The Shannon-Erne Waterway

I spotted a lovely blog recently by Andy and Sally The account of their travels along the Shannon-Erne Waterway reminded me how interesting I found the story of the construction of this canal.

The waterway was originally called the Ballinamore-Ballyconnell canal  and work started on it in 1846. The construction of the canal employed around 7,000 people during the great famine.  With picks and shovels these 7,000 souls cut through the soggy Leitrim soil and bog, and toiled for 14 years to build a canal that was of poor quality and that became redundant after a very short period. During the 14 years of construction the railway had come to Leitrim, making the canal system redundant, so that during the 8 years when the canal was in operation, only 9 boats travelled along it.  By 1869 the Ballinamore-Ballyconnell canal was no longer in use and fell into dereliction.

The Ballinamore-Ballyconnell canal was renamed the Shannon-Erne Waterway in 1994 when it was reopened as part of a cross-border flagship scheme. The £30 million sterling project involved the governments of Ireland and Britain, The OPW, Northern Ireland Department of Agriculture, the International Fund for Ireland and the ESB. The Shannon-Erne waterway stretches over 36 miles of remote countryside in Counties Fermanagh, Cavan and Leitrim. The waterway makes it possible to travel over 400 kilometres from Limerick to Belleek in Co. Fermanagh, making it the longest leisure navigation in Europe.

Andy and Sally’s narrow barge The Puzzler on the Shannon-Erne Waterway at Ballyduff Lough


Introducing The Nieuwe Zorgen

One of my modes of transport on this Shannon Journey was a 100-year-old Dutch Sailing Barge called Nieuwe Zorgen. This type of barge is known as a Skutsje Tjalk, and this particular one is my brother Eric’s home.

The Nieuwe Zorgen by Eric Kemp

The Nieuwe Zorgen by Eric Kemp

A Tjalk is one of a variety of Dutch commercial barges, each type built for a specific purpose. The Nieuwe Zorgen was designed for carrying cargo on the shallow lakes, canals and rivers of Friesland in the North of The Netherlands, thus the low stern and bow. To pass quickly under the many low canal and river bridges, the Skipper had to drop and raise the mast and sails repeatedly, so the mast has a counter weight which allows it to pivot. Probably the most distinctive feature of the boat are the fan-shaped leeboards.

We know that Nieuwe Zorgen was built in 1904, and started out as a freight carrier. Many of these sailing barges were confiscated during WWII to be used against the allies by the occupying forces, but the Zorgen  escaped this  fate when the owner sank her to stop the Nazis from getting their hands on her. She was then recovered when the war ended.

The Nieuwe Zorgen on Lough Derg

The Nieuwe Zorgen on Lough Derg

Nowadays these types of Tjalk are used for racing  in the annual Skutsjesil, a tradition that dates back to the 19th Century when the skippers used to race each other to get the best spots on the town quay.

By the way, in case you are wondering – Nieuwe Zorgen means ‘New Worry’. Don’t ask, we don’t know either!