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Thread: Journey through Ireland Part 3 - Grand Canal and The Barrow river

  1. #1
    Join Date
    Aug 2008
    Amersfoort, Netherlands

    Default Journey through Ireland Part 3 - Grand Canal and The Barrow river

    On day 17 we left the Shannon and started on the Grand Canal in an easterly direction.

    Day 17 – Shannon Bridge – Shannon Harbour 12 km (see part 2)
    Grand Canal Shannon Harbour - Lock 33 5km

    In contrast with the Shannon-Erne canal, the locks have to be operated manually with the help of a lock-key. The Grand Canal Guide says that a lock-key can be purchased in Shannon Harbour or Tullamore. We portage the first lock at Shannon Harbour and then search for the lock keeper. Unfortunately, the lock keeper at Shannon Harbour has no key to sell us. He allows us to ascend thru the next lock dragging the canoe.

    Dragging the canoe thru the lock

    The first thing that hits us as we enter the canal is that the sides are littered with old wrecks of motor boats. Strangely enough most of them seem to have a license. I guess it is cheaper to pay for a license than to scrap an old boat?

    The lock keeper telephones thru to the next lock keeper, Alan. Each lock keeper is responsible for 1 or 2 locks. Alan, is really friendly and helpful towards canoeists. He allows us to paddle thru the next two locks and gives us permission to set up camp by the lock in front of the lock keepers house. We also manage a quick walking trip to view Clonony castle.

    Colonony castle

    Day 18 – Grand canal Lock 33 – Lock 30

    Alan had offered to meet us at lock 32 after an appointment he had but we got there before him and started the portage. He turned up later and helped carry our packs round in his Waterways Ireland van.

    It was raining today but the flowers looked even prettier because of it.

    The Grand Canal is not suitable for canoes. The jetties are built for high motorboats or barges and if you need to get out and in, gymnastics are required and the packs have to be held above your head to get them out of the canoe onto the jetty.
    Other places where you can often get out with a slightly lowered bank are bridges and aquaducts.
    All this scrambling in and out of the boat against these stone walls is not doing the skin of the canoe much good.

    The next locks are the responsibility of other lock keepers who all seem to be absent. Until we get to Tullamore we have to portage all the locks. We rang ahead to Tullamore, and made an appointment to pick up a lock-key.
    Today we stopped in Pollagh to visit the church with two stained glass windows behind the alter designed by Irish stained-glass artist Harry Clarke and alter furniture made from bog yew trees.

    The pub was closed, but Dillon opened it just for us, another example of the great Irish hospitality we have been receiving. We even did not have to pay for our coffees.

    We even found the water tap as indicated in our Grand Canal guide to fill up before camping.

    It was a very wet evening.

    Day 19 Grand canal Lock 30 – Lock 27, Tullamore 14 km

    We had a short paddle today and stopped to visit the old churches in Rahan.

    This is our 3rd day on the canal and we have seen plenty of old wrecks moored at the side of the canal but we have only seen 1 moving boat. The canal itself is scenically not very interesting. We make our own fun by taking short walks to small villages, visiting cafes if we can find them and portaging the locks.

    There are an amazing number of varieties of wild flowers which grow along the banks including orchids. At various places, we have found active projects to re-introduce Irish wild flowers.

    We are sleeping for 3 nights in Tullamore in a small cottage, 20 meters from the canal, with large private lockable backyard – just the place canoeists need.

    Day 20 Tullamore 0 km

    Day 20 we became the happy owners of a lock-key. No more portaging!

    We also spent today doing canoe repairs, shopping, washing and a trip to the Tullamore Dew distillery.

    Canoe repairs. The skin is getting damaged against all the stone walls. Duck tape and some beading from the local DIY solve the problem.

    Tour and tasting at the distillery

    Old warehouse Tullamore Dew beside the canal.

    Day 21 Tullamore- Dublin – Tullamore 0 paddling km

    We gave the paddling muscles a rest today. We took the fast Inter City train to Dublin for a day out.

