Allianz and Afloat - Supporting Irish Boating

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Displaying items by tag: inland waterways

27th April 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 Afloat March//April 2011

Published in Brian Goggin

With the boat laid up for winter, there's a chance to think about some of the smaller and less-well-known navigations on our inland waterways.

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.

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 Afloat December 2010

Published in Brian Goggin
27th April 2011

Shannon Hits Half Century

The 50th rally on our great river was a runaway success, writes Beth O'Loughlin

In July, when Waterways Ireland (WI) published its vision and strategy for the resurgence of the canals and rivers in Dublin, 140 boats crewed by over 500 people gathered in the middle of the country to celebrate our great 'Silver River'. The 50th Shannon Rally was enjoyable, well organised and a huge success.

Rallies on inland waters in Ireland evolved in the latter part of the 1950s when a few small events were organised by the fledgling Inland Waterways Association of Ireland (IWAI). But it was not until 1961 that the Athlone and Carrick-on-Shannon branches got together for the first Shannon Rally. This type of event has always formed part of the overall campaigning aspect of the IWAI, to oppose any obstruction to the navigations and to champion the safe use of and improvements to our canals, lakes and rivers.

Looking at the pictures from 1961, one can't help noticing the difference in craft between then and now; on the original Shannon Rally, the 70 or so boats taking part consisted of open boats, sailing dinghies, wooden cruisers and a handful of barges. This year, there were just a few open boats, over 110 cruisers of all sizes and designs, 20 barges and a sailing boat. It attracts people of all ages with many who attended in the 1960s and 1970s now attending with not only their children but also their grandchildren. It was delightful to see at least two of the boats from 1961 (there may have been more) on the 2010 Rally; 42B Snark built in 1913 and 49M Ye Iron Lung built in 1928. Every Branch of the IWAI was represented, along with the Heritage Boat Association (HBA).

The event was opened in Carrick-on- Shannon by President Mary McAleese, who spoke of her family's experience of boating on the Shannon, the significance of the Shannon to the towns, villages and communities along its route, how you see Ireland from a different perspective when on the river and commented that "boating people don't care about the weather", as rain threatened. She praised IWAI volunteers as the custodians and champions of our 'silver river', who cherish it, teach us to be careful of it and safeguard it for future generations.

During his address, Donal O'Siochain, the Commodore of the 50th Rally, pointed out that more and more people are choosing to holiday in Ireland on our rivers.

This marked the beginning of a wonderful week of fun, training and competition. There were events for every age and predilection; the organisation was excellent, and every participant was made to feel welcome.

Tight fit for all
One of the many challenges facing the organisers was how to moor 140 boats and barges in harbours built for 60 or so boats. They did it by extending quay walls and jetties with barges and mooring boats four to five out. Boats and barges were moored next to those of the same deck height wherever possible, allowing safe passage across decks. Those with special needs got priority and were moored next to the quays and jetties. The process was carried out without fuss; an outstanding achievement by the harbour masters.

The fleet cruised from one end of Lough Ree to the other, meeting up at Ballyleague near Lanesborough on the first weekend, then cruising to Portrunny, the Lough Ree Yacht Club, the Inner Lakes and ending up in Athlone. Sunday morning we had the first Skippers Briefing and all boats picked up their rally pack and the coveted plaque. Afterwards, the local Sea Scouts, who had fed many of us the night before with a BBQ in the park surrounding the Ballyleague moorings, were welcomed on board for the cruise to Portrunny. Once safely moored up, there was an ecumenical service followed by a cheese and wine party which segued into a very enjoyable music session in the marquee and ended in the wee hours.

With no need to move or moor boats, Monday was a great social day; there was 'Open Barge' for a couple of hours for those wanting to see the different types of barges attending and their interiors. There was a kid's treasure hunt; competitions for those participating had started the day before and continued; all sorts of water sports were available including 'learning to sail a dinghy'.

On Tuesday, we cruised to Lough Ree Yacht Club and tried very hard to stay in a convoy for a photo shoot from the air. An enjoyable BBQ and evening was spent at the Yacht Club. Wednesday was another 'rest' day; so as well as the boating competitions we had Commandos, Fancy Dress and Talent competitions, followed by some music.

On Thursday, after the Skippers Briefing we set off for the Inner Lakes, just a short hop around the corner. However, on the way 20 barges formed a raft on Lough Ree, with cruisers in a circle on the outside. At an agreed time for a photo shoot from the air, the raft moved clockwise while the cruisers circled anti-clockwise. Later there was a trip to Glasson Golf Club for the golfers; competitions and water sports continued and in the evening the now famous RNLI Rally Auction was held. Medals were presented on Friday and after various radio recordings, all settled down for a Sixties Rock night in the Shed, once again finishing in the wee hours. We left next day for Athlone and moored up north of the bridge and on the jetties. Prize giving took place on the Green. On Sunday evening the event ended with a dinner dance, presentation of the Premier and other awards, followed by music and chat ... into the wee hours, of course!

Knitting for lifeboats
The Shannon Rally over the years has raised vast sums for the RNLI and this year was no exception with around e10,000 raised at last count. The monies were raised mainly by people contributing boating items for the auction and by contributions to the great 'Knitathon'.

The Knitathon, an inspired idea was where those with suitable talent, knit a six inch by six inch square ingeniously decorated with something that represented their boat. If you were not talented in this way, you could make a contribution to the RNLI for a square to be knitted by someone else and either decorate it yourself or cajole someone else into decorating it for you. All the squares were then sewn together into a blanket. All of the boats contributed, the squares were then sewn together to form a colourful blanket. A raffle in aid of the RNLI had the blanket as the prize.

One of the outstanding memories from this Rally will be a bunch of people sitting on boats sipping, chatting and knitting! Not something observed often in the boating scene.

Stories of a river
"Stories of a River" is a compendium of short stories, reflections, photographs and memories from 30 contributors. There are articles, photos and ditties recalling times spent on the river and on rallies over the past 50 years; a great read for all who love the Shannon. It captures the magic of past rallies, the personalities involved and there are some lovely photographs.

The book was launched in July by Amanda Brunker, author and columnist. Amanda and her family participated in many rallies and have many happy memories as a result. "We loved boating as a family and had great fun on the river," she said. "It was an exciting time for all the families, especially the kids and the teenagers, spending a very active ten days outdoors on the river in Irish weather. I have memories of happy days of camping out, fishing, swimming and meeting and making many lifelong friends on the Shannon Rally."

The book "Stories of a River" is published by the IWAI Shannon Boat Rally with the assistance of Waterways Ireland. Available from

Published in Inland Waterways
Tagged under

Always a late starter, Brian J Goggin was surprised to find a deserted Lough Derg on a sunny weekend outing

We've never thought of ourselves as early birds: as our boat has no heating, our boating season starts rather late. But we were surprised, on two successive weekends, to find that others seem to be leaving things even later. Apart from sailing boats involved in a race, and anglers dapping, there were very few private or hired inland boats on the move on Lough Derg. At times, on a sunny weekend, there was no other boat to be seen in the middle of the lake. And that may have been the summer.

Killaloe did have a large group of Emerald Star boats on one weekend: we were told they had been hired by a wedding party who were enjoying themselves (happily, on the Ballina side of the river) until the early hours of the morning. On the Killaloe side, the new floating moorings have had the pontoons installed, but Waterways Ireland has only recently called for tenders for the remaining work. So the shortage of spaces will continue for another while, causing difficulties for those heading for the excellent Killaloe market.

The town has acquired another attraction recently: the 12-seater fast trip boat Spirit of Lough Derg (, operated by the same people as the existing 50-seater Spirit of Killaloe. The new boat is offering one-way charters between Killaloe and Limerick so, if you've never been through Ardnacrusha Lock (an experience not to be missed), here is your chance. See the website for details.

