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Royal Canal

Royal Canal Greenway: The Longford Branch

The Longford Branch of the Royal Canal was built several years after the Main Line was completed to Cloondara in 1817. Offically opened in January 1830 the branch is roughly 8.5km long but has since been shortened slightly after Longford Harbour was filled in and the new terminus moved to the south side of the railway line. While the branch is not navigable an accessible path runs the full length of it to the main line and is suitable for walkers, runners and cyclists.

Example of the path near Churchlands Bridge

As the branch is located close to the railway station I thought it would be a good idea to start this post at the old Longford Harbour and head out towards Cloonsheerin and the junction with the Main Line.

Longford Harbour Master’s House

The former Harbour Master’s House now sits overlooking a car park where the harbour once was. According to the Guide to the Royal Canal if the harbour were to be re-excavated, all of the original stonework is in situ under the compacted infill.

Former Royal Canal Ticket Office at Longford Harbour

Another prominent building on the site of the infilled harbour is listed by the National Inventory of Architectural Heritage as being the former Royal Canal Ticket Office and may have been originally built as a warehouse or store for the canal. With the harbour now gone you can follow a path down underneath the railway to the other side where the new terminus of the canal is now.

Railway sheds as seen from the new terminus of the canal. The lie off to one side between the new terminus and the old harbour.

The first 1.5km of the canal from the new terminus to just beyond Farranyoogan Bridge holds water and is home to a considerable number of ducks, moorhens, butterflies and dragon flies. Longford County Council also recently finished upgrading the canal path on both sides with a smooth tarmac surface and lighting from the start as far as Churchlands Bridge, a distance of nearly 3km.

Watered section of Longford Branch with tarmac paths and lighting on both sides of the canal.

This section the of the canal is the venue of the popular Run Canal Run Longford which offers runners a choice of 10k, half marathon, full marathon and an ultra marathon running loops up one side and back the other between the terminus and Churchlands Bridge. This section also celebrates Irish athlete and Longford native Ray Flynn who ran an impressive 89 sub 4 minute miles over the course of his career and still holds the Irish 1 mile record with a time of 3:49.77 ran in Oslo in July 1982.

Ray Flynn Mile Challenge sign on the Canal Path

The first bridge we come to, a little less than 1.5km from the harbour is Farranyoogan Bridge and is the most prominent and visible bridges along the Longford Branch. It is possible to pass under the bridge on the eastern side of the canal.

Farranyoogan Bridge

A very short distance after the bridge there is a dam which ensures the first section we have just completed remains watered from the local springs nearby. From here on to the junction with the Main Line is dry. It is a little over 1km from Farranyoogan Bridge to Churchlands Bridge and the canal bed is visible for almost all of this section, with much of the overgrowth that was in the canal removed when the paths were done.

The dry bed of the canal between Farranyoogan Bridge and Churchlands Bridge.

Churchlands Bridge is a now out of use bridge built in the first half of the 20th century on the site of a former canal bridge dating back to the building of the Longford Branch.

Churchlands Bridge as viewed from the Longford town side.

Unfortunately after the closing of the canal in the early 1960’s several culverted road crossing at the canal level were built by Longford County Council to by-pass the narrow and often hump backed bridges of the canal that were not designed for the traffic of the 1960’s let alone today. All of these culverts on the Main Line have since been replaced by bridges allowing for full navigation of the Main Line, however two such culverts remain on the Longford Branch, both carrying the N63 and remain as probably the biggest cost and obstacle in reopening the Longford Branch to navigation.

Standing on the culverted road crossing of the N63 looking at the back of Churchlands Bridge.

It is necessary to come off the canal path at Churchlands Bridge to cross the N63 over to the other side where the canal path now becomes single sided continuing on the east side only. The surface of the path here changes to a stone trail but apart from the occasional short patch is consistent with the stone dust trail we are used to on much of the Main Line Greenway. It is 1km from here to where we must pass over another culverted road crossing of the N63 near Knockanboy Bridge.

