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Royal Canal

Walking on the Royal Canal: Castleknock to Leixlip Confey

Part 3 of our journey sees us start at Castleknock Train Station and the start of the stretch known as the Deep Sinking, on past Coolmine and Clonsilla before crossing the Dublin and Kildare county line and finishing at Cope Bridge at Leixlip Confey, a distance of 8.65 kilometres.

Turning to Trail as we enter the Deep Sinking

There are several reasons why I have chosen to do my first few posts as walks rather than runs or cycles. The first being that in the early stages leaving Dublin there are so many prominent landmarks, bridges and locks all worthy of mention that the posts would be extremely long if I was covering a greater distance. The second was for when I reached the Deep Sinking and what lies beyond it to Leixlip Confey and even on to Maynooth.

Narrowing of the Trail in the Deep Sinking

Many who know the area know that unlike from the city centre to Castleknock which has all paths or from west of Maynooth Harbour where the Royal Canal Greenway is complete all the way to Cloondara, the section between Castleknock and Maynooth is more trail like with a variety of surfaces which can be uneven, slippy, mucky and narrow.

One of several gulleys to watch out for leaving Castleknock

By no means should this put you off wandering along this stretch of the canal. Given it is surrounded by houses and railway it still has a rural and secluded feel. What follows here is just a matter of fact account of how the stretch is as of March 2020 and that the reality is it is best walked at a relaxed pace, ideally in hiking boots or trail runners and being honest it is not suitable for bikes. Fingal County Council and Waterways Ireland have plans to upgrade this section and some ground surveys are ongoing (which also leads to the occasional closing of the canal path) but it is unlikely that this work is going to be completed in the near future.

Tree roots on the trail of the Deep Sinking.

I would consider the trail beside the Deep Sinking in several parts. The first part is a very short wide space which is just grass as you leave Castleknock Train Station. Not long into this though the path narrows to reflect the images above. This narrow path starts to rise up above the canal and for the most part is soft and often muddy ground with gulleys slipping down the slope and tree roots to be mindful of. This section stretches for 1.5 kilometres as far as Kirkpatrick Bridge and Coolmine Train Station.

Pedestrian Bridge obscuring Kirkpatrick Bridge at Coolmine

While the building of the Royal Canal started in 1790, the original survey to find a suitable route across north Leinster was undertaken by Thomas Williams and John Cooley as early as 1755. Their suggested route would have utilised a series of lakes and rivers along the way to the Shannon in an effort to keep construction costs down.

Deep Sinking at Coolmine

However as the story goes, William Robert Fitzgerald, the 2nd Duke of Leinster, a subscriber of the Royal Canal Company wanted the canal to pass his country residence of Carton House outside Maynooth and this necessitated the routing of the canal through a limestone quarry. A sinking is where a canal is cut through the land to maintain the same level rather than using locks to go over it. The Deep Sinking itself is a cutting through the limestone quarry which was blasted and dug through at great expense. At certain points through the Deep Sinking the towpath can rise up between 8 and 9 metres above the canal. A perilous danger for the horses pulling the barges below.

Looking down the trail from Kirkpatrick Bridge

We are unable to go under Kirkpatrick Bridge and so must rise up and cross the main road and level crossing at Coolmine Train Station before proceeding on the second section of the Deep Sinking towards Keenan Bridge. The surface on this section is similar to the previous section though there are a few more stony out crops to be mindful not to trip on. A video by Ciaran Whyte showing what it is like from Coolmine to Deey Bridge at the 13th Lock can be viewed here.

Dr. Troy Bridge over the canal and railway

Like the previously discussed Reilly’s Bridge near Broombridge, Keenan Bridge at Porterstown was often the site of long tail backs with the level crossing beside it so before we reach the bridge we pass under Dr. Troy Bridge which rises high above both the canal and railway removing the need for the level crossing.

The muddy approach to Keenan Bridge
Abandoned Gate Keepers Cottage at Keenen Bridge

The area around Keenan’s Bridge in Porterstown could be considered one of sorrow. The first thing we see as we reach the bridge is the abandoned Gate Keepers Railway Cottage at the old level crossing. At this point we must cross over Keenan Bridge from back to the north bank of the canal to continue. As we descend back down to the canal path we see a memorial to the sinking of the Longford Passanger Boat on the other side of the bridge.

