Galway's River and Canal Honour Roll

History does not record who was responsible for the earliest channeling, harnessing, and linking of the rivers that run through Galway. As early as the 1651 Pictorial map one can already make out informally constructed channels on the east side of the Corrib around the Newtownsmith area as well as mills and bridges in several locations. It was not until early in the 19th century that names were recorded. Since that time a handful of key individuals have kept the knowledge of the waterways alive; others have fought to prevent destructive development; and a very small number of far-seeing individuals have saved and restored lost or derelict structures that are now some of our most prized heritage assets.


John McMahon

There had been at least two initiatives in the past to connect Lough Corrib to the sea at Galway but it wasn’t until John McMahon from the Office of Public Works issued his report in 1846 that a viable plan was produced and eventually realised when the Eglinton Canal was constructed and the Eastern Mill Conduit improved. One of the byproducts of the plan was a detailed list of all of the mills that were at that time operating along the rivers. From this list we know where these 27 mills were located, who owned them, and what they produced.

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Mills listing

Samuel Roberts

Samuel Roberts was District Engineer in Galway during the time in which the Eglinton Canal was built. Roberts issued a series of detailed reports to the Commissioners of Public Works which documented the progress and the problems that were encountered while building the Eglinton Canal. From these reports we know the property acquired to build the canal, the time and effort that it took to complete the projects, how much stone and soil were removed, and several other minor and major issues that arose and were dealt with. Back to top
Samuel Roberts reports

Maurice Semple

Maurice Semple was a solicitor in Galway during the latter half of the 20th century. But he made his biggest contribution as author of several books of historical photographs and articles about Galway, its waterways, and Lough Corrib from the 1960’s up though the 1990’s. He also fought a battle in 1954 to prevent the replacement of the swing bridges along the Eglinton Canal with the low iron and concrete bridges that prevent navigation and are still in place to this day.

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Nelli McHugh

Nellie McHugh lived along the Eglinton Canal near University Road. When she retired after a 30 year career with the Singer Sewing Machine Company she took it on herself to clear and plant the banks of the Eglinton Canal from University Road to the Presentation Bridge. In her book, A Unique Project, we know how she went about it, the names of the neighbourhood boys who helped her, and even the types of flowers and shrubs that she planted. We also know that she won Tidy Town awards and appeared on RTE television on a popular gardening programme. After Nellie McHugh passed away in 1992 she was honored with a plaque by the then Lord Mayor of the City. The plaque can be seen to this day at the bench below the University Bridge adjacent to the Millennium Park. Sadly all of her planting was left unattended as weeds and scrub slowly overtook her work.

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Peadar O’Dowd

Peadar O’Dowd is one of Galway’s most well-known, respected and accomplished historians. He has written several books about Galway and has for years written a weekly column in the Galway City and Connaught Tribunes covering a wide range of topics including Lough Corrib, Galway’s canals,  mills, etc. Peadar published one of the first canal walks guidebooks in Galway. In the 1967 he formed the Galway Waterways Preservation Society which successfully blocked plans to turn the Eglinton Canal into a road and the Claddagh Basin into a car park.

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Peadar O'Dowd books

Michael Keaney

Michael Keaney was a senior engineer with the City Council for many years with a keen interest in Galway’s history and archaeology. He uncovered the washing steps adjacent to the Eglinton Canal and the shoeing flag a short distance from it. Unfortunately neither of these are sign-posted nor credited to Michael. Michael  was also responsible for getting the replica water wheel pictured at far right built to commemorate the significant milling, brewing, and distilling activity located near this location. There are no signs at the water wheel to describe what it is and who placed it there.

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  • Edit Widget
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  • Remove WidgetMichael Keaney was a senior engineer with Galway City for many years. He had a particularly strong interest in heritage and discovered and indeed uncovered several important historical artifacts within the city. Two of these are the washing steps and the shoeing flag adjacent to the Eglinton Canal both of which are currently not well sign posted. One of Michael’s most significant achievements was the construction of the replica waterwheel next to the Mill St car park. This was intended to acknowledge the substantial role that this location played in Galway’s water-driven industrial past. At or near this location were at one time a brewery, a rectifying distillery, saw mills, and a paper factory. There is currently no other indication of any of these at this location. The water wheel is currently not operating and is in need of refurbishment. 
water wheel Mill St

Frank Heneghan

Frank Heneghan inherited the family nursery and landscaping business in  Mervue . He trained as an engineer but kept his interest in horticulture even as he moved into property restoration. You could meet Frank every Saturday morning at the Galway market where he maintained his flower selling pitch long after he got out of the nursery business. In the late 80’s Frank acquired the derelict Bridge Mills building in Mill St and renovated it using the original stone and re-commissioning the mill wheel on the bottom floor. Frank did this at a time before there was neither appreciation nor support for the restoration  of this type of older structure. There had been a working mill on this site since the 16th century so the historical importance of this project cannot be overstated. The building remains as a monument to Frank Heneghan’s vision.

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Bridge Mills

Nancy Cohen

Nancy Cohen is one of a small group of entrepreneurial business women in Galway that were successful long before gender equality became a popular movement. While running her successful business, Aran Travel in Dominick Street, Nancy and her husband Jimmy acquired  older, run-down properties on either side of their business premises. They bought the building now called Granary Suites in the late 70’s which was little more than a shell and by 1992 had completely rebuilt it into modern office and residential accommodation using the original stone. Granary Suites had been one of a collection of water-driven mills in this area which also includes the Bridge Mills adjacent to it. Nancy got no help, grant aid, or tax breaks to carry out the work but it now stands as one of only a handful of preserved and refurbished mill buildings that once were prevalent around he city for hundred of years.

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Granary Suites

Tom Kenny

Tom Kenny is a member of the legendary Kenny family in Galway whose famous book selling, book binding, and art  business is one of the city’s  lasting commercial icons. Tom has collected newspaper clippings for years and based his weekly article in the Galway Advertiser on them. The articles always centre on one of his collected photographic clippings and his commentary on them. Tom has written several of these articles about the Eglinton Canal, Corrib drainage schemes, rowing clubs, and various other topics with the rivers and canals in the background or foreground. Thanks to Tom’s collections, his interest in the history of Galway, and his journalistic and writing skills we have retained invaluable images, facts, and reflections about Galway’s unique waterways.

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Tom Kenny photographs

Willie Henry

Willie Henry is one of Galway’s most prolific historians. Pictured at right are the books that Willie has published on the history, heritage, and culture of Galway. He has also published a weekly  article in the Galway City and Connaught Tribunes many of which featured the  waterways of Galway.

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Willie Henry Books

Jacinta Prunty, Paul Walsh & Sarah Gerhty of the Royal Irish Academy

Jacinta Prunty, Paul Walsh and Sarah Gehrty brought out The Galway edition of the New Island Atlas in September 2016.  Included was a copy of every map produced of Galway going back to 1583. Most interesting was a highly innovative composite map overlaying three time periods – 1651, 1839, and 1900. By studying the layers in the map it is possible to see when various canals were built, when rivers were filled in or channeled through culverts, and where all of the water-powered mills were located. It is a treasure trove of information without which our knowledge of the waterways of Galway would be incomplete or lacking altogether.

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