The History of the Shannon

The longest river in the British Isles, the Shannon has played an important part in history from early times, offering attractive sites for monastic settlements, access to the country for Vikings, a line of defence in Napoleonic times, and as trade route.

1755 image


The first serious attempt to improve the navigation was undertaken by the Commissioners of Inland Navigation. Work began on installing lateral canals, locks and lockhouses between Lough Derg and Lough Ree, under the direction of engineer Thomas Omer.
1757 image


William Ockenden was placed in charge of improvement works on the Lower Shannon between Killaloe and Limerick. Over the next four years he spent £12,000 on trying to overcome the rapids at Limerick, Doonass and at Killaloe but failed to complete the work.
1767 image


Public work grants were drying up by 1767 and parliament agreed to the incoporation of the Limerick Navigation Company with responsibility for the Lower Shannon between Limerick and Killaloe.
1790s image


In 1791 William Chapman appointed as adviser with responsibility for rebuilding most of the locks which had been built to different dimensions. The Limerick Navigation finally opened in 1799. The Grand Canal Company took over the middle Shannon in 1794.
1800-1803 image


The appointment of the Directors General of Inland Navigation saw government involvement in inland waterways restored when they took over the Upper Shannon in 1800 and the Limerick Navigation in 1803.
1806 image


The Grand Canal Company received a government grant of £54,634 to put the middle Shannon into repair. The actual cost of repairs was £84,857.
1810-1814 image


The opening of the Grand Canal was approaching so essential repair works on the middle Shannon were completed to allow boats drawing 5 foot 9 inches pass from Athlone to Killaloe. In 1814 the Directors General purchased the Limerick Navigation.
1820s image


The Limerick Navigation handed to a newly formed Limerick Navigation Company in 1829. Trade increased with arrival of paddle-wheeled steamers which carried passengers and goods.
1831-1835 image


The Shannon Commission was established in 1831 to report on the condition of the Shannon from the source to the sea. The 1835 Shannon Navigation Act was the outcome and a single navigation authority, the Shannon Commissioners was appointed.
1836-1839 image


The Shannon Commissioners took over the Limerick Navigation in 1836, and the middle and upper Shannon in 1839. In the same year Thomas Rhodes was engaged as principal Engineer to the Shannon Commissioners to carry out major improvement works.
1920s image


Ardnacrusha Power Station was built on the Lower Shannon near Killaloe and opened in 1929. A double lock was installed for navigation. The Limerick navigation canals could no longer be used while the Lough Allen Canal was similarly abandoned.
1959 image


Trade on the Shannon reduced to virtually nothing.
2000 image


Responsibility for the Shannon was transferred to Waterways Ireland, one of the six North/South Bodies established in 1999 under the British Irish Agreement for the management and maintenance of inland navigable waterways.