Statistical Survey of the County of Clare, 1808

By Hely Dutton

Chapter V - Section 8

Navigation and navigable rivers

THE Shannon, which divides this county from those of Limerick, Tipperary, and Kerry, and the Fergus, which is navigable at high water to Clare, are the only navigable rivers. Until lately the navigation of the Shannon was incomplete, but by the exertions of the Board of Inland Navigation, aided most ably by Mr. Brownrigg, the difficulties at Killaloe have been overcome, and now the communication not only from Dublin to Limerick, a distance of upwards of ninety miles, is completed, but also to the sea, which is sixty miles more. The navigation of this river to the sea is perfectly safe, and vessels of 400 tons can come up to the quay of Limerick. A proposal was made some time since to cut a canal from Poolanishary harbour, about twelve miles from Loophead, across the bog to Dunbeg; this, as the ground is soft and the distance only six miles, could be easily accomplished, and, if for no other purpose, would be highly useful for carrying limestone to improve the bogs; but whether the idea of uniting the Atlantic to the Shannon in this direction, by a cut large enough for vessels of 300 or 400 tons, as proposed, would be adviseable, I am not competent to say; if practicable, it would save the sometimes tedious and dangerous passage round Loophead: possibly the Atlantic ocean would be a dangerous sea to meddle with, as Dunbeg harbour is by no means a safe one; it is, however, the only one between Loophead and the bay of Galway, a distance of upwards of forty miles, except Liscanor bay, which with its present very useless quay cannot be depended on for any thing but fishing-boats. 

Another line has been proposed form Skarriff bay, and, running through Lough Graney, to communicate with the bay of Galway; how far practicable it would be, I am not able to judge. The numerous lakes and rivers in this line would probably afford a very sufficient supply, and as some run to the Shannon, and others to the bay of Galway, I should imagine a good summit level could be obtained: whether the probable trade on this line would make a sufficient return, is another question. Some gentlemen, whose estates are contiguous to this line, are very sanguine about its practicability, but too many think, if they only see water, that a canal can be made. One of the most useful articles, that could be carried on this line, would be lime, which abounds at Skarriff at one end, and in the county of Galway at the other; the intermediate country by this means could be highly improved, and only wants lime to make it produce abundant crops of corn. 

I saw at Killaloe a striking instance of the vast superiority of water carriage over that by land, one man tracking a vessel with upwards of thirty tons of goods; he told me he was not allowed a horse, except the wind was adverse; this by the bye must be a wretched economy.

The walls of the canal between the entrance from the Shannon and Killaloe are most wretchedly built of water-worn paving stones, and in the most unsubstantial manner, resting against a gravelly bank; consequently they and the gravel are constantly falling in, and choaking the canal, which must be dragged by boats with seven men in each. It seems to be the general opinion in Killaloe, that the canal has been cut in the most improper direction; they think it should have been brought in a valley between Killaloe and Dr. Parker’s, and to the north of the Bishop’s house, and not parallel to the Shannon as at present. Bishop Bernard offered several thousand pounds, if this line had been pursued; for, instead of cutting his demesne off from the Shannon, as at present it does, it would have gone at the back of his house; if this was the only objection, I think the engineer acted very impartially, as all public officers should, but very seldom do.

It would seem almost unnecessary at this enlightened period to make any remarks on the superiority of water carriage; but, as the majority of the gentlemen of the county seldom read any thing but the newspapers, it may be useful to state this superiorty. One horse can with ease draw a boat containing sixty tons as far in a day (about twelve miles) as the same horse would draw on land half a ton. Now, allowing three men to the boat, it will carry as much goods as 120 horses and forty men, allowing one man to drive three horses—the expence per annum for every twelve miles by water carriage will be 110l., whilst that of the 120 horses and forty men, for the same distance, will amount to 3320l.* This is worth the serious attention of the landed proprietors, for it is highly probable, that at no very remote period grazing and tillage will be more united than at present; for nothing, but the grossest ignorance and prejudice, will maintain, that they cannot be conducted more profitably on the same land, when judiciously blended, than according to the present indolent grazing system alone: did the graziers read a little more, and see and know, what is going forward in the agricultural world, they would learn that, by the improved practices of England, more cattle are fattened on the same quantity of land, when united to tillage, than the same land formerly fattened, when under cattle alone; they would then perceive the benefit of having green food for their stock in winter and spring, and the superiority of alternate green and white crops over their present wretched mode of running the ground out by repeated corn crops; it would also enable them, when there was a very low price for cattle at Cork or Limerick, to hold them over and keep the market at a steady uniform rate. Many, I dare, say, will be ignorant enough to call this book-farming; the opinion of such boobies is not worth noticing. The introduction of turnips and clover was once called book-farming, and I dare say, Mr. Muir’s feeding, to a state of great fatness, 500 head of cattle in the house in summer, by the cutting of one scythe, will be also called book-grazing; so will every practice not derived from their great grandfathers. To shew, how little interest some of these gentlemen take in the improvement of cattle, it is a certain fact, that many of them return from the fair of Ballinasloe in October, without having been much in the Farming Society’s yard to view the stock exhibited at their shew; I have even known some of them, that seemed to exult, when they came home, "that they had not been to see such mummery; truly they had better cattle at home:" but I have done; it is a disgusting subject. 

Nothing can possibly be worse made than the embankments along the Shannon and Fergus to keep out flood-water; I do not recollect to have seen one tolerably well made; they must have been conducted by persons totally ignorant of such works; they are not calculated to resist floods in spring tides for any length of time, and, as no proper person is appointed (paid by a general assessment of the proprietors) to superintend them, it often happens, that, from the indolence or ignorance of one proprietor, the property of many others is greatly injured; when a breach is made, it is so badly repaired, that it probably stands but a very short time.

                                                                TABLE OF TIDES

Galway

Bay.

Arran Harbour.

Malbay.

Shannon Mouth.

Scattery Island.

Foyne’s Island.

Limerick

Pool.

Clare

Bridge.

Neap tides, rise — — —

6 or 7

8 or 9

6 or 7

6 or 7

7 or 8

8 or 9

9

9

Feet.

Ordinary spring tides, —

12

15

11

11

12 or 13

13 or 14

16

16

Do.

Extraordinary spring tides,

15

18

14

14

15 or 16

15 or 16

18

18

Do.

High water on full and change days, } — IV¼ IV¼ IV III¾ IV½ V VI VI o’Clock.

* In the Survey of Kildare it is stated, that an acre of potatoe-land can be well manured at Athy from 10l., a distance of forty-one miles from Dublin.

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