Looking back across the culverted N63 crossing near Knockanboy Bridge

The old road Knockanboy Bridge carried and was by-passed by the culvert is still open and the main road can be seen swerving around it on either end from the top of the bridge.

Knockanboy Bridge obscured by trees growing in the channel of the canal

It can be noted that as the Longford Branch was built after the Main Line and additionally after the original Royal Canal Company was wound up, the bridges are not named for company subscribes or owners of the land on which they were built but simply named now for the townlands they are in.

Shortly after Knockanboy Bridge the canal path lines up briefly with the R397. There is a small petrol station with a shop only a short distance down the road here and this is the only opportunity you will have to get any supplies should you want any one this section.

Turning the corner away from the road you pass over a small aqueduct before reaching Cloonturk Bridge. Cloonturk Bridge still provides an important function as you must cross it over to the west side of the canal to carry on the canal path.

Looking over Cloonturk Bridge

Carrying on down the west side of the canal we pass an charming remote cottage which is still lived in.

Cottage on the Longford Branch

It is just over 1km from Cloonturk Bridge to Newtown Bridge. Most of the Longford Branch between Churchlands Bridge and Cloonsheerin now has considerable tree growth or reeds along the channel and as such the bridges are fairly obscured from sight.

Looking towads Cloonsheerin from the top of Newtown Bridge

It is roughly 1.5km from Newtown Bridge to Aghantrah Bridge. Between the two bridges the canal path goes around a small clump of trees which may originally been part of the canal as place to allow other boats to pass. There is also a another small aqueduct that you would hardly notice. There is a 90 degree turn to the south just before Aghantrah Bridge itself.

Aghantrah Bridge

There is a third aqueduct carrying the canal over a small stream below between Aghantrah and Cloonsheerin Bridge. The two bridges are 700m apart.

The grassy crossing of Cloonsheerin Bridge.

Around the next bend and 300m further down you will come to the dam and the junction with the Main Line of the Royal Canal. You will also see the familiar sight of the National Famine Way Shoes.

National Famine Way Shoes at Cloonsheerin

At the junction of the canal, Cloondara is only 8km to the right while Ballymahon is a little over 15km if you go to your left.

Dam at the junction with the Main Line viewed from the east side of the canal.

Waterways Ireland undertook a feasibility study into the restoration of the Longford Branch of the Royal Canal in 2014 but unfortunately the link to the study no longer works. Not factoring in the cost of the project the study was generally positive about the condition of the Longford Branch and also had so insights to the variety of wildlife that can be found on it.

Royal Canal Main Line at Cloonsheerin

While the section is not navigable the canal path is in good condition and the branch is well worth the detour for those who have the time or is a pleasant journey for those starting out in Longford Town. It also serves as a good reminder of all the amazing work done to restore the Main Line as it illustrates how quickly nature can take over when left to itself.

Part 1: North Wall to Cross Guns Bridge

Part 2: Cross Guns Bridge to Castleknock

Part 3: Castleknock to Leixlip Confey

Part 4: Leixlip Confey to Maynooth

Part 5: Maynooth to Enfield

Part 6: Enfield to Thomastown

Part 7: Thomastown to Mullingar Harbour

Part 8: Mullingar to Coolnahay

Part 9: Coolnahay to Ballynacargy Bridge

Part 10: Ballynacargy to Abbeyshrule

Part 11: Abbeyshrule to Ballybrannigan

Part 12: Ballybrannigan to the 41st Lock

Part 13: 41st Lock to Richmond Harbour

Part 14: The Lough Owel Feeder

Annex 1: The Old Rail Trail – Mullingar to Athlone

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Royal Canal

Cruising on the Royal Canal: Travelling through the Deep Sinking by Barge

Running the length of the Royal Canal in a single day is a fairly unique way to experience the joys of travelling along its banks. However, a promise I made to myself that mid-summers day in 2019 was that one day I would return to see the canal the way it is truly meant to be seen, to be experienced, from the water. It took me over two years to finally book a trip with Royal Canal Boat Trips and the charismatic skipper Jenny.

