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Another Royal Canal odyssey

Posted by Michael Slevin 
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Another Royal Canal odyssey
26 June, 2011 23:18
The short version of this post is that …“[i]Leitrim Star[/i]” (an ex Emerald Star “County Star”) left 12th Lock, Castleknock on Thursday morning and arrived Saturday afternoon in Carrick-on-Shannon on Saturday afternoon without major incident.

Inspired by Mick Farrell’s on-going saga (,32100 ), the travels of The Rambler (,31585 ) and Ciaran Clinton’s evocative post of the 24th (,32251 ), I thought a slightly longer version might be of interest to some.

On Wednesday 23rd June, I told Fiona (wife) that I’d a notion to take tomorrow off and get the boat back to Carrick-on-Shannon. The earlier Effin bridge saga at Spencer Dock had put paid to plans for a leisurely family cruise on the Royal over an extended June bank holiday. Decision made over tea, 11yo son Seán decided to forego the pressures of the Kilmacud Crokes mini All-Ireland competition and come on the boat instead.

So 8pm saw us at Castleknock Marina where we were tied up alongside Vinnie Troy of recent Irish Times fame (,32087 ). The evening started badly with a blocked toilet, but an hour or two with screwdrivers and spanners had that sorted. Oh joy!

[b]Day 1: Thursday[/b] 06:20 – a glorious morning – a quick breakfast, then its engine on (new starter!) and off we go into the deep sinking. Approx 15 minutes later, son is wondering if he can have a kit-kat. The deep sinking is a wonderful way to start a day but a tough challenge when only half the brain's neurons are firing properly. We touched bottom a few times & avoided most of the overhanging branches and protruding briars. By 07:30, we were at Confey – time to show the young lad how to moor! First attempt wasn’t great (and that was just me), but never mind, there should be a jetty below lock 13 where we can practise.

We’re there at 08:30 – tie up and I open the gates – back to the boat, go through the drill and push Seán off – telling him to BE GENTLE and to SLOW DOWN, no, No, NO, … SLOWER, … too close to the trees – then he’s in – fenders and paintwork intact – nerves none the worse for wear – hardly any shouting really – let the water in gently, pin the boat to the wall – no need for ropes – top gates open – ease her out – let her settle while I close the gates, then go back to open the tail gates – all locks on the Royal are left empty which will slow things on the climb out of Dublin, but we’re through in 15 minutes. Seán is as proud as punch. The day is looking up & I’m glad I left the ladder at home.

We’re in Maynooth by 09:20, and L14 by 10:10 – not as smoothly as L13 but less shouting. We’re helped through Lock 15 by Ciaran and Avril who are clearly excited at the forthcoming return of Blackthorn later that day. 'have a look at 31B – a bit disappointed not to find Mick there with the kettle on! We get to Kilcock by 11:08 and head for the bakery where we stock up on rolls and treats. Not having had any time to properly provision the boat we head to the local [i]Mace[/i] where a jumbo pack of Tayto is procured along with Cidona and other similar essentials.

We leave Kilcock at 12:07 and take L15, 16 and 17 in stride. Now it’s the long level and we’ve the railway to the left. We get salutes from many of the commuter train drivers. Lunch is stunning BLT rolls from Kilcock. Sadly, we get to Fury’s of Moyvalley just before 4pm – if it was a bit later, we’d stop for dinner. Instead its on to the Boyne Aqueduct where we stop to admire the engineering and stretch the legs. By 18:35 we're moored outside Nanny Quinns at Thomastown – time for a shandy & cidona but no food. A quick check of the weed hatch reveals a very shiny, very clean propeller. What the hell, we’ll keep going and avoid starting tomorrow with 8 locks. We do L18, L19, L20 and L21 in quick succession and tie up to the bank above L21 at 20:50, just where three huge pieces of dressed stone lie in the canal! A big meal of pasta is followed by a quick game of chess (I was trounced – queen and rook gone in ~10 moves) followed by one of draughts (a much better outcome). Two weary but happy punters took to the sleeping bags rather early.

