The following trip report was posted to the uk.rec.waterways
by Brian J. Goggin on 02 June 2000. It is published here with
his kind permission - enjoy!
From: Brian J Goggin
Subject: Trip report (long): Ireland's Royal Canal
Date: Fri, 02 Jun 2000 08:56:04 +0100
Thanks to Padraig O Brolchain and Donal O Siochain, I was on the
first boat through Lock 1 on the Royal Canal last Saturday 20 May
2000, the first boat to reach the Royal from the Liffey on an official
pass since 1955. This is an account of the trip.
The Grand Canal contingent had locked down from the canal to the
Liffey on Friday evening, starting at about 6.00pm. I was alone with
Ian and the dog; Dara from Leisureways came along to help us, but
we ended up driving in circles around Grand Canal Basin, drinking
Pilsner Urqell, for quite a time after a delay at the sea-lock, which is
keeper-operated. The first lockful of boats got down OK, but in the
second there were three narrowboats side by side --- and it seems
that the sides of the lock slope inwards: as the level went down, the
three boats became jammed in the lock, which had to be refilled so
that some of the boats could be taken out. We circled, watching the
DUKWs that end their Viking Splash Tour in the Basin and waiting for
We got down on the third lockful, near low water. This was our first
time on tidal water. We had to keep to the left, hugging the side of a
big ship, until we got on to the Liffey itself, then headed upstream
to tie at the Dublin Docklands Development Authority floating jetty,
outside Jury's Inn, for the night. Anne and Carolan were there when
At about 10.00pm some of the boats donned lights and went upriver;
Anne and the children went with the Sleators. Later, we were drinking
with the Warners on their boat when Derek Mooney, presenter of the
radio programme *Mooney Goes Wild on One*, arrived with more
supplies; we got to bed after midnight.
On Saturday, the expedition up the Royal began. The Millennium
Rally Committee had decided, wisely, that only three lockfuls of
boats could get up on to the Royal. Thus our own boat, and others,
could not make the trip; most of those that went were steel boats.
However, adults from the Liffey-bound boats who wanted to go on
the trip were accommodated on the other boats.
The fleet comprised
1. Grand Canal Committee boat, a wide-beam narrowboat from
Heather Thomas's Celtic Canal Cruisers. This was the only boat to
return to the Liffey and the Grand afterwards: the rest are either
staying on the Royal permanently or staying for the summer and
intending to get lifted out and transported back to the Grand later in
2. Dympna, a short narrowboat that was on the RCAG Silver Jubilee
rally last year
3. Eala, one of Derek Whelan's wide-beam Leisureways hire-boats
that had got stuck on the wrong side of a breach on the Royal last
year and had overwintered on the Grand
4. Robert and Caroline Few on one of their narrow-beam Lowtown
5. Dick and Geraldine Warner on their steel cruiser *Elsewhere*
6. Allen O'Leary's *Rally Yarns*, undertaking the Ben Allen cruise: a
Shetland, this was the only GRP boat in the fleet. Allen aims to raise
money for Guide-dogs and for research into blindness, as well as
calling attention to the closure of the Royal
7. Karen Klinkenbergh and Michael Hoey on *River Dancer*, a
narrowboat from their Canalways hire fleet
8. Two Civil Defence RIBs
Derek Whelan was on another RIB below Lock 1, but transferred to
land from then on.
As well as the boats, the venture involved (on land) large numbers of
Waterways Ireland staff and members of the Royal Canal Amenity
Group and the Inland Waterways Association of Ireland.
I woke up at 6.45 (I'm not used to the noise of Dublin traffic) and
read until 7.45. The Warners were up early too: they had to be first
to leave because they have the highest boat and the deepest draft
(2' 10"). They left at 9.00am and headed downriver the short
distance to the entrance to the Royal, then disappeared inside the
One by one the other boats left the jetty and followed the Warners. I
hadn't intended to go. I had planned to bring the children sailing and
canoeing at Surfdock in Grand Canal Basin, but the rain deterred
them and Anne said she'd take them into the city centre. Padraig O
Brolchain offered me a place on the committee boat and Anne
persuaded me to accept. At 10.00am we were entering the Royal
The first part of the canal is, like the Liffey, tidal. There used to
be a sea-lock at the entrance, forming Spencer Dock, but the Dock
was unused and the derelict gates were removed.