    On return to Tullamore we had drinks and good dinner in the Brewery Tap.
    It is Saturday night and everyone is dressed up for a night out except for us. We have been surprised during our travels how often small children are taken to the pub even quite late in the evening.
    This charming baby girl was also dressed up for a night out.

    Day 22 Tullamore – Trimbleston Bridge – 27km

    After two days “rest”, we continue our journey and progress in quick succession thru 6 locks. The first 5 go really fast as we operate them ourselves now that we have a lock key. At the sixth lock we meet a lock keeper who grumbles that we should have called the lockkeepers to help us. However, he does let us pass through the lock but fills it slower than we have done.

    Round House at Lock 26

    Operating the lock ourselves with the newly acquired lock-key.

    We how now reached the highest point on the canal and have 37 km until the next lock.
    It is Sunday today, and for the first time, we see people on the tow path, running, walking, cycling and picnicking at the locks.

    Turf used to be one the principal commodities carried on the canal. In this area, we frequently see cars and trucks with trailers transporting peat blocks. In villages, we can smell peat burning, with smoke coming out of house chimneys.

    Camp this evening is at an isolated part of the towpath. No dogwalkers or runners seen tonight.

    Day 23 – Trimbleston Bridge – Lowtown Marina 27 km

    Lowtown marina has a service block with toilets and showers. This is our goal for today.

    The trip was 3 km longer than need be because we made a sidetrip to Edenderry for lunch. We were enticed to go there from the description of the harbour in the guidebook. The harbour was disappointing but we had a good lunch in the town.

    Lunch in Edenderry

    Harbour in Edenderry

    Lockgates and no lock!

    Should a breach occur in the canal, the stop-gates are designed to close, limiting the loss of water from the canal and damage to the embankments.

    On the way to Lowtown, it became difficult to paddle. Later we passed a Waterways Ireland cutting machine cutting the weeds in the water, but the cut weeds all float downstream.

    A local Irish band, the Druids, must have had a gig in a nearby town as I was surprised to find 4 guys in formal clothes posing on a bridge by the marina in Lowtown. I asked and it was OK to take a picture of them.

    Lowtown marina and service block. There was also a large lawn to camp on.

    We were treated to a beautiful red sky this evening.

    Day 24 – Lowtown Marina – Monasterevin 23km - Barrowline canal

    Red sky at night…….
    This morning we hurried to get the tent packed in before the rain started in force.
    In Lowtown, we turned off the Grand canal, which continues eastwards to Dublin and entered the Barrowline canal. The narrow channel and high reeds gave us no views – very disappointing. By the first 3 locks we used the lock key.

    The next two locks were both double locks and “locked”. I tried ringing the lockkeeper but it was his day off. We had to portage around them.

    Geoff investigating the double lock but it is clamped!

    Tonight, we are sleeping in the Old Station House in Monasterevin, a B and B next to the canal.

    Monasterevin is the first place where the Barrow river and the canal run close together. As from Athy, you are on the Barrow river.

    Barrow river at Monasterevin

    Day 25 – Monasterevin – Athy 23 km

    It was raining this morning. That made it more difficult to want to leave.

    At Vicarstown we found the only canoe friendly jetty in the sections of the Grand canal and Barrow canal we have paddled. Also some boats were moored here that looked in good condition in contrast with the many wrecks we have seen.

    We have been warned by several people not to camp in Athy. However we did not find a suitable spot at the right time and distance and at 6 pm we arrived in Athy. Gypsies were camped next to the river. The children were friendly and wished us a good holiday.

    We passed through the first lock in Athy, onto the second lock and the heavens opened. We paddled on downstream of Athy and around 7.30 pm decided to set up camp by some moorings about 2 km below Athy. Some kayakkers out for an evening paddle advised us to move on. “Athy is very rough” they said. A few minutes later a group of Open canoes appeared and gave us the same advice. As we had just pitched the tent we decided to stay. The only people who came along the tow path in the evening were a few polite dog walkers with well-behaved dogs.

