The history of the attempt to link Lough Erne to Shannon was troubled. Attempts were made to link the major waterways in the 18th century. In 1838 the Commissioners for Public Works commenced work on the Ulster Canal to provide a link to Lough Neagh.
Work on the Ballinamore and Ballyconnell Canal commenced in 1846, financed by the office of public works. The canal was opened in 1858. Management was to be by a group of navigation trustees and drainage trustees. The canal was a commercial failure.
The Cavan & Leitrim Railway line was constructed in this area in 1887 and they were sufficiently confident that the canal would not be used that low bridges were constructed over the canal. The canal fell into disrepair in the early part of the 20th century. It lay moribund until the 1960s when moves were made to restore it for pleasure boating.
In the late 1980s, the reopening of canal was adopted as a flagship cross-border project. The powers of the original trustees, which had passed to the local authorities were transferred to the OPW.
Works were undertaken between November 1990 and May 1994, creating a new navigation along the line of the original waterway, which had never been properly completed.
The Shannon-Erne Waterway links the River Shannon to the River Erne, over 63 kilometres. It was officially reopened in 1994.
Shannon Navigation Act
The Shannon Navigation Act 1990 provided for making a better provision for Shannon Navigation including the transfer of the Ballinamore and Ballyconnell Navigation to the OPW and rovides for its restoration and maintenance.
The Commissioners were given extensive powers generally in relation to Shannon Navigation. The Shannon Navigation legislation stretched back to 1839 Act. The Commissioners’ powers were extended in relation to drawing water, dredging, deepening, repairing navigations in channel, removing obstructions, constructing harbours quays, navigation aids etc., prohibiting the construction of bridges, ways et cetera., acquiring land.
- The Commissioners were given enhanced power to make bye-laws for the care, conservation, management, control and maintenance of the use of the Shannon Navigation. This included regulations of the conditions under which boats might be used in a navigation channel,
- powers to close them to navigation permanently or temporarily of any part of the channel, alteration of water levels,
- regulation of bathing in the navigation channel,
- prohibiting building of bridges,
- prohibiting use save under license of such parts of the Shannon Navigation as might be considered necessary or expedient,
- regulation of fishing in the navigation channel,
- prevention of damage to Shannon Navigation,
- removal from or prohibition of obstructions or anything which might be a danger to life, health, navigation, fish stocks.
- Provision for payment of tolls, fees and charges.
The maritime safety functions under the Maritime Safety Act apply to the Shannon.
The Shannon Navigation bye-laws provide for construction standards of vessels, lifesaving equipment, anchors, moors, reversing at-board engine, fire extinguisher.
The Shannon Navigation bye-laws provide for
- requirement of registration of vessels,
- liability of master for contravention of bye-laws,
- maximum alcohol and drugs while using,
- speed restrictions,
- lights to be carried at night,
- passage through locks,
- mooring and use of harbours,
- parking of vehicles,
- animals on the navigation,
- removal of obstructions.
The Newry and Lagan Canal enjoyed moderate success throughout the 19th century and early 20th century. It carried agricultural products and manufactures for export and further processing. It distributed fuel, grain and raw materials over the shores of Lough Neagh.
The Strabane Canal is a short four mile canal in County Tyrone linking Strabane to River Foyle. It was operated by the Strabane Canal Company. It was purchased privately and operated until the 20th century. Ultimately, it was part-abandoned in 1944. The remaining part remains open, and a restoration project was commenced in 2006.
The Newry Canal was built to link Tyrone coalfields via Lough Neagh to the Irish Sea at Carlingford Lough near Newry. With the coming of the railways in the 1850s, the canal went into decline, finally closing in the 1930s. Most of these sections have fallen into disrepair, though part has been incorporated into the National Cycles Network.
The Ulster Canal
The Ulster Canal was disused canal running through Tyrone, Fermanagh and Monaghan seeking to link Lough Neagh with the Shannon Waterway. It was taken over by the Lagan Navigation Company and finally closed in 1931.
The Lagan Navigation Company, which had lumbered with the canal for many years was dissolved under the Inland Navigation NI Act 1954. The stretch in the Republic of Ireland was left without an owner after dissolution and vested in the Minister for Finance.
It was vested in the Office of Public Work, Monaghan County Council and two Urban District Councils which acquired the land under Derelict Sites Legislation. The other sections remained with OPW. Significant stretches of the canal remain.
In 2004 Waterways Ireland announced that a reopened canal would bring benefits to the areas it passed through, because it would reconnect with the already restored Shannon–Erne Waterway. At the North/South Ministerial Council meeting on 17 July 2007, it was announced that the governments would work towards the restoration of the stretch of the canal linking the town of Clones, in County Monaghan, to Upper Lough Erne.
The first phase involved extending the Erne Navigation from Quivvy Lough to Castle Saunderson, near Belturbet. Of the 5 kilometres (3.1 mi) forming this phase, some 3 kilometres (1.9 mi) was a new cut, following a somewhat different route to the original canal, and a new Derrykerrib Bridge was built, to increase the size of boats that can pass through it. The first phase of the Ulster Canal restoration was nearing completion in September 2019.
Funding for phase 2 of the project was announced to cover a section between Clones and Clonfad in County Monaghan. The work includes around 1 kilometre (0.6 mi) of canal and towpath, a 40-berth marina, two new bridges and restoration of a third bridge, together with the provision of an amenity area with car parks. Phase 3 of the project which is to increase the length of restored canal to 13.5 kilometres (8.4 mi) is to link the first two phases together, and involves several crossings of the border.