by rsheridan on July 2, 2009

Kildare Observer, January 2nd 1892
The Source of the Grand Canal
The caption of this article may provoke a smile from our readers, but surely they will admit that a canal must have a source, just as necessarily as the Danube or the Dodder. Most people, of course, simply accept the existence of a canal as they do many other things, without questioning, but if you begin to think of it, these useful, if common waterways must be supplied in some way. The writer had the pleasure on Saturday of exploring, in company with Mr Kirkland, the secretary of the Grand Canal Company, one of the sources of the Grand Canal. We proceeded by train to Newbridge, and despite a drenching rain and wild gusts of wind mounted on a car, and drove to the mysterious spot. Our destination lay about a mile from Newbridge and a good part of the way was through an unfrequented road to a graveyard. And here we would give a word of advice to intending visitors to the place. Choose a dry day for your excursion, or the chances are that you may have to dig your conveyance out of the mire. However, without mishap, we arrived at a stile where we had to take to our feet. A walk of five minutes across a wild moorland tract of country brought us to a number of springs, and these springs were the object of our search. The inhabitants of the adjacent towns and villages do not appear to be aware of the useful service which the wells perform. These good people regard some of the springs as holy wells. One is known as St. James’ Well, and by that it is described by the company; while others are known as the Seven Springs, the Nine Springs, and so on. These wells or springs are most numerous; in fact, within a certain radius it is only necessary to dig a depth of say 3 feet, and there you have the pure water bubbling up and rushing merrily away to join one of the streams which carry off the water. We counted more than 30 of these springs, many of them being of course in one basin, of which there are several. So abundant is the supply, so continuous and reliable, that it would almost seem that here a river which had for miles wended its devious course underground suddenly leaped to the surface, glad to escape from dark confinement into bright daylight. We partook of a draught of the bright, sparkling, and cool liquid, and found it delightful. To the palate it offers no pronounced taste, such as many springs do, and it is perfectly soft-as soft almost as distilled water. The supply, we should say, must necessarily come from the distant Wicklow Mountains, and ere it reaches the bleak moorlands of County Kildare must penetrate the earth to a considerable depth; in fact, it must pass under the bed of the Liffey. The water wells up from the ground through a surface of gravel, and as it overflows and forms a brook it passes over a bed of sometimes silver sand, and sometimes pebbles, which must needs have a very purifying effect, since these are the means employed for cleansing the Vartry water before it is supplied to the citizens of Dublin for household purposes. The brooks formed by the springs unite at length into a broad burn or stream, in which lusty trout disport themselves; and this flows in a channel one mile long to Lowtown, from whence it is carried round the Hill of Allen to the summit level at Robertstown, some six miles distant, and by means of a regulating canal the water is sent towards Dublin or the Shannon. To judge of a canal from its appearance in a city, one gets a mistaken idea of its purity. There it would appear to be a sluggish and not over-clean stream; but in the country it has a very different look. Take the Grand Canal at Lowtown, where the canal’s supply is poured into the cutting, it is as pure as any water need be, and the fact that it abounds with trout, the most fastidious of all fish is sufficient guarantee of the truth of this. Most of the breweries and distilleries in Dublin, it is interesting to know, obtain their supplies of water from the same sources which feed the supply of the Grand Canal in the upper level in the County Kildare. For instance, Messrs Guinness’s famous breweries are so supplied, and the soft quality of the water makes it very valuable for such purposes. The source is so unfailing that the Dublin citizens need never fear a want of water, even should an unforeseen circumstance interfere with the supply from the Vartry. The quantity of water which comes to the surface near Newbridge is so great that the Grand Canal Company use but a very small portion of it. It is a supply which has been going on for over a century, from the time when the company obtained the patent to construct a canal “because it was desirable that the country should be opened up by reason of the thieves and robbers which infested the bogs.” The wells are situated, as we have said, about a mile from Newbridge Station, on the Great Southern and Western Railway, a little west of the high embankment which overlooks the moorland flat of Pollardstown, near the Curragh. During the driest portion of the year there is a daily flow of the pure water of over 3,100,000 gallons from the largest well which is known as St. James’s. These springs are the chief source of supply to the summit level of the Grand Canal, over which level the boats of the company pass on to the Barrow and Shannon Rivers, maintaining a regular traffic from Dublin to Carlow and Bagnalstown on the Barrow, and to Limerick and Athlone on the Shannon. It is a main help also in supplying water to the Dublin end of the canal and the Ringsend Docks. In former times the principal well, which is now a pond about 80 feet in diameter flowing off into a channel ten feet wide, was a favourite rendezvous for hunting parties, who there refreshed themselves, strengthening the water no doubt, many of the sportsmen, with something more ardent. Even to the present day the young men of the district meet here to hunt the rabbits and course the hares. When the well was being widened some years ago a number of hunting spears, now to be seen at the company’s offices, were found in the gravelly soil, and there was brought to light too a planked road of oak leading to the well from the Curragh side. Analysts are unanimous in considering the water wholesome, and it is said to be a curative in cases of dyspepsia. In a few days an eminent analyst will again test the water.
 We traced the burn formed by the springs for a long distance, meditating meanwhile upon this mysterious supply of water from underground, but the supply which was coming from the heavens over us caused us to seek our car and repair to the nearest hospitable hostelry.

A reporter from the Kildare Observer explores one of the sources of the Grand Canal in the company of Mr. Kirkland, secretary of the Grand Canal Company.

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