A SUMMER of waterway festivities is being planned ahead of the official reopening of the Royal Canal. Formally closed as a link between Dublin and the Shannon in 1961 the last boat to travel the route was actually in 1955, when large parts of the route were already virtually derelict.
Now, after a 36-year campaign for its restoration initiated by local users, the Royal Canal Amenity Group, the Heritage Boat Association, local authorities and Waterways Ireland among others, the canal will be reopened on September 30th.
The official reopening by Waterways Ireland is to take place in Richmond Harbour, Co Longford, at the point where the Royal Canal meets the Shannon.
At 145.6km long the canal has a catchment population of 1.2 million people, making it one of the largest public amenities on the island.
It stretches from the Liffey through north Dublin city, passing Croke Park and Mountjoy Jail, before crossing a viaduct over the M50 at Blanchardstown and crossing counties Dublin, Kildare, Meath and Longford, to Clondra about 10km west of Longford town. Longford Town Council is also planning to reopen a branch line to the town.
Waterways Ireland recently hosted the first meeting of its working committee to plan celebrations leading up to the reopening.
Members of the Inland Waterways Association, which also participated in the campaign for the reopening, will take part in the working committee.
There will be a formal and permanent recognition of the years of work which the past and present campaigners have contributed to saving the canal.
Sporting organisations along the Royal Canal, including the National Coarse Fishing Federation and the Kilcock Canoe Polo Club, will also be involved and are planning events to ensure locals along the route participate in the celebrations. While the schedule of events is still in planning, Noel Spaine of the amenity group said non-water based activities, such as a walk along the canal banks on mid-summer’s day, would also be included.
“The last boat to go through carried waterways author Ruth Herd and her family in the 1950s,” Mr Spaine said.
“Then in 1961 it officially closed and Ian Bath and others got the amenity group going in 1974. It will be great to see it officially open again.”
The summer of activities will finish with a cruise of boats along the most westerly stretch, about 10km of canal from Kenagh to Richmond Harbour.
Waterways Ireland director of marketing and communications Martin Dennany said the opening was “the beginning of a new era for the Royal Canal as a navigable waterway and an accessible public amenity”.
The Royal Canal was first opened in 1817, 27 years after work began. It was in competition with the Grand Canal which mirrors its route on the south side of Dublin and reaches the Shannon at Shannon Harbour, Co Offaly.
The Royal Canal was frequently in financial trouble and opened late and over budget, at a cost of £1,421,954.