Take a boat to the theatre
If you've been near the Grand Canal in the more salubrious parts of Dublin recently, you may have seen the Heritage Boat Association barges, fleet auxiliaries and other supporting vessels. The fleet entered Dublin somewhat ahead of the annual Dublin Rally, and has been making the most of its time: visiting restaurants (including the MV Cill Airne) by boat, travelling up the Liffey to Islandbridge and taking a look downriver towards the sea. More photos and details on

The MV Cill Airne and the restaurant boat Riasc are both ventures of Irish Ship & Barge Fabrication ( whose latest vessel, the Cadhla, is now on the Grand Canal. This electric vessel offers a daily "customised canal tour", written by Pat Liddy, as well as pre-theatre cruises during the evening. You can take the Luas tram to Charlemont Place, transfer to the barge and eat while travelling slowly to the Grand Canal Theatre. Post-theatre drinks and a trip back to Charlemont are also available. See

Rambler through the Royal
What do you do if your boat is in Dublin, you want to get it to the Shannon but it's too big for the Grand Canal and it's not designed for the sea? You wait for Waterways Ireland to reopen the Royal Canal, even if that takes a while, as its locks are longer than those of the Grand.

The Rambler was one of five steamers used by the Midland Great Western Railway Company, which owned the Royal Canal, from 1875 onwards. She was able to carry 30 tons and to tow unpowered boats. The Company ceased carrying in 1886 and the Royal reverted to horse-drawn traffic.

Since then, the Rambler has passed through many hands and been converted and reconverted many times. The most recent conversion was done in the Grand Canal Basin in Ringsend, to which she was carried by road; since then, the Rambler has remained in the Basin awaiting the reopening of the Royal Canal so that she can return to the Shannon.

That reopening is now in sight: Waterways Ireland expects it in September 2010, and it has set up a working committee to plan appropriate events and celebrations. The committee includes waterways bodies, local authorities, anglers and the Kilcock Canoe Polo Club, which uses the Kilcock canal harbour for its sport (

As a preliminary event, the HBA fleet visited Spencer Dock, where the Royal Canal meets the Liffey. The Rambler, carrying a party of Royal Canal Amenity Group members, was in the van, with the former horse-boat 4E behind: although built for the Grand, she was used for maintenance on the Royal from the 1950s.

The last cargo
The last commercial cargo to be carried on the Grand Canal was stout to Limerick. Guinness needed time to build a new depot near the railway station, so the water-borne service to Limerick continued until 1960.

The last consignment was in May 1960, carried by the Grand Canal Company's motor-barge 51M. Unlike many of her sisters, 51M was not sold off afterwards. She remained in the CIE (and now in the Waterways Ireland) maintenance fleet, fitted out for repairing locks and known as the Carpenter's Boat. Like the Rambler, she has been in the Grand Canal Basin for many years.

The Heritage Boat Association has received permission from Waterways Ireland to recreate the last commercial voyage, and will be moving 51M westward along the canal. The crew will include descendants of the man who skippered her on her historic voyage.

Mud rules Limerick out
It would be nice if 51M could travel all the way to the old canal harbour in Limerick, but access may be difficult at the moment. A fleet of boats from Lough Derg had intended to visit the Limerick Riverfest at the start of May but changed their minds when it became apparent that much dredging was required after the winter floods.

That wasn't the only casualty: Limerick County Council has closed the Black Bridge at Plassey. This bridge was built in 1842, as part of the improvements made by the Shannon Commissioners, and replaced a ferry. It enabled towing horses to cross the river: the towing-path of the Limerick Navigation was on the Limerick side from the city up to Plassey, but in Clare, on the other side of the Shannon, the rest of the way to Killaloe.

Hauling a laden barge across the river, against the flow of the Shannon in flood, can't have been easy, and the parapet of the bridge bears, to this day, the grooves cut in it by the tow-ropes. The closure of the bridge has cut in two the popular walk from the city through Plassey and along the Plassey-Errina Canal to Gillogue.

The winter floods have damaged the bridge's supports. However, I have been unable to find out why Limerick County Council, rather than Waterways Ireland, thinks it is responsible for the bridge.

It's a Suir thing
"Though not a seaport, the town [of Clonmel], from its situation at the head of the Suir navigation, is the medium through which the corn and provision export trade is carried on between the southern and eastern portions of this large county and England. There are generally about 120 lighters, from 20 to 50 tons burden, employed in the trade of this town."

That was in 1839. In the 1930s, Major Rowland Raven-Hart wrote in 'Canoeing in Ireland':
"From Clonmel (rail) to Carrick (rail) the navigation is quite amusing, and these thirteen miles should certainly be done: there is no danger whatever, and this part would be a valuable introduction to comparatively shallow-water canoeing for the absolute novice. The current here is always good, and there are several small rapids. On the whole run from Clonmel to the sea there is no portage, nor is it ever even necessary to float the boat down, unless perhaps in exceptionally low water. The scenery above Clonmel is fair, from there to Carrick excellent."

The navigation of this section of the Suir was never easy. The standard vessel was the yawl, 60 feet long but shallow-draughted and carrying perhaps 16 tons in summer. The traffic was horse drawn, with 12 or more horses used to get the boats upstream. The river is shallow and the currents can be fierce, especially at Sir Thomas's Bridge, below Clonmel, where the horses had to wade through the water.

It was here that the Avondale came to grief:
"O brave Sir Thomas Osborne, you little did suspect
Against your bridge the Avondale was fated to be wrecked;
The cruel pier in her poor side conveyed a dismal hole,
Scamandering her precious freight of thirteen ton of coal."
From 'The Wreck of the Avondale', published in the Clonmel Chronicle in 1903. Happily, Captain Britt, his son and his "tarrier dog" survived.

Downstream boats could travel with the current, the horses returning to Carrick by road. Commercial traffic ceased altogether in 1923, although it continued on the tidal stretches from Carrick down to Waterford. However, the river is used by fishermen, canoeists and others, while the towing path is used by walkers.

If the Southern Regional Fisheries Board gets its way, though, there will be no more boats. It proposes to build a crump weir at Ballinderry, and had located concrete units there in the belief that it did not require planning permission. The weir, which would include a fish pass, would enable it to count salmon. Happily, South Tipperary County Council has insisted that the Board seek planning permission.

The Suir between Clonmel and Carrick is never going to see much
traffc from cruisers or other large vessels, but it is a very attractive stretch of water that is used by cots, kayaks and other open boats of various kinds. There might even be scope for tourist trips downriver using large inflatables or rafts. I cannot see why the counting of fish should take precedence over the interests of other river users.

Published in Afloat June 2010

Published in Brian Goggin
Not just cruising
Every boat-owner on the inland waterways benefits from a large subsidy from the taxpayer, who pays the vast bulk of the costs of running the inland waterways system. If that subsidy is to be justified, and indeed to be continued, the waterways must be seen to provide benefits for far more than the few thousand owners of motor-cruisers and the half dozen or so hire firms still operating on the Shannon.

Thus Waterways Ireland has been embracing the providers of other services — hoteliers, restaurateurs, activity organisers and so on — along the waterways and in the wider Lakelands region. It has also been promoting the waterways with its Discover initiative, under which citizens are offered opportunities to try water-based activities like rowing, canoeing and angling as well as cruising and boat trips.

The most recent Discover day was in Tullamore on the Grand Canal in October, but similar days have also been held in Shannonside towns. The organisation involves cooperation with public-sector, private-sector and voluntary bodies, but with Waterways Ireland taking the lead.

