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G-BOATS ON BALLYNAFAGH LAKE!

Leinster Leader 6 September 2007
Kildare’s forgotten lake and its wartime role
by
LIAM KENNY
 
Kildare has no natural lakes of any significance but it does have a number of artificial lakes within or on its boundaries. A section of the Kildare-Wicklow boundary is submerged beneath the waters of Pollaphuca lake on the eastern fringe of the county. The Pollaphuca lakes were created in the later 1930s when the ESB dammed the Liffey at the waterfall beside the Blessington-Baltinglass road.
 
Much less well known but in a central position in the county are the peaty waters of the Blackwood reservoir, also known as Ballynafagh Lake, located in the Bog of Allen west of the Prosperous-Staplestown road. Although not in the mainstream of Kildare’s extensive canal network the Blackwood Reservoir has been the subject of  attention by the north Kildare development partnership KELT which some years ago published a brochure on the reservoir’s history and and its flora and fauna.
 
The lake is a creature of the canal builders of the 1780s who were tackling the near impossible engineering task of building the Grand Canal across the bogs of mid-Kildare. 
 
The canal had reached its summit level or highest level on the route between Dublin and the Shannon along a stretch approaching Robertstown. From the summit level water could cascade down either side through the lock gates system to help keep enough depth in the canal channels towards Dublin or Tullamore. This may have been one of the reasons why a branch was built off the summit level just north of Bonynge Bridge or Healy’s Bridge on the Prosperous-Kilmeague Road to give access to the large resources of water seeping from the boglands.
 
The branch extends for about three miles into the heart of the bog where a reservoir of about twelve acres was created. Although long drained of water the feeder canal can be traced in the landscape north-east of Roberstown. One of two road bridges on the canal known as the ‘New Bridge’ will be familiar to drivers on the Prosperous-Edenderry road near Dag Welds. There are also a number of culverts on the canal which, like so many features of 18th/19th century engineering are small but perfectly formed and built to last.
 
The most intriguing feature is the sluice house where the canal meets the reservoir proper. The house, known locally as Lynch’s, once accommodated a set of elaborate valves used to let water from the reservoir into the feeder and on to the main line of the canal. Since the feeder closed in 1952 the equipment has been subject to the ravages of weather and time. So too with the reservoir itself which in a reversal of environmental history is being recolonised by nature and is approaching a fen-like condition with extensive vegetation beginning to encroach on the water body proper. It has become an important sanctuary for many types of wildlife of which the most distinctive is a flock of swans. But the calls of many other kinds of birds can be heard in this bog-embraced water habitat.
 
Although the ultimate backwater the Blackwood Reservoir did provide a resource in the story of Irish life at times of adversity. During the era of the Emergency (or World War 2) Ireland was virtually starved of coal and oil. The boglands came into their own as a source of fuel and allowed the country to maintain an impressive self-sufficiency. The Government commissioned a fleet of special canal barges known as G-boats which themselves were models of sustainability being built of timber and horse drawn. Their function was to draw boatloads of turf from the midland bogs to the coal-starved citizens of Dublin. The Blackwood feeder was ideally placed to source the turf stocks of mid-Kildare and G-boats were a regular sight during the Emergency. Indeed to this day the fragments of a G-boat can still be found on the dry bed of the Blackwood feeder – a testament to this forgotten waterways’ role in a national emergency.
 
Series no. 31

Liam Kenny explores Kildare's 'forgotten' lake in the Leinster Leader of 6 September 2007 in his regular feature, Nothing New Under the Sun. Our thanks to Liam.


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