Jenny and her barge passing the Maynooth Swans and cygnets

2021 has certainly been the year of the Royal Canal. While the navigation itself fully reopened in 2010, 2021 has seen the launch of the Royal Canal Greenway, Ireland’s longest greenway, linking Maynooth to the Shannon at Cloondara with options to also travel the Old Rail Trail to Athlone or take the Longford Branch off the main line to Longford town. Following on from the launch of the greenway, RTÉ’s Nationwide also dedicated a weeks worth of their programming to exploring the canal with hosts Anne Cassin and Bláthnaid Ní Chofaigh starting at opposite ends and meeting each other in Mullingar.

While the Greenway has been getting the majority of the focus of late, the setting for my short cruise is the marvelous Deep Sinking, casting off from the 12th Lock in Castleknock and heading west through a true man made wonderland, largely untouched by development since its difficult and costly construction in the 1790’s.

Heading towards Granard Bridge and the Deep Sinking

I have already covered the Deep Sinking from the towpath on my page here but I think it is fair to say it is an area like no other on the Royal Canal for intrigue, controversy, expense and tragedy, all of which take on a much greater meaning when seen from the water rather than from the heights above.

Magical Reflections from the water of the Deep Sinking

Let me first start with the intrigue. Why was it that over 200 years ago the board of the original Royal Canal Company decided to deviate away from the surveys that told them that it would be more practical and cost effective to build the canal on a more northerly route rather than to dig and blast their way through a limestone quarry? As knowledge of history of the Royal Canal grows, many would now tell you that this was done at the behest of the William Fitzgerald, 2nd Duke of Leinster, a subscriber to the Royal Canal Company, so that the canal would pass alongside his country seat of Carton House, now a luxury hotel and golf course.

Tool marks at Kirkpatrick Bridge

Unfortunately with all the records of the original Royal Canal Company lost, it is not something I think we can ever be 100% sure of. That said the Deep Sinking was a mammoth undertaking in terms of cost and labour, taking several years to dig out of the hard rock. Fast forward to today and considerable attention has been drawn to the existence of 4 arches built into the south bank of the Deep Sinking between Kirkpatrick and Keenan Bridges. Awareness of these arches has gained traction through the Friends of the Deep Sinking Facebook group while their true function remains a mystery. My own personal thinking is that they were build to provide stability to weak parts of the towpath where the horses would have once pulled the barges through the Deep Sinking from a considerable height above the canal.

Arch hidden by overgrowth as seen from the barge

As Jenny navigates her daily charter back and forth along the Deep Sinking she has well established the location of the 4 arches. While I know exactly where 2 are from the towpath and have been down in both, one of them is definitely inaccessible from land and I think it was with sense of glee and adventure that she waited patiently to unveil another arch to the world from its mask and curtain of thorny overgrowth. As she stopped the barge alongside the arch pointing out its keystone and light coming through from the other side, it didn’t take any encouragement for me to clamber up the bank and see it from the inside.

Looking back at skipper Jenny and my wife from the arch

Of course now that I made my way up here, it was time to document what I found. The most startling object that caught my attention first was an old motorcycle helmet, lord knows how long that has been down there.

A motorcycle helmet found in the arch

So while I had a sense of adventure, it would seem I am not the only one to have been down here in recent years despite how inaccessible I think the place is. The arch itself is built of brick and is the width of the towpath it carries above.

Several bricks are missing and it can be seen how the arch is built into the bedrock below it.

Vegetation from above has caused some damage as roots have spread over years and a large root now sprouts out of canal facing side of the arch having forced some bricks free and splitting others around it.

Roots protruding out through the brickwork near the centre of the arch

Of course a structure like this is not something that should be kept secret or hidden, especially if we are to have any hope of it being preserved given its delicate condition. Jenny came prepared and passed me up a set of pincer shears which I was able to use to remove some of the curtain, allowing light flow in from the canal side so that passers-by on the canal can marvel at another wonder of the Deep Sinking.