Waterways Ireland also took a stand at the Ploughing Championships alongside the Barrow Line of the Grand Canal in Athy, where it showed off one of its WaterMasters. I have been referring to them as Floating Swiss Army Knives, but at Athy it might have been better to liken them to JCBs, loaded with gadgets like a pile-driver, a tree shears and a dredging pump. There is also, I believe, an attachment for taking stones out of horses' hooves...


Earlier this year the Heritage Council and Fáilte Ireland published a report on the expected effects of climate change on the coast and inland waterways ('Climate Change, Heritage and Tourism: Implications for Ireland's Coast and Inland Waterways' – eds Kelly, B., and Stack, M., Heritage Council and Fáilte Ireland 2009, available on the publications page of

The report pointed out that increased rainfall could affect the stability of sections of canals, such as the embanked lengths of the Grand Canal near Edenderry. Increased water flows could erode the foundations of structures like bridges and the flow, and accompanying flotsam like large trees, could increase the loading on such structures. Stronger currents also make boat-handling more difficult.

And, of course, rain may deter waterways users, especially overseas hirers who are already a threatened species. To quote from the report:

"There has been a general decline in the number of overseas tourists cruising on inland waterways in Ireland in the past number of years. The Survey of Overseas Tourists (SOT) carried out annually by Fáilte Ireland indicates that in 2007 approximately 15,000 overseas tourists participated in inland cruising. This was down from 24,000 in 2006 and 20,000 in 2005."

Tight future on waterways
One of the interesting things about Irish waterways history is the number of times that the waterways have been reinvented. Every so often, new definitions, or new descriptions of their major purposes have been put forward in order to ensure the continuation of funding by the taxpayer. The Grand Canal Company was very good at extracting money from the public purse, whether for supplying water to Dublin or for building locks on the Shannon. Charles Wye Williams, probably the first man to come up with a large-scale profitable trade (with his Inland Steam Navigation Company) to be carried on the waterways, was adept at lobbying the UK government to get it to spend money on the Shannon.

When commercial carrying ceased, the pace of redefinition speeded up. Pioneers like Hector Newenham and Ron Kearsley saw the potential for tourism and won government support for their endeavours. But while the Shannon continued to be a tourist amenity, it also became a heritage object, and waterways became part of Dúchas — The Heritage Service. In the meantime, facts on the ground (or on the water) changed, and the waterways provided a leisure amenity for Irish people, even if the extent of their contribution to the waterways economy was not appreciated.

The assignment of waterways to the Department of Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs may have been an unsuccessful attempt to define waterways as contributors to rural economy and rural society. But any such attempt was overtaken by the definition of waterways as a field in which 'north-southery' could be exercised. It's not easy to do north-southery, given that some unionists see it either as a Fenian plot or as an annoying and unnecessary sop to the shinners, while the dewy-eyed innocence of some southern hands-across-the-border enthusiasts can only add further annoyance. But the arrangement has had the advantage of allowing Waterways Ireland to operate without a board, with generous funding and on a very loose rein from the two government departments to which it reports. How long, though, can this last?

Waterways Ireland has been good at avoiding controversy, despite the best efforts of certain northern politicians, and it has also benefited from the southern government's desire to show off its wealth (with the Ulster Canal as the New Bling). This is being written before the southern budget is revealed, but it is possible that the government will have to concentrate its resources on the most needy in society, such as bankers and house-builders, and that there will be less money for waterways in the future.

Hire sector comes up short
Waterways Ireland has been building alliances, though, and showing that it is not just a provider of almost free leisure resources for those wealthy enough to buy a motor-cruiser. Its flagship campaign is the Lakelands & Inland Waterways Brand Campaign.

The campaign implements Waterways Ireland's strategic objective of working closely with 'other organisations, particularly state tourism bodies, regional tourism organisations and local tourism interests'. Its initial focus was on the cruiser hire sector; the result was the adoption by Fáilte Ireland of an Inland Cruising Marketing Development Strategy. A summary of that strategy is available from the Fáilte Ireland website, It highlights the following perceptions of the Irish hire business.

Positive perceptions
Ireland's waterways are considered unique in European terms, offering a visitor experience that is uncrowded, free of commercial traffic and easy to navigate.

The importance of the brand attributes associated with Ireland (people, place and culture) resonate strongly with inland cruising visitors and remain a key discriminator in selecting Ireland over other destinations offering a waterways experience.

The licence-free environment is a significant plus, although one which more destinations are now offering.

Cruising still offers an iconic image of holidaying in Ireland, particularly for Europeans.

Negative perceptions
In general, hiring a cruise boat was considered an expensive holiday option with Ireland considered particularly expensive for visitors coming from Europe.

Boat quality was considered inconsistent and much of the fleet was perceived as jaded with the general standard of fit-out seen as having fallen behind generally accepted standards.

Recent investments were acknowledged but, despite this, there was a widespread view that the task of rebuilding the reputation of Ireland's waterways would take a longer time to catch up and that continued investment in facilities was required.

The demise of air charters in favour of scheduled airlines has had several consequences including capacity constraints at weekends and a decline in available transfer services.

Marketing activity is considered sub-optimal with much of the activity too focussed on product rather than on visitor experience and an uncoordinated approach across responsible agencies and organisations.

The strategy identifies two 'primary target customer segments': Sightseers & Culture Seekers and Family & Loved Ones, and two secondary, Relaxers and Outdoor Actives, and it sets a primary goal: to 'increase boat sales from the current [2006] level of 7,500 weeks per annum to just under 9,500 weeks by 2010. This will be achieved by increasing the fleet utilisation from 18 weeks to 21 weeks and to grow the fleet from its current size of 410 craft to 450 craft.'

It seems unlikely that this goal will be achieved, as fleets are being reduced rather than increased in size. Furthermore, some of the larger hire firms prefer to fly their own flags rather than that of the Irish waterways: try searching for 'Lakelands' (other than Fermanagh Lakelands) on their websites.

But the broader concept, developed from 2007 onwards, is of a 'Lakelands and Waterways offering" that brands the midlands as 'a strong midland destination that could compete with other destinations such as the Dublin Region, Ireland West and Cork-Kerry', with 'the lakelands and inland waterways [as] a natural spine'.

The Lakelands encompasses, according to Waterways Ireland, 'a region loosely based on the Shannon, Shannon-Erne and Erne from Limerick to Belleek and taking a 30km radius of those waterways and in some cases an increased radius if a town of attraction merits inclusion.'

Admittedly, a new concept launched during a recession is likely to struggle, but in the long term this initiative may achieve three things:
• raise awareness of the waterways
• build new alliances between Waterways Ireland and tourism promotion bodies
• promote new thinking about the definition and purpose of the waterways

More to canals than cruising
It seems to me that the Inland Cruising Marketing Development Strategy needs to be broadened into an Inland Waterways Marketing Development Strategy. If Cruising (ie, hire of cruisers) is not going to grow, then other activities need to be encouraged instead. And perhaps the Outdoor Actives need to be promoted from secondary to primary status amongst the target customer segments.

That would mean helping the development of more facilities for those interested in touring by canoe, kayak, open sailing boat or rowing boat. It would also mean encouraging firms to hire out such boats. And a separate market in short-term (day- or half-day) hires for locals or for land-based holiday-makers who would like a day on the water. Waterside camping sites should also be encouraged. And we need more places where non-boating people can take a picnic and bathe on a fine day: there have been some improvements in facilities in recent years, but more clean, supervised recreational areas are needed.

Such leisure activities have several advantages. They are relatively environmentally friendly and fit the so-called 'green economy' as well as the poor shattered remains of Ireland's green image. They attract younger users, who may have a lifetime of visits to Ireland ahead of them. They may even build on the 'brand attributes associated with Ireland (people, place and culture)', allowing more contact between the visitors and the natives.

