|Moore's Bridge, on the River Lagan, Lisburn, Co. Antrim|
I've talked in the past about having a boat - an old wooden ex-ship's lifeboat which had been converted into a cruiser, but then neglected and allowed to rot. Now I'm the one neglecting it! She's called 'Warrior Maid' and, for those who like to know the details, she's 4/5 berth, 28 feet long (or 8.5 m) and clinker built. Gerry and I have sailed her over to Scotland and up and down the Irish coast as far as Howth, just outside Dublin.
One of the reasons for going to Dublin, apart from spending some time in the city itself - which is always worth doing - was to investigate the possibility of taking the boat into the Irish canal system. Ireland is a wee bit unusual in that most of the mountains are around the edges, with a large fairly flat plain in the centre. Down the middle of this flows the Shannon River, the longest river in Ireland, which starts up near the border and flows through several lakes, then out to sea through the city of Limerick. Unfortunately, we discovered that the Royal Canal was still full of wrecked cars at the Dublin end, and the Grand Canal had silted up a bit and was overdue for dredging!
Ireland's Newry Canal is the oldest summit canal in all of Britain and Ireland. It was opened in 1742 and runs from the Port of Newry, near the border in Co. Down, to the shore of Lough Neagh at Portadown, Co. Armagh. The canal was built to carry coal from across Lough Neagh, in Coalisland, Co. Tyrone, all the way to Dublin - instead of importing English coal. A 4 mile long ship canal was also built to allow larger boats access to the port of Newry. The canal used to carry passengers from Portadown to Newry, but it has been closed to boats since 1949.
The ship canal also closed when a new container port opened further down Carlingford Lough in the town of Warrenpoint, but the ship canal has now been re-opened for yachts and cruisers in the last few years. I've taken Warrior Maid as far up as Warrenpoint and stayed overnight at the pier there, but I've not yet made the trip up the ship canal to Newry. Warrenpoint has now got a brand new marina in the old port area, so next time I'll call in there.
The Lower River Bann, or Bann Navigation, runs from Lough Neagh north to the sea at Coleraine. It has always been navigable and has recently had some improvements carried out. But Lough Neagh used to have two more canals connected to it - apart from the one which used to go to Coalisland for coal. The Lagan Navigation used to run from Belfast to Lisburn and on to Lough Neagh, and the Ulster Canal used to join Lough Neagh to Lough Erne, where another canal continued on to the Shannon River. My father can remember the lighters coming up the Lagan from Belfast to Lisburn years ago, but at the moment you can only take a boat on a small section which has been restored at Lisburn, which we did in a small boat a few years ago.
The good news now is that the canal joining the Erne System to the Shannon has been completely restored - it's called the Shannon-Erne Waterway. You can now cruise all around the Erne System in Northern Ireland, then travel the new Shannon-Erne Waterway, leading to the whole Shannon river and canal system - as far as Dublin, Limerick, or Waterford. On our honeymoon - back in 1979 - Gerry and I took a hired cruiser from the Shannon into the first section of this waterway, as far as a then disused lock! I had to row her to one bank with a rope from the bow and another friend to the opposite bank with another rope from the stern, so they could turn the boat around in its own length! then I picked them up again by dinghy. Thankfully, it's plain sailing now!
One day it will be possible to sail Warrior Maid from Groomsport to Belfast, cruise up the Lagan to Lough Neagh and then the whole length of Ireland, from Coleraine to Dublin, Waterford, or Limerick.
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