Allianz and Afloat - Supporting Irish Boating

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Displaying items by tag: inland waterways

Waterways Ireland has issued a notice to boaters on all navigations about low water levels. The extended period of unseasonal dry weather has meant that water levels in the navigations are presently lower than normal for this time of year. As the boating season is about to get underway users are advised of the following:


If the dry weather continues and water levels fall below normal summer levels masters should be aware that their vessels may be at risk of grounding, particularly deep drafted vessels.

To reduce this risk masters should navigate where possible on or near the centreline of the channel and also avoid short cutting in dog-legged channels and navigating too close to navigation markers.

Proceeding at a slow speed will also reduce "squat" effect i.e. where the vessel tends to sit lower in the water as a consequence of higher speed.


Low water levels will also impact on slipways with reduced slipway length available under the water surface and the possibility of launching trailers dropping off the end of the concrete apron onto the river /lake bed and causing damage to trailer, outboard motor or boat. More slipway surface will also be susceptible to weed growth requiring care while engaged in launching boats.

Bank Erosion

Very dry riverbanks are more susceptible to erosion from vessel wash. Please ensure you adhere to the speed limits and maintain a reduced wash.

Lock Share

Where appropriate by maximising on the number of vessels in a lock the total volume of water moving downstream is decreased. This also reduces the volume of water used. Please be patient and wait for other boaters to share the lock with you rather than using locks for sole passages.

Efficient Lock Use

Make sure lock cycles are used for vessels travelling each way. Each lock cycle should take boats both up and down stream. Shut all sluice gates and paddles when leaving a lock.

Service Blocks

You are requested not to leave taps running at watering points or service blocks in the interest of water conservation.

Published in Inland Waterways
Tagged under

The River Barrow, Graignamanagh, St. Mullins and a boat trip from New Ross to Hook Head features on the new series of Distant Shores, a sailing adventure TV series where an American couple Paul and Sheryl Shard undertake different voyages.

In season eight the filmakers start from north England and sail to Ireland. At New Ross they are befriended by local boaters and enjoy a day trip on the Barrow. Then they have some good “craic” at the boat club! The series was filmed last May and is on the new schedule from Travel Channel (Sky channel 251).

The new Season (8 episodes) of Distant Shores air on Wednesday, April 4 at 1930.  The first episode features New Ross and the River Barrow. It repeats on Thurs Apr 5 at 1330,

Published in Maritime TV
Tagged under

A search and recovery operation is underway upstream of the Carrick-on-Shannon town bridge for a distance of approximately 400m. The Garda Water Unit has divers in the water and both Garda and Civil Defence vessels are searching this area. Waterways Ireland has advised boats in the area to approach this area at slow speed and note any directions or instructions issued by the Garda or Civil Defence.

Published in Inland Waterways
Tagged under

#ANGLING - Inland Fisheries Ireland (IFI) has appointed Tourism Development International (TDI) to undertake a Socio-Economic Survey of Recreational Angling in Ireland.

The overall objective of the survey, which will run over the course of 2012, is to establish the current volume and value of domestic and overseas recreational angling in the country.

Pike, coarse fish, bass, salmon, sea trout, brown trout and sea anglers will all be invited to participate in what is described as Ireland's most comprehensive angling survey undertaken in decades.

The survey will inform IFI and its tourism partners in relation to the business of angling in Ireland and also enable improved strategic planning and decision-making in terms of product development and marketing.

"Anglers are the key to this survey," commented Minister of State for Natural Resources Fergus O'Dowd. "They know the resource and they understand the importance of sustainability. What anglers contribute to Ireland’s economy is unknown but I am certain that it is significant.

"Angling takes place in every river and lake in Ireland and all around our coastline. There is no town or village in Ireland that doesn’t have anglers."

He added: "It is imperative that the inland fisheries and sea angling resources are managed in the best way possible to ensure enjoyment for our local and visiting anglers, sustainable jobs in rural communities and maximising its potential to add to Ireland’s economy.

"Getting the right information from those most involved will greatly assist in improving the angling product."

The survey comprises two parts: a household survey and a survey of recreational anglers which will commence in April. Anglers will be met at fishing locations throughout Ireland and invited to participate there and then, or later by phone or online. IFI says that every effort will be made to accommodate participation.

Published in Angling

I was slightly surprised to find that numbers of registered boats increased on both the Shannon and the Erne last year. The Erne ended the year with 5401 boats, up from 5192 in 2010 and 4659 in 2007; the Shannon ended with 8387, up from 8143 in 2010 and 7001 in 2007. Even the Royal, Grand and Barrow numbers increased: 634 permits were issued in 2011, up from 577 in 2010 and 527 in 2007.

However, there are two problems with the interpretation of these numbers. The first is that, because there is no annual registration fee on the Erne and Shannon, there is no incentive for owners to de-register boats that have been sold away from the river. The second is that an increase in registrations might reflect increased vigilance by the inspectorate rather than an actual increase in boat numbers.