Irish Ring is main draw
The other area in which the product is underdeveloped is waterways heritage tourism. The heritage features of the Shannon, and its recent history as a navigation, are insufficiently highlighted. The extraordinarily rich heritage of the Lower Shannon — extending from Kilrush, up the Shannon Estuary to Limerick, thence via the old Limerick Navigation to O'Briensbridge and Killaloe and from there up to Shannon Harbour — could provide Sightseers & Culture Seekers (one of the primary target customer segments) with a week of activity along the waterways. The extra 250m of floating jetties to be installed at Killaloe over the winter are very welcome, and much needed, but visitors need to be attracted further south.

But the main attraction for those (including many Britons) interested in waterways heritage must surely be the Irish Ring: the triangle formed by the Grand Canal from the Shannon to Dublin, the Royal from Dublin back to the Shannon and the section of river and lake between Clondra and Shannon Harbour.
There are hopeful signs. Waterways Ireland has appointed contractors to dredge parts of the Grand Canal (Circular Line Locks 1–5) and Royal Canal (Locks 1–6) in Dublin over the winter. Furthermore, the Inspector of Navigation has made it clear that, from 1 March 2010, the hard-edged areas in Shannon Harbour will be kept clear for visiting boats.

Thus the infrastructure for increased use of the canals is being developed, but it is not yet clear whether the planned 'visitor experience' is receiving equal attention. To quote the Inland Cruising Marketing Development Strategy one last time:

'Marketing activity is considered sub-optimal with much of the activity too focussed on product rather than on visitor experience and an uncoordinated approach across responsible agencies and organisations.'

Getting that experience right will be crucial to the future of the waterways. And, given the continuing need for taxpayer support, it is as important to boat-owners as it is to visitors.

Christmas book
The Heritage Boat Association has published a second book about older vessels on Irish inland waterways. This one is called 'Fine Lines – Clear Water' and it includes Irish barges that were not covered in the previous book, some barges that have come to Ireland from overseas, and a good number of the wooden cruisers that grace Irish waterways. See for more information.

First published in Afloat Annual 2010

Published in Brian Goggin
26th April 2011

The IWAI has delivered

The Inland Waterways Association of Ireland is a strong and vibrant body, writes Paul Garland, in response to the article by our correspondent in the last issue of Afloat...

Having read with interest Brian Goggin's assessment of how he perceives "The Inland Waterways Association of Ireland is having a mid life crisis and shooting itself in the foot", I would like to thank the editor for this right of reply.
I have no intention of dissecting the article line by line. I would rather explain our origins through to our future plans.

The Association was founded in 1954 to fight the threatened closure of the Shannon Navigation, by placing low fixed bridges at Athlone, Lanesborough and Roosky. Its first ten years were tumultuous, fighting the government to be as far sighted as our founding members. Not all the battles were won and even the bridges over the Shannon were a compromise as the local authority felt that 'yachts were owned by the privileged few' but probably the single most important achievement of the IWAI was preventing the erection of these low bridges.
The Sixties and Seventies saw off threats to both canals in Dublin. The Eighties and Nineties saw the association starting to receive help from the OPW in developing the inland waterways network. Prior to this, much of the laying of marks and dredging was carried out by local branches of the association.
Lobbying for improvements has always driven the association and right from its foundation it has found like-minded politicians and indeed ministers with some insight into the potential of the waterway network.The present Minister, Eamonn O'Cuiv, is a good friend to the association and its goals and shares our dream of taking a boat from Belfast to Limerick via the Ulster Canal.

It was in April 2000 that the IWAI delivered. None of the members realised what an important day that was. Most thought that establishing Waterways Ireland under the Good Friday Agreement was going to give them more byelaws and lead to a lot of confusion over the name, as the observant reader may have noticed even in your last issue this was the case.
What no-one clearly saw was that this was the dream of the association; a well-funded, well-staffed department whose only remit was to improve the waterways of the island of Ireland and hence the headline 'The IWAI has delivered'.

Of course, there were initial teething problems but I can assure you that Waterways Ireland and the IWAI have entered a period of mutual co-operation that our founders could not have envisaged. Where there are issues like the Grand Canal Dock and the Royal Canal opening, we are working closely to resolve them.

All through the period of growth for the waterways, complimentary organisations were being established, in many cases taking on roles that this association's volunteers had carried out. The Heritage Council, the EPA, Birdwatch Ireland, Duchas, Forest and Wildlife, An Taisce have all by and large helped.
So what future has this association when it has won the battle for the finest waterways in the world? Obviously there are still threats out there and lobbying to be done. Water abstraction from the Shannon for Dublin City Council has to be fought and, as in the past, a solution will be found that satisfies the majority, like we did 55 years ago.

As I see it, our future lobbying role may well be on behalf of our boaters in the EU. We have already entered this arena with Diesel Derogation, Boat Registration, E Borders, the Recreational Craft, and the Water Framework Directives.
It's no mystery that we are in constant contact with the ISA and have had a strong relationship since we jointly developed an Inland Waterways Training Scheme in 1997.

By 2002 we had formalised a joint Mutual Recognition Accord. The real growth of our association is to provide a service to anyone who wants to put a boat on any inland waterway on this island. At present can we provide members with over 200 activities, from boat rallies to training days. They can download Waterways charts, access our website for a wealth of information, read four quality magazines each year, access our online shop, and avail of discounts on goods and services. There's also a very active chat line. However, the real strength of the association is sitting on a boat, chatting with friends who just happen to be members as well.

I have great hopes for the future of the IWAI. In addition to our lobbying, heritage and other roles, few people realise that we are the biggest single entity boat club on the island with 4,500 members and attracting several hundred new members each year.
Our events grow year on year. We now have 20 branches. Yes, there people who – heaven forbid – have sports boats and possibly a few with gold medallions, but they are welcomed with open arms. Let more of them come aboard; if we get enough, we'll form a Sports Boat Branch.

Most of our barge-owning members are also in the HBA (Heritage Boat Association) and we fully support them sharing events. Again, we would like them to come aboard as a Branch. We are going to the membership looking for ways to make the association even better in a series of focus groups. But it will be our members who will shape the IWAI's future and certainly not a journalist looking backward.

This year will see us in Galway for the Volvo Ocean Race, Athy for the Ploughing Championships and Belfast for the Tall Ships, with a new corporate event trailer. Please come and have a cup of tea with us. Perhaps Brian G will even drop in for the interview that we have offered him!

Paul Garland is President of the Inland Waterways Association of Ireland

Published in Inland Waterways
Tagged under

Waterways Ireland  is set to move boats on from moorings, writes Brian Goggin

Shannon Harbour, where the Grand Canal meets the Shannon, is usually full of boats: a fascinating variety of them, including barges, narrowboats, wooden cruisers, fibreglass cruisers and projects in various stages of repair. Some of the boats are wrecks; some are lived on; some are owned by people who are either unable to find Shannon marina berths or are unwilling to pay Shannon prices. And some, no doubt, just like the place.

It can be difficult for a visiting boat to find a berth: boats can be parked three deep on one side and two deep on the other. But, in conjunction with the harbour improvement works currently underway, Waterways Ireland is beginning to use its powers under the existing canal bye-laws to tidy up Shannon Harbour. Bye-law 25 reads: "No person shall moor a boat at the same place on the canals, or within 500 metres of the same place, for more than five days without the appropriate permit from the Commissioners."

Until now, the "appropriate permit" has not existed: some time ago I asked WI whether the normal permit (the Combined Annual Mooring Permit) was an "appropriate permit" under Bye-law 25. I was told that it wasn't. But WI has now introduced an "appropriate permit": The "appropriate permit" is the Combined Annual Mooring Permit accompanied by a specific application from a vessel owner requesting permission to remain moored at a specific place for more than five days which the Waterways Ireland Inspectorate has stamped and approved.

