Oral History Programme

Many of Ireland's older generations still have memories of the waterways in their heyday, be it splashing in the waters on a hot summer's day, steering one of the barges through the endless locks, or avoiding a particularly spooky part of the canal.

What was it really like to travel on a barge all day, every day? What did they eat? How did they stay warm? Is it true they tapped the Guinness barrels along the way?

If you have a tale to tell, please contact Waterways Ireland and help to preserve the memories and stories of the waterways.

Barge
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187 audio selections found

16 tonne bags of sugar and learning to steer a barge

Life on Waterways
16 tonne bags of sugar and learning to steer a barge
In this piece of audio, you will hear Christy Bolger, a baker and former boatman from Graiguenamanagh, Co. Kilkenny.  In this clip, Christy speaks about learning the trade when he started off working on the canal.  He also recalls lifting 16 stone bags of sugar and how his brothers took great care of him when he started off. He also remembers the first time his brothers let him steer and that he hit a bridge to his brothers frustration.
2/5/2016 12:00:00 AM
Christy Bolger
Tomás Mac Conmara

45M

History
45M
In this piece of audio, you will hear Christy Bolger, a baker and former boatman from Graiguenamanagh, Co. Kilkenny.  Christy recalls being on Lough Derg during a storm close to where 45M went down in 1946.    On Sunday morning December 1st, 1946, 45M (a Guinness barge) travelled down the lake from Portumna heading for Killaloe. Opposite Parkers Point 45M was struck by a gale that passed over the lake. The high winds caused the cargo to shift and the tow rope snapped as large waves swept across the deck and the barge heeled over and sank. When she went down “Red” Ned Boland, Jack Boland and Jimmy McGrath (who was Webbing) all died. Tony Brien swam to safety and was the only survivor. 45M lay at rest for the next 29 years at the bottom of Lough Derg.  In 1975, Donnacha Kennedy managed to lift the 45M from the bed of Lough Derg. 
2/5/2016 12:00:00 AM
Christy Bolger
Tomás Mac Conmara

45M

History
45M
Here, you will hear from Jim Gill who began working as a greaser on his father’s barge in 1945.  He continued to work on barges for almost the following 50 years.  Jim's father Patrick, his uncle Jack and his grandfather Tom Gill all worked on barges before Jim.  Jim was interviewed in February 2016.  In this clip, he outlines what he heard about the 45M tragedy in 1945.  He also claims that the Grand Canal Company were more concerned about the 45M than the crew.
2/5/2016 12:00:00 AM
Jim Gill
Tomás Mac Conmara

45M

History
45M
In this piece of audio, you will hear Tommy Holland from Nutgrove in Whitegate, County Clare.  Tommy has always had a love of waterways and grew up next to Lough Derg.  His mother Ellen was from an island close to where Tommy later grew up.  He is also a local historian.  In this clip, Tommy speaks about the tragedy of the 45M.  He recalls the barrels of Guinness floating around the lake and remembers seeing people with buckets.  Locals were able to drink the contents and got ten shillings for the empty barrels.  He describes seeing people 'passing with enamel buckets with black stuff in it'.   On Sunday morning December 1st, 1946, 45M (a Guinness barge) travelled down the lake from Portumna heading for Killaloe. Opposite Parkers Point 45M was struck by a gale that passed over the lake. The high winds caused the cargo to shift and the tow rope snapped as large waves swept across the deck and the barge heeled over and sank. When she went down “Red” Ned Boland, Jack Boland and Jimmy McGrath (who was Webbing) all died. Tony Brien swam to safety and was the only survivor. 45M lay at rest for the next 29 years at the bottom of Lough Derg. 
1/22/2016 12:00:00 AM
Tommy Holland
Tomás Mac Conmara

A gad of fish

Environment/Heritage
A gad of fish
In this piece of audio, you will hear from Tommy McMahon from Belturbet in County Cavan.  Tommy has a deep interest in rowing and waterways heritage in his native place.  Here, Tommy speaks about his uncle fishing for a 'gad of fish' on a river known as 'The Rag'.  Tommy explains what a 'gad of fish' was, which loosely described is a hooped stick which the fish were skewered on to carry them home. 
10/28/2015 12:00:00 AM
Tommy McMahon
Tomás Mac Conmara

A ghost after a wake

Folklore
A ghost after a wake
In this piece of audio Paddy and Mickey Tummon, a father and son from Enniskillen, County Fermanagh who have both worked on the Erne Navigation for many years, are heard.  Paddy relates a story that his father told him about seeing a ghost after a wake.  A wake is an Irish funeral tradition, when the deceased is laid out, usually at their home for a period of time before their church funeral and burial.  The wake would be attended by friends and family and were occasions of mourning where often alcohol was consumed and stories told about the departed. 
10/28/2015 12:00:00 AM
Mickey and Paddy Tummon
Tomás Mac Conmara

A group of cranks

Saving the Canals
A group of cranks
Here, you will hear from one of the most knowledge people on waterways history in Ireland.  Ruth Delany has spent many decades researching and writing on the canals of Ireland and has published several books on the subject.  In this clip, Ruth outlines the challenges in the early days of campaigning to preserve the canals and the perception among many that she and her friends were ‘a bunch of cranks’.
10/5/2015 12:00:00 AM
Ruth Delany
Tomás Mac Conmara

A lone piper over Lough Neagh

Environment/Heritage
A lone piper over Lough Neagh
In this piece of audio, you will hear Fintan Hanson, a retired Lock Keeper from Toome in County Antrim.  Fintan has a great knowledge and passion for his native place and in this clip, reflects back to his childhood and recalls once hearing the beautiful sound of a lone piper over Lough Neagh.
10/29/2015 12:00:00 AM
Fintan Hanson
Tomás Mac Conmara