The canal was constructed in the 1820s when a cut, some 3.2 km (2 mi) long on the south shore of Lough Foyle near Ballykelly was made in the direction of Limavady. As well as serving as a drainage channel, it was used for navigation, carrying goods brought from the Londonderry port and shellfish and kelp from the sand banks along the shore of the lough.
The inhabitants of Limavady appealed for the building of a canal from Lough Foyle to the town. John Killaly was commissioned to produce a survey, and estimated the cost of construction at £12,000. Despite optimistic estimates of the volumes of traffic likely to use the waterway, plans for a horse-drawn tramway were proposed in the early 1830s, and the canal plan was quietly dropped.
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