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New Waterways Ireland Podcast Series Explores the Curiosities of Canals, Rivers & Lakes

21st February 2022
Waterways Ireland Podcast Launch -  CEO John McDonagh with archivist Nuala Reilly
Waterways Ireland Podcast Launch - CEO John McDonagh with archivist Nuala Reilly

Have you ever wondered how Ireland’s rivers got their names, how the canal network came into being, or what a lockkeeper does? These are just some facets of Ireland’s navigable waterways explored in a new podcast series from Waterways Ireland called “Waterways Through Time”. Presented by historian Turtle Bunbury, the eight-part series takes the listener through the history and archaeology of Ireland’s waterways, including the canal network; how rivers and lakes were named; the archaeological legacy of the Mesolithic; Neolithic and Bronze Age periods; the geological origins of the rivers and lakes and the land through which the canals were cut. Ireland’s early Christian settlements along the inland waterways are also explored. The series also features interviews with lockkeepers on the Barrow navigation, the Shannon, and the Grand Canal.

This is the first podcast series commissioned by Waterways Ireland. It complements other resources in the organisation’s digital archive. Commenting, Chief Executive of Waterways Ireland, John McDonagh said: “Ireland has a rich inland water heritage. Through this series, we are placing this heritage centre stage to perpetuate these unique and inspiring insights. Waterways Ireland has a wonderful digital archive featuring thousands of drawings, sketches, and records of the Irish inland waterways, dating from the 18th century to the present day. The podcast series complements our oral history programme and the ‘Stories from the Waterways’ film series, which are available on the Waterways Ireland website. We encourage people of all ages to listen to these podcasts and to visit our digital archive, which will add to their enjoyment of our waterways.”

Minister for Heritage and Electoral Reform, Malcolm Noonan TD added: “I would like to commend Waterways Ireland on another wonderful project that captures Ireland’s unique waterways heritage. This series is an important oral history tool that records the guests’ stories and memories and makes them easily accessible to the public.”

The podcast series was developed and presented by well-known historian Turtle Bunbury. He said: “The series contains a mix of stories, historical events and contemporary interviews with people associated with the waterways. This was a fascinating project on which to work. It was truly a pleasure to research and develop it. Chatting to those connected to the waterways and weaving together the various myths, legends and historical facts to tell the stories of the waterways has been a wonderful experience that gives a new perspective on our inland waterway heritage.”

Launched in 2021, the Waterways Ireland digital archive explores more than 200 years of Irish waterways. It contains a range of collections, from engineering maps and drawings, an oral history collection and donated collections of slides, photographs, videos, and documents. It can be found here.

The podcast series is now available on all podcast outlets from late February 2022.

Episode Details:

1. The Flow of Time
An overview of the podcast series, including an introduction to Waterways Ireland and the various rivers, lakes, canals, and navigations that it is entrusted with managing. This episode also provides a potted history of the creation of the canal network in Ireland, explaining how and why they were conceived and how and why the great project failed.
2. Goddesses of the Water
Irish rivers and loughs are named for a deity from the annals of mythology. Most are goddesses of the Tuatha de Danaan. Some are from the Fir Bolg. Others involve the likes of Finn MacCool and the Children of Lir. In this episode Turtle tracks the origin of these names and provides a colourful retelling of the legends associated with Ireland’s original waterways.
3. Of Glaciers and Crannogs
A look at the geological origins of Ireland’s rivers and lakes, and the land through which the canals were cut, as well as the archaeological legacy of the Mesolithic, Neolithic and Bronze Age periods which gave rise to burial tombs, log-boats, bog-roads and crannogs in and around waterways, such as the Shannon, the Barrow, the Erne and the Bann.
4. Spiritual Waters, Part 1: Saints and Scholars
This episode tracks the early Christian settlement along the River Barrow, and the birth of monastic schools along the Shannon and the Boyne at Clonmacnoise, Clonfert and Clonard.
5. Spiritual Waters, Part 2: Hermits and Island Monasteries
Homing in on some of the 51 island monasteries on Ireland’s inland waterways, such as Lough Erne, Lough Key and Lough Ree, this episode tells the story of some of the hermits and anchorites who lived in such places.
6. The Barrow Interview: John O’Neill
A brief overview of the Barrow Navigation homing in on John O’Neill and his late aunt Maggie Gorman, lockkeepers, as well as the tales of his father rowing across the river to work, and the gimlet used by the Guinness bargemen to tap the casks.
7. The Shannon Interview: Elizabeth Higgins
One of Ireland’s three lady lockkeepers discusses her unusual experiences on the Shannon, with contextual background on the area of the river which she patrols and manages.
8. The Grand Canal Interview: Alan Lindley
A potted history of the Grand Canal and the Barrow Navigation, told through an interview with Alan Lindley, whose family have been on the locks since the canal was constructed in the 1790s.

Published in Inland
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Whether you're a boat enthusiast, historian, archaeologist, fisherman, or just taken by the natural beauty of Ireland's waterways, you will find something of interest in our Inland pages on Afloat.ie.

Inland Waterways

Ireland is lucky to have a wealth of river systems and canals crossing the country that, while once vital for transporting goods, are today equally as important for angling, recreational boating and of course tourism.

From the Barrow Navigation to the Erne System, the Grand Canal, the Lower Bann, the Royal Canal, the Shannon-Erne Waterway and the Shannon Navigation, these inland waterways are popular year in, year out for anyone with an interest in rambling; flora and fauna; fishing; sailing; motorboating; canoeing, kayaking and waterskiing; and cruising on narrowboats.

Although most will surely identify Ireland's inland waterways with boating holidays and a peaceful afternoon's angling, many varieties of watersport are increasingly favoured activities. Powerboat and Jetski courses abound, as do opportunities for waterskiing or wakeboarding. For those who don't require engine power, there's canoeing and kayaking, as Ireland's waterways have much to offer both recreational paddlers and those looking for more of a challenge. And when it comes to more sedate activities, there's nothing like going for a walk along a canal or river bank following some of the long-distance Waymarked Ways or Slí na Sláinte paths that criss-cross the country.

Ireland's network of rivers, lakes and canals is maintained by Waterways Ireland, which is one of the six North/South Implementation Bodies established under the British-Irish Agreement in 1999. The body has responsibility for the management, maintenance, development and restoration of inland navigable waterways on the island of Ireland, principally for recreational purposes. It also maintains Ireland's loughs, lakes and channels which are sought after for sailing; the network of canal locks and tow paths; as well as any buoys, bridges and harbours along the routes.

Along the Grand and Royal Canals and sections of the Barrow Navigation and the Shannon-Erne Waterway, Waterways Ireland is also responsible for angling activities, and charges Inland Fisheries Ireland with carrying out fisheries development, weed management and ensuring water quality.

Brian Goggin's Inland Blog

Giving his personal perspective on Ireland's Inland Waterways from present-day activities to their rich heritage, Brian Goggin tells it like it is with his Inland Blog.

From recognising achievements in management of the waterways to his worries on the costs of getting afloat on Ireland's canals, Goggin always has something important to say.

He also maintains the website Irish Waterways History that serves as a repository for a wealth of historical accounts of the past commercial and social uses alike of Ireland's rivers and canals, which were once the lifeblood of many a rural community.

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