The traffic figures for the Shannon locks and moveable bridges do not provide a complete record of all boat movements: a boat that stays on Lough Derg, for instance, will never appear in the figures. But they are a good indicator of show changes in levels of usage from year to year.

The earliest figures I have to hand are for 1998, when there were 74642 boat movements, of which 79% were of hire boats. By 2008 the total number of boat movements was down to 58787, 62% hire boats. By 2010 the total was 50706, 52% hire boats, and in 2011 the total was 45156, 53% hire boats.

But from 2006 until 2010 the numbers of movements of private boats were remarkably consistent: 24634, 24554, 22628, 24705, 24395. There was then a significant fall to 21442 in 2011. However, the fall in the number of hire boat passages has been much more drastic, from 58586 in 1998 to 23714 in 2011, a fall of about 60%.

Perhaps it is because it feels that the numbers reflect poorly on its effectiveness that Waterways Ireland's new Marketing Strategy 2012-2017 contains so few measurable output targets and focuses largely on inputs. It shows what WI intends to do, not what it hopes to achieve. Whatever the reason, I think the decision is regrettable: WI should get SMART.

Mineral Oil Tax
I could never understand why the Irish taxpayer should subsidise the owners of pleasure-boats by allowing them to use cheap (green, rebated) diesel (marked gas oil). I was delighted therefore when the European Union authorities finally lost patience with the Irish and British Governments' successive requests for derogations and instructed them to end the subsidy.

The Irish Government responded by allowing boat-owners to use either auto diesel or marked gas oil; if they use the latter, they must make a return, once a year, of the difference between the tax they actually paid on their fuel and what they should have paid at the auto diesel rate.

I asked Revenue how much duty was paid for the first two years of the scheme, 2009 and 2010; the amounts were e169,895.51 and e140,929.12. The 2010 figure means that the full tax was enough to cover just over 300,000 litres of diesel: say 30 litres a year for each of 10,000 boats, which doesn't seem to be very much. The inland hire fleets could account for most of that, so I asked Revenue how many returns had been received. They told me that they got 38 returns in 2010 for the year 2009, but the number increased in the following year — to 41.

I see two possible explanations. Either the vast majority of boat-owners are using auto diesel, in which case they don't need the scheme that allows them to use marked gas oil, or the vast majority of boat-owners are simply ignoring the law. If that is so, the system has been shown to be unworkable and Revenue should insist on the use of auto diesel.

WI's non-houseboat policy
Waterways Ireland developed some houseboat berths at Shannon Harbour, with funding from the National Development Plan. The berths, above Griffith Bridge, are designed for Grand Canal-size boats: there are seven berths available, with fixed timber jetties, water and (with smartcard access) electricity.

The interesting point is that the berths are not advertised on WI's website as houseboat berths. Instead they are described as the first release of "vacancies that arise at Waterways Ireland’s directly managed mooring sites", under a heading "Extended Term Serviced Mooring Vacancies". They are available on one-year licences, where "it is expected that the licence holders will live on board their vessels as their sole or main residence." However, the Mooring Agreement does not require that licence holders live on their boats.

That seems to leave it open to Waterways Ireland to allocate the berths to non-residential boaters. And, as the licences are being auctioned with a minimum bid price of e1250 for the year, barge owners who are paying up to three times that amount in commercial marinas might be interested. More importantly, the licence agreement would be easily adapted to use elsewhere on the canals and on other waterways; that might allow WI to begin to bring the long-term berthers, residential or otherwise, under control.

Water charges
Éamon Ó Cuív TD keeps his eye on the ball. He asked a Dáil question about a Reasoned Opinion sent by the EU Commission to Ireland in November 2011, suggesting that Ireland had not correctly implemented the provisions of the Water Framework Directive that require "a cost recovery policy for water services that includes the environmental and resource costs of water use".

Ireland restricted cost recovery to drinking water and wastewater; the EU believes that it should also be applied to many other water uses, including hydroelectricity generation and the supply of water to navigations. If the Commission is right, Ireland may have to charge Waterways Ireland for the supply of water to the Grand and Royal Canals and to the Shannon-Erne Waterway. And as the Ulster Canal is to rely on water pumped from the Erne to Clones, presumably either Ireland or the UK will have to charge for it.

Denis Dillon
Denis Dillon has just taken up his new job as General Manager at Shannon Sailing's marina at Dromineer, and is looking forward to working with its "small but efficient" staff to develop the marina's services.

Denis started his working life as an ERA in the naval service, then spent twenty-four years in Shannon Airport's fire and rescue service, where one of his roles was as rescue coxswain. The airport, which is on the estuary, had a hovercraft and a jet-powered launch as well as its more conventional Zodiacs. He was a founder member of Killaloe-Ballina Search and Rescue and is now Deputy Area Officer of Killaloe Coast Guard.

