The Shannon-Erne Waterway

Structures of the Waterways

Last updated: 05 May 2021

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.

The 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

​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.

Twenty 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

Rebranded 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 Ireland.

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.

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