For fifteen years, upwards of 7,000 navvies worked on the Ballinamore and Ballyconnell Canal, dredging and digging a 63km stretch that ran west from Upper Lough Erne in County Fermanagh through the beautiful wilds of Cavan and Leitrim, before linking up with the Shannon Navigation near Carrick-on-Shannon. When it opened in 1860, the canal was part of an inland waterway network that connected cities as far apart as Belfast, Dublin, Limerick and Waterford.
The new canal cost the Board of Public Works over £228,000 (€30 million in today’s money). As such, there was grave disappointment when its traffic proved virtually non-existent. Over the course of the 1860s, just eight boats are said to have used it, most of them transporting stout, and the toll collection amounted to a paltry £18.
Board’s interest petered out. By 1869, it was ‘quite useless’ and, just
over a decade later, the ‘dilapidated’ canal was repurposed as a
drainage work. It seemed certain to disappear from memory until voices
began calling for its restoration in the 1960s.
Lock1, Ballinamore-Ballyconnell Canal, 1979
the course of the 1860s, just eight boats are said to have used it, most
of them transporting stout, and the toll collection amounted to a
years later, as a prelude to cross-border negotiations, the renewal of
the canal began. This was a massive undertaking – the navigation was
choked with weeds, the lockgates had rotten away and many of the
embankments had collapsed. As such, the project involved the
reconstruction or restoration of 31 bridges, 16 locks, 12 weirs and
seven slipways, as well as the re-excavation of the channel itself, the
widening of the lock chambers (to accommodate the new, bigger canal
cruisers) and the installation of over 230 navigation markers, 18 water
level gauges, numerous tow-path walks and other amenities.
Reconstruction of the Ballinamore-Ballyconnell Canal
as the Shannon-Erne Waterway, it was officially opened in 1994 at a
joint ceremony presided over by Dick Spring, the Tánaiste of Ireland,
and Sir Patrick Mayhew, Britain’s Secretary of State for Northern
In the ensuing quarter of a century, over 64,000 people have enjoyed pleasure
cruising on this triumphant yet serene waterway. As well as new
recreational opportunities for locals and tourists alike, the
restoration has greatly improved management of both the quality and
levels of the water, and enriched the prospects of fishing in the area.