[b]Day 2: Friday[/b] 06:20

Another wonderful morning – with the sun burning off an early mist on the canal. We immediately come to L22 which has a beautiful house alongside. We lock through in silence – no shouts – no commands – no instructions - just a few hand signals – wonderful - we’re a team! The [i]musical "plink" of the pawl[/i] put me in mind of Mick Farrell’s recent poem …

[i]... And remember some more pleasant stuff...!

Like a morning, with sunshine and all,
Standing up on a lock gate, enthralled,
Sparkling water so clear,
And so quiet I can hear,
The musical "plink" of the pawl...!

As I open the rack, water's pour,
Breaking silence with it's rowdy roar,
A few minute's to fill,
Right up over the cill,
Then a trickle and quiet once more...![/i]

L23 and L24 follow in quick succession, each as beautiful as the other. L25 has a farmhouse beside it with a sign advertising eggs for sale, but unlikely to welcome custom at 07:30. We’re ready to clear the lock when Seán shouts for a fishing net. Sssshhhh … but he doesn’t want to fish – he’s spotted a very wet young swallow on a bit of floating weed in front of the boat and we're not moving 'til its rescued. We’ve no net, but decide the paddles of the dinghy will suffice. They don’t, but the swallow flaps on the water and reaches a larger mat of weed at the bank. There’s not much more we can do and so we clear L25 at 07:40. 20 minutes later and we pass by Mary Lynch’s – Seán want’s to know if we can call in for breakfast, but not many places will welcome you at that hour.

We enter the dreaded plastic-bag alley but encounter no problems. The drawbridge is a doddle to operate although the presence of an untethered bull is a bit of a hazard to navigation! However, he ambles off to better grazing leaving us to the bridge. Two new gates lie beside the bridge, ready to be installed somewhere – hopefully to keep the bull in its field.

The trip into Mullingar is via its own version of the deep sinking – very impressive it is. I look forward to hearing/reading about 31B’s passage here.

We're in Mullingar by 10. On advice, I ring WI and as whether there might be any assistance for the flight of locks from Coolnahay – we should be there before noon. We’re at L26 by 11:28 and so is WI’s crack team. We’re through in 12 minutes, through L27 and L28 in five each and so it continues. Nearly come a cropper at L27 – escape with wet shoes and jeans - concentrate! Sadly the good weather breaks and a heavy drizzly rain starts and is to keep with us until dark. We fear the worst when we see the level below L33 down by over two foot – a conver was active on the level. At L34, we come across another obstruction – two boats having lunch in the shelter of the bridge at the lock. The two move off but remain ahead of us through Ballynacargy and on to Abbeyshrule. The delays give us another chance to check the prop is clear – it is!

Just before Abbeyshrule, the heavens open a bit wider and we encounter The Rambler. There’s only time to exchange a few pleasantries with a very wet Evan on deck because at this stage we’re in a convoy of six boats entering Abbeyshrule for a rally.

We reached the cross-over point of our Green & Silver voyage at 15:50 – [i]Leitrim Star[/i] had been stranded for a couple of weeks in Abbeyshrule back in April when trying to reach Dublin via the Royal before heading back and in to Dublin via the Grand Canal.

We lock ourselves through L39 – our lockkeepers have gone off to attend to The Rambler. Its time to book a bridge lift for the morning and I ring the Water Patroller, Paddy Dixon. The phone is answered but its obviously in his pocket – we can hear talk and the crunch of gravel. Leave him a bit and call again. This time its answered and we book a lift for Saturday morning. I ask him if he’s let [i]Fionnuisce[/i] through yet and he tells me that he’s doing that right now. We knew Alan Rainey was ahead of us, but his Green & Silver completion point was Richmond Harbour. He calls me a few minutes later and we congratulate each other and I convey the news that it looks like [i]Leitrim Star[/i] has beaten him to the number 13 slot by an hour (of course there could be other claimants out there too). Seán’s happy with 13, as his first solo effort was lock 13 of the Royal.

We run into another Dublin Rally veteran and another victim of the Effin Bridge saga – Sean Murphy is waiting at Ballybranigan harbour with Rayian. Sean gave up on getting out of Dublin via the Royal and went back by the Grand instead. He still sports a souvenir of his Spencer Dock experience!

