In 1751 a Board of Inland Navigation began planning a system of canals, and by 1756 work on the Dublin to Athy Canal had commenced. In 1780 the work on the canal had reached Oberstown, and by 1783 it stretched as far as Robertstown. In 1786 the canal had reached Monasterevin and finally, in 1791, it reached Athy.
In 1786 the County of Kildare Canal Company was set up in a bid to construct a branch line from near Sallins to Naas and eventually to Baltinglass. The line from Sallins to Naas was completed in 1810 but was never taken any further. The total cost of building the canal from Dublin to Athy was £486,599. The original estimate of engineer Thomas Omer was £98,000.
The advent of the railways in the nineteenth century triggered the decline of canal system. They were used to transport turf to Dublin during The Emergency (World War Two), but were eventually closed in 1961.
Today the Grand Canal is being developed as a tourist and leisure amenity and to provide a waterway to the rivers Barrow and Shannon. There are many beautiful walks along the banks of the canal, which team with flora and fauna. The waters provide good fishing for pike, perch, bream, and roach.