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Royal Canal

Coordinates: 53°21′N 6°14′W / 53.350°N 6.233°W / 53.350; -6.233
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Royal Canal
An Chanáil Ríoga
Royal Canal from D'Arcy's bridge, County Westmeath
Length145 km (90 miles)
Maximum boat beam13 ft 3 in (4.04 m)
(originally 13 ft 3 in or 4.04 m)
(narrowest lock No.17)
Navigation authorityWaterways Ireland
Construction began1790
Date completed1817
Date closed1961
Date restored2010
Start pointSpencer Dock, Dublin
(originally Broadstone)
(Broadstone filled in)
End pointCloondara
(Cloondara connects to the River Shannon (at Termonbarry) via the River Camlin)
Branch(es)Longford Town
Connects toRiver Shannon
The Royal Canal as it enters Dublin city
Royal Canal in rural County Westmeath north of Kinnegad

The Royal Canal (Irish: An Chanáil Ríoga) is a canal originally built for freight and passenger transportation from Dublin to Longford in Ireland. It is one of two canals from Dublin to the River Shannon and was built in direct competition to the Grand Canal. The canal fell into disrepair in the late 20th century, but much of it has since been restored for navigation. The length of the canal to the River Shannon was reopened on 1 October 2010, but a final spur branch, to Longford Town, remains closed.




Plaque near the 12th lock naming the bridge as '1790 Ranelagh Bridge'

In 1755, Thomas Williams and John Cooley made a survey to find a suitable route for a man-made waterway across north Leinster from Dublin to the Shannon. They originally planned to use a series of rivers and lakes, including the Boyne, Blackwater, Deel, Yellow, Camlin and Inny and Lough Derravaragh. A disgruntled director of the Grand Canal Company sought support to build a canal from Dublin to Cloondara, on the Shannon in West County Longford.

Work on this massive project commenced in May 1790 at Cross Guns Bridge, Phibsborough in a westerly direction towards Ashtown. This is commemorated in the plaque beneath the keystone of Ranelagh Bridge. Twenty-seven years later, in 1817, the canal reached the Shannon.[1] The total cost of construction was £1,421,954.[2] Building was unexpectedly expensive, and the project was riven with problems; in 1794 the Royal Canal Company was declared bankrupt. The Duke of Leinster, a board member, insisted that the new waterway take in his local town of Maynooth. The builders had to deviate from the planned route and necessitated the construction of a 'deep sinking' between Blanchardstown and Clonsilla. The diversion also called for the building of the Ryewater Aqueduct, at Leixlip.[3]



The original 1796 fare from Dublin to Kilcock was 1/1, much cheaper than the stagecoach.

By the 1830s the canal carried 80,000 tons of freight and 40,000 passengers a year.

Quaternion plaque on Brougham (Broom) Bridge, Dublin
Ferns' Lock

In 1843, while walking with his wife along the Royal Canal, Sir William Rowan Hamilton realised the formula for quaternions and carved his initial thoughts into a stone on the Broom Bridge over the canal. The annual Hamilton Walk commemorates this event. In 1845 the canal was bought by the Midland Great Western Railway Company. They considered draining the canal and building a new railway along its bed but decided instead to build the railway beside the canal. The two run side by side from Dublin to Mullingar.

In May 1847, during the Great Famine, tenants of Major Denis Mahon, left his Strokestown Park estate in County Roscommon. The tenants, who would become known locally as the "Missing 1,490", had been offered a choice of emigration with assisted passage, starvation on their blighted potato farms or a place in the local workhouse. Weakened by starvation, the 1,490 walked for days along the towpaths of the Royal Canal to Dublin, where they were put on boats to Liverpool, and from there travelled to Grosse Île, Quebec on four "coffin ships" – cargo vessels that were also, ironically, loaded with grain from Ireland,[citation needed] and were unsuitable for passengers. It is estimated that half of the emigrants died before reaching Grosse Île. This was the largest single exodus of tenants during the Famine. Mahon was assassinated in November 1847, after news reached Roscommon about the fate of his former tenants. An annual walk on the canal banks commemorates these events.

Competition from the railways gradually eroded the canal's business and by the 1880s annual tonnage was down to about 30,000 and the passenger traffic had all but disappeared.

It had a brief resurgence during World War II, when horses and barges returned to the canal. CIÉ took over the canal in 1944. As rail and road traffic increased, the canal fell into disuse. In 1974, volunteers from the Inland Waterways Association of Ireland formed the Royal Canal Amenity Group to save the canal. By 1990 they had 74 kilometres of canal, from the 12th lock in Blanchardstown to Mullingar, open again for navigation. In 2000, the canal was taken over by Waterways Ireland, a cross-border body charged with administering Ireland's inland navigations. On 1 October 2010, the whole length of the canal was formally reopened.

Famine Way memorial, 12th Lock



Since the early 19th century, the canal has been maintained by eight successive agencies: the Royal Canal Company, the Commissioners of Inland Navigation, the New Royal Canal Company, Midland Great Western Railway Company, Great Southern Railways, CIÉ, (from 1986) the Office of Public Works, and Waterways Ireland, in addition to the restoration and maintenance by the volunteers of the Royal Canal Amenity Group.



