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Royal Canal

Walking on the Royal Canal: Confey to Maynooth

Today I am going to look at the 7.6 kilometre stretch from Cope Bridge at Leixlip Confey to the slipway at Maynooth Harbour which marks the start of the Royal Canal Greenway. Once again I am starting at a train station as I have done with each of the other walking segments I have done coming out of Dublin. With the railway line right by the canal there really is no excuse not to make the best of the towpath as once you have covered the distance you want there is always a train to take you back.

Towpath at Leixlip Confey

We join the canal at Cope Bridge which most people will know as Leixlip Confey. The good news is that unlike the multiple terrains we covered in the last section, most of the route from Leixlip Confey to Maynooth at least has a solid path, albeit it can be prone to puddles on really wet days.

Canal and path between Confey and Louisa Bridge

There is less than 2 kilometres between the two train stations in Leixlip along the canal, however there are quite a number of landmarks along this stretch that are worth looking out for and if you have the time, worth investigating. As you round the corner after the straight from Cope Bridge you will cross over a spillway where water flows down off the level of the canal. Just after the spillway you will see the remains of an old canals works building.

Old canal works building painted in 2018

Immediately after the small building there is an opening and a trail path with several sets of wooden steps down into Louisa Valley.

Steps down to Louisa Valley

If you follow the steps all the way down to the bottom you will be greeted with the sight of the Leixlip Waterfall. The water flows down from the level of the canal and a small stream that lies adjacent to the canal near the spillway we crossed over. From there it joins up with the Rye River.

Leixlip Waterfall

Once you come back up from the waterfall you come to the second large undertaking necessitated by the rerouting of the Royal Canal by the demands of the 2nd Duke of Leinster as we previously mentioned on our walk through the Deep Sinking. This is the Ryewater Aqueduct which was built to carry the canal over the Rye River and on towards Carton House. The descent down to see the waterfall which isn’t even at the level of the Rye River illustrates how big an undertaking this was.

Waterways Ireland Sign approaching the Aqueduct

Engineer Richard Evans who had previously worked on the Grand Canal and on the Boyne Navigation was appointed as the engineer for the Royal Canal in 1793 and remained in the post until his death in 1802. However his time in the role is not without controversy relating to financial mismanagement of the building of the canal. Richard Evans along with his assistant John Brownrigg would have overseen the construction of the aqueduct which soars to a height of of 26 metres above the river below. The aqueduct was beset with problems and poor weather. The foundations of the aqueduct collapsed twice during construction as the mortar would not set. It ended up costing over £27,000 to finish. That all said it has now stood over the Rye River for over 200 years carrying not only the canal but a double-line railway. Unfortunately recent attempts to get a photograph of the aqueduct from the river basin have been thwarted by wet ground. Hopefully in the near future I will get down to take a decent photograph. Sadly the magnificence of many aqueducts are missed by those crossing over them.

Leixlip Spa

While I was unable to get down as far as the the river basin I did manage to get down to the Leixlip Spa which there are signs for after the aqueduct. Discovered in 1793 by navies doing ground works for the canal, the spa waters bubble at a constaant 23.8 degrees celsius. The mineral spring was diverted into a Romanesque hexagonal basin pictured above. While popular during the 19th Century the site fell into disrepair. Restoration work took place in 2010 reinstating some of the brick work and capping that had previously been worked on in the late 1970’s and early 1980’s.

Ducks at Louisa Bridge

Once we come back up from the Leixlip Spa we can see Louisa Bridge and the train station beside it. Louisa Bridge is named for Lady Louisa Connolly of Castletown House in Celbridge. Lady Louisa was the younger sister of Lady Emily Fitzgerald, Duchess of Leinster who was the mother of our much discussed 2nd Duke of Leinster. After the death of her husband, the 1st Duke of Leinster, the now Dowager Leinster moved to Frescati House in Blackrock where she lived in more comfort then the ever increasingly indebted son, the 2nd Duke who had to retain both nearby Carton House as well as Leinster House in Dublin.

Louisa Bridge looking west with the Train Station in the top left.

Passing under Louisa Bridge we emerge out alongside Le Chéile Athletics Club running track as we head towards the Leixlip Celbridge Interchange flyover at Collinstown known as Matt Goff Bridge. Matt Goff was a Kildare County footballer who won six Leinster medals as well as two All-Irelands during the 1920’s. He was part of the Kildare winning side that was the first team to raise the Sam Maguire Cup. He worked as a military police officer and later worked for CIÉ. The bridge, built in the early 2000’s links the west side of Leixlip and Intel to the M4 motorway and Celbridge on the far side of it.

Approaching Matt Goff Bridge from Louisa Bridge

With all the development work currently ongoing at the Intel Plant at Leixlip the road next to the canal was recently moved and the short section between Matt Goff Bridge and Deey Bridge and the 13th Lock was upgraded to the standard of Greenway we can expect when we travel further west.

Wide quality path after Matt Goff Bridge

Not long after passing the bridge we come across a Royal Canal mile marker. Not many of these still exist and the weather has worn this one down but I am fairly certain that this is the 12 mile marker, not from where we started at the Liffey though, but rather from Broadstone.

12 Mile Marker west of Leixlip

After quickly rising up the locks leaving Dublin, its been some 12.5 kilometre’s since we left the 12th Lock in Castleknock before we reach the haunted 13th Lock at Deey Bridge.

Barge at Deey Bridge and the 13th Lock

There seems to be some dispute over whether it was the 13th Lock of the Royal Canal or the Grand Canal that famous Irish writer and politician Arthur Griffith wrote his poem The Thirteenth Lock about. I was always told that it was the Royal Canal so I am sticking to that. There is only 8 kilometres between the 13th Lock on the Royal and the 13th Lock on the Grand and both are the 1st locks outside of Dublin on both canals so quite likely it is associated with the unlucky number. All the same the boat mooring in the photos is taking more of a chance than I would in their place.

One of the name plaques on Deey Bridge

Deey Bridge is level with a little used level crossing on the railway. We remain on the north bank as we pass the lock and take to the last grass section we will encounter on the Royal Canal. This short section of grass only lasts for about 1 kilometre not even as far the next bridge.

Starting the last grass section at Deey Bridge

Just short of the harbour at Pike Bridge outside the gates of Carton House, the graveyard and remains of a church at Donaghmore can be seen on the other side of the canal.

Graveyard near Pike Bridge.

As we reach the gates of Carton House, the canal widens out for a small harbour, no doubt so the Duke of Leinster could bring his guests right to his domain. Of course Carton House is now the home of a hotel, two golf courses and an internationally renowned training camp for sports including rugby, soccer and GAA but it was ancestral seat of the Earls of Kildare and the Dukes of Leinster since the 1100’s. The main house that now stands as part of the hotel was designed by famed architect Richard Cassels who also designed other famed Irish buildings such as Leinster House and Russborough House. If you are feeling flush, you could take the walk up through the golf courses to the house for some afternoon tea. Be mindful though that it is about 2 kilometres from the gates to the front door.

Carton House Gates at Pike Bridge

Just beyond the gates as we move towards Maynooth is Pike Bridge named for Mr. William Pike and not the fish that are commonly found around this part of the canal.

Pike Harbour and Pike Bridge with a Waterways Ireland maintenance boat

It is worth leaving the canal to summit the bridge as it gives a good view over the flat lands of Kildare. In the distance can be seen Connolly’s Folly. The obelisk set above a network of arches was designed by the previously mentioned Richard Cassels and was commissioned by Katherine Connolly, wife of William Connolly, speaker of the Irish Parliament who was a grand-uncle of Thomas Connolly, husband of Lady Louisa that I previously mentioned. Confused? I sure am. Every time I dig into the names of the people who originally contributed to the building of the Royal Canal I find more that links them to each other and to the elites of Irish society. The folly is now the logo for the Irish Georgian Society who worked to restore in the 1960’s. Buried beneath is a founding member of the society, Mariga Guinness, first wife of Desmond Guinness of Leixlip Castle.

The top of the Obelisk of Connolly’s Folly.

As we emerge out on the other side of Pike’s Bridge we can see the spire of St. Patrick’s College in the distance as we make our way into Maynooth. The seminary is a contemporary of the canal both being built in the area around 1795. As we get closer to the town we can see the Straffan Road Bridge built alongside the original Mullen Bridge which leads us into Maynooth Harbour by the harbour field.

