The Navigation

Lough Corrib Navigation Trustees

By Ms. Patria McWalter, Archivist, Galway County Council

The archives of the Lough Corrib Navigation Trustees are held by Galway City Council and date from 1857 to-date. Two volumes of minutes of the proceedings of Trustee meetings, dating from 1857 to 1974, give a wonderful account of their work and changing focus over almost 120 years. What follows is a glimpse of the evolution of the Board during that time by focusing almost exclusively on the contents of the two volumes of minutes. The collection has been listed under the archival code LC1/2.

The Lough Corrib Navigation Trustees were established and incorporated by Section 7 of the Drainage (Ireland) Act, 1856 (19 & 20 Vic. C 62), and its statutory duties and functions were further elaborated on in the Arbitration Navigation Award made by the
Commissioners of Public Works dated 30th June 1859. The Schedule in the Award sets out the various works which were handed over to the Trustees, including navigational aides such as marks. The Board of Trustees was reconstituted in 1945 under the Lough Corrib Navigation Act of that year, and under the Local Government Act of 1941 the board is a local authority. Under the provisions of the County Management Act of 1940 the Manager of the Trustees was originally the County Manager, and since the restoration of Galway Corporation (now City Council) in 1984 its manager is the City Manager.

Under the 1859 Award the navigation was described as extending from the entrance lough at Claddagh in the tide-way of the River Corrib in the town of Galway to Lough Corrib and extending from thence to Anaghnabragher shore on the Claregalway River to Keelkyle, Kilbeg, Annaghkeen, Maam and the new pier at Oughterard on the shores of Lough Corrib in the County Galway and to Ballynalth and Ballymagibbon on the shores of Lough Corrib and to the Cong Quay on the Cong River in the County of Mayo.

The Trustees’ function relate to the maintenance of navigation, primarily of a commercial nature, on Lough Corrib and to the maintenance of the Lough, canals (such as Eglinton Canal) and sluices, and the repair of bridges, piers (such as Cong Pier, County Mayo and Menlo Pier, County Galway) and towpaths around the Lough, and waterways such as the Claddagh Basin. The Trustees also provide buoys, beacons and marks. The original cost of the navigation works, which comprised of swivel bridges, locks and piers, was in the mid-1800’s, £102,289. 16s. 4d. – though on £14,883 was repayable by the Grand Juries of Galway and Mayo over a period of ten years. Following the establishment of local authorities under the Local Government Act of 1898, the maintenance charges were payable under Statute by the County Councils of Galway and Mayo, originally in the proportions of .6813 and .31869 (LC1/2, 27 April 1927).

The Lough Corrib Navigation Trustees held their first meeting on Tuesday 20th January 1857 at the County Courthouse in Galway. At this meeting they appointed, on the recommendation of the Marquis of Clanricarde, Samuel Roberts as its engineer, fixing his salary at £150 per annum, ‘which sum is to include travelling expenses, expenses of Clerk, keeping accounts, etc’ (LC1/2, 20 January 1857). The Trustees also appointed a Committee to prepare bye-laws. For many subsequent years the Trustees generally, due to lack of quorum, only met once or twice a year. The estimate of expenses was the main topic discussed at their early meetings. Between 1880 and 1890 in particular, little business is recorded. The minutes of meetings are sparse, merely noting that the accounts had been examined and found correct, and that the Engineer’s reports and estimate for the maintenance of the works were approved.

Between 1915-1931 the Trustees continued to meet spasmodically, though again generally twice a year. In July 1931 it was decided to hold quarterly meetings, nevertheless they continued to be held erratically, but with at least one meeting held annually. The meetings were usually held at the offices of Galway Urban District Council and later Galway Corporation. These offices moved location many times during the 1900’s but were for the most part located at Dominick Street and Fishmarket up to the 1980’s and thereafter College Road, Galway.