    Camp 2 km below Athy close to Ardreigh Lock

    Day 26 – Athy – Carlow 21 km

    All the locks today were “open” ie not clamped in some way so we were able to proceed quickly as I wanted to visit the Sensory Gardens in Carlow. The put-in jetty at some of the locks was ridiculously high even for motor boats.

    Typical jetty on the Barrow canal.

    Old ruins by Levitstown lock.

    South of Levitstown lock we encountered a lifting bridge which was too low to paddle underneath.
    The lock-key yet again was handy to have.

    We failed to find a get-out point close to the Sensory Gardens and eventually tied the canoe up at the dock in the town centre which entailed a 35 minute walk back to the gardens. The gardens were nice but I am not sure they worth the walk. At least the café had some good cakes.

    Our guide book shows where there are water taps but we failed to find the tap in Carlow. Problem solved by buying some Irish spring water. Camp tonight is on the towpath a few km past Carlow.

    Day 27 – Carlow – Railway bridge before Fenniscourt lock – 15km

    Today was wet. Further it was WINDY.

    Dressed for the weather

    We stopped for coffee at the Lord Bagnal Inn in Lainsborough which would have been a really nice place to have had lunch or dinner. Shame we had just lunched.

    At the Barrow is now a river and canal, you can choose between shooting weirs or passing through the locks. As are have a heavily loaded boat and no crash helmets with us, we have decided to only do the locks. A trip down the river in an empty, Royalex or Polyethylene boat would be nice.

    River at Lainsborough

    Another observation, every village in Ireland has a betting shop.

    After Bagenalstown the wind got so strong, we were forced off the river but found a good campspot about 100 meters downstream of the railway bridge.

    Day 28 Fenniscourt lock – Balligraine lock 16 km
    After a stormy and very windy night, today was very pleasant.

    Early morning dog walkers

    Slyguff lock would have been a good place to camp had we not been forced of the water by the wind yesterday.

    We planned on having a pub lunch in Goresbridge and were disappointed to find there was only a petrol station serving as shop, post office and fuel stop in one. We had our own lunch in the town park which was extremely well maintained. Here there is a slipway and it was very busy with canoe groups getting on, both day trips in rental boats, and people with their own boats. This is the first time we have seen real canoe activity. It is Saturday and some people come and enjoy a two day paddle overnighting at Clashganna Lock where there is a service block with showers. We choose to camp before Clashganna at Bailligraine lock.

    Day 29 Balligrain Lock – St Mullins – and then 2 km back upstream – 15 km

    Today we hope to reach St Mullins where the river becomes tidal and we have decided this is where we will “end” our trip.

    We passed Clashganna Lock and stopped to take a shower. We were glad we had not camped here last night as the place is littered with tents, BBQ’s and campfires.
    It is raining today and the site looks pretty miserable, with wet smoking fires.

    Approaching Graiguenamananagh

    We had lunch in the Pomegranate café in Graiguenamanagh and then continued on to St Mullins.

    Weir by Graiguenamananagh

    It is miserable and grey as we approach our final destination.


    It was low water below the lock on the tidal stretch and we left the canoe above the lock and walked down the towpath for 2 km to the café.
    After some coffee and cake in the DRY café we returned to the canoe and started to paddle upstream again as for the logistics we are finishing the trip back in Graiguenamanagh were we have reserved a B and B for 2 nights as from tomorrow. From Graig we can get a bus to Kilkenny and pick up a rental car to ferry ourselves and kit to Dublin airport.
    We had spotted a good camping spot on our way down to St Mullins by an Old Lime Kiln. Our last night on the trip was very wet and we had dinner in the tent.

    Day 30 - Lime kiln – Graiguenamanagh 6 km

    Waking up it was grey and drizzling, but the weather cleared up and our last few km on the water were in glorious sunshine.