Denis worked with the ISA as Motorboat Development Officer and as Southern Regional Development Officer. A powerboating enthusiast with his eye on a round-Ireland record, he helped set up the ISA RIB Challenge, sponsored by Yachtsman Euromarine, to promote the safe and responsible use of powerboats, including club rescue boats.

At Shannon Sailing, Denis intends to build on the strengths of the existing berthage, workshop and chandlery services and to increase activity in training (he has ten years' experience as a powerboat and motor cruiser instructor). That will cover barge, powerboat, sailing and motorboat courses, up to instructor level, as well as engine maintenance; there will also be multi-activity summer camps for children. Shannon Sailing will make more provision for RIBs, which can be kept ashore and launched when needed, and the workshop will include a RIB maintenance and repair service.

Denis sees Dromineer as the gateway to Lough Derg and Shannon Sailing as a one-stop boating shop that people enjoy coming to.

Royal and Ulster Canals
I asked Waterways Ireland to tell me the cost of the restoration of the Royal Canal, the annual cost of running it and the revenue it generates. I was told that capital expenditure on the restoration, since 1987, was e37 million, that the maintenance cost for 2012 was e2.46 million and that the revenue generated in 2011 (probably almost nil) was not available.

The surprising thing about this reply is the low cost of restoration. The Main Line of the Royal is 146 km long and has 46 locks and many bridges, some of them newly built as part of the restoration. Harbours have been improved, slipways have been provided and service blocks have been built. And all of this was done for e37 million (I don’t know whether that’s in constant prices and, if so, at which year’s rates: I’ve asked a supplementary question).

The proposed recreation of part of the Ulster Canal, from Lough Erne to Clones, would be 13 km long with one double lock. Some dredging would be needed on the River Finn and a new canal 0.6 km long would have to be provided; the work at the Finn end would cost e8.5 million altogether. On the line as a whole, work would be required on up to 17 bridges, some major and some minor or private bridges. And there would be a cost for land acquisition, although the Updated Economic Appraisal put that at a mere e1,268,280, a very small portion of the total cost. And then there would be the pumps and pipes to take water from the Erne, pump it to Clones and let it flow back down. The total cost of this lot would be e38m + VAT, which I am told is about e45 million.

Now, even allowing for the facts that there had been some voluntary and FÁS scheme work on the Royal, that no land had to be acquired and that parts of the canal were in water, I still find it difficult to see how a 13 km canal with one double lock can cost more than a 146 km canal with 46 locks. I am seeking enlightenment because I just don't understand this.

Published in Brian Goggin

The most important event of the inland waterways year occurred on 10 November 2011. It was the publication by the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform of the document Infrastructure and Capital Investment 2012–16

Medium Term Exchequer Framework
Waterways Ireland, and the aspects of the Irish waterways for which it is responsible, have done well in the last few years. WI itself acquired a large amount of new kit including workboats, vehicles and a headquarters building in Enniskillen. Harbours and waterways equipment and facilities have been extended and improved.

Waterways Ireland is a cross-border body. It gets 85% of its funding for current expenditure from Ireland and 15% from Northern Ireland. Capital projects are funded by the Government in whose jurisdiction they lie.

Until recently, the Government Department responsible for Waterways Ireland was the Department of Community, Equality and Gaeltacht Affairs. The 2010 Estimates allocated e8 million in capital funding to Waterways Ireland; in the 2011 Estimates, that was cut to e6 million. There was also a small cut in WI’s grant for current spending.

Departmental capital
spending to 2016
The document published on 10 November 2011, the Infrastructure and Capital Investment 2012–16: Medium Term Exchequer Framework, sets out the capital allocation to each Department for the years 2012 through 2016. It does not go into as much detail as the annual Estimates documents, but it does show the total capital allocation to the Department of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, which is now Waterways Ireland’s parent Department.

That Department has accumulated functions from a number of other Departments, which makes it impossible to compare the capital allocations with the Estimates documents for previous years. Accordingly, I asked the Department’s Press Office for a comparable figure for the capital allocation for the new Department for 2011; I was told that it was e61 million.

Waterways Ireland capital spending to 2016
That is how much the entire Department was allocated for capital spending in 2011; the e6 million given to Waterways Ireland would have come out of that. The Exchequer Framework does not say how much Waterways Ireland will get in the years 2012–2016, but it does give the Departmental totals: 2012 e44 million, 2013 e38 million, 2014 e36 million, 2015 e36 million, 2016 e36 million. So, by 2016, the Department’s annual capital spending will be 40% less than it is now.

For 2011 Waterways Ireland got roughly 10% of the department’s entire capital allocation. If the same proportion applies in future, WI’s capital allocation will go from e8 million in 2010 and e6 million in 2011 to e4.4 million in 2012 and e3.6 million in 2016: it will end up as less than half what it was in 2010.

However, at the time of writing, the allocation within the department had not been decided; as the Press Office said,
the Minister is currently prioritising his plans within the context of both this Capital Investment Programme and the forthcoming Budget.