The entrance is crossed by two Scherzer lifting-bridges --- no longer
operational, alas --- and a couple of pipes, as well as a temporary
bridge linking two car parks. To get in, you have to make sure that
the tide is high enough to float your boat but low enough to enable
you to get under the fixed obstacles. That means a fairly low tide: I
think we were about two hours after the lowest point.
Spencer Dock itself is huge --- or was until a lot of it was filled in
--- with lots of space for a wonderful marina. One of the conditions
attached to planning position for the adjoining Spencer Dock site
was that the dock be restored to its original size; planning gain, as
the Dublin Docklands Development Authority calls it, should also
fund the renovation of the Scherzer bridges and the removal of the
other low fixed obstacles. However, disputes about planning
permission have enmeshed the proposed development.
A passage through Spencer Dock has been dredged: boats must
keep to the right for one part of the journey and then move to the left.
We went under a high-level drawbridge at Sheriff Street; the bridge
no longer lifts, but we went under easily, the only problem being that
a metal U pointed down from below the bridge. We cleared it with
about a foot to spare.
The right hand side of the dock is a sort of railway shunting yard; a
couple of locomotives hooted at us as we passed. The dock is over
half a mile long; near the inner end it curves around to the left and at
10.30 we found the earlier boats tied to a wall on the left, ready to
go through the left-hand opening under a fixed high-level railway
bridge. On the right-hand side were the remains of two old barges:
one hull looked to be in one piece. It was odd to see seaweed on a
The fleet stopped to wait for high (or at least higher) tide. You have
to enter at low tide to get under the fixed obstacles, then wait for
the level to rise to get enough water to enter Lock 1, which is now in
effect the sea-lock. While we waited, the boats ahead hauled metal
objects from the canal. On our boat, though, Maeve O Siochain had
provided breakfast for the large crew: bacon, sausages, rolls, brown
bread, orange juice and tea. That was an unexpected and most
welcome treat on a grey, rainy morning.
Just beyond the high-level railway bridge, under which a channel
seemed to have been dredged, was where the fixed low-level railway
bridge used to be. This bridge, carrying a railway loop line, was the
insuperable obstacle to navigation. Then it was replaced by a lifting
bridge --- but the bridge was unable to lift. It appears that it used
worm drives but that the bridge was too heavy for the drives and that
During the week before the rally, the lifting bridge was removed
altogether and the channel beneath it was dredged, with old cars
amongst the rubbish removed. However, the bridge was to be
reinstated after the rally: the railway company may need the line if a
DART service is provided to docklands. It would be nice if it could
be made to lift before being reinstated: otherwise it will constitute the
only insuperable obstacle to access to the Royal, given that
choosing the time right, and waiting, will overcome the tidal problem.
The Warners moved ahead but grounded. Padraig O Brolchain took
this opportunity to rearrange the fleet in the planned order, an order
designed to ensure that the fleet could fit in the smallest number of
Celtic boat + Dympna
Eala + Rally Daze
The Warners + the two narrowboats
We moved into the space where the low-level non-lifting bridge had
been, occasionally edging forward, scraping off the bottom --- or the
debris --- from time to time. Above the lock, the Waterways Ireland
staff were hauling lots and lots and lots of rubbish out of the canal.
Then, at 11.40, the Celtic boat and Dympna were able to move into
Lock 1 at Newcomen Bridge, the sea-lock, under the eyes of a large
Lock 1 is 79.5' long by 14.8' wide; the rise depends on the state of
the tide. One of the sluices was leaking --- and at 11.50 the ground
crew raised one of the gate-racks, making those of us on the bow
very wet and causing us to retreat inside and close the doors.