The conditions on which the Inspectorate will approve applications are not stated; I was told that "Each application for extended stay will be examined by the Inspector and factors such as location, length of stay and time of year will inform the Inspector's decision... each case of a long-term live-aboard will be treated on its own merits."

Of necessity, most boats based on the canals are in breach of Bye-law 25 most of the time, because there are no marinas on the Grand (except for a short stretch of quay at Lowtown), so boats have to tie to the banks. This new move rather cleverly brings the boats on the canals within WI's control, regularising the situation of those who make contact with WI while allowing it to take action against non-compliant boat-owners. WI told me that: "It is fair to say that with the present injection of capital into Shannon Harbour, we are treating it as the lead location towards having all the canals' recognised hard-edged moorings available to the visiting boating community rather than having them as boat parks and we are committed to spreading this throughout the canal."

It is Waterways Ireland's intention over time to seek to free up use of hard-edged moorings from boats permanently left there or occupying such prime mooring for long periods of time to allow use of these for craft wishing to tour along the canals to encourage this use of the navigation.

WI is currently asking owners of boats to move them out of Shannon Harbour if the boats have been unused for a considerable time, if they are "long-term non-permitted" or if they are blocking berths, jetties or lock approaches. It has recently moved several boats that were obstructing bridges, jetties, locks or sluices. Perhaps Graiguenamanagh might be next on the list.

New rules for dry docks
Waterways Ireland has dry docks at Shannon Harbour, Athy, Tullamore, Roosky and Richmond Harbour. Those at Shannon Harbour (one covered, one open) are by far the most popular, as all of the others have one or more disadvantages (lack of security, restricted access, high cost or non-availability).
New railings were placed around the open dock at Shannon Harbour last year. They improve security and safety, although their design makes it impossible to throw a bow-rope on to a bollard.
Now new rules for the use of the dry docks have been introduced, again under existing bye-laws:
Any commercial operation on Canal Property requires a licence in order to operate. Persons wishing to carry out (set up) commercial operations on WI property should apply to Waterways Ireland (Property & Legal) for a licence. They will then be advised as to the requirements.
The requirements include proof of insurance and indemnification of WI against all claims, losses, damages or injuries. Boat-owners too must show that they have adequate insurance for the works proposed. Information about these new rules will be on the WI website shortly.

Kayak campaign remembers Dan
Dan Gleeson was a well-known figure on the inland waterways, especially at Dromineer, where he had a house on the waterfront, and in Shannon Harbour, where he kept a boat. Last year, he noticed members of the Nenagh Canoe Club launching their craft from the beach beside his house. The club was a new one, desperately short of equipment and money. It had no premises, and training was conducted in Nenagh swimming-pool in winter and in Dromineer in summer. Yet it had managed to train over 30 young people to Levels 1 and 2, despite having no kayaks: it relied on those lent by its trainer. Later on, some of the older members bought kayaks and shared them with the younger members, but the amount of equipment was still clearly inadequate.

Dan conceived the idea of asking the inland waterways community to help these new recruits to the waterways. He felt that existing boat-owners, and their voluntary associations, would be willing to contribute, either in cash or in kind, and as a first step he intended to ask the Heritage Boat Association, at its AGM last November, to get involved.

Tragically, Dan was drowned at Shannon Harbour in the week before the AGM, and his funeral took place on the morning of the meeting. But he was very much on the minds of those present. The meeting began with a minute's silence in his memory and, later, it was unanimously agreed that Dan's campaign to help the Nenagh Canoe Club should be continued: the HBA itself would contribute money and would cooperate with IWAI branches and with any individuals who wanted to contribute.

The Lough Derg and Carrick-on-Shannon branches of IWAI joined with the HBA and managed to provide two second-hand kayaks and four brand-new kayaks, as well as paddles, helmets and PFDs. The equipment was handed over in Dromineer, alongside HBA Chairman Gerry Burke's barge 68M, and some weeks later the Canoe Club hosted the donors, and other organisations, at a formal launch ceremony, to which members of Dan's family were invited.

Waterways round-up
A quick round-up of some of the work that has been going on over the winter and some that is in prospect.

Several Shannon locks were closed briefly for repair and maintenance work recently. They included the ESB's Ardnacrusha locks (due to reopen in mid-April) and WI's Victoria (Meelick), Albert (Jamestown) and Athlone locks. There was a more substantial renovation of Battlebridge Lock on the Lough Allen Canal, where WI spent €195,000 on cleaning the cut-stone walls, repointing joints and strengthening behind the walls. The lock, built in the early nineteenth century, had been leaking; the renovation will stop the leaks and strengthen the structure.

On the Lower Bann, WI has spent £194,000 at Camus, constructing a rock armour retaining wall and 20m of floating jetties. In total it spent about £330,000 on the Lower Bann in 2008–9, principally at Camus and Portglenone Wood.

In preparation for the reopening of the Royal Canal, WI will be installing floating jetties and a weir boom on the Camlin River, just outside Richmond Harbour, where the Royal meets the Shannon.

Lecarrow Harbour is at the head of a short canal off Lough Ree. WI will be working there until August, improving the shore-based amenities in cooperation with Roscommon County Council. WI is building and paying for a new access road, a slipway and an associated car park. The County Council is paying for a new playground and for upgrading the existing public car park. The two bodies are sharing the cost of a new service block and pump-out. WI's contribution to the total will be over €500,000.

WI is applying for planning permission for 250m of fully serviced floating jetties, a walkway and a pedestrian access bridge at Killaloe. The project will include underpinning and widening 500m of the canal wall, to improve the existing moorings, and a remotely operated "lock gate type structure... to prevent ongoing and future undermining and scouring of the canal walls and banks".

The Water Framework Directive
The Water Framework Directive (WFD), adopted by the European Union in 2000, requires the governments of EU member states to manage the quality of their water bodies. That includes both groundwater (which actually means underground water) and surface waters, whether natural or artificial, including rivers, lakes, canals, estuaries, wetlands, reservoirs and coastal waters.

These waters are to reach good status by 2015 and are to be protected against deterioration. The term good status is defined in scientific terms: it's not just a matter of casual impressions of what a body of water looks like. There are some special provisions: even higher standards apply to some waters, eg those used for bathing, for rearing shellfish or for supplying drinking water. On the other hand, artificial waters (eg canals) and those that have been heavily modified (eg reservoirs, ports or flood defences) provide essential benefits and are subject to less stringent standards.

Public authorities have undertaken a massive amount of work to identify the current status of all waters, find the pressures on their status and examine the relevant legislation.

There are several types of pressures on the Shannon; they include the effects of wash (in sensitive areas) and of the use of sea-toilets.

Their work will culminate in the production of a River Basin Management Plan for each of eight areas on the island. The drafts of those plans are now available; consultation meetings have been scheduled around the country up to mid-May and the authorities are seeking people's views by 22 June 2009. See and

Waterways Ireland has published four new Lakelands and Inland Waterways leaflets: Lough Erne, Lough Allen and Lough Key, Lough Ree and Mid Shannon and Lough Derg. Featuring large maps of the waterways and surrounding areas, they list restaurants, hotels, entertainment venues, activities and heritage and other attractions along the waterways and in the surrounding areas. The Lakelands and Inland Waterways initiative reflects Waterways Ireland's strategic decision to form closer links with tourism authorities.

WI has also published a new guide to the Lower Bann, in cooperation with Coleraine Harbour Commissioners, who control the river from the sea upstream to Coleraine Town Bridge. The guide is printed on a water-resistant A4 paper, spiral bound to open flat, and each map spans two pages. This large format allows for a lot of detail, and there are keys to the symbols on fold-out flaps at front and rear: in general, the symbols you need while moving are on the front flap and those you need while moored are on the rear. I think some minor improvements could be made, but this new format is very much to be welcomed and should be really useful when applied to the Shannon and Erne charts.

