Ocean Mist

17 Dec 2016

Canal Bank Walk

Posted by Jes

Waterways Ireland manage some key waterways in Ireland including the Royal Canal, Grand Canal and River Barrow. Sections of the banks are earmarked for Greenways to encourage access by walkers and cyclists. Several sections of canal and riverbank contain very high quality habitat for plants, insects and birds, all natural features that greatly enhance the pleasure of nature lovers, ramblers and even the casual observer.

The canal banks have long attracted the attention of people in search of beauty and relaxation. That most spiritual of Irish poets, Patrick Kavanagh, devoted two poems that celebrate the glories of the Grand Canal in Dublin. In Lines Written on a Seat on the Grand Canal, Dublin the poet makes a plea to be commemorated by placing a seat there in his honour, a wish later fulfilled. Typically for a poet who celebrated the apparently small by magnifying its importance, he compares the water rushing from the lock to the Niagara Falls. He saw the canal as a source of poetic inspiration, a place that stimulates the imagination of the poet so that prose is replaced with poetry.

The poem Canal Bank Walk was written following hospitalisation. Kavanagh found the canal a place where he felt restored in mind, body and soul. Again he saw the banal, commonplace natural features as of profound importance; in this poem he sees them as symbols of God’s presence; the nesting birds, by procreating, are fulfilling God’s purpose. His faith is restored to him by the delirium of being in nature’s enthralling presence and his closing lines show his desire for appreciation of what cannot be understood; he makes a plea for a simple faith:

“For this soul needs to be honoured with a new dress woven/From green and blue things and arguments that cannot be proven.”

How ironic is it that a body charged with encouraging people to enjoy the beauty of our inland waterways should damage the values it seeks to portray?

Recently, Butterfly Conservation Ireland member Patrick Sheridan contacted us about a greenway along the bank of the Royal Canal at Kilcock, in Kildare. The new facility consists of a tarmacadam path that is wide enough to accommodate a truck. It is obvious that the objective here was to install the widest track possible. Where this ends it is followed by a same width path consisting of a more sympathetic material, limestone quarry dust, compacted to form a solid surface. Furthermore, it appears that some natural waterside vegetation, such as Flag Iris, has been removed and is replaced by a freshly re-seeded lawn, which appears to consist of Red Fescue monoculture.

The width of the path from the 15th lock to Allen Bridge, Kilcock appears to be unnecessary and the reseeding is certainly an offence against the natural values of the area. The canal bank has been “suburbanised.”  Anyone seeking inspiration while walking along this stretch of the canal might be unable to think of little other than the ESB bill or mortgage.  In biodiversity terms, the value of this stretch of waterway has certainly been negatively affected by removal of habitat and by the gratuitous replacement of vegetation. Some stretches of the canal banks contain excellent semi-natural grassland which is breeding habitat for some highly restricted species, such as the Dingy Skipper and Comma butterfly. No fewer than twenty-one of our butterfly species are found along our canal banks. Changes to these areas can easily destroy the habitat, and Butterfly Conservation Ireland urges that the work, if it is necessary, be carried out sensitively. In some areas there is simply no need for hard surfaces and no justification for habitat removal. The aim should be to keep any intervention to a minimum; much narrower paths can be installed than the one westward from the 15th Lock to Allen Bridge. The natural vegetation should be allowed to recover following any work. Where hard marl surfaces exist, such as at Posseckstown, east of Enfield, no path is needed.  To gain an impression of the impact of the new walkway on the aesthetic as well as biodiversity values, click on the two images below…

For a response in music to this and other issues, listen to BCI member Michael Friel’s song:


Canal bank walk, looking west towards Kilcock, with slope on canal side reseeded. Photo J. Harding.

Canal Bank Walk with grassy walkway at Ballytiglea, Barrow Way, Carlow. Photo J. Harding.

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