The Edenderry canal breach, 1989
Something was happening but throughout Edenderry people continued on their daily grind.
We tramped home from school in good humour as the newness of our Christmas toys
sustained the mundaness of January.
But near the Blundell Aqueduct, that remarkable engineering feat where the canal passes over
the road, farmers grumbled. The cattle in fields knew and so too did local dogs. Something
was not right with the Grand Canal. The engineers from the OPW arrived on the same day.
We saw them conversing as we trundled by the harbour that evening as the sun dipped and
From my bedroom window I could see the canal changing colour as the seasons changed.
Watching, as ‘Celtic Canal Cruisers’ brought people from near and far.
This was long after the canal had closed to the daily drudgery of hauling goods to and from
Dublin- sustaining people and place. In winter frost we marvelled at the sheen the canal made
as we made our way to cold classrooms to learn somebody else’s history but ours was all
around us. Yet this morning it was different. Crowds of locals gathered peering at the mounds
of earth and soil scattered everywhere.
The building of the canal caused much hardship in the 1790s. I often thought about the
people who owned the land before the canal made its way to Edenderry. Of the Whitakers
who were compensated for their loss. Yet this is a special place to me. Standing along ‘The
Cut’, that branch of canal which was never meant to be but for Lord Downshire. Here at that
bridge named in his honour, barges steered for Edenderry.
Sunday afternoon 15 January 1989 is a day I will never forget. Evening light was fading but
thankfully, unlike in 1916 when a huge bang startled people on a cold and dark January night,
the breach this time did not frighten in the same manner, although the ferocity was much the
Returning from school the following day we marvelled at the absence of the water. I wonder
how many days I returned from school and cannot remember what we done that evening?
This January evening, I remember my father, armed with wellington boots that saw
infrequent use, bringing us to examine what had just had occurred. There was trepidation on
his face and ours. I remember him consulting neighbours as we went, those that had ventured
earlier in the day over large mounds and into crevasses that the water had created in seconds.
Bursting forward and undoing the topography of Edenderry in the process. For miles we
walked over huge mounds of earth which had been moved by the force of the canal waters.
We walked under the Downshire Bridge empty now and eerily silent. We could see the marks
of a bygone age when horse and barge had scratched the cut limestone.
We crossed to the other side to the fields at Drumcooley recreating the steps of the volunteers
who had trained here in secret in 1920. My great-grandfather had been part of that group,
fearlessly crossing the Canal in the dark. Somehow we ventured that our trek was more
Tired and cold, we made for home, but full of wonder. My father is 72 now and walks the
Grand Canal daily. He doesn’t know how traipsing over large mounds of clay and earth,
which for that brief moment was our ‘Everest’, left a lasting impression on me. Like Heaney,
‘I stumbled in his hobnailed wake’ that day but wanted to know more. Of the Grand Canal
The Edenderry canal breach, 1989