FORGOTTEN ROAD - Dick and the crew of Rambler are now well on their way to reaching the Shannon. At this stage in the journey their relationship with time has completely changed. Theyâ€™ve adjusted to a much slower pace of life, a pace persisting from some earlier century. They reach Ballynacargy and Dick disembarks to wander around the neatly landscaped and well-maintained harbour. At the local ICA Country Market, Dick meets local food producer John Rogan. John gives him some of his delicious smoked bacon to sample and talks to him about how the banning of eel fishing almost shut his business down, hence he has diversified into smoking meats.
At the wonderfully restored 36th Lock House, Dick meets owner and pet sitter June McNulty. She regularly walks her Alaskan malamute dog along the towpath and she talks to Dick about the peace and serenity she and her husband enjoy, living on the banks of the canal. The scenery Rambler passes through now is a flat green blanket patterned with wild-flowers â€“ not dramatic just very pleasant. Michael Kenny from the Irish Peatland Conservation Council talks to Dick about frogs and newts, the ancient native amphibians living in the reeds along the canal.
The canal approaches the Shannon near Ballymahon and then veers off to the north. The original engineers thought that if they took the short cut into Lough Ree they would be too close to competition from the Grand Canal and too far from the Arigna coal mines, which they hoped would provide profitable cargo.
Rambler travels on into the valley of the River Inny, a major Shannon tributary. And in torrential rain, she gracefully crosses the Inny Aqueduct. The whole essence of canal travel is that it uses the power of water to break the shackles imposed by the laws of gravity so that it takes a very small effort to move a great weight. What one horse used to pull now fills two articulated lorries. The crew tie Rambler up at the peaceful harbour in Abbeyshrule for the night.
As darkness falls, Dick thinks about the purpose of the journey, to get Rambler back to the Shannon so she can re-join the fleet of heritage boats based there. In particular Chang Sha, another old steamer that once worked side by side with her. But he's not sure where Chang Sha is as they've lost communication with her. He decides to give Rambler a day off so he can go in search of Chang Sha.
Local Pilot David Bruton, takes Dick up in his bi-plane - a Bucker Bu 131 'Jungmann' to fly the remaining length of the canal to Lough Ree in search of Chang Sha. It's a very small plane with a fuselage of steel tubing covered in fabric and metal and wooden wings covered in fabric. This model has a 125 horse-power four cylinder piston engine. Today they are rare collector's items, prized for their exceptional handling abilities. Dick enjoys a spectacular birdâ€™s eye view of the canal and surrounding countryside from his open cockpit. They fly out onto the Shannon and follow the meanders and they spot Chang Sha with her double ended hull steaming northwards up Lough Ree coming to meet Rambler.
Back on Rambler - the character of the canal is changing. Instead of charging off across the countryside in a series of straight lines, it's getting twistier, wriggling like an eel along the contours of the Inny Valley. This change poses some challenges for Rambler because of her great length and lack of maneuverability. Dick has developed considerable affection for the ancient, unwieldy boat, but she does crave a lot of attention from helmsman and crew. Ignore her whims for a single moment and she punishes you for it. He ponders that boats very rapidly develop personalities and, like people, they have their good days and their bad days.
On a good day Rambler is a joy and at the grand old age of a hundred and thirty three years an odd outburst of temperament is allowed. And it's not just Rambler that creates challenges, it's also the canal. Something that continually hinders the crew is the amount of water weed that accumulates round the propeller and rudder, reducing the effectiveness of both. Dr Joe Caffery from Inland Fisheries Ireland talks to Dick about how they manage the ever growing canal weed to allow boaters a smoother journey and at the same time encourage canal wildlife.
Rambler stops at Ballybrannigan Harbour and Dick goes for a wander. The hey-day of the canal was a time of great hardship. People who lived through the famine of the 1840s would undoubtedly have envied the countryâ€™s current state of economic crisis. Many of them were forced to emigrate and a one-way canal ticket was the first stage of their journey. He wanders into the Ballybrannigan ticket office, carefully restored by the local community, a community that only four or five generations ago was ruptured by starvation and emigration. An un-restored canal building now serves a warehouse for storing famine ghosts - horses would have been stabled on the ground floor, hay above that and men slept at the top where it was warmest.
In the nearby town of Ballymahon, Dick strolls past the statue of Oliver Goldsmith, local boy made good. The Vicar of Wakefield has never been more relevant. It's about loosing a fortune and finding happiness. The good vicar's favourite tipple was gooseberry wine, but Dick fancies a pint and heads into Nallyâ€™s Bar. Ronnie Nally, Pub owner, tells him how Kitty Kiernan used to visit Michael Collins here when he used the top floor as a safe house during the Civil War.
Ronnie thinks Michael and Kitty would have had tea and biscuits and chatted, Dick thinks there was a lot more going on between them. Dick thinks back to the start of the journey when he visited Glasnevin Cemetery to find the graves of the two lovers and thinks about how the canal has revealed another small piece of their story. The stretch of the waterway Dick and the crew are travelling on now was the first to be abandoned by commercial traffic. And it was also the last to be restored. So they really are travelling the forgotten road.
Episode Five is airing October 30th 2011 on RTE1 at 8.30pm