Mullen Bridge looking towards the harbour.

Maynooth is a historical town with a castle, a university and many great places for food. It is also my home town so it is far to easy for me to go into detail here so I would suggest if you have made it this far, you should take some time to explore the town.

Swan nesting on the island in Maynooth Harbour

We end our walk at the Maynooth Harbour slipway after travelling just under 8 kilometres from Cope Bridge at Leixlip Confey. Once again you just need to cross the footbridge to get to the train station to get back towards Dublin. Maynooth marks the end of the rail commuter zone. From here I will be hopping on my bike for the next section as we join the Royal Canal Greenway.

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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.

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
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Royal Canal

Walking on the Royal Canal: Cross Guns Bridge to Castleknock Train Station

One of the great things about walking along the Royal Canal in the Dublin area is that you are never too far from a train station so its always easy to get a train to your starting point or get a train home.

In my last walking post which I have just updated with additional photographs, I left you having a pint and a burger at The Bernard Shaw by Cross Guns Bridge and the 5th Lock after the short walk from town. This morning I will have to catch back up with you as I got the train from Maynooth to Drumcondra and had to walk the short distance from the Brendan Behan Statue back up to Cross Guns Bridge.

Today I start at the 5th Lock. The 5th Lock has a small harbour above it and once even boasted a railway siding. On its south bank lies the former North City Flour Mills which has been renovated and turned into apartments. Built as an iron mill in 1840 it was converted into a flour mill in the 1860’s and provided considerable employment for many years. The building is an impressive towering presence over the canal and an important reminder of the canals industrial past.

5th Lock Gates with North City Flour Mill behind it.

Once up on the 5th Level we only need to see the other end of the harbour to see the double chambered 6th Lock along with it’s recently restored Lock Keeper’s Cottage. Like the Cottage at the 1st Lock, this cottage has found a new life as a club house for a water based sports club, this time the Cabra Kayak Club.

Looking up the 6th Lock with the Cabra Kayak Club Clubhouse on the left.

At the top of the 6th Lock we have risen up 5 double chambered locks in only 1200 metres which is quite a climb in a very short distance. As I looked back down into the upper chamber of the 6th Lock today I found a Waterways Ireland Maintenance Boat sitting in the chamber.

Waterways Ireland Maintenance Boat sitting in the 6th Lock with the Flour Mill in the background. The empty chamber gives a good view of the skilled masonry of the lock chamber as it approaches 230 years old.

We have a bit of time on the 6th Level as we walk along side the railway and the St. Paul’s Section of Prospect (Glasnevin) Cemetery. Not far in the distance we see O’Connell Round Tower on the main grounds of the cemetery.

O’Connell Tower viewed in the distance from the Royal Canal

As the canal turns slightly north you would hardly notice that we pass over an aqueduct carrying the Royal Canal over the railway line that connects Irish Rails western terminus of Heuston Station with the north south bound lines at Connolly Station. This line runs through a tunnel under the Phoenix Park which was closed for many years and only reopened to passenger trains in recent years.

Looking down at the Heuston Line from the aqueduct on the 6th Level. The double arch bridge carries the Dublin-Sligo line. O’Connell Tower also in the background.

Ahead of us we can see the 7th Lock and the water tower at what used to be known as Liffey Junction but is now better known for Broombridge Railway Station and LUAS depot. The Dublin-Sligo line leaves the canal here via a railway bridge over the canal.

Looking down the 7th Lock with the railway bridge crossing over the canal and the old Liffey Junction water tower on the right.

Currently the terminus of the LUAS Green Line, Broombridge was the location where the old Midlands Great Western Railway (MGWR) line used to go in to Broadstone Station. When the LUAS line was extended from St. Stephen’s Green it was decided that the tramline would follow the route of the old railway from Broadstone to Broombridge and the area now serves as a busy inter-connector between the railway and the tram.

LUAS Depot at Broombridge

After passing Broombridge Railway Station we pass under what is now known as Hamilton Bridge named after famed mathematician and astronomer Sir William Rowan Hamilton. The bridge was originally named for William Broome, a subscriber to the Royal Canal Company and a local landowner when the canal was being built. It is now more famous for being the location where Sir William Rowan Hamilton etched the fundamental formula for quaternions into the bridge while out for a walk along the canal on the 16th of October 1843. It is believed he did this in fear he may not remember it later but in doing so set a precedent for graffiti along the canal for many years to come.

Plaque unveiled by Éamon de Valera on the 13th of November 1958 on Hamilton Bridge

In recent years Irish Rail came in for some abuse when they translated the name of Broombridge Station as Droichead na Scuab (Bridge of the Brush) and had to change it when it was pointed out that the area was named after the Broome family. Most the bridges of the Royal Canal are named for subscribers to the Royal Canal Company who contributed to the early construction of the canal. Names of all these subscribers can be found on pages 34 and 35 of Ruth Delany and Ian Bath’s Ireland’s Royal Canal: 1789-2009 which is an amazing resource if not the bible for those with an interest in the history of the Royal Canal and also of its restoration as spear-headed by the Royal Canal Amenity Group.

We pass under the green Ratoath Road Overpass bridge which carries traffic over both the canal and the railway replacing the once very congested Reilly’s Bridge at the 8th Lock. Reilly’s bridge became a bottleneck for traffic as while the bridge crossed the canal, the 8th Lock lower the water lever so that only a level crossing was needed to cross the railway.

The now closed Reilly Bridge at the 8th Lock. Royal Canal Way sign can be seen on the right. A construction yard for the new Pelletstown Railway Station can be seen on the other side.

Irish Rail started clearance work in February 2020 for a new railway station to be built at Pelletstown on the 8th Level right before the 9th Lock. A considerable amount of new residential buildings have sprung up around here in the last 15 years including Royal Canal Avenue and Royal Canal Park and the Rathborne area. Nestled in among this area is also the Royal Canal Kayak Club just before Ashtown.

Looking up at the 9th Lock from where Pelletstown Railway Station will be built.

As we approach the Longford Bridge and the 10th Lock we have now travelled 4.35 kilometres from Cross Guns Bridge. This might be a good time to take a quick pit stop. There is a SuperValu just off the canal at Ashtown but The Canal Bar has always been a favourite place of mine to stop in for some pub grub and a pint. Unfortunately as of March 2020 it is currently closed for renovation and I have no date for it to reopen. Douglas and Kaldi is also another popular cafe right on the canal.

Statue of a Lock Keeper outside The Canal Bar

We have been on the north bank of the canal since we started at the 5th Lock today so now we must cross over the pedestrian bridge at Longford Bridge to carry on our journey west on the south bank. Several original canal bridges have seen recent additions of pedestrian bridges alongside them to allow the original bridge have more space for vehicular traffic. For those who want to finish up, Ashtown Train Station offers trains in both directions to Dublin and Maynooth pretty much every half hour.

10th Lock and railway gatekeeper cottage on the other side.

We are now in Fingal and if you look beyond the gatekeepers cottage you will see a 5 storey Water Mill dating from the 1820s just behind it. The 10th level has a lit smooth tarmac surfaced path the whole way to the M50 Aqueduct. A park and ride railway station now called Navan Road Parkway opened along this stretch in the late 2000’s. There is no access to this from the canal however. After the industrial feel around Tolka Valley and Broombridge and the residential feel around Rathborne the 1.5 kilometre stretch of the 10th level almost feels rural albeit with the railway running alongside us.

Lights and path of the 10th Level

We soon approach the double chambered 11th Lock with its two strange chimney like structures beside it. If anyone knows what they are I would be grateful to be informed but my best guess is that they were stopping posts for the barges from the canals trading days.

Chimney like structures at the 11th Lock

From here we can both hear and see the busy traffic of the M50 motorway and its junction with the N3. Several road bridges cross over the canal between here and the 12th Lock. In the middle of all this modern infrastructure lies Ranelagh Bridge dating from around 1810 and beyond it lies the impressive M50 Aqueduct which carries the canal over the busy motorway below. This a multi-tiered junction carrying roads, railways, canals and paths, many generations and forms of transport converging on the one spot.