The arch after its haircut, opened up for all to see

After getting my feet firmly back on the barge, we proceeded gently west again, stopping a short distance further at the site of an old well just before Keenan Bridge. While the well was dry you could see how steps had been fashioned down to it from the towpath and how a pipe had been installed so water could be taken from the well. It gave me an amazing sense of joy to be shown these things that I knew nothing of before, highlighting that no matter how often you pass through a place, there are always little treasures and secrets to find.

Well on the south back with small pipe at its base

It is at Keenan Bridge that we come to the tragedy I mentioned earlier. Sensitive souls can feel an eerie feeling of loss passing through the bridge, not far from where the sinking of the Longford passenger boat, with the loss of 16 lives happened in 1845. A better account than I can offer can be read on the Irish Waterways History website. A memorial plaque was erected by the Royal Canal Amenity Group on the bridge on the 150th anniversary in 1995.

Keenan Bridge as viewed from the Clonsilla side near the location of the sinking of the Longford passenger boat

From Keenan Bridge we headed for our turn around point just short of Callaghan Bridge at Clonsilla Train Station, a distance of 2.5 miles in about 90 minutes. This is the true pleasure of travelling by barge. When running I would expect to cover 9 miles in 90 minutes and would still think that I have taken in my surroundings but in reality I have missed so much and have a whole new appreciation for the Deep Sinking by taking the time to travel its waterway and conversing with those who have a shared love of the canal, its history and its heritage, each of us filling in a little bit of the rich tapestry that makes up the fascinating tale of its past and those who have gone before us, be they navvies, engineers, merchants or travellers.

Approaching the turn around point near Callaghan Bridge

I mentioned earlier that the Deep Sinking was also the site of controversy and expense. This started indeed with its construction in the 1790s and between making the Deep Sinking navigable and building the Rye Water Aqueduct in Leixlip, the Royal Canal Company had drained its financial resources barely getting out of Dublin, let alone making it to the Shannon. What followed was protracted funding requests to government allowing the canal be finished first to Kilcock in 1796, eventually on to Mullingar in 1806 before the company fell bankrupt after reaching Coolnahay around 1813. From there the canal was finished to the Shannon under the control of the Directors for Inland Navigation, finally being completed to Richmond Harbour in 1817.

The canopy above the Deep Sinking on a soft day

It seems this controversy continues on into the 21st century with the planning for the completion of the Greenway into Dublin from Maynooth and the intention of developers to build apartments very close to the canal bank. I cannot deny that I am an advocate for the completion of the Greenway and I hope that a solution that allows that completion can be found, however I am very mindful that the Deep Sinking is a place steeped in wildlife, built heritage and also a spiritual resting place. All these factors must be considered in advance of any work undertaken. The canal is man-made, built over 200 years ago and while it needed substantial work to restore it for navigation, the craftsmanship on display shows it was built not only to outlast those who started it, but the many generations that would follow in its wake from a commercial route to a leisure amenity.

Kirkpatrick Bridge built into the bedrock of the Deep Sinking with tool marks visible

The short trip only heightened my desire to one day travel the full length of the canal once again, only this time at an easy pace, by barge, all the best explorers went by boat right? I will take it one step at a time though, the next step is to see if I can book another trip with Royal Canal Boat Trips as far as Maynooth and get to experience transiting through a lock. After our return to Castleknock my wife and I were a little early for lunch in the 12th Lock so we walked on along the canal to The Lock Keeper at the 10th Lock in Ashtown.

Finished the day with lunch at the Lock Keeper in Ashtown

PS – Many thanks to my wife Niamh for many of the photos used here, recording what I was only taking in in my own minds eye as the skipper and I shared stories of travelling the canal.

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Royal Canal

Official Launch of The Royal Canal Greenway

The Royal Canal Greenway has been officially launched today 24th March 2021, by Minister for Transport Eamon Ryan and Minister for State Malcolm Noonan.

