Grand Canal

Walking on the Grand Canal: Naas Branch

I am taking a break today from the Royal Canal to instead look at the short branch off the Grand Canal to Naas town. Since the start of the Covid-19 Pandemic I have been confined to Maynooth and areas on the Royal Canal which I have already covered but when restrictions eased briefly I saw it as the perfect time to take a look at a branch of the Royal’s southerly competitor.

Soldier’s Island at the split between the Main Line (R) and Naas Branch (L)

From where the canal branches off the Main Line of the Grand Canal at Soldier’s Island it is less than 3.5km to the Harbour in Naas itself. However for the assistance of those who wish to follow this route it is best that we start a little further back at Sallins Bridge where it is necessary to come off the Grand Canal and through a warren of estates to join the Naas Branch on the south bank of the Grand Canal rather than follow the Main Line out on the north bank.

View from Sallins Bridge looking west. As you cannot follow the bank on the left to the Naas Branch it is necessary to divert through the Oberstown Housing Estates.

If you come to Sallins along the Grand Canal towpath from Dublin you come into the village on the south bank along Church Avenue. To get to the Naas Branch you must come up to the bridge level and take a left down to the entrance of Oberstown Court on your right (before the road rises over the railway). Follow the road the whole way down Oberstown Court to Sallins Wharf following it around until you come to a large green space. Cross over the green space in front of the Sallins Pier houses to the line of trees by the canal. If you follow these line of trees down you will find a break through which you can access the towpath that will lead you to the Naas Branch.

Entrance of filled in Dry Dock

As you pass through the trees you are passing over the remains of a filled in Dry Dock of the Grand Canal Company. Little seems to be known about this dry dock and what little information I can find is best described on the Irish Waterways History website here.

Stonework on the corner of the Dry Dock

Following the canal around to the left you will see the split with the main line and the triangular shaped Soldier’s Island. The Naas Branch was originally independently built by The County of Kildare Canal Company and was overseen by engineer William Chapman who was renowned for his use of Skew Bridges. The Naas Branch had three but these were later modified to give more headroom. Started in 1786/7 it was originally envisioned that the branch would go down to Kilcullen and possibly even as far as Baltinglass however the company did not survive long and was acquired by the Grand Canal Company by 1807/8. The Grand Canal Company extended the line as far as Corbally by 1810 and that is as far as it ever got.

Railway Bridge at the start of the branch.

At the start of the branch we immediately pass under the Great Southern and Western Railway Bridge as we head south towards Oberstown Bridge and the first lock N1. There are a total of 5 Locks on the Naas Branch rising all the way up from the main line to Naas Harbour. Leaving the towpath, we cross over Oberstown Bridge and join the road that will bring us almost the whole way into Naas.

Osberstown (Oberstown) Bridge

The Naas Branch was one of the first sections of the Irish Canal systems to see a completed restoration. New lock gates were made for the Naas Branch in Watling Street in the mid 1980’s where the Royal Canal Amenity Group had already been making new gates for many of the locks on the Royal Canal. This restoration work was undertaken by volunteer work parties of the Inland Waterways Association of Ireland, the Office of Public Works along with FÁS trainees and was completed in May 1987.

N1 Lock at Osberstown Bridge

A little further down the canal we first pass under the M7 Motorway before passing under the Millennium Park Link Road. We then come to the second lock N2 at the Old Odlum’s Mill which closed in 1989 after nearly 200 years in operation. The Mill structures span both sides of the canal. The mill opened as the Leinster Mills in 1790 only a year after the branch itself opened. An article from the Leinster Leader about the closure of the Mill can be found here. Both the Mill and the Mill House were listed for sale in 2019.

N2 Lock at Leinster (Odlums) Mill

It is 800 m from the Mill to the third lock, Burgh’s Lock N3 and a short distance further we come to Tandy’s Bridge.

Tandy’s Bridge (Note support wall under arch)

Staying on the western bank we come up to the fourth lock N4 and across on the east bank we can see the remains of the old Naas Gas Works. It is clear that the canal had a profound effect on the industrial development of Naas with such sites as this and the Mill built along its banks not to mention the market trade the canal would have brought to the town.

Old Naas Gas Works

We then come to the fifth and last lock N5 on the branch about 600m short of the harbour itself.

N5 Lock

Between Lock N5 and the harbour is Abbey Bridge also known as Finlay Bridge which we rise up and cross over to the east bank to bring us into the Naas Harbour.

Abbey Bridge

The old store building can still be found at the harbour while the Naas Market House, built by John Bourke, 4th Earl of Mayo is only a stone’s throw from the harbour.

Old Harbour Store (Now a youth centre) Note CIE marked crane in the centre.
Naas Market House

Just off the harbour you can also see the start of the Corbally Branch that while disused is still in water as it provides the feeder for the Naas Branch. See below link to carry on your journey to Corbally Harbour.