Published in Afloat April//May 2009

Published in Brian Goggin

In January, Waterways Ireland (WI) opened its magnificent new headquarters building in Enniskillen and confirmed its mastery of the waterways, reports Brian J. Goggin

Also in January, the Inland Waterways Association of Ireland (IWAI) declared a mid-life crisis, shot itself in the foot and contemplated casting off its old allegiances and buying a speedboat, an open-necked shirt and a gold medallion.

Inventing the waterways
During the 1950s and the 1960s, IWAI set the inland waterways agenda, successfully resisting closures and navigation restrictions while promoting new uses and working on restorations. Ruth Delany's books delineated the Irish waterways; IWAI guidebooks defined the waterways experience, including history and heritage and the natural environment as well as boating.
The waterways were saved from closure and given to a public body dedicated to maintaining them. But thereafter IWAI lost its public profile: 210 mentions in The Irish Times in the 1960s but only 39 in this decade.

IWAI neglected contemporary ways of influencing public policy through branding and lobbying. Successful branding would have meant that, when people thought of any waterway, they would think of IWAI. Lobbying means exerting influence with the authorities by building a reputation for making well-researched, cohesive, thoughtful submissions on important issues.

Strategic thinking
In November 2000, the then-President of IWAI began a participative review of the Association's strategic direction. The outcomes included a new vision: IWAI as the respected voice of the inland waterways enthusiast, representing all those who use, enjoy and value the waterways.

IWAI's scope was defined to include all the inland waterways, all leisure activities associated with them (including shore-based activities), the restoration and conservation of the built heritage, development of new facilities and amenities and the protection and conservation of the natural heritage. A mission statement reflecting that scope was adopted and a new management structure, with a larger Executive Committee, was introduced.

Drastic times
The President's Message in IWAI's Inland Waterways News Winter 2008 told us that, in drastic times, the association had not secured external funding for its part-time project officer (its only employee), that its membership was declining and that it was unable to retain new members. He had made radical suggestions, some unpalatable, to the IWAI Council in November. And he said that the Association was 'member-driven'.

There was no report on the November Council meeting, but the report on the September meeting said that the part-time project officer had been put on protective notice. IWAI had imposed a temporary levy on its branches to pay for the post, but that reduced branches' income; any rise in membership fee was likely to be resisted.

The membership figures do not suggest a crisis. Numbers increased by 2.6% between 2006 and 2007 and declined by 3.2% in 2008: very small changes. The renewal rate rose from 83.5% in 2006 to 91% in 2008 (hats off to the membership officer), although increasing numbers of members do not pay their subs.

It was reported that a sub-committee had been considering the IWAI's legal structure, the uniform fee charged by all branches, funding and costs, membership levels, links with other bodies and IWAI's inability to get recognition as a national body. This sub-committee hoped to have a discussion paper ready by mid-October. The President said that the Association was facing some of the biggest issues it had ever confronted.

Crisis? What crisis?
The relationships between these topics were not clear. The President did not identify the 'biggest issues' and there was no information about the unpalatable and radical solutions, about the mid-October discussion paper or about what the proposed 20/20 Vision plan might contain. So the problems were ill-defined and the possible solutions were not discussed in the President's Message.

The vision and mission statements, and other outcomes of the 2000 process, were not mentioned. Were those outcomes considered and evaluated but then rejected? If so, why?

The Association's PRO declined to provide any more information. No briefing documents were sent to members, the report of the November 2008 Council meeting is not on the IWAI website, a pre-Christmas email to members contained no details and the coverage in Inland Waterways News was inadequate and out of date.

Participants in IWAI's electronic discussion group were more successful in extracting answers. Reading the discussion at (see IWNs IWAI funding ...), I learned that, while the President seemed to link the short-term financing problems to the issues raised by the sub-committee, another officer saw no link between the two and said that the sub-committee's work would take over 12 months.

IWAI's real problem
On the basis of the limited information provided, I suggest that IWAI does have a significant problem, but that it is one of performance, of implementation, rather than of strategy.

IWAI has failed to project its vision and its brand to waterways users and to the general public. I cannot recall ever receiving a press release from IWAI. According to its website, it has issued six since 2006: four welcoming announcements (by other people) about the Ulster Canal, one welcoming two new branches and one welcoming a new corporate member. No reports or critiques or surveys of its own; nothing to suggest that it is setting the agenda on the waterways or that it is the respected voice of the inland waterways enthusiast.

There seems to be no central appreciation of the strategic importance of getting IWAI's name before the public and keeping it there. WI uses its sponsorship programme strategically, funding events that attract new users and meet other corporate goals. In 2008 WI sponsored rowing, angling, sailing, swimming, wakeboarding, triathlons and arts, heritage, environmental, Royal Canal and local events. The organising bodies and the venues are now WI's allies. IWAI seems to have run no events that received sponsorship.

Since appointing its part-time project officer, the Association has improved its lobbying, making well-reasoned submissions on issues including Shannon water abstraction, vessel registration and green diesel. It therefore seems extraordinary that IWAI should now decide to reduce its capability by removing the project officer. Joined-up strategic thinking should be for the long term; by this action IWAI has shot itself in the foot.

Waterways Ireland's new headquarters building in Enniskillen has been officially opened. The three-storey-plus-belvedere building is on the Sligo Road, across the river from the Watergate. However, the Lakeland Canoe Centre on the island screens the WI building from the castle side, and it is only from around the Forum that the full splendour appears.

The building includes offices, meeting rooms, an exhibition space and an archive and library, which will be very welcome to people like me, who are researching aspects of waterways history. The environmentally friendly building has achieved the highest Building Research Establishment Environmental Assessment (BREAM) score of any building in Northern Ireland.

The official opening on Friday 16 January 2009 was performed by Gregory Campbell, MLA, Minister for Culture, Arts and Leisure and Éamon Ó Cuív, TD, Minister for Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs. The ceremony included the planting of an Irish Pitcher apple tree.

The need for a Waterways Association...
There is no official forum for the voices of waterways users. Waterways Ireland has no board of external directors. There is no equivalent of Britain's Inland Waterways Advisory Council or of the advisory committee covering Lough Neagh and the Lower Bann. There is no equivalent of the UK's Parliamentary Waterways Group and the Oireachtas largely ignores waterways.

Yet the waterways are nowadays subject to more regulation, acted upon by more public bodies and affected more by economic and political events than they have ever been. I have the greatest of respect for Waterways Ireland's competence — and its ability to thrive in a very challenging political environment — but every public-sector organisation needs external oversight. In the absence of an official mechanism, we need a strong, sophisticated, well-run voluntary body, with professional staff, that can comment authoritatively on WI's strategy and operations and that can help to set the waterways agenda.

... not just a boat club
IWAI should be driven, not by its members, but by what is set down in its Memorandum of Association, where 'represent[ing] the interests of boat owners' is clearly subsidiary to the main objects, which are about promoting the 'use, maintenance and development' of the waterways themselves.

Some proponents of change suggest that IWAI's main problem is that it has too few members, and that it should sell itself to inland boat-owners as their representative body, without any distracting heritage or environmental considerations.

But members are not purely self-interested: many share a dedication to waterways, not just to boat-owning. If IWAI focuses solely on boat-owners, it excludes many inland waterways users and is likely have less influence on Waterways Ireland. Besides, the market for representing boat-owners is dominated by the Irish Sailing Association, with over 12 staff and an active Motorboat Development Officer. IWAI could survive in that market only by some form of market-sharing or by amalgamation with the ISA.

As a boat-owners' group, IWAI's continued existence would be pointless — and unlikely. Yes, IWAI does need to improve its branch structure; yes, it needs to become much better at delivery — but at delivery on waterways strategy, not just boating. And above all it needs to become far better at communicating with members, with the public and with other waterways interests.

