ruxton bridge
Ruxton Bridge February 2009 Photo: © Navan & District Historical Society

1710  Markes Plunkett "a clerk and convert" advocates the canal.
1746  Commissioners of Inland Navigation ask Thomas Steers to carry out a survey.
1748  Work began, overseen by Steers and his deputy John Lowe.
1750  Tidal Lock at Oldbridge was completed. It was rebuilt in the 1830s.
1756  Work continued slowly.It was a public works bonanza. The canal reached Slane
coinciding with the opening of Slane Mill.  David Jebb part owner of the Mill was Chief Engineer of the canal. Subsequentially he added the titles of Treasurer, Secretary, Toll Collector and Paymaster.
1787 The Commissioners of Inland Navigation were dissolved and Land Commissioners
appointed. 1790  Parliament agreed to the incorpoation of The Boyne Navigation Company. Safeguards were written into the act to ensure navigation was extended. The Drogheda to Carrickdexter length would not be fully vested in the Company until the navigation extended to Navan.  It was also decreed that if the navigation was not extended to Trim within 5 years of reaching Navan that the lower Boyne section would revert to public ownership. Richard Evans was appointed engineer and he took on Daniel Monks and John Brownrigg as assistants.
1st April 1800  Navigation to Navan was opened. The Lower Boyne Section was vested in
the Company. There were seventeen locks between Navan and Oldbridge with three in Navan. The Company looked for money from the last session of the Irish Parliament to progress the line. A Director General was appointed.
1st August 1834 One of the Navan traders saw a copy of the 1790 Act and refused to pay
the tolls. The Company was asked to surrender the Lower Boyne Section. It was placed under the control of the Office of Public Works. This was an unsatisfactory dual control.
1836 The King William Obelisk was built. It has a plinth six metre square and is 45 metres in
1850  The Drogheda to Navan Railway line opened.
1862  The Dublin to Navan Railway line opened.
18th September 1884 The Boyne Canal Company handed over the upper Boyne section to
the Office of Public Works.
1894 A new Company was incorporated. The Drogheda Steamship Company as well as local
millers and merchants were involved.
somerville br
Somerville Bridge and the route of the canal, going under the road, heading towards the Andy Brennan Park and the River Boyne. (Photo:N&DHS)

1902  James McCann chairman of the Grand Canal Company established the Meath River
Navigation Company. He leased the Boyne Navigation for seven years. He activated tourist potential by having passenger trips. He died in 1904.
1907 A Royal Commission recommended a new tidal lock.
1909 The Boyne Navigation reverted to the Boyne Navigation Company.
1913 The Company went into liquidation.
1914 There was a report to Meath County Council about taking over and maintaining the
1915 John Spicer bought the concern for £500.
1923 A commission set up by the Irish Free State reported. There were two boats in
1932 The lock gates were replaced by concrete walls.
1969 The Boyne Navigation was donated to An Taisce.
upr boyne navigation
Boyne Canal - the Uper Navigation

It was in the 17th and 18th centuries in Europe that this basic fascination with water reached its zenith. Kings, princes and gentlemen expended themselves greatly to drain water from their lands, to bring water to their gardens, to use water to transport their heavy goods.

King Louis XIV of France caused water to be moved on an enormous scale to activate the fountains of Versailles, Peter the Great of Russia followed suit at the Peterhof.  As was inevitable the urge to shift water, that most dominant element in their environment, soon reached the nobility and gentry of Ireland.

1715 Act

In 1715 an act was passed entitled “An Act to encourage Drainage and Improving of the bogs and unprofitable Low Grounds, and for easing and dispatching the Inland Carriage and Conveyance of goods from one part to another within the Kingdom.”

The preamble commences “Whereas great tracts of bogs and fenny, waste ground, which incumber the midlands of this Kingdom, are not only lost and useless to the owners, unpassable and inaccessible in themselves, but a bar and hindrance to the inland commerce of the habitable remainder, a retreat and harbour for malfactors, and an occasion of a corrupt air, to the prejudice of the health and lives of the inhabitants of the territories adjacent. . .”