It is, therefore, conceivable that Waterways Ireland’s capital budget could be cut by less than average. However, the statement of priorities in the Exchequer Framework makes such an outcome seem unlikely:

Capital expenditure in this area will focus in particular on supporting jobs in the film & TV sector and in the Gaeltacht. It will also seek to target investment in priority areas in the cultural and heritage sectors that can support cultural tourism as one of the most important elements of Ireland’s tourism product. Other investment will help to ensure continued implementation of EU Directives and support waterways development in the context of the implementation of the Good Friday/St Andrew’s Agreements.

The “EU Directives” bit means compensation to turf-cutters. Waterways, therefore get the lowest priority within the Department and will be competing against other influential clients.

The Ulster Canal
The other imponderable is what this means for the proposed reconstruction of a small section of the Ulster Canal. The canal formerly linked Lough Erne to Lough Neagh; after many years of discussions, the Irish Government got Northern Ireland’s agreement to reconstruct a section from the Erne to Clones. That agreement depended on the Irish Government’s paying the full cost, despite the fact that half of the waterway would be in Northern Ireland.

As far as I can see, the project would be a very poor investment of public money: there has been no cost-benefit analysis, the published figure for costs is unreliable, the suggested benefits are overstated and there is no evidence that the canal would ever reach Lough Neagh (or indeed get beyond Clones).

But the current issue is not whether the project should proceed but how it would be funded if it did. For some time, the Department of Community, Equality and Gaeltacht Affairs maintained that the sale of surplus Waterways Ireland property in Dublin would cover the costs. That seemed to be at odds with what the North-South Ministerial Council had been told, but in any event, the property crash put paid to the idea.

In July 2011, oral and written Dáil answers made it clear, for the first time, that no money had been “ring-fenced” for the project and that “funding was not included in any budget between 2008 to 2010.” Furthermore, “it was always the intention that the Ulster Canal project would be funded from the Waterways Ireland annual allocations, as agreed through the annual estimates processes in this jurisdiction.”

In October 2011, Waterways Ireland applied, in both jurisdictions, for planning permission for its Ulster Canal reconstruction. But given the pressure on capital allocations evident in the Exchequer Framework, it is hard to see where it will get an additional e35 million at any time before 2016. The Government seems to be reluctant to kill off the project, or even (as with the A5 road) to “postpone” it, but anyone thinking of investing in a waterways-related business near Clones would surely welcome some certainty about the project’s future.

Published in Brian Goggin

Here we are, first week in June and we haven't been boating yet. We're having some major reconstruction done at Riversdale, on the Shannon–Erne Waterway, and we decided to go a bit further than we originally intended. You know how these things happen.

The thing is, it's very tempting: Riversdale specialises in building and working on steel boats, and they've got all the kit, so we might as well get more done while we're there. At some stage we'll have to call a halt and, water levels permitting, make our way to the Erne and then back to the southern end of the Shannon.

Speaking of which, the new Waterways Ireland development at Killaloe is almost finished, and very splendid it looks too.

What WI have done is to build a wooden platform on top of part of the old canal wall above the bridge. Outside of that is a set of mooring pontoons, anchored to large piles; bridges link the pontoons to the platform. I suspect some rearrangement of the navigation markers will be required, but that's a minor point.

At its downstream end, the platform is linked by a ramp to the area around the library, on the site of the former lockkeeper's house. It forms part of a looped walk: from the library to the bridge, upstream along the old towing-path, then cross the canal at the new flood-control gate.

This gate is, I gather, to be operated by the Portumna bridge-keeper, summoned via a squawk-box; there are cameras and loudspeakers on tall poles so that malefactors can be detected and users can be supervised. I don't yet know who will be allowed in, but I note that there are cleats along the inside of the platform so perhaps the local small-boat owners will be allocated places.

Killaloe has probably the richest waterways heritage landscape in the country, from the former City of Dublin Steam-Packet Company premises at the Pierhead down through the lock to the eel-packing station, the marble mill and the dockyard. Much of this is in the hands of the ESB and Waterways Ireland, and the new walk provides an opportunity to highlight Killaloe's historic importance in water-borne transport.

Waterways heritage
That reminds me. Waterways Ireland has a Lakelands & Inland Waterways Strategic Plan 2010–2015. It includes this about what tourists can see:

Experiences offered in Lakelands and Inland Waterways area:
• Shannon and Erne Journeys – car and boat based
• Special Landscapes
• Historic Houses
• Castles and Gardens
• Christian Heritage

Now Christian Heritage is all very well, and I'm all in favour of old houses, castles and gardens, but there are people who are interested in waterways, transport or industrial heritage. Waterways Ireland owns quite a lot of heritage material, including that at Killaloe and at every lock on the Shannon, so why does it not get a mention?