In April 1942 the Minister of Industry and Commerce proposed legislation on the future Constitution of the Board of Trustees. A new Lough Corrib Navigation Act was passed in 1945 and included the amendment in the proportion payable by the various local authorities as follows: Galway Urban District Council 60%, Galway County Council 30% and Mayo County Council 10% (LC1/2, 8 September 1945). Prior to 1945 Trustees were appointed by Galway and Mayo County Councils or their predecessors. Though there were often vacancies in the membership of the Board of Trustees, in particular because Mayo County Council considered that Mayo was not deriving any advantage from the navigation works. The Act slightly changed the Board’s structure as membership was increased to eight: 5 Trustees representing Galway Corporation, 2 representing Galway County and 1 representing Mayo County Council.

The Act also changed the nature of the Board in that Section 5 expressly made ‘it a joint body for the purposes of the County Management Act, 1940, and thereby applied the provisions of the latter Act in regard to management, estimates meetings, etc.’ (LC1/2). The Board is a corporate body by virtue of Section 7 of the 1856 Act, a joint body by virtue of the County Management Act 1940, and under Section 5 of the Lough Corrib Navigation Act of 1945, and further it is a local authority for the purposes of the Local Government Acts, 1925 to 1946 by virtue of Section 2(2)(c) of the Act of 1941.

The quorum for holding meetings was three. There is no statutory Chairman or vice-chairman, though the Board may provide by byelaw for the periodical election of a chairman to hold office for a stated period, but the Chairman was no casting vote. The Trustees have no Common Seal.

From the late 1920’s onwards Mayo County Council disputed its need to be involved with the Navigation Works, and their relevance to its ratepayers. At a Council meeting in February 1926 it decided ‘if possible to take steps to divest the Council of the responsibility of maintaining such a useless work.’ (LC1/2, 27 April 1927). Galway County Council responded pointing out that the maintenance charges were payable under Statute by the County Councils of Galway and Mayo, and that ‘There are 5 swivel bridges in Galway which must be maintained and two sets of lock gate. There are two motor cargo boats and 50 motor boats. The lake would not be navigable unless works maintained and a loss though tourist traffic would ensue.’ (LC1/2, 27 April 1927).

The dispute was ongoing throughout the early 1940’s, particularly when Mayo County Council was in arrears of assessments due to the Board. Arrears amounted to £1,051.13.4 by 1945 (LC1/2, 30 November 1945). In September 1943 Mayo wrote to the Trustees advising it denied ‘liability for any part of the cost of the maintenance of the Lough Corrib Navigation Works as they are of no benefit to the people of County Mayo’ (LC1/2, 4 September 1943). Legal opinion was eventually sought on the matter and in June 1947 an agreement was reached. The Trustees agreed to accept £425.4.10 from Mayo in settlement of the arrears, subject to the Minister’s approval (LC1/2, 27 June 1947).

One of the primary interests of the Trustees was the maintenance and repair of the navigation works such as bridges, piers, towpaths and sluices. The levy made for the maintenance of the works was a principal concern for the Trustees, and from the 1940’s onwards the Minutes set out clear details of the estimate for the ensuing year. The costs of maintaining the works needless to say, continually increased.

For example for the half year ended 31st December 1918 the levy amounted to £150, Galway County Council to contribute £102.3.11 and Mayo County Council to contribute £47.16.1. (LC1/2). In September 1943 the cost of maintaining the estimated at £1,352, and the cost in 1974 was estimated at £4,825.

Over time with the progression from canal to faster road transportation the Trustees gradually abandoned many of its works. In July 1933 they approved an estimate of £12,000 for the reconstruction of the five swivel bridges crossing the canal at Galway. A loan was arranged on condition that the Government would refund both County Councils (Mayo and Galway) the annual payments together with interest. In July 1934 the Trustee’s Engineer reported that he had minor repairs carried out to the bridges, but advised that due to their condition he ‘found it necessary to permanently block them up and they could not under present conditions be opened for canal traffic so that it become imperative that measures be taken at the earliest possible moment to renew these bridges.’ (LC1/2, 4 July 1934).

