Grand Canal Way
Dublin to Offaly, Ireland
Start: Lucan Road Bridge, Lucan
End: Shannon Harbour
Distance: 73 miles (117 km)
Time: 5 days
Surface: Grassy Towpaths, Gravel, Asphalt Canal-Sideroads
The Grand Canal Way is one of two canals (the other is the Royal Canal Way) that connect Dublin, west through the midlands, to the River Shannon, Ireland’s longest river. Work on the Grand Canal, originally conceived by the Commissioners of Inland Navigation, began in 1757 and reached Shannon in 1804. By 1837 it was carrying in excess of 100,000 people a year, and was a monumental project for its time.Typical produce seen on the canal during the nineteenth century included barrels of Guinness heading out of Dublin and tons of turf coming into it, to be burned in the city’s fireplaces. Its forty-three locks remained open to commercial traffic until the last barge passed through in 1960.
The trail, which never leaves the canal’s side, takes you through landscapes that have been all but ignored by modern agriculture thanks to an Act of Union in the late eighteenth century that set limits on the scale of industrial development and SO helped the midlands remain a viable habitat for flora and fauna. Birds that have adapted to canal life include mute swans, waterhens, and mallards, while along its banks grow alder trees and willows, several species of grasses, various free-floating plants, some Canadian pondweed, and emergent vegetation such as horsetails and sedges.
Towns visited on the trail include Tullamore, home to Tullamore Dew of Irish whiskey fame, and the remains of the eleventh- and twelfth-century buildings of Rahann, before going on to join the Shannon at Shannon Harbour, past the tumbled-down remnants of tower houses and castles.
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