Our lockkeepers are back for L40, Mullawornia and we’re clear at 18:10. After that, we’re on our own. I’m very wet – the 2nd pair of shoes are soaked through, but we’re happy to handle the last few locks ourselves. We get help at L41 from the lockkeeper’s cottage and at L43 from a local farmer who’s out checking on cattle. We finally get to Lock 44 at 21:00 and at this stage we're tired, wet and hungry. We tie up below the lock at 21:30.

I cook and then we collapse – no energy for a game of chess or draughts. Just time for bed. Seán’s last words through the cabin door are “Do you think the little swallow made it?”

[b]Day 3: Saturday[/b]

We start the day by frying the contents of the fridge – the leftovers will do for lunch. We’re just 30 minutes from Benagh Bridge and we’re through it and the BNM bridge in quick succession. Paddy locks us through L45 at 09:31 and out of Richmond Harbour at 09:48. There’s just a few minutes to chat with Alan and Olive of [i]Fionnuisce[/i].

We’re in Rooskey at 12 and top up both water and diesel. Just after leaving Albert Lock, we encounter the Carrick Branch CIC en-route to the plaque put up to commemorate those who worked on the Jamestown Canal. I salute not just them but the many who toiled on the Royal and Grand canals and who’s handiwork can give us so much pleasure some 200 years later.

We docked at our home berth of Butlers at 15:45, very, very satisfied with our few days on the water. An hour later and the boat is cleanish and tidyish and ready for its next outing – our lift arrives and its home, boys, home.

Compared to the outward journey, we had really no problems at all. We had some weed on the prop at times but a burst of reverse always cleared it. We hit something big and soft just before the bridges at Moyvalley, north-side of the canal, possibly a bin or bucket or similar. We hit something more serious and solid immediately after D’Arcy’s bridge to the south of centre of the canal.

The photos show: Seán in his first lock (Lock 13 of the Royal), [i]The Rambler[/i] just outside Abbeyshrule, Sean Murphy's "Free the Royal 13" t-shirt and [i]Fionnuisce[/i] moored at Richmond Harbour.

My sincere thanks to the WI staff who assisted us through the locks in such miserable conditions.

Looking forward to the next voyage, hopefully at a more leisurely pace!
Re: Another Royal Canal odyssey
27 June, 2011 00:02
Arrrrggggghhhhhh.......much too easy....where's the hardship, where's the sweat, where's the blood and tears....?

Well done Michael and Sean...!!


PS....and Alan, Olive and Sandy too...!!
Re: Another Royal Canal odyssey
27 June, 2011 04:32

Loved read this post. Really nice story. A special trip to remember.

[COLOR=gray][i]OceanFroggie[/i][/COLOR] [size=x-small][color=#FFDEAD][i]Noel Griffin[/i][/color][/size]
Re: Another Royal Canal odyssey
27 June, 2011 12:58
Michael, You make it sound easy. No doubt it was the great assistant you had with you. Loved the blog. Looks like The Royal is flavour of the moment.

Re: Another Royal Canal odyssey
27 June, 2011 15:04
Hi Michael
An excellent story, nicely told. Well done
Re: Another Royal Canal odyssey
27 June, 2011 19:59

success would be traffic jams on the Royal ! Well done on the trip, the posting, and getting to do the run this early. I am enjoying the Rambler stuff but it's only part-time. Congrats.

Re: Another Royal Canal odyssey
27 June, 2011 20:51
Hi Michael
Well done on getting through and on an excellent write up of the trip.

I hope you genuflected as you passed Ashford Star at the 18th lock.

I hope to pass through plastic bag alley on Saturday and I hope I manage it as cleanly as you did.

BTW you would not get breakfast at Mary Lynches whatever the time. They only open at 12.30.

Ashford Star
Re: Another Royal Canal odyssey
28 June, 2011 22:50
Hi Michael,

It was a pleasure to meet you and little skipper Sean, and put a face to the name, delighted to managed to complete your journey without any further problems.

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