Published in Afloat January//February 2009

Published in Brian Goggin

Brian J Goggin looks forward to the reopening of the Royal Canal

As I write, various IWAI branches are preparing for end-of-season cruises. Some intrepid inland boaters (equipped with wheelhouses and heaters) keep going all year round: one group of Heritage Boat Association enthusiasts holds an end-of-season rally on Lough Derg after Christmas, with a start-of-season rally the next day.

Warning on water
Maybe the weather will be better over Christmas than it has been so far this year. Wet weather doesn't just depress boaters' spirits: it also depresses boating activity, certainly for that year and perhaps in subsequent years, amongst both owners and hirers. The traffic figures for the Shannon and the Shannon-Erne Waterway, kindly supplied by Waterways Ireland, do suggest that activity has been down this year.

Strong flows on the Shannon, as a result of the rainfall, were another problem. There were many reports of boats being pinned across bridges by the flow of the current. I do not know of any central source of information on the number and severity of these incidents, but perhaps it's time there was one. I don't mean to suggest that we need a full investigation of every incident by the Marine Casualty Investigation Board, but it would be useful to be able to measure the extent of the problem — and perhaps even to do something about it.

One difficulty is that the Shannon is badly designed for its current uses and level of traffic: bridges (where current speeds up) close to locks (where boats must slow down), quays and pontoons close to bridges and locks so that there are always boat movements across the traffic streams, single navigation arches with restricted visibility, and pontoons above bridges forcing boats to make awkward approaches. If we are going to have strong flows every summer, some re-engineering may be required; Waterways Ireland's new booms at weirs and at Killaloe Bridge are welcome improvements, but we may need extra navigation arches and fewer pontoons close to bridges.

In the short term, though, perhaps more could be done to provide information and warnings to boaters, and especially to hirers and others with relatively little experience. On the Thames, large yellow warning boards are shown at locks to warn boaters that the flow is increasing or to alert them when it is decreasing; unpowered boats are advised to moor and powered boats are advised to seek safe moorings. The next stage is large red boards saying 'Caution: Strong Stream', which means all boats are advised not to navigate. There is also a telephone floodline giving recorded information.

Waterways Ireland (WI) does issue warnings, but the question is whether the warnings are reaching (or getting through to) those who need them most. The Shannon has many fewer locks than the Thames, so there are fewer places where warnings could be placed; WI may need to think of new ways of getting the information out.

It would also be useful if they could provide more precise information: for example, it would be nice to know the speed of the current at places like Shannon Grove and under the navigation arches of bridges.

Offaly hits the right note

Fleadh Cheoil na hÉireann is a traditional music event organised by Comhaltas Ceoltóirí Éireann, and for the past two years it has been held in Tullamore. The Offaly Branch of IWAI has taken advantage of this to encourage more boats to use the Grand Canal: it has organised Float to the Fleadh, a convoy from Shannon Harbour to Tullamore. This year, it even persuaded three of the Shannon cruiser hire firms, Silverline, Emerald Star and CarrickCraft, to allow Fleadh-goers to hire boats and take them along the canal to Tullamore.

The event was a magnificent success, with over 80 boats in Tullamore for the Fleadh. The very presence of the boats increased awareness of the canal, and Offaly Branch enhanced the effect by arranging events and ensuring media coverage.

If the Fleadh returns to Tullamore in 2009, another Float event will be arranged. But Offaly's initiative provides a guideline for other IWAI branches, showing the advantage of linking in with major non-waterway events. Thus next year, for example, IWAI's North Barrow Branch, based in Athy, may be able to link in with the National Ploughing Championships, which will be held on a site between the Athy/Stradbally road and the Barrow Line of the Grand Canal.

The trip to the Fleadh wasn't altogether uneventful, for many boats were travelling on the weekend before the Fleadh began, when we had one of the heaviest downpours on record. The 30km Long Level above Ballycommon (east of Tullamore) received very large amounts of water, only some of which could be released via the usual overflows. Accordingly, it had to be drained westward, down the canal, over 40km to the Shannon.

Waterways Ireland staff worked throughout the weekend, including both Saturday and Sunday nights, with four racks open on all gates from Ballycommon to the Shannon: an unprecedented operation that prevented flooding over large areas. The resulting flow on the canal was such that navigation had to be stopped; the boats heading for the Fleadh were directed to Pollagh, where they moored safely until the flow subsided.

Reopening the Royal
For Waterways Ireland, the big event for 2009, all going well, will be the reopening of the Royal Canal. It runs from Spencer Dock through Maynooth, Kilcock, Enfield, Kinnegad, Mullingar, Ballynacargy and Abbeyshrule to join the Shannon at Richmond Harbour, near Tarmonbarry. Completed in 1817, it was not very successful commercially, and in 1845 it was bought by the Midland Great Western Railway which wanted the wayleaves for its track: the railway line follows the canal closely as far as Mullingar.

Although the MGWR did not particularly want the canal itself, it wasn't allowed to close it. But traffic gradually declined, except during the Emergency (World War 2), when turf was carried to Dublin to replace the coal that the UK refused to supply. When L.T.C. Rolt travelled on the canal just after WW2, there were only two traders left, and the last of them, James Leech of Killucan, stopped carrying in 1951. The canal was officially closed to navigation in 1961, and since then the Royal Canal Amenity Group has been fighting for its restoration.

The canal probably has more pubs along it than the Grand. It has fine stonework, an aqueduct 100 feet in the air, nice harbours and other attractions, including (now) an automatic lifting bridge at Begnagh, which scans the canal seeking boats and lifts when it sees one coming. The locks out of Dublin, up from Spencer Dock to Cabra, are hard work, but then there is the attractive stretch past Ashtown and Dunsink followed by the dramatic crossing of the M50 at Blanchardstown.

New sector gates are being installed at Spencer Dock to control access from the Liffey and to counter flooding. In Co Longford, where the local authority installed low culverted road-crossings in many places, the last of the culverts, at Lyneen, will be replaced by a fixed bridge. Richmond Harbour will be closed this winter for maintenance and some other minor works are underway; it is even possible that an improved water supply, from Lough Ennell, will be made available.

At first, WI will have to control traffic and monitor the banks closely to ensure that they are standing up to the traffic: most of the Royal boats, in the old days, were horse-drawn. But WI suggested, at a meeting in April 2008, that there will be a series of events next summer, from Dublin to the western end, after which traffic will once again be admitted from the Shannon. Unfortunately WI was unable to provide us with any details of decisions made since April, so we cannot say exactly what will be happening on what dates.

Northern exposure for WI
The best way of getting information about what Waterways Ireland is doing is to look on the website of the Northern Ireland Assembly. Some information about WI's doings, north and south of the border, is available on the House of Lords website, generally as a result of a question from John Dunn Laird, Baron Laird of Artigarvan, but he has been rather quiet since April 2007. Waterways Ireland is occasionally mentioned in the Oireachtas, but its doings are largely ignored in the southern legislature.

In Northern Ireland, however, the Committee for Culture, Arts and Leisure holds regular hearings, received reports from the relevant minister and publishes full information on its website In September, Gregory Campbell, the NI Minister of Culture, Arts and Leisure, reported to the Committee on July's meeting of the North/South Ministerial Council (Inland Waterways Sectoral Format). The NI representatives were the Minister for Regional Development, Conor Murphy, and Mr Campbell; Éamon Ó Cuív, Minister for Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs, represented the Irish government. The meeting received a report from WI's Chief Executive, John Martin.

