The Hawthorn Blog
Liveaboard life and general wanderings on the Irish Inland Waterways.
Putting an M through the Effin.
'Give us a ring if you're in need of a hand for the run out Ronnie', were about our last words when thanking the Byrnes for their generous hospitality over the Dublin Rally weekend. We don't make such offers without meaning them but, knowing the call would only come if help really was scarce, we didn't think it likely we'd be back in Dublin less than a fortnight later. Getting to and from Dublin without a car can be a real pain, so we were delighted to be able to scrounge a lift with barging friends driving down to their own boat at Hazelhatch on the Friday evening: to be collected from Dromod and dropped at Maynooth station just over an hour later was an excellent start to the adventure. And it meant we got to the pub earlier than expected on Friday night. Even better news greeted us when we learnt we weren’t the only crew: at the last minute two more boating mates had also offered to help. It was, as Ronnie put it, a case of 'feast or famine'. Ever a fan of feasting, and knowing how sound our little gang now was, I enjoyed my Guinness all the more for it.
Not that that seemed such a good idea in the cold light of day early the next morning. Mildly hung over, having only slept for a few hours, and being a little tense about the potential nightmare that lay beside and beyond Croke Park, we were badly in need of a laugh. Fortunately that’s when the rest of the crew, Niall and Declan, turned up. They arrived while Ronnie was starting his engine and creating a smoke screen dense enough to see him the whole way out of Dublin. At this point we’d already taken down the canvas wheelhouse so 72M could get under the low obstruction that is the ‘it used to lift but doesn’t now’ Sherriff Road Bridge. This made getting 72M into position to lead the run very easy as most of the following craft had to wait for WI to drop the level.
Arriving at the ‘Effin Bridge’ we had plenty of time to wait ourselves while the various agencies needed to raise it coordinated their actions. Time for breakfast (somehow Mary had conjured up a full fry) and we fuelled for the day while being entertained by Declan trying to convince us various distant buildings were his junior school. As if he ever went to school… And then both the bridge and our spirits lifted: we were off.
Putting 72M up the locks ahead of the rest of the fleet was a generous thing for the smaller, lighter and potentially faster boats to do, for, should a breast-gate not open fully or the barge run aground and stick in the wrong place, everybody might have to wait. Yet, if the water was good and things went well, the extra bodies on 72m would be able to power on and leave WI and Dublin IWAI members to assist those with less help. It was a bit of a gamble, but we started well passing under Croke Park and into the first double lock without problems.
There are two ways to work through a double lock: drain the top chamber and leave the ‘middle’ gates open, or fill the top chamber and drop the water into the lower lock. WI seemed to prefer the latter, but doing it this way does mean that considerable care is needed not to flood the boat below. Fortunately with 72M being only 60’ long and the lock 72’, we were able to keep the boat against the tail gates. The going was reasonable, and it wasn’t long before we were looking down the flight of locks with following boats set against the backdrop of the GAA stadium. We’ve done a lot of passages through cities in our time, yet neither Jill nor I can think of a more dramatic urban canal view than the one below.
With WI and the volunteers now getting scarce we were left to our own devices. Which was no bad thing for, while we all appreciate lock keepers and volunteer help, there’s something about having your own crew – probably their willingness to take instruction and experience with their own boats – that makes ‘unassisted’ going a lot faster, though, with the practice of leaving Royal locks empty and their tailgates open, we had the advantage of everything being set for us. Despite a fair bit of debris on the prop between locks six and seven bringing regular stops to clear it, things were going as well as anybody could have hoped, and we hadn’t had even a hint of ‘incoming’ from youths ashore, that is until we arrived in Finglas. And meeting them gave Declan – who’d been on high form all day – the chance to play a blinder.
Pushing up the canal at little more than a crawl we were all pretty apprehensive at just what the interaction with the small gang of young men and women lazing about in the sun might involve. The site itself, a bridge blackened with the soot of many a fire set against its stonework, was bleak, and the profusion of empty bottles was ample evidence that some drink had been had. ‘Yose gawt aany beeeer?’ was the first incoming, to which Declan instantly replied, ‘We drank it all last night. It’s like a hospital in there!’ Declan’s dialect mirrored the bankside speaker’s, and he was laughing his head off and pointing into the cabin. How brilliant was that? There was no refusal to give ale, just an apology that we’d drunk it all, and there was no guessing how many people were aboard – just the implication there were lots of them and they were all hairy arsed beer drinkers. While it wasn’t a huge speech, it was clearly far too much information for our interrogator to handle. We sallied on untouched.
Arriving in Ashtown in the early afternoon there seemed little reason to stop and all the crew were up for getting over the M50 to lock twelve and Castleknock. We were now some distance ahead of the following pack though, courtesy of her smaller size and speed through the water, the replica Dutch Barge ‘Talitha 2’ occasionally came into view astern. Remembering from our own Royal run how the stretch above the ninth lock felt like rural parkland, we knew this was going to be the most relaxed stretch of the day and Ronnie and Mary needed little encouragement to press on. A couple of hours later I was taking the inevitable clichéd picture of a barge crossing the M50 (unfortunately the afternoon was increasingly grey, 72M is currently in grey primer, the bridge is grey concrete and the road dull asphalt… I won’t be winning picture of the month) and approaching the twelfth, and last, lock of the day (in England, where a double lock counts as two, we’d have done a hell of a lot more statistically). Hawthorn had to be flushed out of the twelfth lock’s lower chamber, so we were relieved when the M boat floated in. Half an hour later we’re moored to the bank just past the last boats on the pub’s jetty, and celebrating a great day’s boating with cold bottled beer. And, not having held up any of the following and much faster boats, we felt we’d earned a little bit of smugness.
One huge advantage the Royal holds over the Grand Canal is the proximity of the railway: we only had to walk a couple of hundred yards to catch a train to Maynooth, where we waited for a few minutes before catching the Sligo bound train as far as Dromod. After a short walk we were back on Hawthorn. We’d been gone for just 27 hours.
For the volunteer crew, getting 72M up the Royal as far as Castleknock was a chance to lend friends in need a bit of a hand, a lot of fun, and it gave both Niall and Declan a first run on the tiller of as big and grand a boat as an M barge. We had it rather easier than Ronnie and Mary who, aside from having to worry about their own beloved barge, were conscious of all the friends for whom the run to Richmond from Dublin remained only a dream for, despite working hard to make it possible for others, they died without seeing their hopes realised. So there was, and is, an element of pilgrimage, remembrance and respect, about Ronnie and Mary's journey west. Going on the evidence of the first few hours, there’s also going to be a lot of joy. May the canal spirits be kind to them.