John McKeown outlines the difficulties overcome by engineers during the restoration of the Royal Canal, which links the River Liffey at Dublin’s Spencer Dock with the River Shannon at Clondra, Co Longford, a distance of some 146km
Civil

Speaker: John McKeown BSc (Hons) Dip PM Eur Ing CEng FIEI MICE, regional manager, Waterways Ireland

Following years of neglect and disrepair, the reopening of the Royal Canal has breathed new life into one of the most important inland waterways in Ireland. Speaking at a presentation organised by the Heritage Society of Engineers Ireland, Waterways Ireland regional manager and chartered engineer John McKeown explained the major work that went into the restoration of the canal.

Construction of the Royal Canal began in 1790 and the 146km was finally completed in May 1817 at a cost of almost £1.5 million. After many years of considerable deterioration, following its closure to navigation in 1961, the responsibility for the canal and over 1,350km of inland waterways on the island of Ireland was transferred to Waterways Ireland in 2000. This public body was established under the British/Irish Agreement Act 1999.

“It has the function to manage, maintain, develop and restore the inland navigable waterways throughout the island, principally for recreational purposes,” stated McKeown.

The restoration of the Royal Canal proved to be a long and laborious process, with various public bodies involved along with the Royal Canal Amenity Group (RCAP). From the outset, the main aim was returning the once vital trade link between Dublin and the Shannon into a waterway to be used recreationally and as a means of attracting tourism along its route.

Richmond Harbour, Clondra (Photo: Waterways Ireland)

The Royal Canal restoration was split into three phases in order to better manage the overall project. The first phase included the part of the canal from the 12th lock in Blanchardstown up to Mullingar, with the second phase focusing on the section between Blanchardstown and Spencer Dock at the River Liffey. The final phase dealt with the stretch from the 12th lock up to Richmond Harbour on the River Shannon at Clondra, Co Longford.

As McKeown acknowledged, the second phase of the project presented engineers with the greatest challenges. “Phase 2 of the construction project was only 6 miles long, but was more difficult because of its urban character,” said McKeown. This section includes 11 lock chambers, of which seven are double chambered, nine bridges and a further three lifting bridges.

McKeown went into great detail describing the various engineering difficulties that had to be overcome during the process, including the rebuilding of bridges, replacing all 46 lock gates along the route and the construction of the first aqueduct in Ireland in almost 200 years to take the canal over the M50 motorway.

Over thirty years of campaigning on the part of the RCAP culminated in the reopening of the canal in a ceremony at Richmond Harbour. “The restored Royal Canal can again be appreciated as a major engineering achievement and John Killaly, our best known ‘home grown’ canal engineer who designed and directed the construction of the Royal Canal extension from Coolnahay to Richmond Harbour, would be proud to see it returned to its former glory.”

As McKeown acknowledged, the canal system in Ireland is an important part of the country’s history and the restoration shows that it can be part of the future.“Canals form part of our national heritage, both from a historical point of view, as an engineering and architectural remains of an earlier industrial age and naturally because of the wide range of semi-natural habitat found along them,” he said.

 

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Restoring the Royal Canal
Date: Monday, 11 March 2013
Category: Energy/Environment, Civil, Roads and Transportation
Files: w-20130311-canal.arf(Download)
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Speaker: John McKeown BSc (Hons) Dip PM Eur Ing CEng FIEI MICE, regional manager, Waterways Ireland Following years of neglect and disrepair, the reopening of the Royal Canal has breathed new life into one of the most important inland waterways in Ireland. Speaking at a presentation organised by the Heritage...