Royal Canal
The other thing that doesn't get a mention in the Strategic Plan is the Royal Canal. Restoration was finished in 2010, at the start of the period covered by the Strategic Plan, and WI has been promoting (to British narrowboaters) the idea of the round trip: into Dublin on one canal and out on the other, then back to base along the Shannon.

But the Strategic Plan does not mention the Royal, apart from the facilities at Clondra, and the area covered by the plan does not include Dublin: the country east of Mullingar (Royal) and Tullamore (Grand) is omitted.

This is worrying because, if the Royal does not see a considerable volume of traffic, its restoration will be seen as a waste of money. The first few years are likely to see increased demand for passage, but after that numbers will fall off. The only way of bringing about a sustained increase is to have profitable hire businesses on the canals, appealing in particular to British canal boaters.

So far, though, I have not seen any published plan for bringing boats and users to the Royal, and its omission from the Lakelands & Inland Waterways Strategic Plan is worrying: perhaps even more worrying than the short-term difficulties encountered this year.

Boats made it in to Dublin to the IWAI Rally, and a contingent from Clontarf Yacht and Boat Club repeated their club's trip to the Shannon in 1925, despite having to carry out their own repairs to the twelfth lock at Blanchardstown.
But when boats attempted to leave Dublin, the Iarnród Éireann lifting bridge below Newcomen Bridge (North Strand Road) refused to lift. This delayed the return of the Rambler, a former Royal Canal steam tug-barge, from Dublin to the Shannon, and caused the postponement of filming of its voyage. As I write, the bridge is said to have been repaired and it is expected to lift soon for the Rambler and other boats.
The lifting bridge was working in 2004. It is owned by Iarnród Éireann, not by Waterways Ireland.

The cost of restoring the Royal is a sunk cost: we can't recover the money, although I suspect that it will prove to have been a very poor investment. Now that it's been reopened, we're stuck with it, and the best that can be done is to try to maximise the benefits and minimise the costs.

However, the proposed restoration of the Ulster Canal is still, as far as I know, an avoidable future cost. There is no prospect of the canal ever making a reasonable return and the project should be abandoned immediately, before the German taxpayer finds out about it.

What, though, of volunteer restorations? The Royal started out that way, but there have been only minor attempts at voluntary work on the Ulster. However, the abandoned Kilbeggan Branch of the Grand Canal has two local groups working on it.

The eight-mile branch was opened in 1835 and closed in 1961 by a dam at Ballycommon. William Dargan was the contractor, as he was for the Ulster Canal. But although it had no locks, the Kilbeggan Branch took a long time to complete. It has no water supply of its own and, when its embankments leaked, they drew water from the Long Level of the canal's main line.

The Kilbeggan Harbour Amenity Group, formed in 1989, restored the canal stores at Kilbeggan Harbour and has worked from the northern end; it has now been joined by the Ballycommon Canal Renewal Group, working from the south.

One of the Ballycommon group's first aims is to clear the towing-path and the bridges so that the canal can be seen, especially along the stretch bordered by a road. It has had help from IWAI and the Heritage Boat Association, notably from Tommy McLoughlin of IWAI Boyne, and from Waterways Ireland and Offaly County Council.

On the day I visited, 22 people had turned out for a day of hard work led by the knowledgeable and enthusiastic Gerry Feery. Waterways Ireland and Offaly County Council had donated bags, gloves and pickers and paid for landfill permits; a local shop had donated filled rolls and refreshments were served alongside the canal.

I'm all in favour of volunteer restoration work. But restoration of navigation is a much bigger undertaking: the Kilbeggan Branch is said to have difficulty in retaining water and major engineering might be required. I do not know of any cost-benefit analyses, but it would be difficult to justify spending public money unless there is a major increase in traffic along the main line of the canal.

In recent years, the Irish Amateur Rowing Union has been promoting (non-competitive) touring and recreational rowing. In May, a fleet of four boats set off from Twomilegate, north of Killaloe, to row to Limerick, with a trip on the estuary planned for the following day. Three of the boats were coxed quads and one was coxless.

I followed them (by road) down the headrace from O'Briensbridge to Ardnacrusha and saw them descend in the lock. All four fitted into the lock, with careful arrangement of the oars, and the descent was gentle. The boats looked very frail from up top, but when the lock was emptied the crews set off very energetically, and made it quickly down to Limerick. Nice to see an environmentally friendly form of boating being promoted.

Seol Sionna
Finally, there is a wooden sailing boat being built at Querrin, Co Clare, that represents a vanished industry. For many years, Limerick's main fuel was turf, some from upstream but most of it from the Shannon Estuary. And the principal source — likened to Limerick's oilwell — was Poulnasherry Bay, west of Kilrush.

From there, wooden cots carried the turf out to sailing boats that would carry it up the estuary, sometimes picking up limestone from Askeaton on the return journey. The boats also carried adventurous holidaymakers going to Kilkee; they established the passenger trade from which the Shannon steamers benefited in the early nineteenth century.

