Cllr Frankie Keena

Councillor wants study to consider reopening Athlone canal

An Athlone councillor is asking for a feasibility study on reopening the Athlone canal to navigation to be carried out.

Cllr Frankie Keena will table a motion to this effect at Monday's meeting of the Athlone Municipal District of Westmeath County Council.

His motion reads: “That this Municipal District carry out a feasibility study of reopening Athlone canal for navigation.”

According to information provided by the new Community Water Office for Westmeath, Offaly and Laois, Basil Mannion, the canal originated in the 1750s when, to improve the navigation channel, the Commissioners for Inland Navigation asked a Dutch engineer Thomas Omer to carry out works on the Shannon. In 1757 Omer began work on a canal in Athlone which would bypass the town.

The canal including the keeper's houses was built at a cost of 30,000 pounds (equivalent in today’s currency €5.82m). It ran from North to South and was approximately one and a quarter miles long. A full-scale lock 19ft wide x 120ft long was situated at the Southern end of the Canal (currently McQuaid’s Bridge). At the northern end of the canal a ”paddle and rymer” weir was installed which also helped protect the works downstream during winter flooding.

In 1801 a further sum of 50,000 pounds was spent dredging the canal.

The canal remained in use until the 1840s when the Directors-General of Inland Navigation commenced an improvement programme along the Shannon. The section of river passing through Athlone was drained (using the canal as a diversion for the river) and 1000 workmen cleared the stretch of river of all its obstacles and shallows and with the addition of a lock and weir in the town this signalled the demise of the Athlone Canal.