Information, photos and guides for the entire length of the Royal Canal Greenway including the Longford Branch as well as information on the Lough Owel Feeder, the Old Rail Trail and the towpath from Spencer Dock to Maynooth can be found throughout this website. I hope you find it informative as you explore this amazing amenity. Take a look at the video here:

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Royal Canal

Down to Town Marathon Route Description

With the Dublin Marathon being held virtually for another year, Leixlip man Declan Kenny has organised a self supported marathon along the banks of the Royal Canal from the Hill of Down to Leixlip Confey which people can use to record a virtual Dublin City Marathon time on the DCM app or for people who just want to do a distance event in great surroundings. Details about signing up for the Down to Town Marathon can be found here. For those of you signed up, I hope you will find this post a useful guide to the route on the day along with the photos I have taken to help give you visual reference points along the way.

Race Organiser Declan Kenny wearing the event Buff

As Down to Town is a point-to-point marathon, the meet up point is at the finish area at the Confey GAA Club at the top of Captains Hill in Leixlip. Please note this is not the same as Leixlip GAA club which is on Green Lane. From there participants will take a bus departing at 9am to Hill of Down for a start time of 10am. In order to make up the correct distance, the start line is roughly 450 meters west of drop off point at Killyon Bridge which the participants will have to walk to. This will give you a good opportunity to warm up.

The tree on the south bank that marks the start line.
View looking east towards Hill of Down from the start line.

The marathon starts on the north bank of the Royal Canal Greenway (canal is on your right hand side) and it is a short distance of 450m to the first landmark we will come to, Killyon Bridge in the village of Hill of Down. Approaching the bridge, the path splits in two, one leading under the bridge and the other leading over it. The path under the bridge is narrow and caution is required but is still the better option as going over the bridge to the other side requires crossing a main road.

Approach to Killyon Bridge, Hill of Down. Runners can use the narrow path on the right to pass under the bridge.

Leaving Hill of Down, it is 2.5km to the next major landmark, Blackshade Bridge. It is not possible to pass under the bridge so it is necessary for runners to run up a slope to the bridge and cross a main road before carrying on down on the other side, all the while remaining on the north bank of the canal.

Rising up to the main road crossing at Blackshade Bridge

After dropping down the other side of Blackshade Bridge it is a little over 2km before we come to the River Boyne Aqueduct which lies just to the west of Longwood Harbour.

Approaching River Boyne Aqueduct

After passing over the River Boyne and the Longwood Road Aqueduct you will come into Longwood Harbour. As this is a self-sufficient marathon it is useful to know that there is a tap on the edge of the old cottage building in the harbour. There is also usually a horse-box coffee shop at the harbour should anyone want to get supplies early on. I will point out several places where supplies can be purchased close to the route as I go along. Unfortunately I cannot be certain that all of these will be open/working on the day.

Longwood Harbour with Horsebox Coffee Shop. Note small black box to the right of the Red Cottage door which has a water tap.

Next up, leaving Longwood Harbour behind us, we come to the Ribbontail Footbridge and stop gates. These are just short of 2km beyond Longwood Harbour.

Ribbontail Footbridge and Stop Gates

A further 2km east we come to Furey’s pub in Moyvalley and the first place we must cross over the canal to the south bank where the canal will now be on the runners left. Ascending up towards Furey’s Pub and Moyvalley Bridge, you will be on the old Galway road as you cross the canal bridge before descending down the ramp under the new Galway Road and continuing on the south bank.

Ascending up to road level between Furey’s Pub and the old Moyvalley Bridge
Runners must cross the bridge carrying the old road to the south bank of the canal.
Once over the bridge you descend down the new ramp on the other side of the canal.

Not long after coming down the ramp you will pass the 10k marker for the marathon as you run along a green fence that separates the Greenway from the Railway.

Approaching the 10K marker for the marathon just after Moyvalley

Just under 2km from Furey’s you will come to Kilmore Bridge. Like Killyon Bridge in Hill of Down, runners have the option to take the narrow path under the bridge or to rise up over it having to cross the road while doing so. There is a guard rail under this bridge so it is best to carry on under.

Approach to Kilmore Bridge where runners can pass under the bridge rather than having to cross the road over it.

Less than 1km after Kilmore Bridge, runners will pass over the Blackwater Aqueduct.