Eventually that rack was dropped and the ground-racks were raised;
the level crept up; the gates were opened --- and we moved out of
the lock to the applause of those on the bank. I confess that a tear
came to my eye at that moment: this was something for which a lot of
people had worked for a very long time and, even though the blasted
non-lifting bridge was likely to make access only temporarily
available, something significant had been achieved.
After Lock 1 there are five double locks within about one mile. They
are all 80.5' long by 14.0' wide. The rises are
Lock 2: 21.6'
Lock 3: 17.7'
Lock 4: 17.6'
Lock 5: 18.0'
Lock 6: 17.4'
Doubles count as one lock.
The size and the number of these locks mean that any boat hoping
to make this passage should have a large crew: two or three adults
on the boat and one or two ashore to operate the locks. There are no
ladders in the chambers, there is no chance of climbing ashore in a
lock and it is often difficult to find a landing-place below the locks.
Furthermore, these locks make major demands on the water-supply,
with very short levels between them. That may mean that, even after
full restoration, the number of boats locking through on any one day
will have to be limited --- but at present even the thought that demand
might one day exceed supply should enthuse us.
Along the way to Lock 2, we disturbed the local ducks. We also
disturbed a large amount of rubbish. On the bow Pat Mercer was
Chief Wielder of the Long Pole, shoving everything from bags to
rocking-horses out of the way. I learned later that he was from
Flogas, one of the chief sponsors, thus overturning one of my
prejudices: I expected to find sponsors wearing suits at receptions,
not up the sharp end getting stuck in.
We passed along the back of Croke Park, the main stadium of the
Gaelic Athletic Association, where major (and most impressive)
redevelopment work is under way, including what seemed to be
glazed executive dining-rooms overlooking the canal. There had
been a temporary obstacle here too: scaffolding that closed off the
canal. The contractors had removed it to allow the rally to pass,
although it will be reinstated later; at least it's only a temporary
obstacle, though, unlike the non-lifting railway bridge. Many of the
construction workers gathered to watch us pass and we exchanged
good-humoured banter. The water was very muddy here, probably
because of the construction, and that meant that it was not until the
last moment that we saw a plastic pipe in the water --- and realised
that it went from one side of the canal to the other. We managed to
raise it and pass it down over the roof of the boat; the workers then
cut it to allow the remaining boats to pass.
Lock 2, at Binns Bridge, is one of the nastiest locks I have met. The
lower chamber is entirely under a road-bridge. The right-hand gate
(looking upstream) is on what is in effect an island between the canal
and the railway-line (which accompanies the canal for much of its
length). Some boys got on to it and operated the gate for us; I have
no idea how they got there unless they dropped down many feet
from the road-bridge.
The land-crews could not open the lower gates wide enough for us
to get in. The right-hand gate opened almost all the way, but the
left-hand gate opened only to about 45 degrees. There was a huge
amount of rubbish in the chamber, with tyres, footballs, cans and
bottles predominating, and a foul smell.
The long pole, wielded both from the land and from the boat,
dislodged some rubbish from behind both gates, and we tried
nudging them open with the boat, but in vain. Several further efforts
followed, but eventually John the diver had to get down a ladder into
the lock and dislodge more rubbish from behind the left-hand gate,
while the boys on the right-hand bank opened and closed their gate
several times --- and at 12.55 we made it into the lower chamber and
got a bow-rope on to the bank while the lower gates were closed,
with some difficulty.
Martin Dennehy of Waterways Ireland, who was on the boat, took
photos to bring back to the office; over the trip as a whole he took
hundreds of shots for both prints and slides, recording the historic
For some reason, the Waterways Ireland people on the bank had
closed the middle gates (which use a windlass and wires, with
pulleys on the bridge to give the right direction of pull) and were
letting water into the upper chamber. Padraig, on the stern, spotted a
danger and shouted to me, on the bow, but with the noise from the
sluices and the effect of the bridge overhead, I couldn't hear a word.
