The Barrow. Our River Your Journey


Heritage Boats of the Barrow


The Bolinder company was founded in Stockholm by the teenage brothers Karl and Jean Bolinder in 1832. They first produced components for steam engines, railways and sawmill machinery. In 1893 they produced their first internal combustion engine, a four-stroke hot bulb. Ten years later E. A. Rundlof invented the two-stroke, crank case scavenge hot bulb engine which he passed on to the Bolinders, they developed their range of semi diesels from this – and the legend was born. These were extremely reliable and so durable that Bolinder became synonymous with barge engines and were used around the world. They were so popular that even a song was written about them.


The Grand Canal Company always had transportation issues as it was a mixed navigation so the development of the internal combustion engine transformed navigation and trade for them.  The engines were successfully used in horse boats in July 1911 by the company and thus the company became the first to motorise in the British Isles. They received four engines and two complete motor barges, the Boats were the Athy and the 9M, the Athy had a 20hp engine and the 9M had a 15hp engine. The engines were the 1908 E-type single-cylinder 8.35-litre direct reversing engines. These were used in the fleet until CIE removed the last working Bolinders from its maintenance boats in the mid-seventies. Consequently the E-type is known as the Irish Engine.


How the engines work

A Semi-diesel relies on heat and compression for combustion, whereas in Rudolf Diesel’s engine, fuel was ignited by the high temperature resulting from compression. The vertical block of the Bolinder is surmounted by a preheated cast iron hollow hot bulb. This remains hot, allowing the fuel to combust and the air to change without high compression. The starting ritual involved preheating the hot bulb with a blow-lamp and hand pumping oil to the main bearings, big end, small end and piston, and greasing several exposed lesser bearings. It required about ten minutes of heating. At the crucial moment, a few squirts of fuel were pumped into the bulb and a smart swing of the great flywheel, with the hand or the boot resulted in combustion.



When the Grand Canal Company installed engines in their cargo fleet, they were renumbered and given the letter “M” for Motorised. The first thirty M boats were converted horse boats; after that the company had a new fleet of boats built with engines. In 1925 the Canal Company commenced building a fleet of custom built, steel motor canal boats, powered by the E-type Bolinder. Over the next 14 years, 48 boats were built, numbering from 31M to 79M. They were mostly built by Vickers (Ireland) in the Liffey Dockyard and were over-engineered, with the exception of the turn of the bilges which, being subject to constant wear when fully laden on the canal, needed regular patching.


Horse Boats

Initially the boats on the canals were horse drawn and made of wood, then iron and finally steel. In the early days these boats were numbered for identification and had no letter to identify company boats from private boats. Later on, with the introduction of a new numbering system, horse boats could have been numbered with a letter following such as B, E or G. There were horse boats on the Royal canal also and these just had a number.


B Boats

Also known as Bye Trader’s or Hack Boats. When the new numbering system came into operation around 1910 the letter “B” after a number was added to identify the boat as a Bye Trader or Hack Boat. A “B” boat could be either horse drawn or powered by an engine.

These were privately owned and operated cargo boats on the canal and could be operated by an individual or a company. Sometimes a bye trader leased a Grand Canal Company M boat for a while and operated it as a Hack Boat, in these circumstances it seemed that the number of the boat didn’t change.


Heritage Boat 95B

The following is an excerpt  from “Floating heritage on the Barrow” written by Sean O’Reilly and published by the Heritage Boat Association.


“Canal Boat 95B commenced its life transporting malt for the Barrow Transport Company from Minch Nortons in Athy to the Guinness Brewery in Dublin. It passed into the ownership of Tom Hughes in Athy in 1956, used for mixed cargo including carrying sugar beet to the factory in Carlow. At the closure of the canal in 1960 Tom Hughes continued to trade with his barges and 95B was the last boat to carry beet into Carlow Sugar Company in 1962.

 After the Canal closure, 95B found its way into the ownership of a construction company where it was used as a floating raft for the construction of the new bridge in Youghal. On the completion of the bridge, 95B was auctioned off along with other canal boats. It was purchased by Eugene Suffin, of Waterford, who intended to use her for sand dredging on the river Suir. This was not bargained for by 95B and shortly after it was auctioned, it broke its mooring in a gale and foundered against the rocks at the base of the bridge it had helped to build. Several efforts were made to repair the damage without success. 95B lay in that position for some years until finally drawing the attention of Cork and Waterford Co. Councils who agreed thats she was a hazard to navigation and an ugly sight. An appreciable file built up in Transport House in Dublin regarding the craft.