In August 1946 it was proposed that the old swing bridge over the Canal at Galway be replaced with a new swing or moveable bridge (LC12. 3 August 1946). Ministerial approval to do so was granted the following year.

In 1948 the Trustees resolved to abandon the bridges at Dominick Street, New Road and Presentation Road and the navigation of the Eglinton Canal thereunder (LC1/2, 2 June 1948).

In 1958 the Trustees discussed abandonment, due to its poor physical condition, of the University Road Bridge as a navigation works whereby it would be decked with concrete and treated as a main road by the County Council. The Department of Industry and Commerce granted approval to abandon the bridge under Order SI No. 232 of 1958. (11 December 1958). Early the following year the Trustees proposed abandoning the Claddagh Swing Bridge. The Minister issued approval to do so in January 1963 (LC1/2, 19 January 1963).

The Trustees as well as abandoning navigation works also sold associated property no longer required by it. For instance, given the abandonment of the various bridges, navigation on the Eglinton Canal became impossible, and subsequently there was no further need for caretakers at locks, or for Lock Houses. Therefore the Trustees sold the Lock House at Dominick Street at public auction in 1958 for £650 (LC1/2. 18 January 1958).

In 1965 the Trustees resolved that ‘Since commercial navigation on the Corrib has now ceased to exist it was felt, especially in view of the development taking place in other waterways in the country, that the powers of the Lough Corrib Navigation Trustees should be extended so as to provide for amenity development which is the only type of usage now taking place on the Corrib.’ Amending legislation was thus sought (LC1/2, 28 January 1965). However, the Department of Transport and Power was of the opinion that the existing ‘would appear to afford adequate machinery for any works that may be deemed desirable and feasible.’ (LC1/2, 28 January 1966). The matter was discussed at subsequent meetings. In January 1968, it was decided to hold a special meeting to consider the overall improvement of the waterways. However, as no record of the meeting is included in the volume of minutes (1915-1974, LC1/2) it would appear not to have taken place.

The Volumes of Minutes 1857-1915 (LC1/1) and 1915-1974 (LC1/2) clearly illustrate the changing use of the Lough and surrounding waterways, and thus the responsibilities and focus of the Board of Trustees from the mid-19th century and the early 1970’s. The use of the Corrib was at the beginning of the 20th century predominantly commercial, used for instance for the transport of goods such as turf. With the passing of time and the profilieration of faster road transport the use of the canals subsided, and the use of Lough Corrib became increasingly tourist oriented.

The Trustees gradually began, commencing in 1948, to abandon various navigation works and routes, and focus their attention on the Corrib as a tourist amenity. From around the mid-1950’s onward engaged in the planting of shrubs along various canal and river banks, or gave nearby dwelling occupiers permission to carry out such planting to enhance the aesthetics for the areas around the Lough. Various provisions of the County Management Act 1940 applied to the Board of Trustees in relation to its management and to estimate meetings and so forth. This is clearly reflected in the Minutes, which from August 1946 become much more structured and complete.

The collection is in good condition, though in LC1/2 (1915-1974) there is some slight fading of the typeface. This is primarily due to the poor quality paper used, and to the use of (animal) glue to paste the minutes into a bound volume.

This brief history, as previously stated, is taken from the two volumes of Minutes. Thus it can be seen that much may be learned from simply using just one small archival collection. It is hope that it also illustrates that primary sources are an enjoyable and invaluable tool to researching the past history of the various organization that administer the City of Galway and its surrounding district on our behalf.

Ms. Patria McWalter
Carthlann Chomhairle Contae na Gaillimhe
Ceannárus Leabharlanna Chontae na Gaillimhe
Teach an Oileáin
Cearnóg na hEaglaise
Cathair na Gaillimhe

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