The view from the distillery, c1885

Towards the end of last year, we featured a series of articles on the building that is now occupied by the students’ bar in NUIG. The building started as a jute bag factory, then was converted to a bonded warehouse for Persse’s Distillery, later became the National Shell factory during World War I, was occupied by the 17th Lancers and the 6th Dragoon Guards, before being converted into the ammunitions factory known as IMI.

Our view today is of the Eglinton Canal from the distillery, c1885. It all looks very peaceful in this photograph, but it caused a lot of excitement with industrialists and entrepreneurs when it was first mooted and built. It presented them with a commercial highway which gave them access to the potential suppliers and market that was in the hinterland of the lake, and at the same time allowed them to bring their product down the canal to the docks, thereby opening up the prospect of export to anywhere in the world.

The canal was the idea of that great engineer, Alexander Nimmo. He suggested that if steamboats could travel from the Docks to Lough Corrib, it would greatly increase the commercial importance of the city and create a valuable communication link with the hinterland. For a long time, the costs were regarded as prohibitive, and in addition, there was a lot of objections and opposition from landowners along the route, because of the amount of excavation that had to be done, and also the possible loss of life in having a canal through the streets.

The work of actual cutting out the canal began on March 8 1848. The Famine was still raging so this project provided much needed employment and relief while it lasted. The estimated cost was £27,000 with a further £11,047 being provided for the provision of tail races. The work was completed in four years and it greatly improved the mill power of the Galway River. Now boats could travel from Cong to the sea. It was a significant time in the development of the city as it more or less coincided with the building of UCG, the advent of the railways, the construction of the Railway Hotel, etc.

The official opening of the canal was held on August 28 1852. It had five bridges, one at the Claddagh, one at Dominick Street, one connecting Mill Street with the ‘New College’ (ie, New Road ), one near the Presentation College, and one connecting Beggar’s Bridge with the Workhouse (University Road ). All of these were bascule bridges, made of timber with a steel frame. They swung open and were hand operated. There were lock gates at Parkaveara and at the Claddagh Basin.

Initially the canal was very busy, but by 1915 the commercial traffic had almost finished. Apathy, neglect, and drainage problems reduced its value. In 1954 the bridges were found to be in a dangerous state. As there was no traffic on the canal they decided to replace the bridges with fixed ones. So that was the end of the canal as a navigation channel, but it remains one of the most attractive features of the city, and today is much used in recreational activities.

On Monday next at 8pm in the Harbour Hotel, the Galway Archaeological and Historical Society is hosting a lecture to which all are welcome. The talk will be given by Paul Duffy on the subject “William Bald in Connacht”.

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