Robertstown Community Amenities Association are aiming to restore the barge, The 52M.
Murphy's Law is a proverb that is typically understood to mean 'anything that can go wrong will go wrong'. In the village of Robertstown the proverb might more aptly be called "Fr. Murphy's Law", particularly in relation to the Grand Canal heritage barge the '52M' that was built in 1928 and later became known as 'The Eustace'. The history of this vessel is surely proof that if it can go wrong - it will, but there is always a way back.
After lying idle for the decades that followed its retirement as a working boat, the 52M got its second lease of life in the late sixties thanks to a Curate of Allen Parish, the late Fr. P.J Murphy. In 1969 Fr. Murphy was leading a committee that was charged with organising an annual festival for Robertstown with the objective of attracting people to the picturesque village, promoting the heritage of the area and generating community spirit. The enthusiasm and determination of Fr. Murphy and his team has become folklore in the area and they recognised that a focal point was needed from which to expand. That focal point was to become the canal boat the 52M. Salvaged from the bed of the river Súir in Kilkennny with its 'sister' boat the 107B, the 52M was reported to have been in particularly bad condition. Over the course of nearly a year the vessels navigated their way through the inland waters of Ireland before eventually arriving in Kildare in the Autumn of 1970. The vessels would ultimately be restored and became central to all activities in the village throughout the following decade.
Unfortunately, Murphy's Law is one that has an inevitable outcome. By the late 1980s the glory days had passed for the 107B when it was severely damaged by fire and lay is a state of disrepair for a number of years. However, the 107B found its third lease of life when it was eventually transferred to the Offaly Branch of the Inland Waterways Association of Ireland who dutifully restored the vessel for the benefit of various interest groups in the early 2000s.
The 52M soldiered along for another two decades becoming synonymous with the village of Robertstown where it became the focal point of community spirit, as visualised by Fr. Murphy. The vessel had a particularly interesting second lease of life; it hosted Rose of Tralee finalists, featured on Ear to the Ground, was used for festivals, weddings, bus-trips, provided canal tours for schools and local interest groups, and even had a starring role in an RTÉ drama production starring Gabriel Byrne. In 2005 the Grand Canal Hotel, which had been operated as a heritage museum and restaurant, was transferred into private ownership and the fate of the 52M, which had been associated with the hotel was undecided for a number of years until it was transferred into the ownership of Robertstown Community Amenities Association. Unfortunately, during the intervening period, the 52M fell into a state of disrepair and in 2017 the vessel once again found itself sitting on the bed of the inland waterways of Ireland, this time in Lowtown.
However, if Murphy's Law doomed the 52M to become submerged under water another proverb has come to its saviour, for 'history has a habit of repeating itself'. Since the ownership of the vessel has been clarified the local community group has again identified the 52M as the focal point from which to expand its activities. The torch bearers of Fr. Murphy’s committee again hope to use the 52M to promote Robertstown’s unique heritage and attract sustainable tourism back to the heart of Kildare.
The group share Fr. Murphy's vision that the 52M can be used as a heritage museum and provide guided tours of Kildare’s inland waterways. The group hope to provide heritage tours to schoolchildren, members of the public and community groups in the surrounding areas. It is envisaged that the tours will reflect the tours previously offered by the 52M and will encompass a first taste of cruising along the inland waterways, locks and mooring buoys.
In addition, the group hope to promote the folklore and heritage of our community by installing informative museum displays during the restoration. In recent weeks and in pursuit of this goal, the vessel was moved from the banks of Lowtown Marina, Robertstown, to Portaneena, Co. Westmeath, where it will get a full out of water survey and hopefully (funding dependent) be restored.
The project is being supported by Councillor Darragh Fitzpatrick who understands the heritage of the vessel more than most as his parents celebrated their wedding day on the vessel. The group have launched an iDonate fundraising page for the 52M and all donations are gratefully accepted.
Details can be found on Robertstown Community Amenities Association Facebook page.
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