Sixty years on Ireland’s Grand Canal is still well used

SIXTY years ago, on November 25, 1959; a memo was issued by CIÉ to close the Grand Canal to commercial traffic, formally ending the era of barge trading boats use of the Irish inland navigation system.

But the Grand Canal is thankfully still a well utilised navigation encouraging discovery and exploration while travelling from Dublin in Ireland’s Ancient East right through to Ireland’s Hidden Heartlands!

From our indigenous canal boat tourists, who travel on their own vessels, to the novice or experienced hire boat tourists; the Grand Canal navigation is timeless.

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It takes you all at once back to the heyday of trading boats in the early 1800s while also providing access to waterside communities all along its length, from Dublin to Shannon Harbour in West Offaly and to Athy in South Kildare.

Navigating this route by boat is a truly unique experience. Members of voluntary organisations such as the Inland Waterways Association of Ireland (IWAI) and the Heritage Boat Association (HBA) will always welcome you aboard.

All of this takes place alongside anglers, canoeists, walkers and cyclists who also appreciate the magic and beauty of the Grand Canal and its environs. Long silent of the horses’ hooves that provided momentum for Ireland’s then developing economy, canal towpaths and trackways have been re-imagined with the arrival of the Greenway concept for cycling and walking. In addition to boating, these activities have the potential to provide huge economic benefit to Grand Canal communities.

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The Grand Canal Greenway is being developed as part of a national cycling strategy in partnership with Waterways Ireland (WI), Local Authorities, government departments, local communities and development groups.

Approximately 1000km of inland waterways including the Grand Canal are managed by Waterways Ireland, the largest of six North/south Implementation Bodies established under the British Irish Agreement of April 1998.

IWAI are re-releasing this memo to honour the Grand Canal; all the boatmen and families who worked on her; the agencies, boating and canal side communities who continue to support her; and to highlight this rich vein of current and potential tourism value running from the capital city to the centre of the midlands.

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CIÉ spokesperson Barry Kenny said ‘CIÉ were custodians of the Grand Canal for many years and while commercial navigation ceased 60 years ago, the stewardship of Waterways Ireland and support of Inland Waterways Association of Ireland ensures that its role as a leisure and tourism amenity continues to strengthen. The memo marked the end of a chapter, but the story of the Grand Canal continues, and we wish WI and IWAI the very best in the future.’

John Boyle, Director of Business Development, Waterways Ireland says ‘Waterways Ireland is proud of the heritage associated with the Grand Canal and indeed all of the inland navigable waterways. Whilst 1959 marked the end of commercial traffic on the Grand Canal, the experiences and stories of the canal up to that period are vitally important from an historical point of view in the growth of the Irish economy and the associated growth of local communities.

“It is those local communities who now provide an important role to play in the continuous re-imagining of the Grand Canal into the future to become the bedrock of history for the future. 1959 therefore was an important ‘watershed’ in time, linking the past to the present and into the future. We thank the IWAI, HBA and all those associated with remembering this date 60 years ago and look forward, whilst not forgetting the wonderful history of our past.”

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Tony Doran, station master at Heuston Station, Dublin, with the copy of the original memo. PHOTO SUPPLIED

Alan Kelly, President of the IWAI noted: “The Inland Waterways Association of Ireland are delighted to present a copy of the memo issued by CIÉ on November 25, 1959, to Tony Doran, station master, Heuston Station, Dublin; to mark the 60th anniversary of the original memo release.

“We hope the re-release generates a lot of interest in this great inland waterway on the Irish navigation system, supported by relevant agencies and communities – much appreciated by the IWAI, the HBA and all those who enjoy the Grand Canal for sport, relaxation, nature appreciation and general wellbeing in both urban and rural environments.”

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