Memorial and wreath erected by the RCAG Keenan Bridge

As previously mentioned the massive drop between the towpath and the canal at the Deep Sinking was rather dangerous and 16 people lost their lives when the passenger boat Longford sank near here on the 25th of November 1845. An account of the sinking can be found on the Irish Waterways History website here.

The old Porterstown National School

Before carrying on our journey west on the north bank we can see the old Porterstown National School rise high above the canal bank. This abandoned school, closed in 1963, is known by many in the area as the School of Spite as the priest who sought to build it insisted it be built to such a height so as to annoy the local landowner Baron Annaly of Luttrellstown Castle who refused to contribute to the schools construction. In 2010 the building is sadly associated with the murder of a 12 year old girl who went missing in the area giving rise to the building being fenced and secured.

Waterpump near Keenan Bridge

Thankfully I do have some good news as we continue west, after leaving the trail path of the south bank from Castleknock we do get a compacted stone dust path from Keenan Bridge for 1.2 kilometre to Callaghan Bridge in Clonsilla.

Stone path from Keenan Bridge to Clonsilla

As we pass under Callaghan Bridge at Clonsilla we can see the Clonsilla Train Station Signal Box rising high above the canal. You must pass under the bridge and come up on the other side to actually get to the train station. There is also an Applegreen service station only a 2 minute walk from the station if you feel the need to top up supplies.

Clonsilla Train Station Signal Box

Back down on the canal you might be happy to find the next small second of path is actually tarmac. There has been a lot of discussion about whether or not we should try tarmac the entire route with many advocating that we should instead of the compacted stone dust we find for most of the route beyond Maynooth. While I agree that this would make cycling easier, especially as I own a road bike, it is not without problems.

Tarmac cracks easily from roots below it and weathers badly over time causing trip hazards and requires more frequent maintenance

After our short reprieve from the trails from Keenan Bridge to not long after Callaghan Bridge we return to brief stoney section before a grassy trail surface for most of the rest of our journey to Leixlip Confey.

Pipe over the canal and stoney path west of Clonsilla.

The railway splits just after Clonsilla Train Station with one line continuing west towards Sligo and the other being the reinstated line that crosses the canal and heads north through Dunboyne and on to the M3 Parkway park and ride station. We pass under the new railway bridge not far west of Clonsilla.

Bridge carrying railway over the canal to M3 Parkway

We are back on the grass once we reach the far side of the railway bridge as we proceed on towards Pakenham Bridge. The bridge is most likely named for Thomas Pakenham who became a Rear Admiral in the Royal Navy and later the Master General of Ordnance in Ireland. He was the youngest son of the 1st Baron of Longford.

Approaching Pakenham Bridge from the east. The building on the right is most likely a former gate keepers cottage for the railway.

After going under Pakenham Bridge we have a 1.8 kilometre stretch towards Collins Bridge with Westmanstown Golf Club and sports facilities on the opposite bank. Again this is a manageable soft grass surface which can be muddy when wet.

Collins Bridge from the east.

Passing under Collins Bridge the ground on the other side has a tendency to be very soft even when dry. This section had to be closed lately after some maintenance vehicles tore up the ground as they were working. Hopefully this should be reopened to pedestrians soon but for now or for those on a bike if you go north from the bridge and turn left you can follow the road down as far as the Royal Canal Amenity Group’s (RCAG) boathouse and rejoin the canal there.

Canal towpath west of Collins Bridge

1 kilometre from Collins Bridge we leave Fingal and County Dublin and enter County Kildare, welcomed by the sign of the RCAG Boathouse and Slipway. It is a most welcome sight to see a good number of boats currently tied up here as let us not forget that while we are enjoying our walk, cycle or run, the Royal Canal is first and foremost a navigation.

It is only a short walk from the boathouse, past Confey GAA to Cope Bridge and Leixlip Confey Train Station and in total we have covered 8.65 kilometre through the Deep Sinking, past Coolmine and Clonsilla, leaving Dublin behind us and entering Kildare. Close to Cope Bridge there is a Supervalu at Riverforest the far side of the bridge as well as the River Forest Hotel with pub and grub.

Cope Bridge at Leixlip Confey

Part 1: North Wall to Cross Guns Bridge

Part 2: Cross Guns Bridge to Castleknock

Part 4: Leixlip Confey to Maynooth

Part 5: Maynooth to Enfield

Part 6: Enfield to Thomastown

Part 7: Thomastown to Mullingar Harbour

Part 8: Mullingar to Coolnahay

By royalcanalrunner

Ultra Distance Runner and Royal Canal Enthusiast.

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