M50 Aqueduct view from Ranelagh Bridge

After sailing over the M50 we emerge at Talbot Bridge (which was poorly modified for heavier traffic before becoming almost redundant with the building of the motorway) and the double chamboured 12th Lock. The 12th Lock marks the end of our 10 kilometre climb out of the city from the River Liffey and the last lock in County Dublin. In total we have climbed 65 metres and 8 double chambered locks, a feature that is a lot less prevalent as we head further west. It will be another 12.5 kilometre before we encounter the 13th Lock at Deey Bridge west of Leixlip.

Looking up the 12th Lock from Talbot Bridge with the 12th Lock Hotel on the left.

The 12th Lock and Castleknock has a small harbour which tends to have a good number of boats tied up all year round. There is nice small hotel and bar called The 12th Lock which is a nice place to stop in if you are waiting for a train at the nearby Castleknock Train Station. To get to the train station you can continue past the canal boats in the harbour towards Granard Bridge.

Looking back at barges by the 12th Lock from Granard Bridge.

Once the far side of Granard Bridge we have reached our end point for the day at Castleknock Train Station after travelling just over 7 kilometres from our start at Cross Guns Bridge or just over 10 kilometres if you started at the city centre.

Waiting for the train home at Castleknock Train Station
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Royal Canal

The Runners Auld Triangle

The night before I did my Royal Canal Run in 2019 a good Running Buddy of mine sent me this “little ditty” to be sung to the tune of The Auld Triangle. It’s too good not to share.

A nervous feeling, was with I was dealing
with my stomach reeling, I did not feel well
and the boys had fun, as they did run
all along the banks of the Royal Canal

It was early mornin, and i should be snoring
but the miles were soarin, and now i did feel well
and the boys had fun, as they did run
all along the banks of the Royal Canal

Up, the miles were creepin, and my feet were weepin
and my heart was leapin, i was nearly there
and the boys had fun, as they did run
all along the banks of the Royal Canal

Oh the sun was settin, but we were not frettin
a day for not forgettin, and I wish you well
and the boys had fun, as they did run
all along the banks of the Royal Canal

The Auld Triangle in Mountjoy Prison

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Royal Canal

Walking on the Royal Canal: North Wall to Cross Guns Bridge

I started my cycling blog posts from Maynooth heading west as it is the easiest place to start on two wheels to head west but in an attempt to stay true to my running roots and so as to not forget about the canal east of Maynooth I thought I’d put up a few posts focused on running and walking. The first section I will look at here is from the Sea Lock on North Wall Quay at the River Liffey to the 5th Lock at Cross Guns Bridge, a distance of just over 3 kilometers. I know this is a very short distance compared to my post from Maynooth to Enfield but there is a plenty of things to discuss.

While traditionally some could argue that the Royal Canal truly starts at Broadstone or what is now the 5th Lock at Cross Guns Bridge in Phibsborough, the first to be built, let us start where the Royal Canal meets the River Liffey on North Wall Quay.

Entrance to the Royal Canal under the Scherzer Lifting Bridges beside Convention Centre Dublin

With our backs to the Liffey we start on the newly completed cycle-way bridge the river side of the Scherzer Lifting Bridges. These lifting bridges, erected in the mid 1930’s were modeled on the slightly older pair at George’s Dock a little further towards the Customs House which where were installed around 1911.

Lifting Bridges alongside the newly complete footpath and cycle-way.

For those seeking to navigate the Royal Canal, the first sight they will see after going under these bridges is the mighty Sea Lock Gates which were installed in 2008. These new gates were designed to reduce the possibility of flooding along the canal banks between the tidal River Liffey and the 1st Lock at Newcomen Bridge.

Sea Lock Gates taken from the Lifting Bridges with Sheriff Street Lifting Bridge visible in the distance.

The first part of our walk takes us up along Guild Street on the Linear Park towards Sheriff Street. We pass over the relatively new Spencer Dock Bridge which carries the Red Line Luas to the Point Village and we soon come to the Luke Kelly Head Sculpture. Luke Kelly was a renowned Irish folk musician and member of the Dubliners. He grew up in the Sheriff Street area and is famed for singing The Auld Triangle, a song strongly associated with the Royal Canal. This sculpture and a statue of him on South King Street were both unveiled in early 2019 on the 35th anniversary of his death.

Luke Kelly Head Statue with the Sheriff Street Lifting Bridge behind

Behind the Luke Kelly statue we come the the Sheriff Street Lifting Bridge which is a reminder of the industrial and commercial past of the Royal Canal in this area around Spencer Dock. Of note on the now inoperable bridge are two commemorative plaques on the east side of the bridge. These plaques have the company crest of the Midlands Great Western Railway (MGWR) Company. The MGWR bought the canal in 1845 and built its railway west along the banks of the canal as far as Ballinea some 90 kilometres west of the Liffey. Both plaques predate the bridge however and were unveiled by John Poyntz Spencer, 5th Earl Spencer, Lord Lieutenant of Ireland for whom the Dock area is named.

Plaque of the MGWR Company at Sheriff Street Lifting Bridge

Work is nearly finished on continuing the linear park and a cycle-way from Sheriff Street to the North Strand Road and hopefully should be open around May 2020. However for now it is necessary to divert away from the canal and head north up Seville Place as far as the Five Lamps on the North Strand Road. From here we take a right and head back up to join the Royal Canal at Newcomen Bridge and the 1st Lock.

Looking down at the 1st Lock from Newcomen Bridge with the renovated Lock Keepers Cottage on the right now home to The Adventure Project

As much as an inconvenience as it is for us to have to currently divert down Seville place, those using the canal navigation have to put with a different type on inconvenience just before the 1st Lock with the infamous Effin Bridge. The lifting bridge which carries a railway line over the canal sits on the level of the canal and is only raised several times a year to allow boats to pass. Scheduled lift dates for 2020 can be found on the Waterways Ireland page here.

We rejoin the canal at the 1st lock on the south bank as we head towards Clarke Bridge. Like with most of the bridges we will encounter as we head west, the original canal bridge would have been built between 1790 and 1810 with an abutted railway bridge added from the 1840’s as the MGWR started laying their tracks. It is also the first bridge we encounter that we can pass under with a towpath accommodated under the bridge.

Clarke Bridge heading towards the 1st Lock

As we come out the west side of Clarke Bridge we are met with the impressive sight of Croke Park, Ireland’s biggest stadium and home of the GAA. The canal passes under what was once known as the Canal End but since 2007 has been known as the Davin Stand, named for the GAA’s first President Maurice Davin.

Croke Park and Davin Stand rising above Clonliffe Bridge looking east.

After passing under Croke Park we come to Clonliffe Bridge which carries Russel Street over the canal and the railway. It should be noted that Croke Park has a railway running either side of it. On the Canal End is the railway line to the Docklands Train Station at Sheriff Street and on the Railway End better known as Hill 16 is the railway line into Connolly Train Station.

Only 400 metres from Clonliffe Bridge we come to Binns Bridge and the 2nd Lock, a double chambered lock at Drumcondra and the first of several double chambered locks we will meet. While a large pipe attached to the bridge takes away from its original aesthetic, the double arches of the Railway Bridge make it more appeasing. As we enter the 2nd Lock we now begin a quick ascent up out of the city to the 12th Lock in Castleknock. The canal rises 12 locks in the space of 9 kilometres from the 1st Lock and of these 7 have double chambers.

Binns Bridge entering the 2nd Lock and the double arches of the Railway Bridge

It us not possible to go under Binns Bridge as so we must rise up to the road level and cross busy Dorset Street while also crossing over to the North Bank of the canal to carry on. As we reach the other side we are greeted by the statue of Brendan Behan who wrote the play The Quare Fellow which opens with a rendition of the previously mentioned The Auld Triangle. It is open to debate as to whether Brendan or his musically talented brother Dominic actually wrote the song itself.

Brendan Behan Statue with Triangles and Pigeon

The Quare Fellow is set in Mountjoy Prison which has stood beside the Royal Canal since it opened in 1850 and where Behan himself was incarcerated as an inmate. The sits beside the 2nd Lock it is not long before we reach the 3rd Lock.

Looking up the 3rd Lock

The 3rd Lock, 4th Lock and 5th Lock, all double chambered locks come in quick succession and while a person walking or running alongside the canal can make quick progress up this stretch, it takes considerably longer to navigate.

Below the 4th Lock

The 4th level of the canal is also the location where the original Broadstone Branch of the Royal Canal came out but has long since been filled in with a linear park running down alongside the prison wall.

