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Mick Clinton and the Royal Canal PDF Print E-mail
03 February 2010


One Sunday before Christmas 2009, Michael Redmond walked along parts of the Royal Canal, remembering his friend Michael Clinton.
Our Walk
We started our Royal Canal walk at the harbour at Maynooth, built because the Duke of Leinster of the time insisted it should travel through his town. The site today is just wonderful; the quay walls are intact, the harbour is full of glistening water, and the wildfowl stand placidly on the thin ice alongside the station wall. Men, women and children walk on both sides of the canal and harbour, where once one was afraid of toppling into the water. No more the weed strewn surface where only rubbish could gather, giving one the feeling that someone should fill in this rubbish strewn, weed covered, morass. As Michael Clinton said when they were restoring this stretch, “sure the old Duke won't mind if we leave the island at the mouth of the harbour for the swans to breed”, yes it was still there and what harm had it done.
At the harbor, the ICA Hall is still intact; a Waterways Ireland (WI) barrier crosses the access to the new slip and restored harbour and again the joy of seeing more people enjoying the walkway. Happily, we made our way to the 14th Lock and I recall Hurricane Charlie during the week we cleaned out the lock of rubble in preparation for the installation of the 'new' lock gates. The rush of warm flood water speeding through the empty chamber helped to make the job easier. Our walk then took us to Kilcock, Michael’s home port; we passed by Chambers Bridge and then the boat house and slip on the far side of the canal. Yes it still looked as if the water was higher than the road. The wildfowl are standing still on the ice, as in Maynooth; the concrete platform he had recommended be built for them, vacated for the larger stretch of ice; the locks wide open with the racks on the breast gates up; again people enjoying this wonderful amenity.
So how did all of this work begin and the answer is very simple. I had been invited to join the Executive Committee of the RCAG, which met each month in Castleknock College. One evening in late Autumn, this stranger appeared, tousled blond hair, an impish smile and said that he wanted to form an RCAG branch in Kilcock. He introduced himself as Michael Clinton and spoke of his ambition for the canal there. Now at that time, the canal was a real mess. Years of total neglect and lack of interest made it a sorry sight and if the Tidy Towns Committee was to have any real effect, something had to be done about the canal.