Pretty well every account of the Shannon Estuary in the nineteenth century, whether fact or fiction, has a turf boat in it somewhere, and the trade carried on into the twentieth century. However, none of the boats survived.

With research from Críostóir MacCárthaigh, a design by Myles Stapleton and shipwright Stephen Morris on the spot, the project aims to build a 25' gaff-rigged wooden boat. It will differ in some respects from the originals, notably in having an external keel and an engine, but it will remain open. It will be built of Portumna oak, with larch from near Belfast and green oak for deadwood.

The Seol Sionna project intends to use the boat for sail training and hopes to revive the use, on the estuary, of small craft that can use the many abandoned piers and quays and the under-used harbours. The Shannon Estuary has plenty of room for this boat and more like her.

Published in Brian Goggin
8th February 2011

Trust in the Future?

As the cuts begin to bite, it may be time to look at the British direction for our waterways, writes Brian J Goggin

Foreign weather
The other night, I went to the inaugural meeting of a new lobby group called the Campaign for Real Irish Weather (CRIW). The group’s aims are to secure a restoration of traditional Irish weather patterns, and it intends to lobby both local authorities (like the Irish Government) and central government (the European Commission, the ECB and the IMF).

As the new organisation’s president, Francis Beaufort, put it forcefully: “For the last few years, foreign weather has been dumped in Ireland. Sunshine in May is all very well, but it’s not very useful at that time of the year. And the price we pay is ice and snow in winter, which we definitely don’t want. What we need is nice gentle rain all year round, giving just the right amount of water in the rivers, with neither drought nor flood.”

I could see what he meant. In October we went up the Shannon and along the Shannon Erne Waterway (SEW) to Ballinamore: it was very cold and our newly-installed heating was essential. But there was even colder weather ahead: throughout the winter, owners had to worry about the effects of ice; several boats sank and no doubt there will be others with damaged engines. Bring back rain.

Rain returns
There was plenty of rain on the first weekend of February, when IWAI Lough Derg Branch members and people from the O’Briensbridge Community Group turned out to remove timber from the upper end of the Plassey–Errina Canal.
This was the old route between Limerick and Lough Derg. When Ardnacrusha was built in the 1920s, the headrace weir at Parteen Villa blocked the river, preventing boats from reaching O’Briensbridge and Castleconnell. The old weir at World’s End, Castleconnell, still keeps up the level, so there is plenty of depth, but nowadays (with one exception) only small boats — mostly angling boats and rowing skiffs — use this stretch of river.

However, the Community Group has developed looped walks along the towing-path. The British Inland Waterways Protection Society visited in October, walking from the Limerick canal harbour to O’Briensbridge, and described the canal as a “national treasure”. It has a wealth of artefacts, including seven milestones along the 12-mile route.

The group and the IWAI are now clearing the top section of the canal, so that small boats can travel from the river as far as the first lock at Errina. A small but select group turned out, with two boats, and has now reopened the navigation as far as the farm-house at Drummeen. Another couple of weekends are planned to complete the work, although silt inflow below a drain may pose a problem.

Tightening the belts
Other IWAI branches are active too: Dublin working on the Grand Canal graving docks, Newry & Portadown on the Newry Canal. And so are other groups: Drimnagh Friends of the Grand Canal in their area of Dublin, Breffnie O’Kelly and others further east in the city.

The question now is whether Waterways Ireland should start thinking about some more formal arrangement with groups of volunteers, to build them into its plans and its structures.

The Sunday Tribune of 9 January 2011 said that Waterways Ireland’s staff increased from 355 last year to 367 this year. It said that the Department of Community, Equality and Gaeltacht Affairs (to which Waterways Ireland reports in the southern state), or rather its minister, was “among the worst offenders when it comes to increasing staff numbers in the agencies under his remit”.

Waterways Ireland did well from Fianna Fáil’s budgets: it has many new vessels in its fleet, new offices and new and improved systems and procedures. But the days of high spending may be over. The budget, in December, showed that the Department’s current expenditure allocation to Waterways Ireland in 2011 would be down from e25,585,000 to e24,335,000 (a cut of just under 5%) while capital expenditure would be down from e8,000,000 to e6,000,000 (25%).

Admittedly, Waterways Ireland is now starting from a high base, but remember that we are facing several years of further cuts to get government expenditure back somewhere close to revenue. As it is, the Department of Community, Equality and Gaeltacht Affairs has been trying to get Waterways Ireland to pay for the Ulster Canal by selling surplus property, but it has missed the boat (or rather the boom).

British move to trust
Changes are under way in Britain. British Waterways pulled out of the Cotswold Canals Partnership in 2008, a decision that seemed to signal the end of the era of big restoration projects.

Furthermore, BW needs more money than it has been getting. As WATERWAYS WORLD puts it, “Its commercial activities are flat-lining at best, the growth in boat numbers has slowed, and the Government grant is heading downhill fast.”

