Dublin City Canals Report 2010 - a short review

The Dublin Canals Study can be downloaded from the links below:
Dublin Canals Study Part A
Dublin Canals Study Part B

The Dublin City Canals Study was launched by Lord Mayor Gerry Breen and Minister for Community, Equality & Gaeltacht Affairs, Pat Carey T.D. in the Waterways Ireland Visitors Centre in Grand Canal Quay, Dublin on 20th July last.

The study is formally entitled “Dublin City Canals - Recreational Tourism & Commercial Product Identification Study and Development of an Investment and Maintenance Framework” and was prepared by Scott Wilson & Countryside Consultancy on behalf of Waterways Ireland, Fáilte Ireland, Dublin Docklands Development Authority and Dublin City Council.

Firstly, it is a welcome development to have all of the above bodies co-operate to deliver this report.

The study was prepared over an 18-month period and its primary goals were to:

  • examine existing activities on the Canals; identify achievable projects; and establish the necessary investment and maintenance framework for the Dublin City Canals.
  • identify an overall ‘Vision’ for the development of the City Canals; identify recreational, tourism and commercial projects for agreed sections of the Canals; as well as formulate an investment, development and maintenance framework for the study area.

The 75-page report is ambitious in scope. It includes a synopsis of 18 existing policy documents, city plans, local area plans, management frameworks and the like. Keen readers will recall that a web-based survey was conducted as part of the study, in early 2009. That survey generated 450 responses 28% of whom claimed to participate in boating activities on the canals.

The area covered by the study includes both Royal & Grand canals within the M50 including Grand Canal Dock & Spencer Dock.


Figure 1 Map indicates how both canals were sectioned for analysis purposes and also for making area-specific recommendations.

Issues, challenges and opportunities for each section of the canal were considered separately.

On the Royal Canal, the report identifies some issues that will be familiar to many –

Interestingly, opportunities include:

  • A new surfaced towpath needs to be provided at a minimum, linking with new walkways at Spencer Dock and preferably providing walking access to both sides of the dock
  • Boat traffic to this section of Spencer Dock needs to be facilitated through new operational arrangements for lifting rail bridge
  • Space to create a safe secure marina on eastern side of canal - exact location to be determined

Sadly, it is hard to imagine a more difficult place to site a secure harbour. Land access is needed to any marina and the eastern side of the Royal Canal above Sheriff St. Bridge can only be accessed by crossing multiple rail tracks – a very expensive proposition. Strange! The report also mentions the possibility of a marina within plans to redevelop Mountjoy Prison as well as the planned marina at Ashtown. That’s the first we’ve heard of a possible marina at Mountjoy.

Issues with Grand Canal Dock include:

  • Major under-utilised body of water close to the City Centre and in the centre of major redevelopment area
  • Lack of activities and boats
  • Operation of moorings

Again, these are issues that the Dublin branch of IWAI has highlighted many times.

The report acknowledges that “although through-navigation on either canal is not a priority for this study, increased boat usage of any type on any section of the canals would undoubtedly help in their appeal to residents and visitors and raise their profile for commercial operators of various types“. In addressing tourism potential, the report also states that “a basic need for this market is for boat hire from within Dublin and for secure berths both to access the city and travelling country wards a day’s distance apart”. Dublin IWAI have made these points in many submissions to various parties over the years. Sadly, the report also adds that support for cruising tourism “is only a priority from year 5 onwards”.

However, with the opening of the Royal Canal at the end of this year and the possible rapid resolution of some of the navigation difficulties mentioned above, a quick resolution to the question of mooring in Grand Canal Dock is needed. Currently, mooring in Grand Canal Dock is actively discouraged.

Support for sailing within the area is dismissed as a possibility. Long-time readers may recall the Docksports proposals prepared by Rory Walsh in 2008 which envisaged a community-focused sailing school in Grand Canal Dock and the Liffey between the two canal basins. Sad to see this has not been considered in the report.

Another quibble – the report has several photos of narrowboats on various English canals to illustrate an active waterway but none of the annual Dublin IWAI Rally which perhaps better illustrate an animated Dublin canal. There are literally hundreds such photos on the Dublin Branch Website.

The commissioners of the report have agreed a vision and set of objectives for the canal areas. These are:

  1. A healthier canal corridor with safe spaces for people and wildlife to enjoy and which contribute to an improved quality of life for the communities of Dublin
  2. A wealthier canal corridor with thriving and attractive business, social and residential districts
  3. A vibrant and attractive canal corridor which attracts visitors from far and wide, with an appeal based on the canal heritage and opportunities for activity.
  4. A sustainable canal corridor where people can move freely without cars in a high quality environment
  5. A well used, well managed and well maintained inland waterways heritage

The report identifies a wide range of possible water based activities that would assist in the general rejuvenation of the canals, without requiring regular through-navigation. These include:

  • Day trips
  • Horse drawn barges
  • Barges converted to use by those with disabilities
  • Youth activities e.g. Bell Boats
  • Floating educational facilities
  • Theatre/Living History
  • Canoeing/Rowing
  • House Boats (liveaboards)

Putting these two sections of the report together will have the conspiracy theorists running amok. Why couldn’t point 5 of the “joint objectives” simply read “a well used, well managed, well-maintained and navigable canal”?

Happily the report does make specific proposals for each section of the two canals covered by the report. In each case priorities are stated; large-scale programmes that impact a particular area are identified and specific projects are proposed. An example for one area is shown.


Figure 2 Sample of Proposals for a specific canal section.

Proposals for programmes which affect the whole or the majority of sections of the canals are also identified. These are

  • A Canal corridor widening and parks integration programme
  • Boundary enhancement and screening programme
  • Canal Gardens Scheme
  • Habitat and landscape enhancement programme
  • Interpretation and signage programme
  • Canal Arts and Culture Programme
  • Animation programme (events on the canal)
  • Pedestrian safety programme
  • Canal wardening/ranger scheme

In addition to the general programmes above, there are 5 pages of specific project proposals, most of which are partly costed. Examples of these are:

  • Identify feasibility of providing designated houseboat communities along the canals
  • A water based market at Portobello and one in association with developments at Mountjoy
  • Examine the feasibility of developing a corporate waterports centre within Grand Canal Dock
  • Attract the Boat Show to the Dublin Docklands area including on water exhibits
  • Develop secure berthing for visiting boat to the centre and outskirts of Dublin on both Royal and Grand Canals
  • Provide 2 mobile youth outdoor education barges on the canals - with day training and changing space, dinghies and kayaks. Provide instructional staff
  • Dredge, clear weed, and maintain adequate depths for cruisers visiting the city from the Shannon or other parts of the canal
  • Examine feasibility of installing automated lock gates on the canals in a way that is sensitive to the heritage of the locks

We have highlighted just a few aspects of the report in this short review. It is well worth reading and the authors are to be commended. It is a welcome input to determining the future of Dublin’s waterways.

At the time of going to press, the study is only available on CD from the Waterways Ireland Visitors Centre at Grand Canal Quay. Tel: +353 (0)1 677 7510 or info[at]waterwaysireland.org . Its open Wednesday – Sunday, 10am - 6pm.

Review on behalf of Dublin Branch IWAI
21 August 2010

Dublin City Canals report

The Dublin City Canals report was presented by Waterways Ireland's Martin Dennany and Gordon Clarke of Scott Wilson to Dublin City Council in early 2010.  A Video of the proceedings can be viewed here.  The presentation on the Canals runs from 00:53:00 to 01:44:00. 

If you have views on Dublin Waterways you are welcome to express them to Dublin Branch, IWAI.

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