THE DEEP SINKING - In this week's episode of Waterways, Dick and the crew of Rambler leave the urban landscape of Dublin behind them to embark on the next leg of the journey. The outside world disappears as the canal dives into the Deep Sinking - a narrow rock cutting filled with extravagant vegetation. It runs from Castleknock to Clonsilla. Dick and the crew struggle slowly through with Rambler. Dick wonders how on earth this phenomenal cutting was built over two hundred years ago.
On November 25th 1845 the evening passenger boat from Dublin to Longford struck a rock on the side of the Deep Sinking cutting and capsized. The horse was drowned. So were sixteen of the passengers. It is a fearsome place with underwater ghosts. As Rambler glides slowly through, Dick is haunted by the thought of those sixteen souls on the Longford boat. Who were they and why were they making the journey, at this time, just as the Great Famine was beginning to grip the country.
And Rambler's slow journey through the 'Deep Sinking' is so unnecessary. Dick explains, it was the fault of William Fitzgerald, the second Duke of Leinster. He was a major shareholder in the company building the canal and he meddled with the plans. He insisted on changing the route to bring it closer to his great estate, Carton House, outside Maynooth. This meant cutting the canal through a massive limestone quarry, hence the 'Deep Sinking'.
Next morning Rambler's escape from the Deep Sinking seems like a distant memory. Rambler pulls into Confey, the headquarters of the Royal Canal Amenity Group and Niall Galway reminisces on his childhood days growing up on the canal and the restoration of it.
As the trains speed past Rambler on tracks running alongside the canal, Dick recounts that in 1845 the Midland Great Western Railway Company bought the Royal canal for £298,059. They had a plan to drain it and lay a new railway line along its bed. In the end they decided to build the line beside the waterway, not in it. This saved the canal, although its eventual closure more than a century later had a lot to do with competition from this railway. Rambler continues it's journey over the Ryewater Aqueduct - another folly caused by the meddling Duke of Leinster. The canal was diverted to cross the deep valley of the Rye Water. It soars thirty metres above the bed of the little river. The earthworks are so massive that the crew on board get very little sense of the hidden world beneath Rambler?s keel, of the river in its tunnel and the verdant gorge it flows through.
Dick disembarks to explore the Leixlip Spa hidden below the steep banks of the Canal. In the early 1800's when the navies were digging the aqueduct they uncovered the hot springs. These were developed into a spa and a Roman style bath was constructed. Georgian ladies and gentlemen travelled from miles around to steep themselves in it, in the belief that it would cure their aches and pains and practically everything else that was wrong with them.
At Louisa Bridge the crew spend and hour and a half laboriously hauling Rambler over an obstruction - fallen masonry under the arch. Dick is uneasy, Ramblers riveted iron hull is over one hundred and thirty years old and is taking terrible abuse being hauled over broken stones. But they can?t go back so have no choice but to move forward.
At Pike Bridge there's a small harbour built to service the estate at Carton House. Dick pays a visit to Carton House, the meddling 2nd Duke of Leinster's country estate. Much of the landscaping, including the artificial lake with its grand boathouse, was done to impress Queen Victoria who stayed here twice in 1849 and 1897. Estate manager, John Plummer tells Dick about a rare little lobster that lives in the Rye Water - the white clawed crayfish.
Back on the Canal Rambler finally begins to glide along. At the 14th Lock Dick and the crew meet the 'Shalakabooky' barge and her wonderful owner, Jenny Wren. Jenny sings a song she has composed for Dick, the crew and Rambler and talks to Dick about how the Royal Canal inspires her music. In Kilcock Harbour, Rambler meets an unexpected obstacle hanging over the harbour - a Canoe Polo Goalpost. Dick disembarks to watch the internationally successful Irish Canoe Polo team train in the harbour.
And from the harbour he takes his go-eco electric bike for a spin to visit Larch Hill Arcadian Gardens where there's a poultry fair taking place. Michael de Las Casas (owner) tells him about the fascinating rare breeds of animals they keep at Larch Hill. He has restored the gothic farmyard with dovecotes, stables and pigsties. The pastoral theme has been extended to the new model farm, and rare breeds graze the fields together with llamas and emus, as they would have in the 18th century.
Back on Rambler the unexpected happens. Instead of getting stuck on the bottom of the Canal, Rambler's wheelhouse gets stuck at the top of the next bridge. So as the sun sets on another day's travel, Dick and the crew must wait until water is let out of the last lock they've passed through to lower the level before they can continue their journey towards the Shannon.
Episode Two is airing October 9th 2011 on RTE1 at 8.30pm