Narrowboats for The River Maine ?

The scaled down Ballinamore Narrowboat tied up outside the Nuns' Wall after its exploratory trip up river.  ©Photograph: John Reidy
The scaled down Ballinamore Narrowboat tied up outside the Nuns’ Wall after its exploratory trip up river.
©Photograph: John Reidy

It’s a huge part of the home tourism market in some regions of Ireland and it’s a traditional way of life on the Shannon – Erne waterways.
There is no license and less skill required to manoeuvre a ‘Narrowboat’ between the banks of any river with more than a foot and a half of water in it.
Bart McMullan is a veteran of the narrow or canal boating scene. A native of Co. Leitrim whose wife has family connections with the area here, he’s a man ‘who done alright in the buildings across the water’ according to his friends.
Mr. McMullan’s father and grandfather owned a fleet of canal boats and made their living hauling goods from town to town and servicing fairs and industry along their Shannon – Erne routes.

History and Scenery
It’s the history and scenery of the Castleisland to Castlemaine stretch of the River Maine that picked McMullan and his two mates to navigate their scaled down narrow-boat from the site of the castle on the bridge in Castlemaine to the remains of the old Norman castle here in Castleisland on a day of ‘high water’ a few weeks ago.
“The rain of the past few days gave us just enough water in most places. And the river is deep enough until you get nearer to Castleisland. We wanted to survey the bridges along the route and there were some where we had to collapse the cab and put the heads down as we passed under.”
“My wife’s people are from the Currans area and cousins of hers and their friends canoed from Castleisland to Castlemaine during a small flood two year ago. They sent us up some film footage and it’s so scenic it’s a shame not to do something with it,” he said.

Remarkably Adaptable
“These boats are remarkably adaptable and can actually roll over bedrock in areas of shallow water. They’re well buoyed and balanced and they can be drawn by a horse harnessed and walking along a river-side path. The cab can be constructed to collapse like that of a pop-up campervan roof so the low bridges can be negotiated. All the boats are fitted with lightweight, reliable and smooth running diesel engines,” said Mr. McMullan.
“In fairness the bridges here are all fine except that there are some sewage or water pipes across the ones in Castleisland town – but you’d get over that – or under it I should say. We could stop short and outside the bridges but it’s the fact that you bring the towns into the picture that makes it,” he said.

Step-on Step-off
“We are looking at creating picnic and service areas along the route and developing ‘step-on step-off’ points back along the river. The only real problems we encountered were strands of gravel deposited by floods and I’m sure they can be moved easily if the will is there.
Coming from a part of the country where the river was and indeed still is our ‘high street’ I find it incredible that people in towns and villages down here quite literally turn their backs on the great potential a river has to offer. It’s all going well for us even the Salmon spawning season is outside what we’ll be proposing as our window of opportunity – going forward,” said Mr. McMullan.
There are more exploratory trips in the pipeline and the lay of the land is important to any future plans the small group may have in operating down here.