The Grand Canal:

A History

Historical Sections
Dimensions and Locks
History of the Grand Canal - A series of dates
Guinness and the Grand Canal
Impact of the Famine on the Grand Canal
Canal Disasters
The Recent History of the Grand Canal

The main line of the Grand Canal crosses Leinster from Ringsend in Dublin City to the River Shannon at Shannon Harbour in County Offaly. The Barrow line runs south from Lowtown, County Kildare to join the River Barrow in Athy. There are several branches off the Grand Canal leading to Naas/Corbally, to Mountmellick, Co. Laois, to Kilbeggan, Co.Westmeath, and to Ballinasloe, Co. Galway.




Dimensions and Locks
The main line of the canal is 82 miles (131 kilometres) with 43 locks, five of which are double locks. The Barrow line is 28 miles (43 kilometres) long with nine locks including two doubles.



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History of the Grand Canal

1751 : Commissioners of Inland Navigation established.
1756 : Work began on the Grand Canal.
1763 : Three locks and 10 miles of canal dug from Clondalkin heading west.
1779 : Canal opened to traffic from Sallins.
1784 : Passage boat service to Robertstown.
1789 : Kildare Canal Company completed a branch canal to Naas.
1790 : Work finished on the circular line to Portabello in Dublin City.
1791 : Barrow Line to Athy completed.
1796 : Ringsend Docks completed.
1803 : Canal completed to the Shannon but problems delay the opening.
1804 : First trade boat passed through the canal from the Shannon.
1810 : Naas branch finished to Corbally.
1828 : Ballinasloe branch opened to traffic.
1831 : Mountmellick branch opened to traffic.
1834 : Fast fly boats commenced.
1835 : Kilbeggan branch opened to traffic.
1950 : C.I.E. take control of the canal from the Grand Canal Company.
1960 : Last cargo boat passes through the Grand Canal.

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Guinness and the Grand Canal
On December 31st, 1759, Arthur Guinness purchased a four acre site at St. James's Gate in the city of Dublin for the purpose of brewing beer. The construction of the Grand Canal was a godsend to Arthur Guinness and his brewing company. He used the canal to transport his beer and to transport the raw materials to his brewery. He even used the waters of the Grand Canal for brewing purposes.
Canal transport at the time was much cheaper and much more reliable than road transport. It could carry heavier and bigger loads in the eighteenth and in the nineteenth centuries. The Guinness filter beds are located beyond the eighth lock between Ballyfermot and Clondalkin. This stretch of the Grand Canal is still used today by the Guinness Company.


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Impact of the Famine
In the nineteenth century the war with Napoleon meant that the Irish economy did well for a while. We are talking about two hundred years ago. Thirty years later, the country started to do badly. People lost their jobs and many had to emigrate to England and America. In 1831 a Commission for Public Works was set up. Their job was to create work on the canal for people who had no other work. At this time the potato crops were starting to fail. This was the time when the Famine struck Ireland. As a result of this awful disaster, work on the canal ceased as there was a shortage of labour. At the same time railroads were starting to be built. This also had a bad effect on the canals and affected their ability to make money.


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Canal Disasters
In December 1792, there was one major accident on the Grand Canal. A passage boat bound for Athy left Dublin. It seems that one hundred and fifty people, many of them drunk, forced their way onto a barge, in spite of the captain warning them that the boat would capsize if they did not leave. Near the eighth lock, five men, four women and two children drowned when the boat capsized. The rest of the passengers escaped. Unfortunately there have been a large number of drownings in the Grand Canal since it opened in 1756.

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Recent History of the Grand Canal
In 1960 the last cargo boat passed through the Grand Canal. It then fell into disuse and became a dumping ground for litter until 1986. In that year control of the canal was transferred to the Office of Public Works. Large sums of money were devoted to improving the canal. More and more people began to appreciate the Grand Canal and boat traffic has started to increase. The future now looks a lot brighter. In recent years Waterways Ireland has assumed responsibility for the Grand Canal. This is a North-South organisation. It will soon have its headquarters located in Enniskillen in County Fermanagh.


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Mr. Morgan's 6th class provided the information for this page.