IH News 2022

The Ulster Canal shibboleth

Thon Sheugh, to use the phrase coined by the late Brian J Goggin, continues to generate copy, to the extent that it makes me wish for another recession to deprive the Irish Government of money and bring the IMF back.

I came upon this article, which is nothing more than pious platitudes from people who want to spend taxpayers’ money, solely because they can. From the article:

“The Taoiseach, Micheál Martin, has called Waterways Ireland’s Ulster Canal restoration project a “long-standing government priority, with an important north-south dimension”.

Like draining the Shannon or restoring the Irish language as a living language. It is hyperbole, designed to play to an audience but not intended to be a commitment.

Dating back to the mid-19th century, the Ulster Canal formed a strategic link between the waterways of Ireland but, by the 1930s, a drop in its usage for commercial purposes saw the abandonment of the canal which then led to its deterioration.

The Ulster Canal was anything but strategic. It was a white elephant even upon opening, due to small size of the canal locks and difficulties keeping the summit level in water. Within a generation, the arrival of the railway killed off any prospect the canal could have had (but didn’t), rendering it as nothing more than an expensive drainage channel.

The second phase, which is now being progressed thanks to the Irish Government funding, focuses on Monaghan – from Clones to Clonfad. Mr McMahon is hopeful that this phase will be completed by the end of 2023.

I have discussed this previously. This is a short section of canal, disconnected from anything else – effectively just an elongated open air swimming pool on the outskirts of Clones. This is akin to the building of the Kilkenny Canal from the Kilkenny end, rather than the Inistioge end (end of river navigation), which meant that the built section could not be used commercially and therefore failed.

The Irish Government should focus on the creation and completion of the Ulster Canal Greenway and accommodate the built heritage of the Ulster Canal by leaving the bridge towpaths and locks intact by running the cycle path element of the greenway along the bed of the former canal and through the locks. The footpath element can use the original towpaths and have ramp access to the public roads at each bridge for disabled/family access.