The Grand and Royal Canals in Kildare and their branches, are under the remit of Waterways Ireland (WI), a cross-border organisation formed to maintain the inland waterways on the island of Ireland. The Grand and Royal traverse Ireland’s Ancient East and lead into Hidden Heartlands.
Waterways Ireland obtains its Core Funding from both jurisdictions, 85% from the Department of Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht (DCHG) in the ROI and 15% from the Department for Infrastructure (DfI) in NI.
Unfortunately, the annual Core Funding made available to Waterways Ireland to maintain the Irish inland waterways has been reduced every year since 2011, making the annual amount given in 2019 the lowest it has been since 2002. [Source: Waterways Ireland Annual Reports and Written Question and Answers to the Minister in the Dáil in February 2019]. This incurs some difficult decisions by ground staff, where monies earmarked for on-going maintenance has to reallocated to emergency repairs. With not enough money to do everything, the result on the Grand, Royal and Barrow is a silted navigation, full of weeds.
Waterways Ireland also works in partnership with other government departments, agencies and local authorities in obtaining Capital Funds. These Capital Funds are spent in the jurisdiction from whence they came, on named major projects, some of them Tourism related.
Kildare waterways have benefited from Capital Funds. For example, in 2012, the Inland Fisheries of Ireland (IFI) eradicated the invasive plant, New Zealand pigmyweed (Crassula helmsii), from a stretch near Lullymore on the Grand. At the end of 2017, the DCHG provided an extra €2.77m that was used for critical repairs to structures along the Grand and Royal canals and the purchase of two new weed cutters, commissioned in March 2019.
EU funds through the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport (DTTAS), Bord Failte and Kildare County Council, are being used to create a cycleway and walkway on the canal bank, to link up with the Greenways to Shannon Harbour on the Grand, to Richmond Harbour on the Royal and to Athy on the Barrow Line. This initiative is opening up the canal corridors to thousands of cyclists and walkers, tourists and locals, and is bringing additional opportunities and income into rural communities.
As well as money for WI staff, admin, pensions and overheads, Core funds are used to carry out regular maintenance, repairs to the canal channel, its banks and its built structures. The Grand and the Royal canals, now over 200 years old, require the expertise of skilled workers to keep both the heritage structures and the new structures, in good condition.
To allow Anglers and Boaters to pursue their recreational activities and to protect the canal and its wildlife, the Water Channel has to be kept clear of rubbish. Unfortunately, in both rural and urban areas, if litter can be moved by the wind it will end up in the canal, where it lies until caught up in a fishing line, around a boat propellor or in or around aquatic wildlife. The regular removal of all sorts of litter – black and white plastic wrapping, large and small plastic containers, rope and packaging tape, the occasional dumped unwanted items, and all sorts of other stuff – requires regular clearing by Waterways Ireland staff to keep the canal at a depth of at least 1.5m (5 ft).
To keep the verges, paths and margins accessible, tree and shrub cutting takes place in winter and grass cutting throughout the warm months. Pump outs, toilets, showers and water points are serviced throughout the system; in in Kildare these are located at Lowtown, Kilcock and Sallins. These facilities also require regular maintenance and repairs if they do go wrong. Repairing the banks and keeping the linear path at a suitable height and level with no dips, is required to keep the water in the channel and prevent flooding of adjacent land.
Maintaining a supply of water to each level has been a huge challenge in recent years, due to demands on the water supply from other sources, drought conditions and the blockage of the canals and their feeders by the rampant growth of aquatic plants. There is also the challenge of aquatic invasive weed, which has found a new home on some of Ireland’s inland waterways and is preventing the movement of boats and presenting difficulties for anglers.
All of these tasks to preserve the water channel clear of debris and weed and to maintain water levels, requires daily upkeep and the expertise and vigilance of Waterways Ireland staff.
The Canal Corridor
The canal corridor is the area of land in ownership of Waterways Ireland. It consists of the the canal channel and its banks, the locks, masonry features (examples bridges, culverts, harbours), landing jetties and furniture (examples: mooring posts, wooden jetties, bollards, lighting).
Also included in the corridor are the towpaths and the margins up to adjacent property boundaries (examples: hedgerows, fences, walls) and associated buildings (examples: lockkeepers houses, storage units).
River Barrow Navigation
The navigation channel on the River Barrow was dug out along one side of the river over two hundred years ago. Waterways Ireland are responsible for the maintenance of this navigation channel and the canals leading up to the locks. The towpaths, hedges, locks and built infrastructure of the navigation are under their remit. The other bank of the river is owned by local landowners. Looking after the river, its weirs, the far banks and the islands that spring up along the river are outside of the remit of Waterways Ireland.