Where the Broadstone Branch would have joined the Main Line

The Broadstone Branch is a topic I intend to return to in a different post and will link here when I do. Where the prison car park now stands was once a dry dock for the maintenance and repair of boats.

Cross Guns Bridge originally known as Westmoreland Bridge, the location of the first bridge to be built on the Royal Canal

Before we reach the 5th Lock we must rise up again to meet the Phibsborough Road at Cross Guns Bridge. Originally known as Westmoreland Bridge after the 10th Earl of Westmoreland, Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, who laid the first stone of the original bridge in 1790. The bridge was replaced in the 1860s to help facilitate the building of the short railway tunnel beside it.

In total we have traveled a little over 3kilometres from the Liffey so far not including our diversion down Seville Place but here is a good place to stop for a drink or a bit of food at the recently relocated Bernard Shaw pub and EatYard.

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Royal Canal

Cycling on the Royal Canal: Maynooth to Enfield

Over the next few weeks I hope to do a collection of blog posts for those interested in taking on cycling along the soon to be officially opened Royal Canal Greenway.

Bike at Maynooth Harbour

This week I am going to take a look at cycling from what is currently the start of the Royal Canal Greenway at Maynooth Harbour and heading west as far as Enfield Bridge, a distance of 18.7 kilometres.

Maynooth Harbour just before dawn

Maynooth Harbour, located on the 13th level of the Royal Canal, is a great place to start. It is easily accessible from Dublin, with Maynooth Train Station lying on the south bank of the canal. A footbridge gives access to the north bank and the Royal Canal Greenway. Maynooth Harbour is a triangle shaped harbour with a slipway on the town side. It has an island with nesting swans in the centre. It would have been built between 1790 and 1796 making it a contemporary of the near by St. Patrick’s University which opened in 1795.

Maynooth Swans with their cygnets and the island in the background – Summer 2019

We depart Maynooth heading west on a tarmac path heading a short distance of 500 metres before we encounter Bond Bridge which was originally built in 1795. In 2005 Jons Engineering were contracted to widen and realign the bridge to make it safer for the traffic it carries over the canal. The new bridge opened in 2007 and also has cycle lanes over it with steps accessing the Royal Canal Greenway on the east side and a ramp down the west side.

Approaching Bond Bridge from Maynooth Harbour

After passing under Bond Bridge we transition from tarmac onto a smooth, light stone dust surface which will be the norm for most the way to Enfield. The South Campus wall of the university keeps us company for 750 metres as we leave Maynooth behind us. This old stone wall separates the canal bank from the playing fields and grounds of the old campus.

Pacman Graffiti on College Wall

As we reach the end of the college wall we pass the old college farmhouse and sheds. It is nearly 1 kilometre from the end of the college wall to the next landmark of Jackson’s Bridge and the 14th Lock. Jackson’s Bridge is made up of 5 spanning arches including a narrow pedestrian arch (for which cyclists should dismount), the canal, the railway and two arches for farm animals on the south bank. The original canal span was built in 1793 while the railway span was abutted in the late 1840’s.

The 5 arches of Jackson’s Bridge with 14th Lock

We emerge on the upper 14th level after passing through the pedestrian arch with the 14th Lock revealing itself fully to view.

Water Cascading down into the 14th Lock

Leaving Jackson’s Bridge behind we proceed for 1.7 kilometres before we reach the next landmark of Bailey’s Bridge, an accommodation bridge giving the local farmer access to both sides of the canal. As part of the work to create the Royal Canal Greenway the bridge was extended to give users safe passage under the bridge rather than force them through the narrow passage that still exists.

Bailey’s Bridge with new Greenway passage

Moving on past North Kildare Club with its rugby, cricket and hockey pitches it is another 750 metres to Chamber’s Bridge and the 15th Lock. It is common to find several barges and Waterways Ireland work boats moored up at the bridge. One such barge is Anam Cara (previously Maeve) which was once used by actors Timothy West and Prunella Scales in their Channel 4 series Great Canal Journeys as they explored the Shannon-Erne Waterway. The barge was also used for the TV3 series Jingle Jangle which featured a large array of prominent Irish musicians as the barge made its way west from Dublin to Cloondara on the Royal Canal.

15th Lock from Chamber’s Bridge with Anam Cara and other barges in the background on a rather wet day.

There is another 500 metres of the light stone dust after Chamber’s Bridge before we reach another stretch of tarmac on the approach to Kilcock. As we meet the tarmac, the Royal Canal Greenway lines up and runs parallel with a road, a railway, the canal, the greenway itself, another road and the Rye River. It is 1 kilometre from the start of the tarmac surface to Kilcock Harbour.

Approaching Kilcock

Kilcock Harbour has been wonderfully restored and is home to Kilcock Canoe Polo Club. The Royal Canal opened to commercial traffic in December 1796, six years after construction started. Barges initially started operating between Broadstone and Kilcock. At the end of Kilcock Harbour is the upgraded Shaw’s Bridge and the double-chambered 16th Lock.

Shaw’s Bridge with the 16th Lock behind it and goals from the Canoe Polo Club in the foreground.

In total it is just under 6 kilometres from Maynooth Harbour to Kilcock Harbour. As we must dismount to cross the road at Shaw’s Bridge, you may wish to stop for some refreshments before continuing on. Just across the road from the canal is the very popular Black Forest Cafe and Cakery while just a little further into the town there is a Costa Coffee as well as a large Supervalu for supplies. The Rye River Cafe is also another popular spot for breakfast or lunch not far off the canal.

Upper chamber of the 16th Lock

After coming up onto the 16th level there is a small blue container. This marks the start of the Royal Canal parkrun, Kilcock which is a weekly, free 5k run that goes out west and comes back on the banks of the canal.

The tarmac continues from the 16th Lock for just over 1 kilometre as far as Allen Bridge which is known locally as Spins Bridge. Allen Bridge was originally built in 1796 but like Bond Bridge and Shaw’s Bridge, it was later modified for modern traffic. However when you pass under the bridge you can still see the original arch.

Original arch visible under Allen (Spins) Bridge

On coming out on the other side of Allen Bridge we return to the light stone dust surface. A new spillway has been completed not far west of the bridge which replaced a narrow wooden bridge over a dip of the old slipway.

The original spillway with wooden bridge before being replaced

As we continue west for 2.75 kilometres towards McLoughlin’s Bridge and the 17th Lock (which is locally known as Ferns Lock) we cross the county border from Kildare to Meath. The Royal Canal crosses back and forth across this county line several times as the canal makes its way west.

Looking up the double-chambered 17th (Ferns) Lock from McLoughlin’s Bridge

Ferns Lock has several features around it. The bridge coming into the lock no longer has an arch and now has a low concrete plinth which has been known to catch the top of wheelhouses of boats passing under it. This happened the Heritage Boat Rambler during filming of the late Dick Warner’s Waterways – The Royal Canal series for RTÉ. It is a rare complaint on the Royal Canal that the water level is too high for such problems to happen. Unlike all the bridges we have met so far, McLoughlin’s Bridge has no abutment to a railway bridge and instead is level with a level crossing at the bridge. The 17th Lock is the last double-chambered lock on the Royal Canal coming from Dublin and marks the start of The Long Level which is a 32 kilometer stretch before the 18th Lock at Thomastown. There is also a restored Lock Keepers cottage and store beside the lock, now a private residence.

Restored Lock Keepers cottage and store at Ferns Lock

Leaving Ferns Lock we remain on the north bank on one of the most recently completed sections of the Royal Canal Greenway. Until late in the summer of 2019 it was necessary to travel the 5.9 kilometre section from Ferns Lock to Cloncurry Bridge on the south bank. This is a grassy and often muddy trail generally unsuitable for cycling. Thankfully the north bank is now complete and is a pleasurable cycle. The new section does veer a little away from the canal at a few points but never too far to see and it includes a section where the path winds through a forest.

Royal Canal Greenway going through the forest as seen from the south bank

One of the few disadvantages of travelling on the smooth north bank now is that you miss the original 22 and 23 Mile Markers for the canal, 2 of the very few ones left standing. These measure the distance not from the River Liffey but rather from Broadstone.

