloat.ie Team

Email The Author

Afloat.ie is Ireland's dedicated marine journalism team.

Have you got a story for our reporters? Email us here.

We've got a favour to ask

More people are reading Afloat.ie than ever thanks to the power of the internet but we're in stormy seas because advertising revenues across the media are falling fast. Unlike many news sites, we haven’t put up a paywall because we want to keep our marine journalism open.

Afloat.ie is Ireland's only full–time marine journalism team and it takes time, money and hard work to produce our content.

So you can see why we need to ask for your help.

If everyone chipped in, we can enhance our coverage and our future would be more secure. You can help us through a small donation. Thank you.

Direct Donation to Afloat button

Featured Sailing School

INSS sidebutton

Featured Clubs

dbsc mainbutton
Howth Yacht Club
Kinsale Yacht Club
National Yacht Club
Royal Cork Yacht Club
Royal Irish Yacht club
Royal Saint George Yacht Club

Featured Brokers

leinster sidebutton

Featured Associations

ICRA
isora sidebutton

Featured Webcams

Featured Events 2021

vdlr21 sidebutton

Featured Sailmakers

northsails sidebutton
uksails sidebutton
quantum sidebutton
watson sidebutton

Featured Chandleries

CHMarine Afloat logo
osm sidebutton
https://afloat.ie/resources/marine-industry-news/viking-marine

Featured Marinas

dlmarina sidebutton

Featured Blogs

W M Nixon - Sailing on Saturday
podcast sidebutton
mansfield sidebutton
BSB sidebutton
wavelengths sidebutton
 

Please show your support for Afloat by donating