The River Shannon

[From the Dublin Penny Journal, Vol. 1, No. 7, August 11, 1832]

WE extract the following facts, relative to this river, from a pamphlet, published by C. W. Williams, Esq. It demonstrates what might be done by improvements in Ireland:
" The river Shannon, unequalled in the British empire, embraces 234 miles of continuous navigation; and, from the circumstance of its running through the centre of the kingdom, may be compared, for the purposes of intercourse, to double that length of coast. The advantages of water conveyance are thus presented to an extent of country equal to the whole line of coast between Belfast and Cork; or to more than the entire eastern coast of England.

"The great feature of this extraordinary river is its diversified character. For a distance of 60 miles from the sea to the city of Limerick, it presents a magnificent estuary and tide way, without bar or other impediment whatever, and with a flood equal to a height of 20 feet at the city quays. This part of the river possesses several deep bays or inlets, and receives the waters of several rivers, some of which enjoy the tide-way for a considerable distance up their channels, and all susceptible of great improvement. By these, the benefit of water conveyance may be extended to many rising towns, and to extensive, rich, populous, and, we may add, disturbed districts.

"The great estuary of the Fergus, extending 10 miles to the town of Clare, with the means of extension to Ennis, the capital of the county of Clare, here pushes the benefit of navigation into the centre of a district unrivalled, perhaps, in Britain, for depth and fertility of soil.

"Above Limerick to Killaloe the navigation is varied, being part still water and part river.

"From Killaloe, in the county of Clare, to its source in the county of Leitrim, the river assumes a great variety of character. In some places it stretches out into seas or lakes, two of which, Lough Derg and Lough Rea, are above 20 British miles long each. In other parts, the river assimilates itself more to that of the river navigations of England, with the combined advantages of sailing and tracking, as seen in the Thames, the Mersey, and the Severn. In other parts, it forms a succession of small lakes, peculiarly in want of artificial helps, which, however, the use of steam navigation would completely overcome; and, lastly, in many situations, it approaches almost to still-water navigation. The falls and rapids, which on the whole river amount to an elevation of 146 feet 10 inches, are overcome by lateral canals and locks. Throughout its course, however, it possesses the rare quality of having a sufficient depth of water for all the purposes of internal intercourse. From this diversity of character, it is manifest how much its navigation is open to improvements by the removal of difficulties and obstructions:- the adding trackways; constructing small harbours, quays, and landing places, and making approaches to the same; widening and raising arches of bridges; establishing beacons and other guides to aid the navigator through the intricacy and windings of its channels, and in seasons when the water extends beyond its natural course: the cutting the banks, and deepening many parts, and on the whole, affording abundant opportunities for the application of human skill and judgment.

"In all these respects, notwithstanding the sums which have been expended on it, during the last century, the Shannon, with such unquestionable latent resources, presents a lamentable picture of great neglect - great misapplication of power - great ignorance of its resources - great want of enterprise, and even worldly wisdom, on the part of its natural protectors and patrons, the owners of the towns and villages and the soil, in its vicinity, and throughout its entire course.

"The Shannon washes the shores of 10 counties out of 32, viz. Leitrim, Roscommon, Longford, Westmeath, King's-County, Galway, Tipperary, Clare, Limerick, and Kerry. All of these are abundant in population, and susceptible of receiving great extension and improvement in their agriculture; and although many of them are periodically exposed to the greatest distress, and even famine, yet are without the power of mutual relief or co-operation.

"Taking then the double length of coast which the ten counties present to the navigation, at 500 miles; and which, considering the extent of the bays, inlets and rivers, is under the fact; it leaves an average of 50 miles of coast to each county. This fact alone is sufficiently indicative of what may be done through the instrumentality of this one river.

