It was a celebration of heritage and history yesterday as the Royal Canal waterway was reopened.
The official tribute took place where the final stage of the canal meets the River Shannon at Richmond Harbour, in Clondra, Co Longford.
A large crowd gathered to push the boat out at the re-opening of the canal almost 50 years after it was officially closed.
Taking part in proceedings were: Community, Equality and Gaeltacht Affairs Minister Pat Carey; the Mayor of Longford; representatives of Waterways Ireland; and key members of the community groups who spearheaded the restoration campaign.
“The restoration is so important because there is so much potential in a restored waterway for everyone.
“The canal will be an amenity not only for boating but also for walking and fishing,” said Noel Spain, vice-president of the Royal Canal Amenity Group (RCAG).
The celebration is especially poignant for the RCAG as it started campaigning for the restoration of the canal almost 36 years ago.
“It’s a big celebration, there is a massive crowd. Everyone is really enjoying themselves,” he added.
“It is a lovely feeling to see the boats docked at the harbour,” said John McKeown, the eastern regional manager of Waterways Ireland, who has worked on the project since 1986.
“Some of the boats travelled on the canal to be here. One boat joined the canal at the 12th lock at Blanchardstown and took four days to arrive in Longford,” he added. There are high hopes that the new and improved canal will attract many tourists from both home and abroad.
“The triangle went jingle jangle along the banks of the Royal Canal,” said Mr McKeown quoting writer Brendan Behan.
“We want to call the newly opened canal part of the new triangle linking Dublin with the Shannon and back again,” he added.
The Royal Canal is 146km in length and has 46 manual operating locks along the main stretch. It begins at the mouth of the Liffey at Spencer Dock and crosses Dublin, Kildare, Meath and ends on the Shannon at Clondra in Longford. In 1817, the project was completed at a cost of £1,421,954 (€1,638,986).
Immediately following the opening of the canal it experienced modest success and was used for trade, to transport cargo and to carry passengers up and down the country. However, with the introduction of the railway, trading on the waterway slowed down and eventually ceased in 1951.
Ten years later the canal was officially closed.
As part of the restoration project, all 46 lock gates along the canal had to be replaced.
The canal had to be dredged to navigation depth and seven low-level road bridges and two Bord Na Mona bridges also had to be replaced.
Fiona Ellis – Irish Independent