The reopening of the old Ballinamore-Ballyconnell Canal has
created a facility and a hinterland rich in natural beauty.
Linking the renowned Shannon and the Erne, the waterway weaves
together the streams, rivers and lakes which are picturesquely
scattered between Leitrim Village on the Shannon and the Erne.
Passing under 34 stone bridges it is checked by 16 locks on it's
scenic course through wild, unspoiled countryside. Each lock takes
about 15 minutes to negotiate and the cruising time for the 62.5 kilometers
of navigation is approximately 13 hours, so takes 2 days.
18th century and first half of the 19th century, a web of waterways
was established in Ireland including the Newry Canal, the first
watershed canal to be built in Ireland or Britain.
Although some work to make the Woodford River navigable began in
the last decade of the 18th century, it wasn't until 1846 that
excavations commenced in earnest on the Ballinamore-Ballyconnell
Canal. The linking of the rivers and lakes with sections of still
water was undertaken by the engineer, John McMahon. By the time his
project staggered towards completion some 14 years later, the needs
of drainage had triumphed over the navigational imperatives and cost
cutting had resulted in leakages and collapsing banks. Only eight
boats haltingly negotiated the navigation in its short nine-year
history. Finally, in 1869 the canal was abandoned as the age of the
steam train came into its own.
When the restoration project was undertaken a few years ago, 120
years of neglect had reduced the waterway to a sad, weed-choked
channel of broken bridges and missing locks. Using the original
sites and stonework, the bridges are now restored, the waterway is
navigable for modern pleasure cruisers and the new locks are
operated by a push-button electro-hydraulic system.
The still water canal section negotiates a series of 8 locks
which provides a stairway from the Shannon to Lough Scur, a natural
lake of great beauty. The dominant height in the area is the
cairn-topped Sheemore, from which point there is a panorama
embracing over 30 lakes. Sheemore, together with its sister hill,
Sheebeg, provided O'Carolan, the 17th century blind harper with the
title for a haunting Irish air which you are likely to hear in one
of the music pubs as you travel.
The descent to Lough Erne is checked by another 8 locks and the
waterway visits the angling towns of Ballinamore and Ballyconnell,
towns which gave their names to the original canal. A barge marina
marks the final lock as the Woodford River noses its way east to
join Lough Erne.
No large cities or towns mar the landscape along the canal's
pleasant course. Reed banks thrive in the lakes and hedgerows parcel
the pleasant fields, providing refuge for a great variety of
wildlife. Wild flora decorates the banks and moors, delighting the
Long before recorded history, early man marked the landscape with
mysterious monuments in stone. These, together with early Christian
establishments, punctuate the landscape.