The 23rd Mile Marker on the south bank near Cloncurry

Not long after the forest, we pass a farm house which leads us back onto a tarmac surface for the last 2 kilometers to Cloncurry Bridge. The area around Cloncurry is probably best known from the poem The Old Bog Road by Teresa Brayton, an Irish Nationalist from Kilcock who emigrated to America in 1895. She wrote widely on the themes of exile, nostalgic loss of homeland, nationalism and religion. She returned to Ireland in 1932 where she lived in nearby Kilbrook until her death in 1943. The Old Bog Road was put to music by Madeline King O’Farrelly from Rochfortbridge in Westmeath and has been recorded by many artists.

Cloncurry Bridge looking east

Remaining on the north bank we must cross over the road at Cloncurry Bridge to continue on our way to our destination in Enfield, a distance of 3 kilometres. Some caution is needed for the first kilometer of this as it is on a public road by the canal until you pass through a pair of wooden gates back onto the dust surface of the Royal Canal Greenway.

Enfield Train Station on the south bank.

Coming into Enfield, the railway station and a variety of connected buildings originally opened by the Midlands Great Western Railway company in the late 1840’s can be seen on the opposite bank. Buildings include the Railway Station, the Station Masters House, Warehouses, a Signal Box and Water Towers. Finally we approach our destination of Enfield Bridge, 18.7 kilometres from where we started at Maynooth Harbour.

Sunrise on the Royal Canal from Enfield Bridge.

On reaching Enfield there are a variety of places to take a break. Closest to the bridge itself is the Bridgehouse pub which does pub grub. There is an Applegreen with a Subway just a little further into town for those only looking for light refreshments. A favourite of mine would be the Street Side Cafe. Like Maynooth and Kilcock, Enfield also has a Supervalu close to the canal for those looking for a supermarket.

Once you are fueled again you’ll be ready for the cycle back to Maynooth or, if you are taking it easy, the intercity from Sligo stops in Enfield roughly every 2 hours and will see you back to Maynooth or Dublin Connolly. Booking with Irish Rail is advised with bike as the trains can only facilitate 2 bikes per train.

Route of the Royal Canal Greenway from Maynooth to Enfield in Red (M4 Motorway in Blue)
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Royal Canal

The Royal Canal Run Fallout

So it’s just been over a month since I completed my run along the Royal Canal.

My training for the Royal Canal Run was a very consistent effort spread out over 35 weeks and started with a baseline of me being at my Marathon PB fitness level. I ran my current marathon PB in Dublin in the first week of my training plan. By the time I reached my taper phase at the start of June I had hit a training peak of over 100km a week for a month not to mention I finished my distance training by running a 100km PB of 11:27:31, beating my previous PB by over 2hours 20minutes.

While I’ve seen far more extensive training plans aimed at the distance of the Royal Canal I was very happy with my level of training, the time and distance I put in was right for me. The bonus was that I didn’t lose too much of my pace at the shorter distances as I expected I would. I stayed close to my predicted best time along the way and managed to finish just over 10 minutes ahead of my dream target which was down in no small part to all the training I put in (not to take anything away from my amazing pacers and support crew).

I guess what I’m trying to tell myself is that my body put in 9 months of hard work on top of already being at its best form when I started so its completely right and normal that the body needed a break, that aches and pains were likely to be part of the recovery period.

However when the mind is used to going out running 5 days a week, week in and week out for several months, when spending 6 to 8 hours of your weekend running has been normalized, telling it that you need a break is a whole other matter.

I know I was lucky after the Royal Canal Run that I didn’t enter a spiral of apathy or depression that often accompanies achieving a long sought after goal. For the first time in years I wasn’t immediately looking for the next goal, I wasn’t trying to escalate on what I achieved which is great because it means I actually took the time to cherish what I achieved. I told myself that I could take a few weeks off and for the most part I did.

In the first few days after the run people were asking me how the body was doing. I honestly told them that it was feeling fine, my knees were a little sore on the day itself, especially after I passed Mullingar but that pain had gone more or less as soon as I stopped that evening.

What I didn’t notice I think that while my mind was bracing itself for a post event anti-climax so much it failed to notice that the body had taken more knocks than I was aware of.

I think it’s fair to say that I’ve built up a enviable mental resilience and toughness that is required of ultra athletes, a lot of which I attribute to listening to the motivational videos of Eddie Pinero and his YouTube channel Your World Within. What I failed to consider is that my mental resiliency may be like ibuprofen, it can mask as injury, not address it.

For several weeks now I’ve done little more than a few parkruns and my right knee is very sore. Not necessarily when I am running, because I think the mind can mask over that, but just walking to the bus stop, going up and down the stairs, kneeling down to pet my dog.

It is concerning because the mind is already in conflict with the body, it wants to get back out 5 days a week, it wants to be tackling a marathon every other weekend and the demon voice of common sense who I have never failed to shout down before has suddenly found a loudspeaker and is shouting with its loudest voice.

I’ve tried to be sensible, I’ve pumped up my bike wheels and given my legs some time away from the heavy impact of running, I’m even enjoying the cycling (kinda) and getting more confident on the bike but the pain still isn’t going away. There is damage there and self diagnosis is telling me I need several months rest which everybody who knows me is not a prescription I’m likely to take.

Tonight I have my first actual race since before the Canal Run. A 6K race around Carton House, a great and fast club event I’ve done several times and while I would never be near up the front it’s still one of those events I want to give everything I have for, to fully commit to giving my best… as the voice of reason is there telling me to calm down.

I know the right thing to do is to see a doctor, get the knee accessed, get a professional opinion (even if I chose to ignore it after) but that would bring me down the route of another whole topic I have issue with about the in affordability of health care and the Irish male flaw of preferring to stay in ignorance to their own detriment.

The bottom line is there was a great physical fallout from my Canal Run than I expected and I found out not every endurance battle is in the mind.

Here’s just hoping I can enjoy my run tonight and I can focus on slowly building back up my endurance before I lose it. I was lucky to make it to the sea lock injury free, it’d be foolish to do anything stupid now.

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Royal Canal

Royal Canal Run June 21st 2019

My Royal Canal Run – June 21st 2019. 

Run Logo by Catfink Creative

After nearly a year of planning and 35 weeks of training the evening of the 20th of June had arrived, my crew had been briefed, my kit bags and supplies packed and repacked and all the relay runners who would accompany me along the 90 mile journey knew where and roughly when to meet. It was time to head in to the start. 

My wife Niamh who would be primarily looking after me throughout the run got into our car at our home and we made the half hour journey into Connolly Station car park. Colin, who was my well briefed crewman looking after the logistics of the relay runners was joined at the house by Paul, one of the first relay runners and they would pick up John on their way before joining us in town.

The meeting point was 22:30 in the main concourse of Connolly Train Station. It was the last opportunity for some of us to use a toilet before heading out. Several of us met there before proceeding down to the Lifting Bridges at the Sea Lock where the Royal Canal meets the River Liffey at North Wall Quay. 

It was very encouraging for me to see so many supporters here to see me off. Family and friends had gathered to wish me luck before we set off. We posed for photos, many of us wearing the event t-shirts I had made up a few weeks previously.

L-R Standing: Colin, Niamh, Dave, Paddy, Paul, Ros
L-R Front: JC, Gary (me), Ross, John

The plan was to start bang on midnight when my Garmin FR235 hit 00:00. Given it was dark and we were in the city centre I had planned a long time ago that it would be wise to have a large contingent of runners with me to escort me out of Dublin City Centre and its environs and continue with me into Co. Kildare. 

With me at the start was my brother Ross, some friends from my college days, JC, Ros and Dave, my parkrun buddies Paul, Paddy and John. Equipped with head torches we headed off at the top of the hour and proceeded along the canal on Guild Street to Sherriff Street. While work is underway to continue the path along the canal from Sherriff Street to Newcomen Bridge we had to divert off the canal at this point, travelling up Seville Place to the Five Lamps before crossing the North Strand Road making our way up to the 1st Lock and the end of the only true diversion we would have to take away from the banks of the canal on the run. 

We had a nice relaxed pace and conversation was striking up between everybody as we re-joined the canal and started heading west. Being honest I have little real memory of the early part of the run other than passing certain landmarks. I knew the pace was comfortable as we passed under Croke Park and while I was aware I didn’t want to go out too fast in case I would blow up later on everything was going well. We came up and had to wait for the traffic lights before crossing Drumcondra Road and then proceeded past the Brendan Behan statue and the walls of Mountjoy Prison which many would associate the song The Auld Triangle. Straight after we crossed over the Phibsborough Road at the traffic lights and we were well on our way out of the city. 