He came forward and shouted to the folk on the bank, asking them to
get the lock-operators to start letting water into the lower chamber
before it started pouring over the top of the middle gates and on to
the bow of the boat.
The ground-racks were raised --- and the smell in the chamber got
much worse as the accumulated rubbish of years surged up. When
the gate-racks were opened, a tide of foul black water poured in and
an unpleasant mist formed. However, up we went nonetheless and
then forward into the upper chamber, with the local lads helping
again, and being rewarded with bottles of orange from Finches,
At the top, one of three winos --- all very friendly --- asked us for
smoked salmon and drink; they got a few pounds. Again, there was a
crowd, including IWAI and RCAG people, press and TV people and
those living or working nearby.
At this stage I should mention Peter, one of the most valuable
members of the crew. Peter, it turned out, is a wine-merchant and
had brought a wide range of samples. Glasses were refilled
regularly, with Peter describing the wine each time. It seems to me
that every boat should have its own wine-merchant on board.
We were now embarked on the run of five double locks. Lock 3
(17.7') had a very tall lower chamber and, like most of the locks,
stone steps up alongside the lock: indeed the stonework throughout
was extremely beautiful and in very good condition. We went in but
found that very powerful jets of water from the sluices flooded the
bow: we had to ask Dympna to stay behind so that we could stay
further back in the lock and we went up alone at 13.41. At the top,
lots of young lads wanted to come aboard but they were good-
humoured and posed no threat. Martin Dennehy said that he would
like to get Waterways Ireland to give all the lads a trip along the
On the left we passed Mountjoy prison, where the ould triangle goes
jingle-jangle all along the banks of the Royal Canal. Then to Lock 4
(17.6') at 14.06. By this stage we had a routine: at the stern Heather
Thomas used the long pole to hold the boat off the wall while at the
bow I got a rope through a usefully-positioned ring. We waited in
Lock 4 for Dympna to rejoin us for Locks 4, 5 and 6, with water
flowing over the top of the upper gate and through the sluices on the
middle gate. Many of the local lads got bored and went away, but
one or two sat on the gates; from my position on the bow it seemed
to be a very long way up.
The water seemed to get a bit clearer as we went uphill, but it was
still notable that people washed their hands after immersing them:
very wise, I'd say, given the colour and the smell. The locks seemed
to be in good condition.
We reached Lock 5 at 14.52. Beside it, an old warehouse has been
attractively converted into flats. A channel leads out from the lock
under a stone arch: Niall Galway tells me that it is a mill race
outrun from the old Ranks flour mills and that there is another one
above Lock 6, which he says runs under Mountjoy Prison and under
the new flats. When we rose, I talked to a woman who used to hitch
lifts on the canal-boats (all horse-drawn: commercial traffic on the
Royal did not use engines) to visit relatives in Mullingar. I wish I'd
taken a note of her name.
We reached Lock 6 at 15.30. There was a large group of young
children at the top. Anne and Ian, with her brother Robert and his two
children and a friend, came to visit us. I didn't realise that we were
near our destination and they went off, but we were now at Shandon
Gardens: a row of houses on the left, a narrow road on the right with
the railway within earshot and the round tower of Glasnevin Cemetery
nearby. At 16.00 we were tied up --- just in time to greet the first of
the Royal Canal contingent, which had come in from Lock 12: a
Leisureways boat and a small sailing-boat without its mast, with
Damien and Bridie Delaney on board. The Grand Canal fleet
gradually drew up, as did two more boats from the Royal.
Maeve O Siochain again amazed me by serving a meal to the crew
and lots of other people: chicken stew, rice, lasagne, salads and
desserts to follow, with Peter keeping the glasses charged. I helped
to move a Leisureways boat so that it could go back to Lock 6 to pick
up the two local councillors who were to represent the Taoiseach,
who had pulled out of his engagement to speak.
