A Special Place

I am a canal-sider from birth but my travels took me far away from and back to canals since I was a
child of seven. Now retired, my permanent home finds me five minutes from my long-time friend. I
walk a spur of the Grand Canal regularly and my favourite stretch is between the library in Naas, Co.
Kildare and the lock at the Leinster Mills, Osberstown. I am always entertained by the variety of life
that lives on this stretch.
There is the old man -the heron -which is like a patriarch in his patch. He is mostly motionless and
easily missed until something scares him and he takes off into the air with a great flap of his
impressive wings. The swans of course, are unmissable and carry themselves with a nobility that
commands my attention. Local residents and regular walkers watch out each year for the nesting
cob and pen and wait and watch for the eggs to be hatched. Then the pleasure in observing the
young cygnets as they take to the water.
The ducks and their broods are a constant entertainment. The ever-protective mother shepherding
an unruly lot which insists on making sorties into the plants and grasses on the canal bank. She
locates one wanderer only to lose sight of another, and all the time she is keeping a wary eye on
passing dogs and bigger canal users. Moor hens dart in and out of the reeds, giving me brief
glimpses of their rear quarters. And on one stretch there is a group of mares with their foals. The
proud mums are pre-occupied with the foals initially, with the newly- born sticking close to their
source of sustenance. Soon the mares wander off to graze and the foals must keep up if they want
to be topped up.
Many a time I have heard that distinctive “plop” as a fish jumps to catch a careless low-flying insect.
But the spreading circles of water are the only evidence of that elusive fish. And no matter how long
I wait and watch, I am never rewarded by the sight of the actual jump.
There are locks on this stretch of canal which are not in constant use. But several times a year a
flotilla of barges and small cruisers passes through. Seeing the massive arms of the lock gates close
slowly on a boat and watching the level of the water rising in the chamber captivates me every single
time. Slowly the boat rises too, until the water in the chamber is level with the water beyond. The
gates at that end open gradually and the boat eases out to continue its sedate progress. And the
magic is repeated in reverse when the barge or cruiser enters a full chamber. Slowly the water is
released until the level drops to that on the receiving end of the canal. And all the while there is
conversation between the crew and the onlookers, how far they have come, how far they are
planning to go, how old the barge is, what she carried in her working life, grain or Guinness maybe.
On one occasion I was pulled up short by the “chug, chug, chug” of a passing barge. I was that
seven-year-old child again, standing with my father at the canal water’s edge, listening to that sound
and the exchange between the boatmen and my father. Then the “Good luck”, “Good luck” as they
continue on their way and I feel the warmth of my father’s hand on my head.
Memories captured by my canal.