By the time we passed the LUAS depot in Broombridge we had already climbed up 7 Locks, 5 of which are double chambered. By this stage we all head our headlamps on even with the ambient lighting of the city around us. The group had spread out a little bit and between Broombridge and Ashtown I remember enjoying some conversation with my brother who I was very thankful had managed to join us after been unwell for the previous two weeks. 

There is a good surface all the way from the start up as far as Castleknock and we proceeded on comfortably past Ashtown, Navan Road Parkway Train Station and the 10th and 11th Double Chamber Locks before reaching the aqueduct over the M50. I had gone on ahead a little here as I was anticipating meeting my crew at the car park of the pub at the 12th Lock. As I came up the steps I could see Niamh and my father waiting for me. The first 10km and the first 12 Locks were now behind me and I knew the further west I went the easier things would get. I arrived at the 12th Lock at 01:08am. A minute or two later I was joined by the rest. A few of the relay runners had stopped to take a selfie on the aqueduct over the M50.

Ross, John, Paul and Ros crossing the M50 on the Aqueduct

At the 12th Lock JC and Ross would finish running for now. I had personalised dog tags made up for everyone would support me during the day so with their first leg over I presented JC and Ross with their dog tags and remaining 5 others and myself proceeded on west. I had originally planned on not wearing my Camelbak for the 1st 10km and would grab it then but this idea went out of my head at the start where I was already wearing it so I had my provisions with me. 

Shortly after passing Castleknock Train Station the quality of the path drops to that of a narrow trail as we pass through an area known as the Deep Sinking where the tow path rises to some 9meters above the canal and is single file. This area was definitely the most technical part of the run and given it was being tackled at the darkest point of the night I decided early on that I would walk through this section of trail which lasted about 2km. David and I kept up a brisk walk as we made our way through the deep sinking the 4 others fell slightly behind. I happily munched on a berry and nut pack as I made my way through here. 

Eventually we came out the far side at Keenan Bridge at Porterstown. We got some short relief from the trail path here as there is a solid path up and past Clonsilla Train Station but soon we were back on a wet trail with high grass. By this point we had split up into 3 groups of two with Dave and I up the front. This resulted in two oversights on my part, firstly I was probably going a little faster than I should have been but I was enjoying the conversation with Dave who is a person I have little opportunity to share the road with and secondly I didn’t see the impact the technical terrain was having on Paul who’s heart rate was steadily increasing.

It didn’t feel like too long before we reached the Royal Canal Amenity Group boat house which to me was the sign that we had finally left Dublin and were now in Co. Kildare. The lights from Leixlip Confey Train Station could be seen up ahead and this would be our next rest stop. Given I had a large group of relay runners with me coming out of the city I had organised with Colin that he would get 3 large pizzas, a pepperoni, a margarita and a multiple topping one to have ready at Leixlip Confey. Dave and I came off the canal and down to the railway car park. As I went over Cope Bridge I could see the head torches of John and Paddy close behind, Ros a little way back and Paul in the distance. It was 02:19am when I got to Confey.

Pizza at Leixlip Confey

Dave and I turned the corner into the car park to see a table loaded with 3 pizzas and several bottles of water. It was a nice spread. Dave’s wife Fona who I also went to college with was there to pick him up. I quite happily had 3 slices of pizza as I waited for the others to join us. Not long after John and Paddy showed up and I gave Paddy and Dave their dog tags as they were finishing here. John took the opportunity to rob a pair of my brother’s socks. Colin took me aside for a minute to tell me that Paul had decided he too would call it a day in Leixlip. After the technical section we had been through and the fact he had work the next morning I know he made the right decision here though I know he would have liked to have continued on further. 

It was at this point that I realised that Ros had yet to show up. I said this to JC who called him and it turned out he had missed the bridge and had carried on past us. With that I gave Paul his dog tag, thanked everyone and John and myself made tracks to catch up with Ros. I asked the crew to do their best to get to Leixlip Louisa Bridge where Ros was so he could grab a slice of pizza before we went on for Maynooth. 

Special Delivery for Ros at Louisa Bridge

It didn’t take long for us to catch up with Ros and by the time we reached him he managed to grab some food from the crew. With that we carried on towards Maynooth. This was Ros’s first time running beyond half marathon distance and he was doing well. The darkness in the sky was lifting slightly and we were back on a more solid path baring a small section between the 13th Lock at Deey Bridge and Pike Bridge. We passed Carton and headed on for Maynooth Harbour.

Maynooth Harbour at 3am

John, who had been carrying several niggles over the previous few weeks was starting to feel them as we made our way up past the 14th and 15th Locks. The sky was continuing to lighten and John and I were making good time all the same as we ran the section I am most familiar with. Having made up some time John and I reached Kilcock Harbour, 33km into the run just after 04:00.

John and Colin in Kilcock

I met my crew of Niamh, Colin, JC and Ross here as John stopped and I gave him his dog tag. Ross and Colin had organised a rotation of go-pro cameras so I could record some of the day. Ross offered to put on the chest strap for me here but given it still wasn’t fully bright I decided I’d leave it for this section. I knew I would be covering the next 13km on my own so Niamh had my headphones ready. I called up an episode of the game Zombies, Run! on my phone and I proceeded up past the 16th Lock onto the Kilcock parkrun route and ran on.

This was the first and only section when I would be on my own. I think the crew were a bit concerned that I would be ok and some had even offered to join me for it but being honest I really enjoyed the first part of the section up as far as the 17th Lock at McLoughlin Bridge. Dawn was approaching and I was even able to take off my head torch and put it in my bag and took a gel and a chicken sandwich on board. 

When you get to the 17th Lock you reach an area known as the Long Level as it some 32km before you encounter the next Lock at Thomastown. Unfortunately while the Greenway is mostly complete from Maynooth Harbour, the section between Ferns Lock (17th) and Cloncurry Bridge is yet to open on the north bank which necessitated me running on the trail of the south bank. In a way I was glad that I was on my own for this bit. I had done it several times in training recently so I was accustomed to it but the grass was high and wet from the rain of the previous few days so my feet were getting soaked. It was somewhat disheartening looking across at the almost complete surface on the far bank as I worried I may get blisters early on because of the trail I was on. I kept the head down and kept running, happy to have music and zombies in my ears. I was also making good time. I reached marathon distance just short of Cloncurry Bridge a few seconds over the 5 hour mark.

Crossing over Cloncurry I had 3km left to go to get to my next aid station at Enfield where my crew would be waiting with dry runners and socks and two new runners would be waiting to join me. The sun was slowly starting to rise as I approached the straight into Enfield. I could see Colin running out towards me and he recorded a small video as I approached Enfield Bridge. JC got some stunning photos of the sunrise over the canal which he was tweeting onto my twitter account. I crossed the bridge and came into the carpark of the Bridge House Pub where Amanda and Richie were waiting for me. I reached Enfield at 05:28.

Sunrise in Enfield

I took the opportunity to sit down in a camping chair that Colin had put out for me. Niamh had my first gear change bag ready for me so I swapped my runners and socks and dried my feet and I took off my hi-viz long sleeve top I had been wearing since the start. I still felt a little cold so decided against putting on a singlet just yet but did grab a light baseball cap. A half chicken sandwich I had while running the previous section was sitting heavy so I took the chance to have a can of Red Bull which I have found can help my stomach in the right circumstances. Up to this point I was mainly drinking water with electrolytes from my Camelbak. I finally took the chance to put on a go-pro on a chest harness to try capture some footage while I was running. Ross told me that the battery and memory should last about an hour and 15 minutes with each camera. In total I had three which meant that for the rest of the day someone was able to wear one while the other two charged. Then with a new supply pack picked up Amanda, Richie and I came out of the carpark and carried on heading west. 

First kit change and sit down at Enfield

We left Enfield at 05:43am. I was delighted and thankful to be joined by Amanda and Richie who are parkrun buddies from Griffeen parkrun in Lucan and they got up at 4:15 in the morning after only getting back from Florida a few days previous and after a trip to the UK only 48 hours earlier. 

