John Killaly

Home Grown Heroes​

Last updated: 05 May 2021

John Killaly was undoubtedly the most influential Irish-born engineer to work on Ireland’s canals. His 66-year long life neatly encompassed the Golden Age of the canal and his magic touch as a designer or supervisor can be found on every inland waterway in Ireland.


Born into a Protestant family, his solid school education set him up for gainful employment as an assistant engineer with the Grand Canal Company in 1791.

 

Over the next 16 years, he rose to become their foremost engineer, earning an annual salary equivalent to €150,000 today. He was subsequently appointed Chief Engineer to the Director General of Inland Navigation.

Riding out on horseback with compass, level and chain, he surveyed the land through which many future canals were cut, including the Shannon Navigation between Athlone and Killaloe, and the 22-mile extension that brought the Grand Canal to meet the River Shannon at Shannon Harbour. He designed numerous locks and bridges, as well as the imposing aqueduct that carries the Grand Canal over the River Barrow at Monasterevin.

By 1822, John Killaly had 21,427 men and 4,889 horses working under him, primarily building new roads and bridges, or repairing existing ones.

In 1799, he married Alicia Hamilton, the daughter of one of the leading millers in the Irish midlands. They settled in Tullamore where they raised four sons and three daughters. Their eldest son became a prominent engineer in Canada, overseeing the completion of the Welland Canal, which links the Great Lakes of Erie and Ontario.

 John Killaly's design for lockgates on the Royal Canal Extension


By 1822, John Killaly had 21,427 men and 4,889 horses working under him, primarily building new roads and bridges, or repairing existing ones. He died in 1832 and was interred at St Patrick’s Cathedral, Dublin, where there is a monument to his memory.

 

His obituary declared: ‘In the walks of his profession, he was unequalled in Ireland.’



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