A Survey had already been made and the double project of drainage of land, and the conyeyance of water in navigable canals was considered feasible.  A body of Commissioners was set up for each Province consisting of Members of Parliament and Justices of the Peace with full powers to divert waters, cut channels, build bridges and untertake other necessary works.  This act was principally concerned with the midlands and the drainage of the Shannon, but the River Boyne is specifically mentioned as one of the rivers with which the Commissioners were to concern themselves.

The four Provinces proved unwieldy areas, and in 1721 the Act was amended so that the Commissioners for each area were restricted to those Members of Parliament and Justices of the Peace who lived adjacent to the works being implemented.

Conditions of Building

There was no grant or monies from Government at this stage.  The landowners were to produce the necessary labour or to hand over to undertakers.  They were to gain from the drainage of their lands and eventually to recoup themselves from the tolls they would exact on merchandise carried on the canals.

The purpose of these Acts was to set up the Commissioners on a legal basis:  to give them the rights to carry out the necessary works, and to fix permissible tolls.  Manures, marl lime and other materials for improving the land were to be carried free of toll, building materials were to be carried at half fees, other tolls were fixed at 2d. per.cwt per 10 miles carried.  Salmon weirs and fisheries were to be protected.

Work progressed, but the actual monetary expenses were great, and in 1729 the Government agreed to help the Commissioners by taxing land transport.  Duties were laid upon coaches, berlins, chariots, calashes, chaises and chairs at the rate of £1 per year for every four wheeled vehicle and 5/- per year for every two wheeled vehicle.  [The tax has proved more enduring than either water transport of horse transport!]  Additional duties were also levied upon packs of cards and pairs of dice and upon wrought and manufactured gold and silver.

The separate corporations were placed under the overall authority of the Lord Lieutenant, the Lord Chancellor, the Speaker of the House of Commons, and the three Archbishops of the Established Church.

1771 Act

In 1771 the Grand Canal Act was passed.  This, though not specifically relating to the Boyne system of canals, was to be quoted in future acts as the basis of relevant powers given to the statutory bodies which administered the Boyne Companies.  Rights of compulsory purchase were reinacted;   rights-of-ways were substantial, rights to the ownership of the soil and water of the canals and adjacent tow paths and lands were made explicit.

Fines to prevent the dumping of rubbish were fixed. Article 33 of this Act enacts that if any person shall dump ballast, dirt, stones or dung, rubbish or clay in the canal or on the track or road he shall pay a fine of 40/- and that if he does not pay shall be sent to a house of correction.

1787 Act

The original Act, voting funds to the Commissioners of Ireland Navigation, expired in 1787 and an Act was then passed dissolving the whole Corporation as originally set up and appointing new bodies responsible for specific waterways.  These consisted of more or less the same persons and they were to control the same properties namely “all trackways, weirs, lands and houses adjoining thereto, lock stores and implements whatsoever.”

In the case of the Boyne properties, the new body was to be called “The Corporation for promoting and carrying in the Boyne Navigation” and was to be responsible “for making communication by water from Slane to Navan and thence to Virginia Water, and also to the town of Trim, and from Trim to Dublin.”  This was to take boats of 30 ton burden.

Water transport was still the golden dream at the end of the 18th century!  Horses, those expensive consumers of grass and grain were to be reduced to one, or at most two per 30 ton of goods carried. George Stephenson was but six years old, and the effectivness of railways which, in such an amazingly short time were to make canals obsolete, was nowhere envisaged.

Commissioners were appointed for the lower Boyne [from Slane to Drogheda].

Article 25 of the 1787 Act reads “And it be further enacted, that the right honourable the Earl of Mornington, the right honourable the Earl of Bective, the right honourable William Conyngham, Blanyney Townely Balfour esquire, the four knights of the shire for the counties of Louth and Meath, the two members of Parliament for the town of Drogheda for the time being, the lord Bishop of Meath, the honourable Baron Metge, Lord Headfort, John Preston esquire, Hamilton Wade esquire, Skeffington Thompson esquire, William Meade Ogle, Dixie Coddington, Henry Coddington, Edward Harman of Drogheda, and David Jebb Esquire be and are hereby constituted and appointed commissioners for managing, directing, improving, repairing, and governing the navigation of the river Boyne from Trim to Drogheda; and that the said commissioners shall be a Corporation by the name of “the corporation for promoting and carrying on inland navigation in Ireland, so far as the same are necessary to enable the said corporation to manage, direct, improve, repair, and govern the said navigation from Trim to Drogheda, be, and the same are hereby vested in the said corporation by this act appointed.”