From near Chambers Bridge to the town there were three means of transport; road, canal and railway all running alongside each other. The road was the only means of traveling west and was always full of all types of road transport, very frequently bumper to bumper. Passage on the canal was out of the question with the amount of silt, weed and rubbish. The railway was little used with traffic going through Tullamore rather that Kilcock and so this town was indeed a sorry place. It would take a lot of money, men and heavy equipment to make any effect on the canal. Even with the help of a large volunteer force, in our eyes it would take many years for a group to have any physical effect. It was agreed that Michael would choose a location for a public meeting and some of us would travel and put forward our dreams for a restored Royal Canal.
There was no sign of him at our next meeting and it was assumed another dream had 'bitten the dust'. But we didn't know our Michael. Guess who turned up at the next one but himself and what a tale he had to tell. During the course of his business he had come across a dragline excavator all alone in the middle of a wild landscape in Donegal. It had broken down in the course of land reclamation and was deemed unworthy of repair so was left there to rot. This was not enough for Michael. He reckoned that if he could get it back to Kilcock, he could do a job on it himself.
Gathering a small group together, they travelled down to the site with a tractor and trailer one Saturday evening. He managed to do a repair on the engine, enough to get it mounted on the trailer before it conked out. Gingerly they set off in the dead of a winters evening and arrived back in Kilcock for first Mass on Sunday morning. Through the following weeks, he worked on the machine, every free moment he had and finally success. Yes it could reach to the far bank of the harbour, the only problem, what to do with the muck, weed and rubbish. His pals in Kilcock approached the County Council about using a nearby landfill site.
Local farmers agreed to bring their tractors and trailers to transfer from the harbour but alas, the muck and silt fell on the road proving a hazard and work had to cease. What to do? The kitty was empty having paid for the trip to Donegal, so hiring a dedicated trailer was out of the question. Plans had been made for a sponsored swim for Christmas morning but at this rate, that couldn't happen. There was no question of leaving it in a heap at the side of the road to dry out. But hold on there, Michael was at the wheel. Why not heap it on either side of the canal and after drying out, level all of it for a new walkway. Within a few short months, the lovely clear water of the Royal flowed down from Shaws Bridge to Chambers Bridge.
One more obstacle had to be overcome; the new gates for the 16th Lock, high above the road from Dublin. Finally, Kildare County Council made an award for the purchase of the timber and the three sets were made up in Watling Street. The days of installation were 'red letter' ones with the crane high above in the sky. At last this part of the canal was once again ready for navigation. Now began the landscaping and where would it be without duck and other wildfowl. The kingfisher returned, sweeping along the sedge at the side of the canal. The plan was to form a canoe club, erect a clubhouse complete with boat-slip and build a platform for the wildfowl. Each month it was a thrill to hear his report of not talk, but work achieved. He was an inspiration for getting things done, encouraging others by example. Sure enough, Christmas morning saw a huge crowd for the sponsored swim, led by himself.
In the meanwhile the question arose about Maynooth. A meeting was arranged in the ICA rooms and of course Michael was there. It was decided to form an ANCO (FAS) Group to bring the dragline down the canal, dredging and cleaning where needed before arriving at the town. Phil McDermot was engaged as supervisor and so work began. The old Passenger Bridge to the rail station was in very poor condition and fears were expressed about damage to it, for it appeared ready to fall into the canal and this would prove a great inconvenience to rail passengers.

What if there was flooding, would the main road to the west be blocked if the harbour was cleaned out and water flowed down to the road at the mill and what about the swans nest at the mouth of the harbour, would there be enough money to pay for the equipment (picks and shovels). Oh so many 'Jonahs', would we ever get started. Certainly said Michael, God would provide.
Well he got the dragline into the harbour area, without knocking down the passenger bridge and slowly the job began. All of the spoil was dropped at the canal end of the football pitch which created an embankment, all of the stone was retrieved from the canal and the quay walls of the harbour and canal were restored, which enabled the walkways to be prepared and landscaped. Yes the swans were left alone and more fowl were added to the flock. Everything was set for the grand opening when the gates for the 13th Lock were installed early in May.
About 100 craft of all sorts, shapes and sizes were launched at the Confey Boathouse and Slip, early on a sunny Saturday morning and travelled west through Leixlip to the 13th. Here they were packed like sardines into the chamber and land-racks were used to fill the chamber with water. It was said that this lock was haunted but with the excitement of the day, no ghost could feel at home.
For about 4 hours we locked up all of the craft to the 13th or Maynooth level. The scene at Maynooth was pure magic! Boats of all kinds tied up around from Mullan Bridge right around into the harbour. The pitch was in festive spirit with bunting, stalls of all sorts, the Maynooth Band and of course in the middle of it all our man with his guitar. I felt so proud of him. Against all the odds he had done the impossible. Right, he had not done it alone, the young people of Maynooth had done their share, but he was the inspiration.
Back to Kilcock
So we were not able to make the gates for the 14th & 15th but they were on the way and now with the restored harbour it was decided to have an Annual Harbour Week somewhat like Canaliana in Robertstown on the Grand Canal. He put his heart and soul into this venture and I clearly remember with pride the great days of the first Kilcock Canal Festival, it was a credit to him.
As to the financial cost to the state, it was a pittance compared to similar type work done today. Fundraising was by means of race nights, card games, concerts, bus outings and the like and were more of a social nature that money raising ventures.
This is just a few short paragraphs to give an insight into the achievements of a great worker and lover of the waterways of this beautiful country and with a special love of the Royal Canal.
© Michael Redmond 2010
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