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Carlow County - Ireland Genealogical Projects (IGP TM)

“Lovely Barrow River”

County Carlow

Extract taken from address to Members of Carlow Rotary Club in the Royal Hotel Carlow on Monday 8th April 1991 by Councillor Joe McDonald The Nationalist.

 (Source: Carlow Past & Present 1996)

Heritage Boat Visit 2005
Boat 95B negotiating Graiguecullen Bridge in Carlow Town.
Photos Carlow County Museum
Barge 31B
Photo Carlow County Museum
Boat 34B, which was operated by the Moore family from Graiguecullen led the flotilla into Carlow Town in May 2005.
Photo Carlow County Museum

Lovely Barrow River

I very much appreciate this opportunity to address this group here today. In many organisations throughout our community, good work is often misunderstood due to poor communication or none at all. From reading local press and other feedback, Rotary are to be congratulated in this area. You provide a forum for discussion and your objectives are clearly defined. Poor communication and even less consultation have been the downfall of many a voluntary club, charitable organisation and, unfortunately, firms and business of many types.

As a member of Carlow U.D.C., we are rightly open to public scrutiny at each meeting. On a personal feeling, I believe there should he more meetings and idea exchange between the U.D.C. and local organisations on a non confrontational basis and in the spirit and direction towards achieving what is best for the community which we are so lucky to be a part of.

Today I wish to put forward a few ideas on the River Barrow and tourist potential in our catchment area. Please accept these are personal feelings although some have been well discussed down the years by many interested parties. The over-riding factor in what I suggest is that to achieve success, it is necessary that full community support and involvement is required. No one individual or group can achieve a meaningful community result by working in isolation.

Natural Environment

In Ireland today, people are becoming increasingly concerned about the quality of our natural environment. Special emphasis is being placed on the protection of our Rivers, Mountains, Boglands, etc. Parklands and other amenities are also being provided and should be pushed by National and Local Government,

It is essential that we protect and maintain green belts especially in our towns as no one benefits from living in a complete concrete jungle.

We should become litter conscious also with Urban and Rural recognition for each others problems. The urban dweller should not discard rubbish (the minority who do) in nice quiet hedgerows and likewise, our rural brother should he careful about the treatment of rivers and the landscape in general. This should be viewed in a Euro context, as we have possibly the best environment in Europe at present, we should use it to our advantage and long may it remain intact.

Memories: How It All Started

As a member of Carlow U.D.C., I have a particular interest in the River Barrow. It is the second largest river system in Ireland and its potential has been largely untapped to date. We are the poor relation when compared with the River Shannon and while the strong lobby for funding to the western river has always been the most successful, the Barrow Project is an uphill battle.

Don’t ever forget that along the length of the Barrow is contained some of the most beautiful river scenery. We need an integrated plan to ensure development of the river to the greatest advantage for all the community, boating, fishing, walking are the top priorities.

My family spent twenty two years in Maganey Lock House. During this time, I learned to swim, fish and operate boats, all necessary for survival. It was a very happy time.

Our old employers were G.C.C. (Grand Canal Co.) headquarters in Carlow is now the present location for Carlow Rowing Club. C.I.E. then took over the operation in the early 50’s. This company were very supportive of their existing road and rail traffic and so the demise of the river system was inevitable.

River Trade

Before leaving for school or work in the mornings, approximately twelve to fourteen barges would have passed through the Lock before 8.30 am. Particularly in winter (sugar beet and sundries down to Carlow, refined sugar etc., up to Shannon - Dublin), all fifty ton loads.

There were two groups of boats; letter M was register for company and letter B for privately owned.

Barge Men: Barrow and Canal men.

Barrow Men: Mainly from Graiguenamanagh, some from Graiguecullen & Carlow.

Canal Men: From Allenwood, Robertstown, Areas of North Kildare and Offaly.

Barrow near BagnalstownThe most famous boat on the Barrow system was 6-M or the tugboat with it’s beautiful ship’s wheel and powerful 100 h.p. engines. This tug would tow at least 4-5 fully laden barges from Carlow to Levitstown canal during flood times (the Standard barge was only fitted with a 15 hp engine).

When such a group of boats tied up for the night at a lock, it was a great social event. This was the days before the advent of T.V. as we know it today. The bargemen were magnificent singers, musicians and story tellers.


In the year ending 31st March 1956, 89,640 tons was conveyed by barge; in other words, 1,793 barge movements per year. Thus ensuring clean and well maintained waterways.

Carlow was a major contributor to the river traffic, contributing 20,000 plus tons.

In a memo to Government, January 1953, the board of C.1.E. set out proposals for closure of Barrow/Canal System. The board was informed that the Minister was not prepared to close down canals. The opinion was expressed that the canal provides an alternative form of transport in emergency, and if its use was to be reduced to the extent proposed, the condition of the waterway might be expected to deteriorate through misuse and to become unsightly.

Events took a downturn; the river canal was closed and how true the above statement has turned out to be.

Present & Future

River system is now under the control of Office of Pubic Works, waterways service. The O.P W. commissioned a report by Brady/Shipman/Martin. This study was carried out and published in 1987:

“Management and Development Strategy”

This report is a very useful for Technical Data and other Input. The present position is improving, however, we must push for a big slice of the financial cake in order to speed up this work. Thankfully, good co-operation exists between Carlow Co. Council, Carlow U.D.C. members and staff, and the O.P.W. staff.

In conclusion, it will be necessary to carry out much work to the river way, towpaths and existing structures. Proper access points to the river need to be identified, repaired and/or purchased and constructed.

A complete integrated package outlining all local amenities, hotels, guest houses, entertainment, leisure and scenic areas need to be prepared and sold as a package to tour promoters to ensure two/three day stopovers become a part of local tourist trade in Carlow. I intend to push for the success of this project and I hope many members of the community feel the importance of projecting the lovely River Barrow as a Jewel in our environment and resource system. “Goodly Barrow” (A voyage on an Irish River) by T.F O’Sullivan is an excellent publication. Enjoyable and informative, I would recommend it to you.

Finally, in the coming weeks, I hope to be in a position to invite all interested members of the community to participate in a simple project which should help in highlighting the immense value of this natural resource which is “on our doorstep”

Previously published in 'Carlow Past & Present' 1996


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© 2001 County Carlow Genealogy IGP