 In the meantime a group of individuals, George Spears, Michael Rawan, Bapty Maher and Paddy Gregan, along with Rusty (Spears) and Ann Russell (Fitzsimons) made one of the first recreational trips from Athyprobingtheir way aboard the converted Canal Boat 41M (owned by Michael Rawan and Joe Bell) down the Grand Canal to the Shannon. The trip took two weeks but was so unusual and exhilarating that the hunt for another barge started. Exhaustive enquiries and long journeys were made tracing each of the canal boats that were now scattered all over the waterways and away from the canal they were designed to travel. Finally in May 1967 95B was spotted with her nose sticking out of the water under the bridge in Youghal. After waiting for the tide to turn the boat exposed itself covered with all kinds of marine life. Enquiries were made and the vessel purchased for the princely sum of £25 less one for luck. A further £21 was paid to Youghal Harbour Commissioners for damage to the bridge. George Spears mobilised a team from Athy who spent many weekends in July 1967 removing seaweed, limpets, shell fish, and silt. When the hull was finally exposed the gashes that were evident were repaired in situ to allow her to be floated on an incoming tide at 2:30 am.

 Further repairs were carried out in Youghal harbour until she was fit for the 70 mile tow by trawler by sea to New Ross in June 1968. A further tow by canal work boat delivered her to theSteamers Poolfrom where she sailed the remainder of the journey to St Mullins by sail, improvised with the aid of a clear polythene sheet. The 40 mile journey to Athy was an even greater challenge as the canals had been overgrown by weed by 1968 and it proved impossible to tow by horse or boat. Eventually with the aid of a winch and several hundred feet of rope 95B was dragged home to Athy.

 The first conversion of 95B was started immediately by George on arrival in Athy in 1969 where over a 3 year period she had a Bolinder reinstalled, which was bought with accessories from a Mr. O. Keifer in Mooncoin for 18 pounds. In time she became a comfortable boat, attending all rallies throughout the Shannon. She eventually had the privilege of having her own harbour in Terryglass. George treated 95B to a new Perkins 6354 engine which was fitted in 1986 and which was the envy of everyone on the Shannon. It is still sounding very sweet.

 Unfortunately George passed away in 1987 which was a big loss to those that knew him. I had spotted 95B in Terryglass several times and always admired her fine boat lines and so in 1998 we succeeded in purchasing her and having her brought up the canal to Edenderry, where she is undergoing the current refit as a family boat. A new superstructure, decks, and underwater plating has been completed with the remaining fit out due to continue in Winter 2005.

 95B has experienced fame and notoriety, having been driven by Bishop (Later Cardinal) Daly in 1976, appearing in National Geographic Magazine in 1976 and being visited by a President of Ireland Patrick Hillary in 1983. She later starred in the BBCrestorationprogramme in 2004. She had a reputation as a hospitable boat where craic and music were abundant and we hope that she will carry on in this tradition and bring as much enjoyment as she gave the previous owners.”

                                                                                                                                   Sean O’Reilly      


E Boats

Up to 1960 boats transferring to maintenance duties on the canals by the Grand Canal Company or CIE were renumbered and had the letter “E” to identify them as Engineering Boats. That practice of renumbering apparently stopped with the closure of commercial traffic on the canal and after that a maintenance boat could have a letter E, M or B after its number.


G Boats

On 3 September 1939, the Oireachtas declared a state of emergency. Incidentally, it didn’t get around to rescinding that state of emergency until 1976, when it declared another one instead. During the main part of The Emergency, 1939–1945, fuel was in short supply, so the government sought to have more turf brought to Dublin. As the canals conveniently pass through bogs, the government funded the construction of 29 wooden horse-drawn canal-boats, which were leased to various traders but were marked as G-boats. These had steel fronts and backs and the remainder of the boat made out of native Irish timber. Some G Boats eventually went into private ownership and became B Boats


For more information you can visit the Heritage Boat Association of Irelands webpage


To download a copy of “Carlow through the waters of time, Floating Heritage on The Barrow” click here