Anne, the children and the dog arrived in time for the blessing of
boats, following which there was a reception in a marquee in a small
nearby park. There were short speeches and, of course, a song ---
the song: The Old Triangle. And there were many remembrances of
Eddie Slane of the Royal Canal Amenity Group, who had died in
1999 after years of work for the restoration of the Royal.
Ruth Delany had been on the 1955 trip and, alone of the six crew
members from *Hark*, was on the trip. Ian Bath of RCAG had
travelled some of the way by boat and some by water. Peter Hanna
of IWAI Dublin Branch, former IWAI President, had been working
locks along the way.
There was a host of people who had done trojan work over the years
in both IWAI and RCAG: I felt honoured to be in their company.
We were tired and returned to our boat on the Liffey, going to bed by
10.00pm. The following morning, after fast RIBs had rocked us, a
series of phone-calls managed to track down the Dublin lockkeeper,
who eventually agreed to allow three boats to return to the Grand
Canal Docks at 12.30 (the rest of the fleet wanted to go in later).
Louis Sleator had gone to do a helmsmanship test in the Docks, so
Anne went with Nora to provide a second adult on board their boat.
The Bradys had two adults on board; I had Carolan, Ian and the dog.
We agreed that, because I had little ppower in reverse, the other
boats should go first and tie outside the lock, allowing me to tie off
them if necessary and to go first into the lock. Carolan and I pushed
the boat off the jetty (fortunately we were at the downstream end)
and used our little reverse to pull out into the stream, then we turned
and headed slowly downriver against the making tide: a wonderful
Just below the lifting bridge we could see a huge ship heading
upstream; I hoped we'd be out of its way before it came through, but
happily it pulled in to the right below the bridge and we calmly
turned right towards the lock, which was opening as we came in. We
entered and Carolan got a rope through a ring on the left, something
that would have been impossible at low water; the lockkeeper did not
offer to take ropes. I hung on to the top of the lock (again,
something that would have been impossible at low tide) and Ian went
from the top of the boat, across my shoulders, on to the land, where
he put the bow and stern ropes around two bollards.
Gay Byrne, a retired radio and television presenter, was watching us,
dressed in his motorbike gear: the band U2 gave him a Harley-
Davidson when he retired. He chatted to Carolan and Ian about the
waterways and we gave him a copy of *Inland Waterways News*, the
The other two boats came in and tied on the right, while the
lockkeeper expressed his feelings about being telephoned and
asked to, er, open locks. (The sea-lock cannot be opened by
boaters: it is operated by an electric control panel. And the canal lock
alongside is kept padlocked.)
I was reluctant to go fast out of the lock, having no reverse, but
going slowly we got blown sideways, so I handed over control to
Carolan and went on deck with a long pole; Carolan successfully
drove us out of the lock while Ian walked the dog around. We tied
where we had been before while the other two boats went around to
the jetties at the Ocean pub, on their way to Mespil Road. We found
that Surfdock closed for the afternoon, so boating was out of the
question. When we had packed, therefore, and chatted to the
operator of the DUKWs, we headed off: Anne and Ian, with Goldie,
went to buy a television set for Ian to go with the Nintendo 64 he had
bought the day before, while Carolan and I went to the Smithfield
Chimney, where you go up 220' to get a great view of the city, before
I dropped her at the railway station to catch a train back to her school
Then we drove the 110 miles home to Limerick: another tiring
weekend, but a historic one.
Next step: the trip out of Dublin and back to Lowtown.
At its Dublin end the Royal Canal is entered from the River Liffey.
There was a Sea Lock (constructed in 1873) at this point but it was removed. Two watermains
now span the entrance and the swing bridge is fixed. Timing, patience
and care are necessary on this stretch.
The Canal can still be accessed at low water but it is then necessary to wait for the incoming tide to carry you up the old level through the Spencer Dock area to what is for the moment effectively the sea lock beyond Newcomen
During the 2000 Dublin Rally this caused an interesting traffic jam A railway bridge was removed to allow the boats to pass. This has now been replaced with a lifting structure. Just beyond the new 1st lock the canal passes Croke Park, with its new stadium.