To young men contemplating a voyage I would say go. - Joshua Slocum

Celebrating Ireland's Floating Heritage

Celebrating Ireland's Floating Heritage

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The Fox - Steam Tug - Drogheda 1865 PDF Print E-mail
04 November 2008

the fox Passing Fox today, snugly secured alongside in Athlone, it's difficult to believe that she is over 140 years old. Yet she was built in 1865, by Grendons of Drogheda, and joined the Grand Canal Company as one of a number of steam tugs, along with the Bat, the Bee and the Fly.

In 1910, she transferred to the Board of Works as the Shannon Navigation maintenance boat, equipped with a Crab Winch crane. In 1923 her steam engine was replaced by a Kelvin four-cylinder petrol/paraffin engine and she was reclassified as a motor barge; the measurement certificate of 12 November 1923 gives 61', 13', 4' 2.25", 42 tons.


LT C Rolt photographed her in the lock at Roosky in 1946. He says in Green and Silver-

Her cheerful skipper lives aboard and leads a roving life repairing locks or re-painting or replacing buoys and markers on nearly 200 miles of river and estuary. The Fox, which carried a crane, was loaded with a miscellaneous collection of gear; baulks of timber, sheer legs, buoys and barrels of tar. She also included a diving suit in her stores.

That diving-suit can be seen in the Waterways Museum in the Grand Canal Docks in Dublin. And years before Rolt met him, Fox's skipper and diver, Dinny Madigan, had made friends in Athlone with a young lad called Syd Shine. Syd's father was a small farmer near Clonmacnoise. And, as it had been for a thousand and more years, the Shannon was a highway, used amongst other things for carrying turf for sale in Athlone. Syd used the Shannon from an early age; he bought an eighteen foot boat for seven shillings and sixpence, repaired it and sold it for £6, at the age of 14.

That money went to pay for Elfin, a 36' sailing boat (to which he added a Model T engine two years later). He and his friends travelled the length of the Shannon, camping on the islands and catching their meals by fishing, shooting and using ferrets. He made his first trip to Dublin along the Grand Canal in 1934; he travelled on the Royal in the same year, when the Grand was closed, bringing an Athlone-built boat to Dublin to be fitted out.

So when Dinny Madigan made friends with the young Syd, he was dealing with someone who, from an early age, had been accumulating experience on the Shannon. And Dinny, who regarded Fox as his own, said to Syd "When I die, won't you look after my boat?" Time passed. Syd had a successful career, at home and abroad, as musician and band leader; he had owned several boats and raced Shannon One-Designs. Kevin Madigan succeeded his father - and then in 1956 the Board of Works laid off the Fox.

For a year she lay derelict in the old canal harbour in Limerick, all her gear gone. A child fell in and the family sued the Board of Works, which decided that Fox should be sunk. And at that, Dinny Madigan wrote to Syd and reminded him of his request made all those years ago: "Won't you look after my boat?" Syd already owned Chang-Sha and didn't really need another 60-footer. But he put in a sealed bid of £30, and then heard that someone else was bidding £40. Syd put in a £50 bid - and found himself the Fox's new owner.

Syd worked on her for six weeks. With the timbers cut in advance, he got the cabin top on in one day. Later on, he extended the wheelhouse and changed the petrol/paraffin engine for a Perkins R6115hp diesel. The big searchlight on Fox's bow came from David Wheeler, former owner of Schollevaer, who swapped it for a smaller brass one of Syd's. And the Hammond organ had to be cut in two before Syd could squeeze it in.

It's impossible to capture, in one short article, the full measure of what Syd and Fox have done since then. Syd was a member of the first Council of the IWAI and a frequent participant in rallies, winning prizes and overall awards. He ran Fox as a training-ship, many of whose cadets are now well-known names on the Shannon. He was a regular Shannon One-Design sailor who has been awarded Honorary Life Membership of both the Lough Ree and the Lough Derg Yacht Clubs. He brought the first floating filling-station to Ireland. He participated in an expedition to the first lock on the Ballinamore-Ballyconnell canal back in the 1970s, long before its restoration. He has accumulated an invaluable archive of documents, photographs and mementoes of Fox, of his own activities and of the history of the waterways in this century.

In By Shannon Shores (Gill and Macmillan, 1987) Ruth Heard wrote-
Syd [ ... ] has over the years been responsible for introducing many young people to the river, always keeping 'open boat' for those who wanted to join him. Many of these people now have their own boats to bring their families on the river and I am sure they will never forget the debt they owe to Syd.
There's not much one can add to that - except to say that if Dinny is looking down from on high, he'll be pleased at how well Syd Shine, gentleman of the waterways, is continuing to look after his boat.

The Fox, Chang Sha & 74M Athlone 2006


Last Updated ( 04 December 2010 )
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