The report said that, since October 2007, WI had installed 86m of moorings on the Royal Canal and on the Shannon, 283m on the Erne and 36m on the Lower Bann. WI's new HQ building, in Enniskillen, was on time and on budget. It intended to reopen the Royal in 2009, to improve other navigations and to complete "investigations and construction of extensions on the Shannon navigation". WI has been consulting landowners and other interests along the line of the Ulster Canal from the River Finn (Lough Erne) to Clones; it has "commenced procedures to have the preliminary design undertaken and [proposes] to take forward the land acquisition in advance of letting the contract". It intends to register all its property, first assessing what the process might need, and it has carried out some marketing.

WI's strategy has "five marketing objectives, which are: awareness creation; development of a corporate identity; promoting greater use of the waterways; working in partnership with other bodies; and building a platform for sustained development".

The Committee discussed the report of the meeting, with questions to the Minister on the timescale for reopening the Ulster Canal, the slight under-representation of Protestants amongst the 76 permanent WI employees in Northern Ireland, potential for development of the Lower Bann and Lough Neagh, the effect of currency fluctuations and of the "pressures on public-expenditure budgets in Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland".

In that context, it should be noted that Brian Lenihan's budget in October 2008 involved cuts in provision for pensioners, in certain education and health services and in the estimates for agriculture, transport and arts, sport and tourism. However, the estimate for Waterways Ireland's capital and current expenditure is the same as it was last year. According to WI's current Corporate Plan, operating revenue — which includes what boaters pay — will amount to e440,000 in each of the years 2008, 2009 and 2010; current expenditure in those years is expected to be e38,550,000, e39,550,000 and e41,330,000 respectively.

Published in Afloat December 08/January 09 Annual

Published in Brian Goggin
I'm just back from a fortnight pottering around Lough Derg and, if our experience is anything to go by, the Celtic Water-Tiger is dead. Traffic (both private and hired) seemed to be way down on normal levels, although that comment is based on anecdotal evidence: I haven't seen the Waterways Ireland traffic figures yet.

Some people blamed the weather, but we didn't think it was too bad. We had some heavy rain, but for some reason none while we were navigating: I didn't have to don my serious waterproofs once. There was even some sunshine from time to time, which is always a bonus, and the only strong winds seemed to be at night.

Our fortnight spanned the August Bank Holiday weekend, which we spent in Portumna Castle Harbour, and admittedly that was crowded. There were boats moored on the approach walls every night and at one stage eight boats were rafted inside the harbour. And that's not to speak of the herd of camper vans...

Except for one night in Dromineer, we spent our other nights at quieter harbours without pubs (Kilgarvan, Dromaan, Rossmore) and maybe things were more crowded elsewhere, but I was surprised to find that, on one night in Dromaan, ours was the only occupied boat in the harbour. Even Dromineer was quiet on a Friday night; perhaps the closure of the hotel is making a difference.

We had a visit in Portumna from the Waterways Ireland warden, who was checking up on things and ensuring that best use was made of the space available. This sort of presence, whether by land or by water, is a very good thing, using low-key persuasiveness to make improvements. Mind you, I suspect that WI will have to use the heavy hand sometime soon: I have the impression that there has been an increase in harbour-hogging by owners who won't pay for moorings and who prefer to privatise sections of public harbours (at taxpayers' expense).

The Boyne
The Industrial Heritage Association of Ireland ( organised a tour of sites in Monaghan recently, and I went with some friends. The tour included mills, the startling remains of Great Northern Railway viaducts and several sites on the Ulster Canal: the summit feeder, a bridge and milestone, Templetate Lock (in the middle of a field) and Ireland's only canal tunnel.

On the way home, we called in at Oldbridge to see how IWAI Boyne Navigation Branch's restoration project ( was getting on. Tommy McLoughlin, the Project Manager, had kindly agreed to stay behind after a hard day's work on the sea lock to show us around. I must admit I was very impressed: this is a very professional operation on a lovely navigation.

Like the Barrow, the Boyne is a river navigation with several long cuts — which are not all on the same side of the river. The sea lock, providing entry to the lowest cut, is at Oldbridge Lower, very close to the Battle of the Boyne site, and there is a second lock (Oldbridge Upper) on the same cut. This second lock is a rare turf-sided lock with sloping sides; a horse-bridge crosses the upper end.

Restoring navigation on that stretch means replacing gates and removing dams (and no doubt some dredging); success would open the navigation from Drogheda almost as far as the Brú na Bóinne Visitor Centre, with only one other lock in the way. And that means that it would be possible to offer a water-bus service from Drogheda to the two visitor attractions, the Battle of the Boyne site and Brú na Bóinne.

So this is a restoration project with some point to it. A restored Boyne Navigation, cut off from the connected inland waterways system, may never attract large numbers of cruisers, but it could justify itself in other ways. A water-bus service would be an attraction in itself; it would also relieve the traffic congestion on the area's minor roads — and perhaps make the other attractions easier to find. Furthermore, the navigation itself is extremely attractive and some sections of towpath are well used by walkers and anglers; a day-boat service might complement those activities.

Unfortunately the Boyne Navigation Branch's trailer was stolen since our visit. It is a twin-axle 8' x 4' steel galvanised trailer with a mesh tail ramp. It is unusual in that it has high sides, of which the top 15" drop down to form a shelf hanging on chains. It has lights and black plastic mudguards. This trailer was custom built by T.R. Trailers and is used to transport equipment on to the site on workdays. If you see it, contact Tommy McLoughlin at 087 277 1591.

The Munster Blackwater
The Munster Blackwater (and its tributary, the Bride) are always included in lists of Irish inland waterways, but I had never seen them. They are not connected to the main system, so getting there requires a car journey, and I had never got around to it until a few months ago, when we drove over the Vee to Cappoquin and on to Youghal.

Nineteenth century travellers described the Blackwater as the Irish Rhine, which is a bit of an exaggeration, but it is certainly very scenic and full of historic interest. There are several 'big houses' along the route; people associated with the area include the Knights Templar, Walter Raleigh, the Duke of Devonshire, the von Thyssen family, Katharine Countess of Desmond (said to have died at the age of 140 after falling from a cherry tree), Claud Cockburn, Molly Keane and Richard Boyle (1st Earl of Cork and father of the man who gave us Boyle's Law).

Low bridges now restrict access by masted vessels, but well into the last century schooners came up the Blackwater with the tide as far as Cappoquin. Much of the trade was with Wales, carrying coal in and timber (for pit props) out. There are several quays along the river; schooners would discharge part of their cargoes in the lower reaches, reducing their draught for the upriver section. They could discharge the rest in Cappoquin and take on part of a load, completing it further downriver. The Bride, a tributary, was also navigable and schooners went up there too, and a short canal carried goods to Lismore, where the Dukes of Devonshire own the castle. Furthermore, steamers went as far as Cappoquin and excursions were popular.

Amongst the schooners that used the Blackwater were the De Wadden, a steel three-masted schooner built in 1917 and now in Merseyside Maritime Museum, the recently-restored wooden three-masted schooner Kathleen & May and the ketch-rigged flush-decked trow Jonadab, whose remains are in the Purton boat graveyard near Sharpness.

There are some boats on the river, but traffic was very light when we were there: a few fishing boats, a small sailing-boat going downriver with its mast lowered, the occasional jetski and power-boat, but not much else. Some of the old quays are used for swimming, but on the whole the river seemed to be under-used.

We went with the tide all the way from Youghal to the Kitchenhole just above Cappoquin, and also did some exploration of the Bride and the Lismore Canal by road. Tony Gallagher runs a trip-boat, the half-decker MV Maeve, from Youghal, although his scheduled trips don't go as far as Cappoquin. Tony (087 988 9076) is a mine of information about this wonderful river and he brings old photos and documents to show to his passengers: highly recommended.

For a photo tour of the Blackwater, see

Published in Afloat September//October 2008

Published in Brian Goggin
Page 24 of 28
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