Her Majesty’s Government doesn’t want to be bothered with all this when it’s carrying out a cull of quangos, so it intends to transform BW into a charitable trust by 2012. Charitable status would allow BW to raise money from other sources (e.g. funding trusts, individual donations, legacies). It would have some tax advantages and it would also allow BW to borrow.

One major component of the plans is that BW would use the services of volunteers more. Some would work as individuals but in other cases voluntary bodies would work with BW. There is a sort of pilot scheme on the Kennet & Avon, where BW and the Canal Trust have formed a Waterway Partnership.

Needs must?
Now, I don’t expect the Department of Community, Equality and Gaeltacht Affairs to greet with glad cries this — or any other — suggestion for change. Waterways Ireland was set up with no board, no formal involvement of any outside persons or bodies, just a chief executive reporting directly to the two government departments, north and south, and their ministers. It’s hardly likely, therefore, that proposals for popular involvement will be welcomed.

But if the British solution works, and if financial cuts continue north and south, the powers that be may have to consider a new business model.

Published in Brian Goggin
4th January 2011

Going off-piste on water

With the boat laid up for winter, there’s a chance to think about some of the smaller and less-well-known navigations

In winter, when the vegetation has died back, it’s easier to see hidden features, and (if it’s not raining) the light is often very good for taking photographs.

Several of these navigations could be tourist attractions. The Irish tourism product needs to be revitalised — and that includes the waterways product. Shannon traffic figures this year are down about 25% on 2006 and registrations of new boats are down about 50%. One market that hasn’t really been tapped is that for industrial heritage, and the waterways have lots of it, but even abandoned waterways also offer activities (walking, kayaking) and opportunities to get away from it all.

In some cases, though, the powers-that-be don’t realise what they have and what they could (at low cost) do with it, while in others the powers seem determined to block public access to the waterways. Here are some of the problems and the opportunities.

The Maigue through Adare
The Maigue flows north through Adare into the Shannon Estuary. In bygone days it was regarded as a separate navigation and the annual Board of Works reports covered it separately.

There was a plan to link Limerick to Cork by canal, but it got no further than making the Maigue navigable to Adare. A short canal ran from the river into the centre of the town. When the railway came, it cut off the entrance to that canal; the old harbour is now beneath an iron works and a new quay was built downstream of the railway bridge. You can walk down the bank from there; you can also visit the Maigue at Ferrybridge on the N69.

Although commercial traffic was confined mostly to turf boats, and not many of them, the navigation continued in use until the 1920s. However, I have found no evidence — in Oireachtas records, in legislation or in statutory instruments — that the navigation was ever formally closed or that the Office of Public Works ever passed over its responsibilities to any other organisation. I have been pestering an unfortunate official of the OPW for some time now; he has found no relevant records.

Accordingly, I believe that the OPW is still the navigation authority for the Maigue, and it might perhaps give some attention to dredging and to the installation of aids to navigation.

The Munster Blackwater
I have written here before about the delights of the Munster Blackwater and the boat trip from Youghal to Cappoquin; many of the old quays, and parts of the River Bride and the Lismore Canal, can be visited by road.

Further upstream, in Fermoy, the inland fisheries authorities have been threatening to destroy much of the charm of the town by removing its weir on the River Blackwater to make it easier for salmon to get upstream. Fermoy Rowing Club has led the resistance and persuaded Minister of State Conor Lenihan TD to delay the destruction so that the Town Council could repair the existing fish passes in the weir. In December 2009, the Minister directed Fermoy Town Council “to undertake immediate repairs to the existing damaged fish passes in the weir in order to reduce the barrier effect of the weir on migratory fish species”. The work may begin next spring; follow developments on

Further upstream again, you can follow the line of the never-completed Lombardstown to Mallow Canal: it’s on the north side of the N72 (Killarney to Mallow road). One lock chamber was cleared some time ago; it’s in the grounds of Longueville House Hotel

Fish threaten the Suir
The fisheries authorities are also threatening to close the navigation of the River Suir. They want to erect a Crump weir right across the river so that they can install a gadget to count fish. They are considering installing a canoe pass, which would allow kayaks and canoes to get through; larger boats, and anything with an engine, would not be able to get through.

The fisheries authorities insisted that they needed nobody’s permission to block the navigation, but South Tipperary County Council has insisted that they submit a planning application; I understand that it is currently being prepared and the fisheries authorities could not give me copies of their plans.

If the river has to be blocked to enable fish to be counted, then the fish should not be counted.

And while I’m on the subject, why is the towing-path between Carrick-on-Suir and Clonmel blocked in two places?

In Clonmel itself, flood prevention works have resulted in the construction of walls all along the river, with no provision (as far as I could see) for access to the river. I saw one group of people launching boats on planks laid down a flight of steps; couldn’t a slipway have been provided somewhere? And what about providing somewhere safe for boats to be tied up, with a gated pontoon so that people wouldn’t have to clamber over walls to get to their boats? Sixty foot wooden yawls (shallow lighters) used to carry goods to Clonmel, but the town seems determined to turn its back on the river and to make it hard for people to use it for pleasure.

