This abandoned canal barge is located in Killucan in Westmeath, Ireland. The town of Killucan prospered in the late 1800s and early 1900s due to the transport links to Dublin with both the Royal Canal and Sligo-Dublin railway passing through the area. The area received a second lease of life in the Celtic Tiger years when it became part of Dublin’s outer commuter belt.
Killucan reached the height of its prosperity during the 18th and 19th centuries due to the arrival of first the Royal Canal in 1805 and later the Midland Great Western Railway. The canal was built between 1790 and 1817, reaching Killucan from Dublin in 1805. It grew in importance transporting people and goods until the mid-19th century.
The Royal Canal was originally built to transport freight and passengers from the River Liffey in Dublin to the town of Longford. A survey was first made in 1755 to find a route from Dublin to the Shannon and a series of rivers and lakes was first proposed. This solution was deemed unviable however and work began on the Royal Canal in 1790.
Construction on the project lasted for 27 years and cost £1.4million. The construction was beset with problems which included the Royal Canal Company going bankrupt just 4 years into construction. The Duke of Leinster demanded that the canal pass through the town of Maynooth and as a result, costs increased and engineering solutions needed to be found to divert from the original plans.
The famine in Ireland has a particular connection to the Royal Canal. In May 1847, 1,490 starving tenants left Strokestown House in Roscommon and walked for days along the towpaths to Dublin. Their landlord, Major Denis Mahon, had offered them assisted passage to Quebec rather than offering to help them through the hardship. When they got to Dublin, they were put on boats to Liverpool and then put on “coffin ships” to Quebec. Over half of them died. When word of their fate reached Ireland, Major Mahon was shot dead.
The Midland Great Western Railway Company purchased the canal in 1845 and suggested draining it and laying railway tracks along its bed but built alongside it instead. The advent of the railway saw traffic along the canal decrease dramatically and by the 1880s, passenger traffic was practically non-existent and freight was not far behind.
Despite a brief resurgence during World War II, the canal came under the ownership of the state owned CIÉ and soon closed. It lay unused for a number of years before the Inland Waterways Association of Ireland began to restore it for leisure use. In 2000, it was taken over by the newly formed all-Ireland body, Waterways Ireland, and by 2010, the entire length of the canal was reopened.