"Running from North to South, the several counties on the Shannon naturally present great diversity of soil, and even climate. Some of the counties are mountainous, with deep productive valleys, on which may be cheaply fed vast quantities of sheep and cattle. Other counties are flat and humid, yet susceptible of great amelioration from the labour of their population, under the guidance of skill and capital. Several with soils on a substratum of limestone, are in all seasons warm and dry, and peculiarly adapted to the production of the finest qualities of grain and other produce; while some to the southward, possess deep and tenacious soils, requiring strong manures and much labouring.

"Under such circumstances it is evident that the several parts of this great territory must be variously affected by the seasons. Wet seasons are beneficial to some and almost ruinous to others. Some are abundant in seasons of drought which bring scarcity and even famine to others. Some divisions of counties on the Shannon are well adapted for descriptions of produce which are unattainable in others. Some excel in wheat and potatoes; others in barley, oats, and rape; while their neighbours are better adapted to pasturage.

"Natural manures also, those essential in agricultural districts, are not only excellent, but equal to any demand throughout a great portion of the river, yet unknown in the rest. The black and white marls of the Shannon, which are easily raised, and accessible and free to all, are among the most bountiful gifts of Nature to this extraordinary country.

"Again, turf, that prime necessary of life in Ireland, is abundant in the greater number of districts on the Shannon, yet deficient or inferior in quality in many. Building materials, as stone, sand, lime, flags, bricks, slates, and marble, are cheap and abundant in many, while frequently the adjoining counties are wholly without them.

"The bogs on both sides of the Shannon contiguous to the line of the Grand Canal between Ballinasloe and Tullamore, may be noticed as illustrative of their improveable value. There, bog-land, originally of no value, now lets freely at 30s. an acre. In many parts of the Shannon and over districts of from five to ten miles long, the deep rich callows, annually submerged by the rising waters of the Shannon, produce abundant crops of hay, yet in other and easily approached parts, and in many towns on its banks, hay is extremely scarce and dear.

"Of the reclaimable bogs, callows, and marsh lands, it is unnecessary to say more than that in no part of Ireland are they more extensive, or more within the reach of human means for improvement. The evidence of Mullins before the committee, and the report of Mr. Grantham in his survey of the Shannon, are conclusive on this head.

"In a country then so extensive; so variable in soil and climate; so various in produce and natural products; can there be a question of the importance of interchange, particularly for bulky commodities? It is not an unnatural state of things that in such a country, and with such a river flowing through its centre, some districts should be in want not merely of comforts and conveniences, but of the common necessaries of life, food and fuel, and almost approaching to famine; while adjoining districts on the same river have them in abundance and to spare.

"How then can we convey to English eyes the picture of the Shannon through its great course. Let us suppose a navigable river taking its rise in some distant county in England as far as from Liverpool as Essex or Middlesex. Suppose it occasionally spreading itself into noble and picturesque sheets of water, of more than 20 miles in length, with numerous islands, receiving the waters of many rivers, and stretching its bays into the adjacent counties, as it were to increase the measure of its utility and beauty. See it winding its way through Hertfordshire and Bedfordshire, Northamptonshire and Warwickshire, and the rich soil of Leicestershire, and after passing by Staffordshire, Derbyshire, and Cheshire, falling into the estuary of the Mersey, in Lancashire. See it presenting to each of these counties the benefit of 50 miles of navigation, and we shall have a correct view of the extent and capabilities of this river.

"But how shall we describe the state in which it has remained for ages as to trading intercourse, and in which one half of it remains to this very hour, absolutely wanting in all the incidents of navigation. For nearly 100 miles of its length, not a sail or boat is to be met with on its waters. No appearance of utility; no indications of industry or capital; even its beauties unknown. Deficient to an extent scarcely credible in roads and approaches to it, and consequently having but little connexion with the interior, where Nature designed its influence should extend. Without any employment of its waters, it flows unheeded by, and unproductive of any good. Over many of its districts of great extent, from the absence of that control which human skill and means could have effected, its waters have become a source of wide-spreading waste."