Public subsidy

Two years later in 1789, the taxes as levied, proving insufficient for the construction and upkeep of the canals, the Government issued debentures at 4%.  £12,500 was to go to the Boyne Commissioners at the rate of one third of Government money to every two thirds raised by private subscription.

By 1790 that part of the canal from Carrick Loch above Slane to the sea at Drogheda was completed and carrying goods.  An amending Act was then passed allowing this stretch of canal to remain in the hands of the Commissioners concerned and enacting that it should only become part of the public company when that body had completed the whole works between Drogheda and Trim.

These works were never completed and for the next hundred years the River Boyne Company controlled the Upper Boyne and the commissioners continued to control the lower stretch of river.

1896 Act

In 1894 the Board of Works took over the upper system from Carrick Loch to Navan and in 1896 a Parliamentary Act was passed transferring the two systems to a new company called “The Boyne Navigation Company [Ltd].”  All rights, land and privileges owned by previous companies were vested in the new company;  salmon spawning grounds were safeguarded;  locks and channels were to be repaired;  a depth of 4.5 feet in the canal was to be maintained;  Richard Ruxton and Fitzherbert of Blackcastle were to be directors of the company.  However, the railways had arrived and the times were against navigation by water.  The Boyne Canal was no longer a viable proposition.  The Boyne Navigation Company went into liquidation in 1913 and its affairs were put into the hands of Philip Gilmore as liquidator.

In 1915 Mr. Gilmore sold the whole system with all rights and properties as enumerated in the various Acts to Messrs.Spicer’s of Navan –  “all rights, title and interest of every kind … comprising part of the lands of Athlumney, Farganstown, Ballymacon and Ardmulchan in the barony of Skreen, part of the lands of Dowth, Knowth, Stackallen, Carrickdexter, Slane Castle Demesne, Slane and Newgrange in the Barony of Slane Upper, part of the lands of Cruicetown in the baroney of Kells Lower, part of the lands of Fennor, Rosnaree, Roughgrange, Stallen, Donore, Oldbridge, Rathmullen and Lagavoreen in the Barony of Duleek Lower, all in the County Meath and part of the lands of Ballsgrove in the Barony of Duleek lower and part of lands of Tullyallen and Mell in the Baroney of Ferrard in the County of Louth…”

1954 Company

These properties were formed, in 1954, into a private company called “Boyne Estates.”  Some parts of these estates were sold to Drogheda Corporation and to various private persons.

The remainder, by an indenture dated 10th March 1969, passed from Boyne Estates to An Taisce, presented as a gift by Mr. John Spicer.

An Taisce hope, with the co-operation of other landowners along the river eventually to open a “Nature Trail” from Navan to Oldbridge.


Reasons for the Building of The Boyne Canal

The English Cattle Act of 1867, banning the import of beasts to that country, caused a great expansion in Irish industry and the export of animal products to the continent of America. Navan shared in the commercial prosperity, which arose from the expansion of overseas trade,and the big demand for provisions of all sorts during the Napoleanic Wars. During the second half of the 18th century the vast increase in tillage in Meath caused Navan to become an important grain market. The bounty on the transport of grain by road to Dublin ceased, and Foster's Corn Law of 1784  gave encouragement to the export of wheat, and limited imports. England in the throes of the Industrial Revolution was now a wide open market for all sorts of agricultural produce. Navan prospered during this period, property values doubled, and the new Boyne Canal provided a cheap and easy outlet to the port of Drogheda.

Thompson remarks that: "since this line of canal has extended to Navan, the trade and population of the town have increased beyond all calculation."


Statistical Survey of County Meath, 1802

The Somerville Bridge over the canal at Athlumney Road, and the bridge over the Ruxton Lock, which gave access to the River Boyne at Andy Brennan Park, bear the name of Richard Evans, Engineer, and the date 1792. Further extensions to the canal system to give links with Dublin, Trim, and Kells were planned but never carried out. Excavation of the Trim branch was commenced but the only trace of this remaining in Navan for many years was the arch under the road at the end of Bridge Street. This disappeared in the 1980s when Circular Road was extended to meet the Inner Relief Road. There are some remains of bridges built before excavation, between Navan and Trim.