    We got out at the slipway in Graiguenamanagh and after 505 paddling km mentally returned back to the normal world.


    Last edited by; 28th-August-2019 at 02:19 PM.

  2. #2
    Join Date
    Dec 2005
    Bangor, Co Down.


    Fantastic. Thoroughly enjoyed all three parts of this blog. So glad you enjoyed your time over here. Lovely too see our rivers and canals through someone else's eyes.
    Big Al.

    Only when the last tree has died
    and the last river been poisoned
    and the last fish been caught
    will we realise we cannot eat money.
    ~Cree Indian Proverb

  3. #3
    Join Date
    Dec 2007
    Newtownards, Northern Ireland.


    What an epic expedition.
    I have been planning for years to get down the Barrow.
    Good to see a uptodate view from a canoeists point of view.


  4. #4
    Join Date
    Jan 2016


    It may or may not be of some interest to you, but I proposed to my, then, girlfriend on the banks of the grand canal after a significant drinking session in one of the pubs along the canal route. Remarkably, she sid yes and we have been married for almost 19 years now

  5. #5
    Join Date
    Jul 2008


    An outstanding adventure, through the whole green island, with some fabulous images too. A great achievement, and it's always good to see an Ally enjoying itself as it was made to do. It seems you were not let down by the hospitality of the locals, you always seemed to be getting invites along the way.

    Thanks so much for sharing.
    Paddler,blogger,camper,pyromaniac: Blog: Wilderness is a State of Mind

    Paddle Points - where to paddle

  6. #6
    Join Date
    Sep 2007
    Amsterdam, Netherlands


    this is awesome, can't believe i only saw it now. i need to go and look up the first 2 parts as well now.
    we moved to the netherlands from ireland about 15 years ago. so it's great to see your trip and some familiar spots. and now i do miss the smell of a peat fire

  7. #7
    Join Date
    Nov 2005
    Lochwinnoch, Scotland


    What a trip. I think I’m doing s long trip if I’m camping for 3 nights. You are so putting me to shame but really just giving me something to strive for if I survive to retirement

  8. #8
    Join Date
    Jul 2012


    Like lowlander i started with part three and have now gone back to read all three, excellent blogg and adventure. There is so much water that is barely paddled in Ireland.
    The barrow is my kind of canalised river.......21 runable weirs to bypass the locks. Congratulations on a marathon journey and blogg
    All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.

  9. #9
    Join Date
    Aug 2010


    An absolutely fascinating read, and lovely photos. Am planning a Lough Erne to Dublin trip next year, so it's certainly given me a lot to think about.
    Thank you for sharing.

  10. #10
    Join Date
    Aug 2008
    Amersfoort, Netherlands


    Quote Originally Posted by ISABELLA View Post
    An absolutely fascinating read, and lovely photos. Am planning a Lough Erne to Dublin trip next year, so it's certainly given me a lot to think about.
    Thank you for sharing.
    Good luck with your trip next year. Will be interesting to see your blog? Via the Grand Canal or the Royal canal?

  11. #11
    Join Date
    Apr 2014
    Peak District


    Really enjoyed all three blogs - an impressive trip. Well done!

  12. #12
    Join Date
    Apr 2012
    Sauf West London


    Wow what an epic adventure!!
    ' can led a horse to water but a pencil must be lead...' Stan Laurel

  13. #13
    Join Date
    Jan 2010


    Awesome! Now off to find parts one and two.
    The early bird may catch the worm... but the second mouse gets the cheese!

  14. #14
    Join Date
    Oct 2014


    A great trip and enjoyable report, thank you.

    Sent from my SM-T813 using Tapatalk

  15. #15
    Join Date
    Aug 2010


    The Royal canal - probably as far as Leixlip. Looks like good public transport links to get back to the start.Will only have a couple of weeks, so won't be doing lower Lough Erne.

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