Crossing over the Blackwater Aqueduct

Runners have a good straight run of 3.7km after the Blackwater Aqueduct to the next landmark of Enfield Bridge and the next crossing point of the canal. This is one of two major road crossing on the route that have pedestrian traffic lights. When you come up to the bridge it is worth knowing there is an Applegreen Service station about 100 meters to the right before crossing the road if you need any water or supplies. The pedestrian lights are very responsive to those using the canal so I recommend using the lights to cross the road which will also bring you back down on the north bank of the canal (canal is on your right hand side) which is the side you will stay on for the rest of the marathon.

Approach to Enfield Bridge
Applegreen Garage with Shop 100m from Enfield Bridge on the right.
Pedestrian Lights and Crossing on Enfield Bridge. Runners must cross over the road and the canal to the north bank to continue.
Dropping down the other side of Enfield Bridge with the canal now back on the right hand side of the Greenway path.

Leaving Enfield behind we run for just over 2km before we reached a shared road space where cars may be driving along the same section of canal as we are running.

Approaching the gate to the shared space road to Cloncurry Bridge
Shared space road heading towards Cloncurry Bridge

The road lasts for just less than 1km before we reach Cloncurry Bridge. Unfortunately we cannot pass under Cloncurry Bridge so please exercise caution as you rise up over it, across the road and down the other side. Any of you who are familiar with Lock Up the Year marathon may remember having to cross over the bridge here. This is no longer necessary, the Greenway continues on the north bank so please stick to the good surface and avoid the muddy trails of the south bank (unless that’s really your thing).

Approach up to Cloncurry Bridge
Be careful crossing the road and carry on down the otherside.

There are a few houses down the road on the other side of Cloncurry Bridge so be mindful you may have a car or two pass you along this section but it is unlikely. 2km on from Cloncurry Bridge you will reach a farm house with a pair of gates to the right. These gates are closer together than any of the gates we have gone through so far, reduce your speed as you pass through them.

Tight squeeze of gates beside farmhouse

Not long after passing through the gates you will reach the half way mark for the marathon before reaching the forest section.

Tree marking the halfway point of the marathon.

It is roughly 3.5km to the next landmark of the 17th Lock, known locally as Ferrans Lock. You have spent nearly 24km on the Long Level before reaching the 17th Lock which marks the start of the descent down into Leixlip. As we approach the 17th Lock you will see a gate off the road and the Greenway rises to the lock on the right before dropping down again, crossing the road at the railway crossing to carry on towards Kilcock.

Keep right when you meet the road as you approach the 17th Lock.
The drop down to the road at the 17th lock, caution when crossing the road.
Pass through the metal gate to carry on towards Kilcock

After crossing the road at the 17th Lock it is just short of 3km to the next landmark of Allen Bridge, also known locally as Spins Bridge. This part of the route may be familiar to those of you who have done Royal Canal parkrun Kilcock. The path under Allen Bridge is fairly tight and this can be a busy section of Greenway so it may be useful to shout ahead as you approach encase you bump into somebody coming in the other direction.

Approach to Allen Bridge.
Coming out the other side of Allen Bridge, be aware that a path joins from the left as you emerge.

It is 1km from Allen Bridge to the 16th Lock and Shaw’s Bridge and the upper end of Kilcock Harbour. Dropping down by the 16th Lock you come to the second major road crossing of the route which have pedestrian lights. Unfortunately these lights are less responsive than those in Enfield so be prepared for a wait to get a green man to cross. There is a Supervalu in Kilcock to the left off the bridge if you really need any supplies at this point however it does require a diversion of 250 meters to get to the shop and another 250 meters to get back to the canal. Alternatively there is a Lidl just across the road on the edge of the town as you pass. The harbour in Kilcock also has several bins so is the first real opportunity to dispose of any rubbish you may have.

Dropping down to the pedestrian crossing at the 16th Lock in Kilcock.
Pedestrian Lights at Shaw’s Bridge, Kilcock Harbour.
If you take the road here between Kilcock Dental and the Black Forest Cafe, Supervalu is 250 meters straigh ahead.

