One hundred and sixty eight years ago this week, on March 8, work started on the cutting of what we know as the Eglinton Canal. There had been previous attempts to open a passage from the river to the sea. As far back as 1498, the then mayor had a plan to connect the Sandy River with Lough Athalia. It was Alexander Nimmo who first mooted the idea of a canal in 1822. If steamboats could travel from the docks to the Corrib, it would greatly enhance the commercial importance of the city and a valuable connection with the hinterland would be established. His original plan was that this connection would start at the top of Woodquay, where McSwiggan’s is today, go along Eglinton Street and down the west side of Eyre Square to the docks. The cost proved to be prohibitive and there were a lot of objections from people who owned land or a business along the route.
The actual construction of the canal, as we know it today, provided much needed work and relief during the Famine. The filling they dug out was used to fill terraces in UCG and also to fill in the causeway behind Claddagh Quay. The Claddagh Basin was constructed to cater for the 300 boats which were operating out of the fishing village at the time. Canal locks were constructed at the Basin and at Parkaveara, and the project included five swivel bridges.
The canal was initially very successful commercially, but by 1915 a combination of apathy, neglect, and drainage problems had greatly reduced traffic. The last boat to use the canal was the Amo II, a converted minelayer which had seen service in World War I. It belonged to Ernest Guinness of Ashford Castle, who sold it to Frank Bailey of Eyre Square. It came down from the lake in 1954 and when the bridges were examined, they were found to be in a dangerous state, which meant either replacing them, or building fixed bridges. They decided on the latter and that was the end of the canal as a navigational channel. It still is one of the most attractive features of our city.
Our image today is a drawing from The Illustrated London News of August 28 1852, which shows the formal opening of the canal. This newspaper was one of the first in the world to illustrate its texts. It obviously did not have artists in all the locations it reported on, so it would have some local describe the scene to the illustrator who would then produce the visual image. This could lead to distortions and exaggerations as has happened here. The drawing, however fanciful, does convey the excitement of the huge crowd who turned up to witness the occasion.
The scene we are looking at is of the Lord Lieutenant and the Countess of Eglinton (after whom the waterway is named ) in a steamboat which is barely visible over the canal gates at Parkaveara. The gates had just closed to raise the steamboat The O’Connell up to the level of Lough Corrib (a lift of 14 feet ). From here the steamer proceeded to Menlo Castle, from where a royal salute was fired and then their excellencies steamed back to Galway.
The Galway Archaeological and Historical Society will host a lecture on Monday next, March 14, in the Harbour Hotel at 8pm. The title is ‘John Redmond and the Third Home Rule Bill, 1912-1916’. It will be given by Dermot Meleady and all are welcome.
The Old Galway Society lecture will take place this evening at 8pm in the Victoria Hotel. It will be given by this writer and all are welcome.