Corbally Branch on the left at Naas Harbour

Walking on the Grand Canal: Naas Harbour to Corbally Harbour

Walking on the Grand Canal: Hazelhatch to Sallins

Walking on the Grand Canal: Sallins to Robertstown

A Guide to Staying on the Right Side of the Grand Canal: Grand Canal Dock to Edenderry

A Guide to Staying on the Right Side of the Grand Canal: Edenderry Branch to Tullamore

Grand Canal

Walking on the Grand Canal: Naas Harbour to Corbally Harbour

Although long closed to navigation by boats the stretch of the Grand Canal from Naas Harbour to Corbally Harbour offers the walker and runner a fine route of just over 8km on which to travel, almost all of which is expansive countryside, ideal for those looking to escape the urban landscape of Naas.

Looking towards the Corbally Extension from Naas Harbour

The Corbally extension has been closed to navigation since the building of the Newbridge Road at canal level in 1954, the line remains in water as a the water source for the Naas Branch comes into the system at Corbally Harbour and flows the whole way down the the main line at Soldier’s Island.

Water Source for the Naas Branch at Corbally Harbour

Built between 1808 and 1810, the Grand Canal Company contracted the Civil Engineering firm of Henry, Mullins & McMahon to construct the extension as well as restoring and adapting some of the Naas Branch after the collapse of the County of Kildare Canal Company. This would be the first job for the firm that also went on to finish the Royal Canal from Coolnahay to Richmond Harbour as well as building the Ballinasloe and Mountmellick Branches of the Grand Canal. While John Killaly did survey a route through Kilcullen and Baltinglas, plans to extend the line beyond Corbally were abandoned.

Signs for the Naas Historic Trail. You can follow these for the first part of the extension from Naas Harbour to Jigginstown Bridge

Passing the Naas Community Library as you leave the Naas Harbour on the south bank you follow the path through Sarto Park to a tree lined trail on the bank and on to Ploopluck Bridge.

Ploopluck Bridge

Continuing west and skirting behind several housing estates you then pass under the more modern Caragh Road Bridge which carries traffic high over the canal.

Canal and Naas Historic Trail passing under the Caragh Road Bridge

It is only a short distance from the Caragh Road Bridge to Jigginstown Bridge (may also be known as Terry Bridge) which now acts as pedestrian access to Naas Sports Centre on the opposite side of the canal.

Sun setting on Jigginstown Bridge

It is necessary to leave the canal at the bridge and move up to the main Newbridge Road and the ruins of Jigginstown House. When this road was built over the canal in the 1950’s it was decided to use a culvert instead of a bridge, therefore sealing the fate of the line as closed to navigation.

Corbally extension meeting the Newbridge Road

We leave the canal as we cross the road and travel on down Jigginstown Green. The canal passes behind several house before we rejoin it about 500m later at Limerick Bridge.

Limerick Bridge

Staying on the south bank of the canal we proceed on west as the canal takes a turn south, now walking on a grassy trail and leaving behind the urban neighbourhoods of Naas. I did this section in mid-summer after a prolonged dry spell so the surface was ideal for me but many have warned me that this area can be overgrown and wet in winter so a good pair of trail runners or boots is advised. It is nearly a 2km stretch before we reach the next landmark of Connaught Bridge.

Connaught Bridge

When you get to Connaught Bridge you must first pass under it before coming up to cross over it and descend down on the other side to what has now become the west bank of the canal. From here on in, we will meet several gates along the path. It is important to be mindful to close the gates behind us as we pass through them as there are free roaming cattle in the fields along the canal. That being the case it is also important to be mindful of where you step!

Canal path after Connaught Bridge

It is 2km from Connaught Bridge along the trail before your come to a canal spillway just before the The Cowhouse at Williow Cottage. From here you are briefly back on a hard surface to Hoare Bridge.

Looking back at Hoare Bridge from Corbally side. The bridge has lost its original features after being widened for traffic on both sides.

It is easier to come up to the road level and back down on the other side at Hoare’s Bridge rather than squeeze through the overgrowth under the bridge. We have a good surface for a short while as we pass along some houses and driveways but before long we are back on the grassy and on a wet day, muddy trail towards Corbally Harbour.

Canal Path between Hoare’s Bridge and Mooney’s Bridge

1km further on from Hoare’s bridge you come to the remains of Mooney’s Bridge. A low level flat accommodation bridge has been built alongside the humpback Mooney’s bridge to allow farmers access to both sides of the canal. Sadly a good part of the wall of Mooney’s Bridge has fallen away on one side.

Looking across Mooney’s Bridge with the flat bridge visible on the left.

From Mooney’s Bridge it is less than 1km to the end of the line at Corbally Harbour and the water source for the Naas Branch. The harbour itself is slightly overgrown but the harbour walls are still visible as are the remains of the harbour stores on the opposite bank.

Looking across Corbally Harbour at the old Harbour Building.

The Corbally Extension is a hidden gem of a route well worth exploring when out by Naas on the Grand Canal. Unfortunately it must be said that it does finish in an area with little around it so it advisable to bring a picnic with you on your walk as you will need to make the return trip to Naas back the way you came.

Walking on the Grand Canal: Naas Branch

Walking on the Grand Canal: Hazelhatch to Sallins

Walking on the Grand Canal: Sallins to Robertstown

A Guide to Staying on the Right Side of the Grand Canal: Grand Canal Dock to Edenderry

A Guide to Staying on the Right Side of the Grand Canal: Edenderry Branch to Tullamore