Clones Canal Bridge 1900

The Ulster Canal was built between 1825 and 1842 and was 74 km (46 mi) long with 26 locks. It ran from Charlemont on the River Blackwater to Wattle Bridge on the River Finn, south-east of Upper Lough Erne.

It was an ill-considered venture, with the locks built narrower than the other Irish waterways, preventing through trade, and an inadequate water supply. It was an abject failure commercially, and contributed to the collapse of the Lagan Navigation Company, who took it over from the government but were then refused permission to abandon it when they could not afford the maintenance costs. It finally closed in 1931. Waterways Ireland started work on rebuilding the canal at its southern end in 2015.

Canal History

In 1778, a proposal was made for a canal from Ballyshannon to the Lower Lough Erne. The estimated cost of the scheme was £32,000, but it was already seen as part of a larger project, since a further £8,000 would have provided a link to Enniskillen, Belturbet and Ballyconnell. A future link from Ballyconnell to Ballymore, along the Woodford River valley, and on to Lough Scurr and the River Shannon at Leitrim was suggested but not costed. It would thus be an important section of a great waterway which was to cross Ireland from east to west, from Belfast to Limerick, which would compete with a similar link formed by the Grand Canal and the Royal Canal further to the south. Government funding was forthcoming in 1783, and a section of the canal was constructed between Ballyshannon and Belleek, with Richard Evans, the engineer for the Royal Canal, overseeing the work, which included a lock at Belleek. The project stalled in 1794, when funds ran out.

The Directors General of Inland Navigation asked Evans to prepare an estimate of the costs to finish the work in 1801, but no action was taken. By 1814, the Directors General were faced with problems of unemployment in the area, and a canal from Lough Neagh to Lough Erne was seen as a way to provide jobs for the local population. John Killaly was commissioned to survey the route of such a link, and produced his report in February 1815. His estimate of £233,000 would provide a canal which ascended through six locks from Wattle Bridge to a summit near Monaghan and then descended through another sixteen to reach Lough Neagh. It would be 35.5 miles (57.1 km) long, and would include a branch to Armagh. The plan was ill-thought-out, as he decided to make the locks of a similar size to those on the Royal Canal, 76 by 14 feet (23.2 by 4.3 m), which would accommodate boats up to about 13.3 feet (4.1 m) wide, but those that already used Lough Neagh, and the Lagan Canal, the Newry Canal and the Coalisland Canal, were 14.8 feet (4.5 m) wide, and would not therefore be able to use the route.

Canal Route

The canal follows a fairly straight south-west to north-east course from Wattle Bridge, on the River Finn, to Charlemont, where it joins the River Blackwater. There were two locks close to the River Finn, two beyond Clones, and three near Smithborough, where the summit was reached. The summit pound was less than 6 miles (10 km) long, and was fed from Quig Lough reservoir, just to the north of the end of the summit. Two locks drop the level before Monaghan is reached and there is a flight of seven shortly after the town. The border with Northern Ireland crosses the canal below them. There are two isolated locks near Middletown, and the a level section before the canal reaches a gorge to the west of Benburb. Fitting the canal through here presented a lot of problems for the builders, as another six locks were required in awkward terrain. There is another lock above Blackwatertown, and the final lock below Charlemont, before the canal joins the River Blackwater.[8]

The summit level was 213 feet (65 m) above sea level. The original locks were built for boats which were 62 by 11 feet (18.9 by 3.4 m). Of the large number of bridges that crossed the canal, 56 remained in 2002.

The Ulster Canal includes:

  • River Bann
  • Lagan Canal
  • Lough Neagh
  • Upper Bann + Newry Canal
  • Coalisland Canal (derelict)
  • River Blackwater
  • 1 Charlemont lock
  • 2 Blackwatertown lock
  • Tullymore Bridge
  • Maydown Bridge
  • 3-8 Benburb flight
  • Caledon aqueduct
  • Tynan Bridge
  • 9 lock
  • Middleton aqueduct
  • Monaghan
  • Quig Lough feeder
  • Summit Lough
  • Finn River aqueduct
  • Clones
  • Cloncorick Bridge
  • River Finn
  • Lough Erne + River Erne
  • Shannon–Erne Waterway