We hit the 50k mark fairly soon after leaving Enfield and I can remember remarking to them that if we made it as far as Kilmore Bridge I would be happy enough to take a walk break for a while. Kilmore Bridge is about 4km west of Enfield and is the start of the last trail section I would encounter. The section between Kilmore Bridge and the Moyvalley Bridges is a very narrow trail on the north bank with a lot of protruding rocks and roots in the ground not to mention quite a few thorny branches reaching across the path. Like the Fern’s Lock to Cloncurry section you can see an almost complete path on the far side of the canal bank but sure you have to take the adventure when it’s going. I took the lead through this section which is less than 2km long. We soon came to the Moyvalley Bridges and could see the new cycle ramp for the Greenway on the other side. We climbed up the embankment and over the old N4 road to Galway. In front of us was the fantastic pub Furey’s where I really enjoy calling into, but being sometime after 06:00 we wouldn’t be stopping today. Down on the other side we started running again heading for the Ribbontail Boat Club in Longwood Harbour.

Amanda Richie and I as I pass 50km

After leaving Enfield the crew took a chance to go to an Applegreen to get some breakfast.

Crew Breakfast In Applegreen

When I arrived at Longwood Harbour at 06:48am, now only 3 minutes behind where I hoped to be, Niamh and JC were waiting for us. I was happy with the amount of supplies I had on me and Amanda, Richie and I were moving along at a nice pace so I decided that we would just keep going. As I passed Niamh told me that Ross and Colin were having Sat Nav issues and couldn’t make it to us in time. This gave me a good laugh as earlier in the week Niamh took out an old road atlas and marked all the crew stops with a red marker whereas Colin had pre-programmed his phone with all the GPS co-ordinates of the locations. In the end it was the old school methods that proved best. Colin and Ross got caught on the wrong side of the canal and unable to cross. 

Niamh and Colin discussing the merits of a map over a Sat Nav

Amanda, Richie and I crossed over the Boyne Aqueduct and headed on for Blackshade Bridge. I had mentioned to them that I often found the next section to Thomastown Harbour, some 14km, the toughest mentally of the entire route. The surface is perfect but the landscape is very open and flat with no locks and few bridges to break it up, it can feel like you are getting nowhere. It came as a surprise to me then how quickly we got to the next village of the Hill of Down. I think I took a chocolate bar around here as Richie had his own supply of jelly babies. I know we varied between walking and running a good few times on this section. A pain came into my left knee for a while so I took two paracetamol around 07:30, all the same I was really happy with our progress. Before I knew it we were into Westmeath at D’Arcy’s Bridge which is a very short distance before Thomastown and I was preparing to say goodbye to the current runners and welcome the next crew. 

Arriving into Thomastown at 08:28 I was now ever so slightly ahead of target time. The weather was cracking with blue skies over the harbour and the crew had a chance to sit out in it for a while by the time we got there. Waiting for me were two more parkrun buddies, Paula and Anna who would see me safe as far as Mullingar. I swapped out a supply box and the go-pro here and we took a few pictures as I thanked Amanda and Richie and gave them their dog tags. 

Amanda Richie and I arriving in Thomastown

Paula, Anna and I left Thomastown at 08:31, 4 minutes ahead of schedule and proceed up the flight of locks from the 18thLock at the Harbour to the 25th Lock. These 8 locks follow in rapid succession over a distance of about 3km bringing me to the summit level. I know we left Thomastown walking but we did get moving at a comfortable pace after the 20th Lock and by the time we passed Footy’s Bridge after the 25th Lock we were moving well. The section from Thomastown to Mary Lynch’s was the shortest section on the whole run and we made it there by 9:09. I was now half way through the run.

My stomach wasn’t feeling the best at this point and took the opportunity to go to the toilet in a field close by, little did I remember that the whole thing was being caught on the go-pro. I took a few minutes to get going again and applied some deep heat to my knees but we left Mary Lynch’s by 09:14am, 6 minutes ahead of schedule. 

Anna, Paula and I at the farmers lifting bridge.

I had good banter with Paula and Anna as we skirted around the N4 and passed through the Downs. We got a selfie at the farmers lifting bridge not long after Mary Lynch’s. I knew I was slowing and the pain was now in both knees. That said we had some decent run segments along the way and we got to the Sinking east of Mullingar in what seemed like no time. The benefit of having the relay runners with me was certainly paying dividends now as I wasn’t noticing the time flying by. I was surprised though that my watch had reached a low level already and meant I had to charge it on the go. One advantage of the Garmin 235 is that it continues recording even when charging and the only data you lose at the time is heart rate. 

We passed by the new National Famine Way Shoes monument at Pipers Boreen before getting to Morans Bridge and starting the big horse shoe loop around Mullingar town. While I had planned on Mullingar Train Station to be the next rest stop it made sense for the crew to use the opportunity of going to Costa for a coffee and some brunch as it was just a minute off the canal. When we reached Green Bridge in Mullingar we came off the Greenway and met up with the rest in Costa. We reached there at 10:53am. 

One of the 30 National Famine Way Sculptures along the Royal Canal

I took the opportunity to use the toilets in Costa and presented Paula and Anna with their dog tags. It was at this point that I realised that I hadn’t been eating anyway near as much as I had planned so for today and I had no intentions on eating anything in Costa now (it was in my plan to have a ham and cheese toastie). I had learned at the Donadea 100km a few weeks earlier that while I had a nutrition plan that worked, it was more important to listen to the body on the day for what it wanted.

Giving out the dog tags at Costa in Mullingar

Several more people had shown up in Mullingar and it seemed that everybody was having a good day, something that put me in a better mood given how self-serving the day itself could feel to me at times. I was enjoying myself in the perverse way long distance runners do but it was good to know everyone else seemed to be having a good time independently of the run too. 

My new running partner, again a parkrun running buddy, Gary agreed to wear the go-pro for the next while and we left Costa for the Greenway at 11:08am, 2 minutes ahead of schedule. Gary and I have logged a lot of training miles and quite a few competitive miles together over the last few years so he was great company as I left the last large urban centre along the route. This part of the route was new to Gary apart from the section along the Mullingar parkrun route. The brief stop in Mullingar did rejuvenate me a bit and Gary and I were able to move at a steady pace for the next few kilometres. I know the pace was a bit slower than either of us would normally be used to but it gave us a chance to catch up on some of Gary’s mountain running exploits in recent weeks since he finished the Dingle Adventure Race.

Gary D and Gary O’D leaving Mullingar

Gary and I reached Coolnahay at the end of the Summit level at 12:24pm 6 minutes ahead of schedule. Coolnahay Harbour is at the 26th Lock and from there to the end is a net decent down the last 21 locks. I had planned another kit change here so again the camping chair was laid out for me as I changed my runners, socks and baseball cap. I decided to stick with the short sleeve t-shirt as the sun was now fairly strong. Niamh put sunscreen on my neck and the back of my legs as I put deep heat on my knees and at 12:31pm we were off again. 

Kit change 2 ready at Coolnahay

I was able to run down the 26th, 27th and 28th Locks and after a short walk we also ran down the 29th, 30th and 31st Locks as we reached the 100km mark. At this stage I was really struggling with my knees to keep up a running pace so I settled into a brisk walk, adapting to what my body was telling me. Thankfully this didn’t seem to bother Gary and he kept my spirits high the whole way to Ballynacargy. I will admit it was the first time that day that I felt a little impatient with myself about getting to the next rest stop but looking at my watch I knew I was still on time for my best desired time so there was no point in blowing up or running hard on my knees with less than 50km to go. 

Ballynacargy is a lovely open harbour in a very rural setting and it was great to see the crew and next set of runners sunning themselves around a park bench and table by the old canal Storehouse and Hotel. Gary and I reached here at 13:35, 10 minutes ahead of schedule. Niamh had a supply box ready for me here but I was actually craving some Red Bull to lift my spirits which was in the car the other side of the harbour. Colin thankfully went to get some as I sat down for a few, presented Gary with his dog tag and rubbed some deep heat into my knees. Colin was back in an instant and I enjoyed the cool Red Bull before Gary’s wife Tracey and running buddy Anita joined me to tackle the next section to Abbeyshrule. Tracey took on to wear the go-pro for this section. We left Ballynacargy at 13:41, 4 minutes ahead of schedule.

