Former canals may be useful in alleviating future flooding

Canals built in 1700s by Dutchman Thomas Omer bypass Athlone and other towns

Boats in the lock at Athlone,   one of those built to improve navigation on the Shannon. Photograph: Matt Kavanagh

Boats in the lock at Athlone, one of those built to improve navigation on the Shannon. Photograph: Matt Kavanagh


A series of former canals bypassing sections of the Shannon – including the river through the centre of Athlone – may have potential for future flood relief.

The canals – which include stretches bypassing the current river route at Meelick, Co Galway; Athlone, Co Westmeath; and Roosky, Co Roscommon – will be raised by Minister of State Simon Harris when he, Taoiseach Enda Kenny and other Ministers meet a number of agencies on flooding issues today.

The canals were built by Dutch engineer Thomas Omer from the 1750s to the 1780s in a bid to improve navigation of the Shannon for traders.

While subsequent work by the commissioners for the improvement of the river Shannon in the 1840s returned much of the navigation to the river stretches, Omer’s canals remain largely in place if overgrown.

One of these canals was effectively a western bypass of the Shannon as the river passes through the centre of Athlone. The Athlone canal remains largely in place, although part of its middle section is now a playground.

Travelling north from Meelick, Omer built canals at Banagher and Shannonbridge in Co Offaly, Athlone, Co Westmeath, Lanesborough and Tarmonbarry in Co Longford, Roosky in Co Roscommon and Jamestown in Co Leitrim.

The bypass canals at the west bank at Banagher and Shannonbridge are no longer used but can still be seen.

At Meelick, a new lock was built and named Victoria Lock, bypassing an earlier cut and a lock known as Hamilton’s Lock.

The bypass of Tarmonbarry, along the Camlin river, is still navigable, although the main route is through Tarmonbarry since the river was deepened to accommodate large boats.

The Jamestown Canal remains the official navigation bypassing shallows near Drumsna.

It remains to be seen what value, if any, the canals may have in attempts to mitigate future flooding.

Colin Becker, of the Inland Waterways Association of Ireland, said the canals would offer only a limited relief and probably at great expense.

Brian Goggin, a former editor of Inland Waterways News, also said the amount of relief would be small.

However, Athlone residents last week said every “millimetre” counted in their effort to pump water out, and a bypass canal would alleviate pressure before conditions became a flood.

Mr Harris said he would raise the issue of the canals along with another proposal to pump water to cutaway bogs. “We need to get a proper analysis of what the potential of these measures are,” he said.