History of Transport


Passage Boats Barges and Trade Boats
B and Fly Boats
G and E Boats
Transport - A Summary


Transport is the transferring of "goods" or passengers from one place to another - origination to destination. The building of the Grand Canal - joining Dublin to the River Shannon in the late 17th century brought marked improvement in Ireland's transport system. Several types of boats evolved through the increase of traffic on the canal.

Passage Boats
These were used for transporting people. As soon as the canal was completed as far as Sallins in 1779 passenger services began. By 1784 service had reached Robertstown and by 1803 the canal reached Shannon Harbour and the service was extended as far as Limerick's Shannon Estuary and Waterford. The standard passage boat was 52 feet by 9 feet by 10 feet and the early ones cost as little as £202. Each boat consisted of a state cabin to seat up to fifteen people and a common cabin to seat thirty five to forty people. Meals and beverages were available on board for four shillings and ten pence a head. However, spirits and wine were not served in the common cabin or to women and children and no smoking was allowed on board. From James' Street Harbour to the first lock it coat 5d in the state cabin and 2d in the common cabin. Passage boats on the canal were quickly superseded by the railway. The last passage boat was withdrawn in 1852.

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Horse Contractors

To run the service efficiently the Grand Canal Company employed horse contractors. They were employed to provide the horses to tow the boats on the canal. If they provided an inadequate service i.e. if the horses were not well kept and if the horses were not punctual the contractors were fined.

Barges - Trade Boats

These boats were used by the Canal Company to transfer cargoes along the canal. A wide range of cargoes were carried, for example, grain, coal, cement, animal feeds, fertiliser and porter especially Guinness! Transportation of Guinness kept the trade boats working until the 1960's. In fact Guinness was the last cargo to be carried by barge from James' Street Harbour to Limerick on the 27th May, 1960. Turf and timber were brought from the midlands to the city of Dublin.




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Bye Traders - B Boats

Bye traders were companies or individuals who had their own barges. They paid a toll for travelling through the locks and on their cargoes to the canal company. When times were busy the B boats were employed by the canal company.

Fly Boats
h The Canal Company was constantly trying to improve its service so in January 1834 they introduced the "Scotch boat" or fly boat. This was a much narrower and lighter boat than the previous ironboats and they were towed by four horses. They could travel at speeds of up to 9 m.p.h. "Comfort was sacrificed for speed!"

Diesel Engines

In 1911 the Swedish Bollinder semi-diesel engine was introduced and replaced the horse drawn fleet. By 1924 all boats had been motorised and were easily recognised by the letter M painted on the stern and bow of the boat. With the extra power of the diesel engine each barge could pull behind it another called a butty allowing more cargo to be transported.

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G Boats
Special wooden boats the government had built to transport fuel i.e. turf because of the fuel crisis in Ireland during the Second World War. Traders transported turf from Lullymore in Co. Kildare to Dublin.

E Boats
The engineering department of the Canal Company had their own special boats called E boats which were used to carry out repairs to lock-gates, bridges or to the canal banks themselves. Today barge 72M is used for engineering purposes on the Grand Canal.

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Through the years the transport section of the Grand Canal had fought off competition from the railways and road transport. However, by 1950 the transport section of the Canal Company was absorbed into C.I.E. Even though some freight traffic continued - the last known being the 51M from James's' Street Harbour to Limerick (a four day journey) on the 27th May 1960 carrying a cargo of Guinness, the Canal company has ceased to exist.
In 1986 the Office of Public Works took over the Grand Canal and more recently it has been taken over by Waterways Ireland and has been developed as a public amenity. The tow paths are being developed as long distance walking routes and old barges and flyboats have been converted to pleasure crafts where families enjoy many an outing. A new and wonderful era has begun.

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To find the resources to go with this page click here.


Ms. Young's 5th class provided the information for this page.