The canal passes through Maynooth, Kilcock, Enfield, Longwood, Mullingar and Ballymahon has a spur to Longford. The total length of the main navigation is 145 kilometres (90 mi), and the system has 46 locks. There is one main feeder (from Lough Owel), which enters the canal at Mullingar.


The Royal Canal was originally planned to terminate in Dublin at Broadstone, to serve the then fashionable area of residence, as well as King's Inns and the nearby markets, but it was extended so that now, at the Dublin end, the canal reaches the Liffey through a wide sequence of dock and locks at Spencer Dock, with a final sea lock to manage access to the river and sea.

The Dublin – Mullingar railway line was built alongside the canal for much of its length. The meandering route of the canal resulted in many speed-limiting curves on the railway. The canal was bought by the Midland Great Western Railway to provide a route to the West of Ireland, the original plan being to close the canal and build the railway along its bed.

The canal travels across one of the major junctions on the M50 where it meets the N3, in a specially constructed aqueduct.

Present day


Today Waterways Ireland is responsible for the canal, and it was under their stewardship, in association with the Royal Canal Amenity Group, that the Royal Canal was officially reopened from Dublin to the Shannon on 2 October 2010.[4] Access points currently exist near Leixlip and at Maynooth, Enfield, Thomastown, Mullingar, Ballinea Bridge and Ballynacargy.

In 2006, a commemoration marker was erected at Piper's Boreen, Mullingar, to mark the 200 years since the canal reached Mullingar in 1806.

Royal Canal Way

The EuroVelo 2 route

The Royal Canal Way is a 144-kilometre (89-mile) long-distance trail that follows the towpath of the canal from Ashtown, Dublin to Cloondara, County Longford.[5] It is typically completed in three days.[5] It is designated as a National Waymarked Trail by the National Trails Office of the Irish Sports Council and is managed by Waterways Ireland.[5] In 2015, Dublin City Council began extending the walking and cycling route along the Royal Canal from Ashtown to Sheriff Street Upper. The Royal Canal Way connects with the Westmeath Way west of Mullingar and will eventually form the eastern end of the Dublin-Galway Greenway, the final part of EuroVelo Route 2, a cycling path from Moscow across Europe to Galway.[6][7][8][9]

The Royal Canal Greenway is the greenway encompassing the Royal Canal Way between Maynooth and Cloondara, with a branch to Longford. It was launched in March 2021.[10][11]


The Auld Triangle


The Royal Canal was immortalised in verse by Brendan Behan in The Auld Triangle. A monument featuring Behan sitting on a bench was erected on the canal bank at Binn's Bridge in Drumcondra in 2004.

And the auld triangle went jingle jangle,
All along the banks of the Royal Canal.



Royal Canal boatmen believed the 13th lock at Deey Bridge, between Leixlip and Maynooth, was haunted. This tale became the subject of a poem by Arthur Griffith, The Spooks of the Thirteenth Lock, which in turn inspired the name of the band The Spook of the Thirteenth Lock.[12]


See also



  1. ^ Clarke, Peter. “The Royal Canal 1789-1993.” Dublin Historical Record, vol. 46, no. 1, 1993, pp. 46–52. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/30101021. Accessed 10 May 2020.
  2. ^ "History". Royal Canal Action Group. Archived from the original on 3 October 2012. Retrieved 14 September 2015.
  3. ^ "The Royal Canal". Archived from the original on 10 September 2016. Retrieved 8 October 2015.
  4. ^ Ellis, Fiona (2 October 2010). "Crowds gather to push boat out for reopening of restored Royal Canal". Irish Independent. Archived from the original on 5 October 2010. Retrieved 2 October 2010.
  5. ^ a b c "Royal Canal Way". IrishTrails. Irish Sports Council. Archived from the original on 7 April 2012. Retrieved 8 August 2011.
  6. ^ "Westmeath Way: Map 3 Ladestown to Mullingar" (PDF). IrishTrails. Irish Sports Council. Archived (PDF) from the original on 7 April 2012. Retrieved 8 August 2011.
  7. ^ "€10m More For Cycleways". HospitailityIreland.com. 15 May 2014. Archived from the original on 8 August 2014. Retrieved 6 August 2014.
  8. ^ Melia, Paul (27 June 2014). "Wheels in motion for 280km coast-to-coast cycle route". Irish Independent. Dublin.
  9. ^ Kelly, Olivia (12 March 2015). "Plan unveiled for €10m-plus Royal Canal cycle path". Irish Times. Archived from the original on 17 August 2015. Retrieved 14 September 2015.
  10. ^ https://www.facebook.com/RoyalCanalGreenway/posts/251850813309904 [dead link] [user-generated source]
  11. ^ Ó Conghaile, Pól (24 March 2021). "'A game changer' – 130km Royal Canal Greenway launches as Ireland's longest greenway". Irish Independent. Archived from the original on 24 March 2021. Retrieved 25 March 2021.
  12. ^ The Spook of the Thirteenth Lock. "the original text of the Arthur Griffith Poem". Facebook. Archived from the original on 27 February 2022. Retrieved 29 March 2016.

53°21′N 6°14′W / 53.350°N 6.233°W / 53.350; -6.233