‘And we moor, we don’t park’. The information came as canal boat 4B glided to a halt at the Ardreigh mooring following a short trip up the Canal, as well as the Barrow, to mark the latest fitting out of the 98 year old former by-traders boat.
It was a balmy summer evening when the boat’s current owners, Eunice and Cliff Jeffers with a few friends on board manoeuvred the former turf boat away from Ardreigh in the direction of the Railway Bridge and beyond. For many months past I had been a daily interested onlooker as the boat was revamped and its housing reshaped while it was moored in the Canal cutting just beyond my end garden wall at Ardreigh. The work progressed slowly but steadily as Cliff, oft times alone, but occasionally with help, enthusiastically refitted one of the remaining by-boats on the Irish Canal system.
Canal boat 4B was built in Portadown for Sir John Purser Griffith of the Leinster Carbonised Turf Company in Turraun, Co. Offaly, primarily to draw turf from the midland bog. It was fitted with a 15hp Bollinder engine which powered the 20 ton boat, with a capacity to carry 40 tons of turf. By-traders boats, as they were called, were manned by two crew members and 4B had Joe Daly as its first skipper, with Jim Bracken as his assistant. Turf deliveries to Dublin in the years immediately prior to the 1916 Rebellion and for many years thereafter, was its principal trade. On return journeys Guinness and a host of other goods formed the cargo as the 4B wound its way through the Canal locks which had been operational long before railways and tarmacadam roadways were thought of.
Just as war in Europe erupted in 1939 the boat’s ownership changed and James Doyle of Allenwood, known as ‘Big Jim Doyle’ became its new skipper. He used the 4B during the Second World War to bring turf from the Midlands to Dublin. At the end of the war the boat was acquired by Jack Gill, a canal boatman who already operated another by boat, the 31B. It was in the 1950s when publican Jack O’Neill purchased the 4B that it began to make regular trips on the lower Barrow navigation. It was then used to transport timber and it was maybe at that time that the 4B first was seen in this area.
It continued to be used commercially, even after the closure of the freight carrying business on the Grand Canal in 1959. Purchased by Carroll brothers of Carrick-on-Suir the 4B was used to draw washed sand from the riverbed at Mooncoin. I am told by Eunice Jeffers that the sand was taken from the riverbed at low tide and loaded into the 4B which brought it to Carrick-on-Suir where it was stockpiled for subsequent sale to local builders.
After 58 years of constant use as a cargo boat the 4B was sold and over the next few years was converted for use as a leisure boat. The Bollinder engine was replaced with a Thames Trader lorry engine and the Johnson family brought the now revamped 4B onto the Shannon River where it was used for almost 30 years. In 2001 the boat returned to the Grand Canal and was based at Hazelhatch, Co. Kildare where it was used as a house boat until purchased four years ago by Eunice and Cliff Jeffers.
The 4B travelled the Canal waters last week as far as the dry dock before returning and moving upstream of the Barrow as far as the former Bachelors factory. It was a journey which brought the boat through two Canal locks and under two bridges, built over 200 years ago but which still showcase the skill and ingenuity of 18th century engineers. The lock walls examined up close as the 4B was manoeuvred in place to move up and down the Canal system reminded me of the extraordinary skills of the 18th century stonemasons who cut and shaped the limestone stones which lined those walls. Their size and weight held the carved stones in place without the need for any visible form of mortar, while the sheer scale of the work in digging out the Canal system by hand over two centuries ago left me full of admiration.
Passing under Augustus Bridge I saw for the first time the steel plating, now rusting, which was put in place in the 1890s when the previously humpbacked 18th century bridge was replaced by a more traffic friendly bridge to ease the passage of farmers carts travelling to the towns fairs and markets.
On the River Barrow we passed under the bridge erected two years before the 1798 Rebellion by the ‘Knight of the Trowel James Delahunty’. There is an inscription on the river side of the bridge facing Carlow which I could not read. Is there anyone out there with a good camera who might be able to take for me a photograph of the inscription which unfortunately appears to have weathered very badly?
A wonderful trip on the Athy waterways ended for this land lubber with the quote at the beginning of the article. I remembered both with immense pleasure.