Ballynacargy Bridge and Harbour

I had to admit to Tracey and Anita at the start that running at this point was something that was beyond me at that moment in time. This section again is in a big open area and moves through a large flat bog with only a few bridges. I really enjoyed chatting with Tracey and Anita and while we were only walking it was at a brisk pace so I was happy enough with that, every step forward was a step closer to the finish. 

Niamh, Ross and Colin relaxing in the sun while Anita and Tracey wait to start.

I wanted to give myself a good incentive to keep moving throughout the day and one way of doing that was asking the Rustic Inn in Abbeyshrule to do up food for us for a set time. Ed at the Rustic Inn was very accommodating in opening the kitchen early and putting on a wide menu for me. It was only right then that I try and provide as much business as I could. I encouraged as many people as possible to join us in Abbeyshrule for 15:00. When I originally contacted the Rustic Inn I thought about 10 people might sit down. 2 days out from the run it was looking like 18. 

Gary, Anita and Tracey on Bog Bridge

Tracey, Anita and I made good progress down the 36th, 37th and 38th Locks before coming to Bog Bridge, a canal bridge in the middle of the Bog with no roads leading to or from it. We stopped there to take a selfie on top of the bridge before we crossed into Co. Longford and passed along Abbeyshrule Aerodrome. Crossing over the Whitworth Aqueduct we were now on the straight towards the Rustic Inn. The north bank where the Greenway will be still hasn’t been completed between Scally’s Bridge and Webb Bridge but the road on the other side is perfectly fine to walk, cycle or run on. We got to the Rustic Inn at 15:07 only 7 minutes behind schedule and I had allowed myself to 15:30 to take a break here.

Enjoying a chicken dipper for lunch.

I enjoyed some chicken dippers and a pint of Rockshore here at a long table that Ed had arranged for us. A good number of my family including my other brother Ivan, my niece and my sister-in-law all joined with more runners who had been with me earlier in the day. Amanda, Richie and Paula all managed to make it home after Costa to have a shower and even clean their event t-shirts before coming back out to join us, Amanda happily enjoying a bottle of wine. Gillian, Ross’s partner was also there. The only people missing were my parents who I had been expecting but later found out they had car trouble but I knew they would be joining us later.

I could have sat there happily for a few hours and had another drink but with less than a marathon to go it was time to get moving. I presented Tracey and Anita with their dog tags and got a great group shot of everybody wearing the t-shirt in the pub before I headed out the door at 15:35 only 5 minutes behind schedule. 

L-R Standing: Colin, JC, Niamg, Gary (me), Richie, Paula, Taylor
L-R Front: Denise, Tracey, Anita, Amanda

I was thrilled to have family for join me for the next section as my brother Ross joined me for a second stint after running from the start to Castleknock some 15 hours previously along with my niece Taylor and my sister-in-law Denise whom it seems the running bug has really bit. After the food I wanted to give it a while to settle before I could get into a running rhythm again but unfortunately it took longer than I hoped to find it. Most of the following section to Ballybrannigan was walked. We did have one go at a run which probably lasted for 5 minutes but otherwise it was steady progress. Denise was the last person to sign on to run with me on the day and I gather that she was a little apprehensive that she would slow me down, in this case it certainly seemed the opposite, I was moving slower than she could have possibly expected, so much so she jumped in later again to do another section. 

The section between Abbeyshrule and Ballybrannigan has more twists and turns on it than any other section of the canal, there are no long straights like much of the earlier sections so again I grew a little impatient going around every corner waiting to find Ballybrannigan Harbour. Eventually at 17:06 we came into the harbour at the large 3 storey storehouse, only 6 minutes behind schedule, over 130km into the run.

Ballybrannigan Canal Storehouse

At Ballybrannigan I sank a bottle of diet coke very quickly, just wanting something sweet and gave Taylor and Denise their dog tags. JC, Colin and Ros who had run from the city centre to Maynooth with me earlier were all ready to jump in now. We left Ballybrannigan at 17:09. The sun had now fully passed overhead but the canal soon takes a turn north so at least we wouldn’t be chasing the sunset. After walking for several hours I finally had it in my legs to get running again and we covered several kilometres before I broke again and needed a walk break. There was good banter with many retro references thrown in for good measure along this section as well as recounting how I had lead Colin and Gary wrong on this section during a recce run earlier in the year.

The reality of the day finally dawning on Colin and JC

Even with the walk break we reached Mosstown ahead of schedule at 18:22. Unfortunately that meant that I was a victim of my own success as the new relay runners had yet to arrive. I was determined to push on and was adamant that I would leave without them but as I was applying yet another layer of deep heat to my knees and eating a bar of chocolate the car arrived with my father and some of his marathon training buddies from Lough Key parkrun.

David, Gerard, Cathy and myself set off from Mosstown at 18:25 after being told that the other person we were to meet would meet us out there. Several minutes later we came to Deirdre who had run from Aghnaskea at the 41st Lock. David was tasked with wearing the go-pro here. Deirdre had got delayed by running a mile out of her way on the closed Longford Branch of the canal. When she called my father to see where he was she discovered her error by the fact she was no longer by any water. She made good time then to meet us at the 41st Lock. 

Gerard, David, Deirdre, Cathy and Gary

There was some confusion between crew, runners and family going on around this time that I still don’t fully understand but from what I gathered Denise got dropped to Mosstown after we started running and ended up putting in an extremely fast 5k to catch us, Gillian ended up jumping out a car in the middle of nowhere to help find my mother who had gotten lost and JC and Colin arrived at the Richmond Inn for a shower but the key was with Ivan elsewhere but at the end of the day I was still moving and that’s all that’s important right? Denise caught up with us not far after the Ballinamore Bridges and then helped increase the run walk pace all the way to Aghnaskea. We found out later that a tractor pulling silage slipped into the canal not long after we passed the area. 

We reached the church at Aghnaskea at 19:44, a minute ahead of schedule. My mind was keenly focused on getting to the finish at this stage, so much so that I forgot to give out the dog tags to David, Gerard, Deirdre and Cathy. I was delighted though at last to be on the final section, less than 7km to go and I was getting to do it with Niamh. Even better we prepped some bottles of diet coke with rum to celebrate our run to the finish. We left Aghnaskea at 19:48.

Niamh and I at the finish.

I had an hour and 12 minutes to make it to the finish to reach my dream time, only 7km to go and I had my biggest enabler and supporter at my side. Easy, right? We sipped on the rum in the evening sun and all was well. Everybody else had instructions to gather at Richmond Harbour in Cloondara at this stage. 

Niamh and I enjoyed a brisk walk as she caught me up with all the goings on with the crew over the course of the day and I started to have much greater appreciation for everything that they had done. There have been many times over the last couple of months where I have wondered to myself if I had over thought and over planned what I was doing but with all the feedback I was getting it was obvious that not only was it necessary but it was paying off for everybody. For what was a supported run for me had turned out to be a great day out for everybody else. I’ve had highs and lows in almost every long run I’ve done including 3 100km events and a 50miler not to mention the long training runs but on this occasion I was definitely on a positive note for almost the entire day.

As we passed the lifting bridges by the bog at Begnagh I suddenly had a whole new understanding for the term “hot spot”. I had an inkling that a blister may have been forming on the ball of my right foot but all of a sudden it felt like someone had turned on a blow torch on my foot. The feeling was rather intense. Passing the 45th Lock I told Niamh that I would do my best to run from Richmond Harbour to the end point at Shannon Navigation sign just past the 46th Lock.

Richmond Bridge looking east

As we approached the corner before Richmond Bridge I could see that several people had gathered at the bridge to see me finish and with that I decided to try run. The adrenaline managed to carry me from that corner right to the end with Niamh and Ros recording me on his phone barely able to keep up. Colin was on a loud speaker in the harbour where I got a great cheer as I passed under the bridge and alongside the boats before I passed the remaining family, friends and runners who had gathered at the 46th Lock to see me descend down to the sign above the Camlin River where I finished in a time of 20hours, 47 minutes and 46 seconds, some 12 minutes and 14 seconds quicker than the best target I had set myself. 

Crew, Runners and Family at the Finish
The feast at the finish in The Richmond Inn
The Richmond Inn at Richmond Harbour whose kitchen staff stayed on late to serve us dinner and was a great place to put our heads down for the night after the adventure.