Less than 2km east of Kilcock you will come to Chambers Bridge at the 15th Lock. There is a double set of gates here and while it is unlikely that any cars will be moving around the bridge, the local residents can be coming or going so just keep an eye out.

Approaching the first gates at Chambers Bridge and the 15th Lock.
Approach to Chambers Bridge and the local access road on the left.

Once past Chambers Bridge you are running alongside the grounds of North Kildare Club. As you are passing you are likely to see an open gate to a small shipping container that is usually open selling snacks, coffees and soft drinks and may be a useful place to have a quick pit stop if you need an energy boost. As mentioned before I cannot be 100% certain it will be open on the day but at time of writing it usually is on a Sunday morning.

Gate into North Kildare Club with small coffee stand beside the canal.

You will notice that from the 17th Lock on, there tends to be more traffic along the Greenway from walkers to runners and cyclists so please be mindful and respectful of other users of the Greenway. A short distance after North Kildare Club you will pass under Bailey Bridge which now has a large concrete extension to cater for Greenway users but can have a bit of a blind spot for those coming in the other direction.

Approach to Bailey Bridge which as you can see is difficult to see people coming towards you from the other side.

It is slightly less than 1.5km from Bailey Bridge to Jackson Bridge and the 14th Lock which marks the 32km of the marathon or more importantly, only 10km left to go. There is a low narrow pedestrian arch in Jacksons Bridge which can also be blind to people coming from below the lock so be cautious on approach.

Approaching the 14th Lock at Jacksons Bridge, 10km to go.
Narrow, low pedestrian arch at Jackson Bridge

After passing under Jackson Bridge you are running alongside the edge of Maynooth College and after nearly 2km you will come to Bond Bridge as you come into Maynooth. Like Allen Bridge, Bond Bridge is narrow and can be blind passing under it.

Approach to Bond Bridge

Out the other side of Bond Bridge you are on the last of the official Greenway section of the Royal Canal as you approach Maynooth Harbour 500 meters further on from the Bridge.

Approaching Maynooth Harbour

Maynooth Harbour is triangular in shape and requires you to run slightly towards the town and the harbour slipway before carrying on past the the playground towards Mullen Bridge. As you reach the slipway you will see the Harbour Field. If you look across the field you will see a set of traffic lights on the far corner, beyond which lies a newsagents and Supervalu in the Glenroyal complex should you want any supplies. If you do leave the course here it is possible to rejoin the canal by running up the ramp beside the hotel which will then drop you down the other side of Mullen Bridge. Like almost all the bridges we have encountered, when coming from the harbour, exercise caution as you pass under the bridge as the path us narrow. You will also pass under the ‘new’ road bridge.

Approach to Mullen Bridge
Passing under Mullen Bridge and the Straffan Road Bridge
Ramp up from Supervalu Maynooth to Mullen Bridge

As I mentioned earlier, the Royal Canal Greenway ends at Maynooth Harbour so the towpath isn’t as good from here on to the finish. That said it still have a stone surface from Maynooth Harbour to Pike Bridge and a little beyond which is over 2.5km before you reach a grass section. Some of the section can have large puddles though if it is wet.

Approach to Pike Bridge outside Carton House.
Passing under Pike Bridge to Carton Wharf

A little after Carton Wharf at Pike Bridge we come onto the softest section of the course which lasts for about 1km to Deey Bridge.

Trail section of Towpath approaching Deey Bridge and the 13th Lock

As we get to the 13th Lock, we cross over a quiet road, however we must make our way through a set of kissing gates before crossing the road. The good news however is that we are back on solid ground for a bit on the other side.

Approaching the Kissing Gates and road at Deey Bridge and the 13th Lock
Crossing the road and the narrow gate the other side of Deey Bridge.

You are now running past Intel and Le Chéile Running Club as you approach Louisa Bridge, 1.5km beyond Deey Bridge. Again Louisa Bridge has a narrow approach and is blind to the other side.

Approaching Louisa Bridge.
Emerging out the other side of Louisa Bridge.

You are now on the final stretch of the Down to Town Marathon as you make your way across the Ryewater Aqueduct and past the Old Toll House.

