The Inland Waterways Association of Ireland was founded in 1954 to promote the development, use and maintenance of Ireland’s navigable rivers and canals.
The Offaly Branch of IWAI was formed in 1972, replacing a Tullamore branch which ceased in the mid 60′s. It covers Offaly Waterways including on the Grand Canal Edenderry, Rhode, Daingean, Tullamore, Pollagh, Ferbane, Belmont up to Lock 34 above Shannon Harbour and on the River Shannon areas adjoining County Offaly including Banagher and Clonmacnoise.
When the Shannon was almost totally underdeveloped for pleasure boating, the IWAI fought against the building of low bridges, thus ensuring the development of the river as a national asset. The association successfully resisted the threatened closure of the Grand Canal in Dublin and has done much to instigate the improvement of the Barrow. IWAI is itself a cross-border body, a rapidly growing organisation, a democratic organisation. It is currently representative of over 3500 members and has twenty two branches: five in Northern Ireland and fourteen in the Republic and two activity-based branches. Every member is affiliated to a local branch and each branch is represented on a national Council.
The main objects of Offaly IWAI for which the Branch was formed are:
To promote the use, maintenance and development of the inland waterways of Ireland, and in particular the Grand Canal, to advocate and promote the restoration to good order, and maintenance in good order of every navigable waterways and the fullest use of every navigable waterway by both commercial and pleasure traffic provided such is not injurious to the environmental health of the waterways and the surrounding areas.
To support any proposal which may be calculated to maintain or improve Irish waterways and also to improve navigation, lay moorings and carry out other works of improvement on and adjacent to the waterways.
IWAI is a voluntary association. Membership of IWAI is open to all those interested in the inland waterways upon payment of the appropriate membership fee.
Boat ownership is not a pre-requisite for membership. IWAI does not maintain records of boat ownership among its members but it is estimated that perhaps half the members do own a boat of some sort. Boats range from small open rowing boats to large cruisers and barges.
The Branch has been extremely active on many fronts over the years in areas including education, historical and leisure related events. The very successful “Know your boat” courses have been run by the Branch in association with Athlone Institute of Technology for the past 10 years , the Branch is a supporter of the 107 B Project. This barge is used to celebrate the Heritage of the Grand Canal as a floating exhibition and educational space travelling the Waterway’s system, promoting the heritage of the Grand Canal.
The Offaly Branch in recent years have enjoyed success with three Float to the Fleadh events 2007 to 2009, the Boat to the Banjo Festival in 2012 and the Offaly Floating Festival and Gathering event in 2013, which included a 2 day Youth workshop with St Marys Youth and Community Center and the production of the young person’s work in a 2014 Calendar.