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Ireland’s Floating Heritage Included in National Intangible Cultural Inventory

18th July 2019
A Heritage Boat rally on Lough Erne A Heritage Boat rally on Lough Erne

The Minister for Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, Josepha Madigan TD, has announced the inclusion of Ireland’s Floating Heritage in the National Inventory of Intangible Cultural Heritage.

The National Inventory is intended to raise awareness of, and respect for, our unique living culture through official State recognition. The National Inventory will also fulfil Ireland’s obligations under the 2003 UNESCO Convention for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage.

Intangible cultural heritage represents living forms of heritage that cannot be touched – unlike, for example, our built heritage. It refers to the practices, representations and expressions that are central to the lives and identities of our communities, groups and individuals.

Launching the Inventory recognising 30 different aspects of Intangible Heritage Minister Madigan TD said ‘It is wonderful to see such a variety of customs and traditions from all over the country being acknowledged here today. Each of these threads in the cultural tapestry of our lives makes us richer as individuals and as a country. None of this would be possible without the work of committed volunteers all around the country, whose involvement in their communities’ cultural practices and heritage traditions have sustained them over the generations. I am delighted to honour those customs, practices and traditions through official State recognition on the National Inventory.”

Heritage Boat AssociationMinister Madigan with John Mc Keown, Cormac Mc Carthy  of Waterways Ireland and Paul Martin of the Heritage Boats Association

Irelands floating heritage is characterised by a unique ‘living relationship’ between the community of users and waterway communities and the traditional heritage boats that have been restored, adapted and/or preserved. This relationship is built on a strong foundation of traditions, knowledge and skills. These traditional skills are shared by the boat owners within the wider community and through outreach events and include for example: the intricacies of managing a barge of circa 70 tonnes with rope work; The knowledge to ensure sympathetic and appropriate barge conversions; The use and repair of Bolinder engines for which no manual exists and all knowledge is contained within the flock memory of the boating community.

Many of these vessels, barges from the Grand and Royal Canals, for example, require maintenance and restoration. This knowledge and skill is retained within the boating community and passed on inter-generationally and to new members. Floating Heritage thrives on its interaction with waterway communities and depends on those whose knowledge of traditions, skills and customs is passed on. This is a core tenet of the outreach work and knowledge sharing undertaken by the Waterways Ireland, the Heritage Boat Association and the Inland Waterways Association of Ireland,

Waterways Ireland, through our Heritage Plan 2016-2020, strives to document, preserve, promote and safeguard Floating Heritage through our Community Grants Scheme which enables grass roots awareness-raising, reconnecting communities and training in Traditions/activities/practices. Waterways Ireland and the Heritage Boat Association have also developed a dedicated oral history and placenames collection programme, all of which support the concept of Floating Heritage. These histories have been collected and curated in publications such as Fine Lines – Clear Water and Cool Metal – Clear Water. In addition to the history of these boats the individuals who worked on them, when they were work barges, has also been documented and safeguarded for this and future generations.

Waterways Ireland has previously won the World Canals Conference Guardian Award 2016 for the Traditional Heritage Boat Survey which not only documented all heritage craft on all major Republic of Ireland waterways but also documented boat builders, boating terminology and international best practice in Floating Heritage. This was progressed in 2017 and again in 2019 and will result in all our waterways being surveyed.

Waterways Ireland says it is delighted that Floating Heritage has been recognised on the National Inventory. This will result in raising the status and awareness of floating heritage, heritage boats and their history and support and enhance positive public engagement in cultural heritage.

Published in Inland, Historic Boats Team

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Whether you're a boat enthusiast, historian, archaeologist, fisherman, or just taken by the natural beauty of Ireland's waterways, you will find something of interest in our Inland pages on

Inland Waterways

Ireland is lucky to have a wealth of river systems and canals crossing the country that, while once vital for transporting goods, are today equally as important for angling, recreational boating and of course tourism.

From the Barrow Navigation to the Erne System, the Grand Canal, the Lower Bann, the Royal Canal, the Shannon-Erne Waterway and the Shannon Navigation, these inland waterways are popular year in, year out for anyone with an interest in rambling; flora and fauna; fishing; sailing; motorboating; canoeing, kayaking and waterskiing; and cruising on narrowboats.

Although most will surely identify Ireland's inland waterways with boating holidays and a peaceful afternoon's angling, many varieties of watersport are increasingly favoured activities. Powerboat and Jetski courses abound, as do opportunities for waterskiing or wakeboarding. For those who don't require engine power, there's canoeing and kayaking, as Ireland's waterways have much to offer both recreational paddlers and those looking for more of a challenge. And when it comes to more sedate activities, there's nothing like going for a walk along a canal or river bank following some of the long-distance Waymarked Ways or Slí na Sláinte paths that criss-cross the country.

Ireland's network of rivers, lakes and canals is maintained by Waterways Ireland, which is one of the six North/South Implementation Bodies established under the British-Irish Agreement in 1999. The body has responsibility for the management, maintenance, development and restoration of inland navigable waterways on the island of Ireland, principally for recreational purposes. It also maintains Ireland's loughs, lakes and channels which are sought after for sailing; the network of canal locks and tow paths; as well as any buoys, bridges and harbours along the routes.

Along the Grand and Royal Canals and sections of the Barrow Navigation and the Shannon-Erne Waterway, Waterways Ireland is also responsible for angling activities, and charges Inland Fisheries Ireland with carrying out fisheries development, weed management and ensuring water quality.

Brian Goggin's Inland Blog

Giving his personal perspective on Ireland's Inland Waterways from present-day activities to their rich heritage, Brian Goggin tells it like it is with his Inland Blog.

From recognising achievements in management of the waterways to his worries on the costs of getting afloat on Ireland's canals, Goggin always has something important to say.

He also maintains the website Irish Waterways History that serves as a repository for a wealth of historical accounts of the past commercial and social uses alike of Ireland's rivers and canals, which were once the lifeblood of many a rural community.