The Old Toll House.

You round one last corner before having less than 1km straight to the finish line.

The finish line awaits you just short of Cope Bridge at Confey

When you finally reach the finish line, it is just a short hop across the road to Confey GAA where we all gathered at the start to grab the bus.

Confey GAA Club from the Canal.

One final thing I have to add, you will see several portaloos along the route behind fencing. Unfortunately these are not for public use and are locked so they may as well be a mirage or an hallucination for all they are worth. Sadly, a few that had been put in recently for public use have already been burnt out.

One of several inaccessible portaloos along the route.

I hope you have found this guide useful and I look forward to running with you on the day. – Gary aka the Royal Canal Runner.

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Royal Canal Run Reports

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. 

All packed and ready to go

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.

Going over the check list with Paul

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. 

With family before the start

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 which were printed up by Ash and his team in Run Logic.

With Ash from Run Logic who printed the t-shirts

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. 

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

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 was 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. Richie, one of the runners who would join me later in the day wrote this little ditty to the tune of The Auld Triangle to mark our run. Straight after we crossed over the Phibsborough Road at the traffic lights and we were well on our way out of the city. 

The Auld Triangle in Mountjoy Prison

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.

First crew stop at the 12th Lock Castleknock

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. 

Personalised Dog Tags for my support runners

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. 

Running (carefully) through the Deep Sinking

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. 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. 

Paul at Cope Bridge, Leixip Confey

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.

Sky starting to get bright in at Kilcock Harbour

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. 

Contents of my selection boxes, plenty of variety

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 was 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.

Getting my WIngs

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. 

The Bruces fresh as daisies as we depart Enfield

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.

Amanda Richie and I as I pass 50km

The section between Kilmore Bridge and the Moyvalley Bridges was 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.

The Greenway is now open on the south bank at Kilmore Bridge

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.

Approaching Longwood Harbour

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. 

Blue skies as we pass Hill of Down

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 18th Lock 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.

Setting off from Mary Lynch’s

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. 

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

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. 

Giving out the dog tags at Costa in Mullingar

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.

What kept me going for the day, yes that does say Rum

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.

Coffee to keep the crew fueled

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.

Gary D and Gary O’D leaving Mullingar

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 finishing the Dingle Adventure Race a few weeks earlier

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 Bridge and Harbour

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.

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

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. 

Anita and Tracey before their 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.

Light aircraft at 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 wasn’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.

Webb Bridge in Abbeyshrule

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, Niamh, 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. 

My niece Taylor, brother Ivan, sister-in-law Denise in Niamh at Strokestown parkrun the morning after the Royal Canal Run. Strokestown House is the start of the National Famine Way

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.

Gerard, David, Deirdre, Cathy and Gary

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 old 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. 

Father and son at the 41st Lock

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?

Nearing the 43rd Lock with my sister-in-law Denise. She would go on to complete her first half marathon a few weeks later.

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. 

You never know what you’ll see on the banks of the Royal Canal

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. 

I hadn’t finished but some some the celebrations had already started

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.

The completed training plan

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.

Sprinting for the finish

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. I had set the Royal Canal’s first Fastest Known Time some 12 minutes and 14 seconds quicker than the best target I had set myself.

Crew, Runners and Family at the Finish

When all was said and done it was off into the Richmond Inn at the Richmond Harbour to celebrate.

The feast at the finish in The Richmond Inn

You couldn’t ask for a better finish line with fine food and a great guesthouse ensuring I didn’t have to punish my legs any further. I can’t lie though, a hot meal and a hot shower and I was fit for my bed.

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.

The following morning I was up early for a full Irish before I headed off to Strokestown parkrun where I was quite happy to cheer on everybody else from the grass verge.

A surprise at my desk when I got back to work.

So the question remains, how did I do over 3miles or 5km more than the length of the route? Well forgiving my little diversion to the Five Lamps at the start and the multiple crossing of the canal to stay on the Greenway, I guess I arsed about too much at my rest stops. Lesson is, if I go direct, there’s definitely room for improvement!