The Limerick Navigation
The Limerick Navigation, the old route between Limerick and Killaloe, was abandoned in 1929 when the new route through Ardnacrusha was opened. However, the towing-paths remain in public hands, although Limerick City and County Councils leased parts of them from the Office of Public Works.

In the early nineteenth century, the Limerick Navigation was the scene of operations of the most remarkable inland waterways fleet ever seen in Britain or Ireland. And the navigation itself is packed with unusual features, some of which are unique but most of which are still accessible. It is possible to walk the old towing-path from Limerick to the university grounds at Plassey, then across the river and along the canal to Gillogue. There is a break in the accessible stretch there, but you can walk by road, or along the headrace, to Clonlara, and regain the towing-path there. The route continues along the canal to the Shannon, then by the river through O’Briensbridge to Parteen Villa Weir. The Flooded Area covers the navigation from there to Killaloe, but the old canal at that point has a great wealth of artefacts.

But nowhere is there anything to tell you that you are walking the Limerick Navigation or that these stretches of towing-path were all part of one route. There is nothing to identify and explain the various features or to discuss the boats, the people and the cargoes that went along this route. It would cost very little to make the Limerick Navigation into a tourist attraction: interpretation and marketing are the main needs.

And now the route itself is threatened. The Black Bridge, built by Thomas Rhodes in the 1840s to allow towing horses to cross the river, bears on its parapets the grooves worn by the tow-ropes. It was damaged by last winter’s floods and has been closed off. It is possible to cross the river using the university’s road bridge, but the Black Bridge itself should be saved, repaired and re-opened as a part of this tourist route.

Plenty to pick from in Estuary
If you want a quick lesson in transport history, get in your car and spend a weekend driving around the Shannon Estuary (a ferry links the Kerry and Clare sides). Some of the attractions (those that charge fees) close for the winter, but there is still lots to be seen.

If you like traditional boats, look for the gandalows from Limerick down (and on the Cashen in north Kerry) and the canoes (currachs) in west Clare. Note the large number of stone piers, built for the estuary steamers and now largely abandoned.

The main steamer ports were Cappa (outside Kilrush) and Tarbert; you can see how the piers were built and extended — and you can think about the early iron steamer Garryowen: when it survived being cast ashore in a gale, the news went around the world and convinced many shipowners to adopt iron for their fleets.

In the summer, you can add the West Clare Railway at Moyasta (between Kilrush and Kilkee), the reproduction monorail Lartigue Railway at Listowel, various stations on the Limerick and North Kerry lines and the flying-boat museum at Foynes.

The individual attractions in this area are fine by themselves, but put them together as an industrial heritage (transport) package and you have something that will bring enthusiasts from overseas — and as the attractions are already there, the cost would be minimal.

Hidden treasures
You never know where you’re going to come across a trace of an old canal. The most surprising I’ve found so far was in Johnstown, Co Kilkenny. It is marked on the 1840 Ordnance Survey map as “Old canal” and the bridge shown in the photo is on a road called “Canal Road”: that’s what we call a clue. The canal seems to have served a single estate, probably allowing farm materials to be moved around and perhaps brought to and from the road.

There was also a canal system in the bogs on the Dublin side of Roscrea, near Racket Hall. Turf was carried by boat, hauled by donkey, to Birch Grove distillery, where the Equality Authority now has offices. A visit to the area should also take in the small but remarkably atmospheric ruins of Monaincha Abbey.

Several waterways books mention the Rockville Navigation, a series of small lakes linked by cuts near Hillstreet in Co Roscommon. One of the cuts is spanned by a fine, but recently damaged, bridge which bears the date 1765, but I have found no written information about who built the navigation or what it was used for. It is still navigable by small boats, though: I went down it myself last summer, from the bridge to the Silver Eel at Grange, and a group from the Heritage Boat Association carried out a more extensive survey.

The Mayor of Roscommon, Cllr Luke Ming Flanagan, kayaked down from the bridge with a companion; with a slight flow on, they reached Grange in a couple of hours. A small investment — perhaps a launching ramp, a bit of tree-trimming and some signposting — could create a new visitor attraction for the county, appealing to those who want a not-too-strenuous kayak or boat trip.

The era of big waterways projects is probably over. For the future, we need to think small.

Published in Brian Goggin

#INLAND WATERWAYS – As the 2012 Irish boating season kicks off this weekend Waterways Ireland authority has warned boat owners on the Erne System that following a period of dry weather the water levels on Lower Lough Erne are below those normally experienced at this time of year.

Boat owners, particularly those with deep drafts, are advised to proceed with caution, keep well clear of all hazards, remain central in the navigation channels and proceed with care when approaching moorings.

Published in Inland Waterways
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