This Blog’s title owes itself to the River Shannon. The river meanders its way through the countryside and provides us with some beautiful backdrops. Today the sun was shining brightly which can be rarity hereabouts, at least of late. I was smiling to myself after a friend told me a little anecdote about Rick Santorum the US Republican Senator. Apparently Santorum had said that Pope Francis ought to leave climate change to the scientists! Poor Rick however was apparently unaware that the Pope, prior to taking orders was a trained chemical lab technician. Little matters like Ricks oversight can make you feel happy sometimes. As I was passing through Jamestown the river came into view. I just had to stop the car to admire the beautiful Weir and the sound of the cascading waters. I was reminded of those beautifully crafted lines of Kavanagh:-
“Where by a lock Niagariously roars
The falls for those who sit in the tremendous silence
Of mid-July. No one will speak in prose
Who finds his way to these Parnassian islands.”
A few minutes later I stopped at one of the bridges that traverse the Albert Lock and Canal. This stretch of water is likely to be very familiar to the boating fraternity on the Upper Shannon. It is also an area rich in history ancient and modern. The canal is also known as the ‘Jamestown Cut’ and it bypasses an un-navigable part of the river in the loop between the neat villages of Jamestown and Drumsna.Jamestown itself was founded in 1622 as a walled plantation town and remarkably, as a recognised borough, it returned two MP’s up until the Act of Union in 1801 . The town itself never really flourished in the manner envisaged by its founders. Its prominence peaked in the mid seventeenth century when it was fought over during the 1641 Rebellion. In 1650 a famous Synod of the Bishops was held here but from then on the town declined although it retained a modest river trade and was still a significant fording point over the Shannon. The importance of the crossing point has long been recognised. The area marked the traditional fording area and point of demarcation between the ancient provinces of Connacht and Ulster. The ‘Doon’ of Drumsna stretched for over 1.6 km between the villages of Drumsna and Jamestown.The Doon consisted of a large earthenwork rampart up to six metres high on its northern side. The ramparts also had a fortified gate or entrance and was effectively an ancient ‘Checkpoint Charlie’. It is believed that the Doon was in use in the period 500BC to 400AD.
Drumsna is also a picturesque riverside village. Up until the mid Nineteenth Century it was of huge significance as the main postal town of the southern part of the County of Leitrim. The Novelist Anthony Trollope lived for a time in the Village and penned one of his earliest novels ‘The Macdermotts of Ballycloran’ here.Another famous person associated with the area is the famous Surgeon and Explorer Thomas Heazle Parke who was born in nearby Clogher House. Parke made a name for himself in the relief of Gordon at Khartoum in 1885. He also worked with Henry Morton Stanley in the Emin Pash Relief Expedition. Whilst in Central Africa Parke is said to have purchased a pygmy girl, a strange act in modern terms but one which saved his life. When he contracted malaria the girl nursed him back from death. Unfortunately he could not bring her with him as her eyes could not adjust to the sunlight after coming out of the dark of the forest. The Canal was first mooted in the 1600’s as part of an overall scheme to make the Shannon navigable. A canal was not constructed however until 1769. The original canal was much smaller and narrower than what we see today and its depth averaged only 1.2 metres. The Shannon Commissioners approved new works in 1844 and much of the construction work was carried out by Poor Relief Committees during the famine. On average 300 men worked on the Canal daily at this time. The new Lock was named after the Prince Consort and husband of Queen Victoria. The canal served the area well commercially until the late 1950’s by which time increased use of road haulage made the river barges obsolete. From a highway of commerce the river has now become a leisure route . I hope today’s canal users take just a moment to think of the local labourers whose backbreaking toil, with hand tools, built this fine canal, all for the measly sum of six pence a day.
All the toil of man is for his mouth, yet his appetite is not satisfied