The canal as it is today.
In the bottom picture you can see the Jeannie Johnston being built in the background of the windmill, with her scaffolding in place. The circular stone wall in the foreground is where the wooden draw-bridge over the old lock gates was located, when the canal brought ships right up to Prince's Quay. The top picture is the view looking out to sea from the same place.
History of the Canal
For centuries the old port of Fenit (Barrow Harbour) which had served as a port for the important towns of Ardfert and Tralee, finally lost out to Tralee as the principal port for the area. The port of Tralee now became synonymous with Blennerville, where a quay was built, possibly about the middle of the seventeenth century, by the Blennerhassetts who were the local landlords. Situated in the townland of Tonevane and only a short distance from the windmill, it was built of cut limestone blocks and is still in an excelent state of repair. Over the years a great deal of silt reduced the depth of water at the quay and the width of the channel.
A number of records survive to give a fair indication of the trade carried on at this little quay, in addition to its being the embarkation point for thousands of people who left the country during and after the famine.
Thomas Radcliffe, in his "Agricultural Survey of County Kerry", 1814, tells us that the exports from Blennerville in 1812 were:
- Wheat....2,000 barrels of 20 stone
- Barley...4,000 barrels of 16 stone
- Oats.....1,000 barrels of 14 stone
Pressure began to mount from local merchants who had become very discontented with the port facilities available. In 1829 Tralee Municipal Corporation started to charge harbour dues from the merchants who sold their corn in the weekly markets in Tralee, as a means of raising finance for the proposed Tralee Ship Canal.
On February 15th 1828, a petition on behalf of the gentry and merchants of Tralee was made to the House of Commons, by Maurice Fitzgerald, the Knight of Kerry. This petition sought the sanction and aid of Parliament towards the completion of a ship canal from the town to the sea. A Bill was introduced, and having passed through the necessary parliamentary processes, was finally sanctioned by a local Act in June 1829. In 1834 the harbour dues levied on shipping and cargoes in the port, collected from merchants and townspeople amounted to £600.
Work on the Tralee Ship Canal began during the 1830's. The canal stretches from about half a mile beyond Blennerville Quay, to the port of Prince's Quay, right on the edge of Tralee town. At Blennerville, a lock was built, with a wooden drawbridge which could be pulled up to let ships through.
The wooden drawbridge over the canal, with the windmill in the background.
Below is a sketch of work being carried out on the canal, working at night by torchlight, putting in place the limestone blocks which form the solid walls of the canal.
Working on the canal by torchlight at night
For many years the canal brought ships right up to the town to discharge their cargoes. At this time the town experienced a period of expansion and renewal. Large ships of up to 300 tons were able to navigate the canal. Gradually, however, the problem which had beset Blennerville, that of silt deposit build-up, also occurred in the canal. Over a period of time the canal became impossible to navigate and fell into disuse.
Ships Unloading Their Cargo At Prince's Quay.
The canal lay unused for many years until the time of the plan to renovate the Blennerville Windmill. It was envisaged that the canal would be brought into the plan for the major tourist attraction in the area, namely the windmill development, so that visitors would be able to travel to and from Blennerville by barge on the renovated canal. At this stage the building of a Marina at Prince's Quay, and a floating museum at Blennerville on the estuary were also envisaged. From this idea came the ambitious project of the Jeanie Johnston and the Millennium voyage.
To increase the amount of accommodation for visitors to the town, a block of apartments overlooking the Marina was envisaged, also a new Hotel, and to service the area, the shop and garage adjacent to Prince's Quay would be upgraded.
At the time of putting this project on the Internet, April 2000, the dredging of the canal has finished and Kerry County Council has demolished the existing fixed bridge. A new swing bridge with a lock is being built so that pleasure boats and small yachts can negotiate the canal and moor at the Marina at Prince's Quay. This work is expected to be finished by the end of the Summer.