Overview of the Industrial Heritage of County Longford
Industrial Heritage is perhaps the least appreciated aspect of Longford's cultural heritage. However, industry and farming along their machinery and tools, form the backbone of development and culture in the county. This section will give a brief overview of industrial heritage in County Longford and useful resources to find out more.
The Royal Canal is arguably one of the most important features of Longford's industrial heritage. It's opening brought prosperity to Longford town in particular, which was only halted by the Great Famine in the 1840s. Proposals to connect Dublin with the Shannon dated back to the early 18th century. The movement of goods and people was cheaper and more efficient by water and the development of canals encouraged the development of industry in Ireland's midlands and western regions. In 1757 permission was granted for the Grand Canal along a southern route terminating near Limerick and was officially opened in 1804.
The Royal Canal was conceived as being the northern inland trade route linking Dublin with the River Shannon, developed by a former board member of the Grand Canal company and in direct competition with that waterway. Work began on the Royal Canal in 1790 and was finally completed in 1817, by the opening of Richmond Harbour in Clondra.
The canal has 47 locks along its route, and four aqueducts including the magnificent Whitworth Aqueduct over the River Inny near Abbeyshrule. There were a total of 86 bridges on the Royal Canal, although many of these have been taken "off-line" in Co. Longford during the works to reopen the canal. Historically, the Royal Canal featured a number of branches, including a spur to Longford town, which terminated at the former Harbour, to the rear of the Market Square and the modern-day Longford Town Council building. It is an objective of Longford Town Council to return this spur into operation.
During the 20th century, the fortunes of the Royal Canal declined, until it was closed to navigation in 1955. Almost from that point on, groups, such as the Royal Canal Amenity Group, sought to have the canal reopened primarily for tourism and as an amenity for the people of the Midlands. In September 2010, this goal was finally achieved with the reopening of the refurbished Royal Canal after many years of work on the project by Waterways Ireland.
Today the Royal Canal is managed by Waterways Ireland and the various branches of the Royal Canal Amenity Group work hard to maintain and preserve its unique heritage. The Inland Waterways Association of Ireland (IWAI) also hosts excellent information on boating on the Royal Canal and a guide to the canal can be obtained from their website.
After the opening of the Royal Canal, the coming of the railways to Longford was one of the pivotal events that ushered in the Industrial Revolution into the county. The county is on what was the old Midlands & Great Western Railway (MGWR) Sligo Branch, which also had a Cavan branch running north along the eastern side of the county, near Abbeylara and Granard, along Lough Kinale. The two branches separated at Inny Junction near Streete, Co. Westmeath.
The railway stations in Edgeworthstown and Longford both opened in November 1855 to great ceremony, including a celebratory Mass in St. Mel's Cathedral in Longford. A station opened in Newtownforbes on the 1st of September 1863, but closed just shy of a century later on the 17th of June 1963. On the Cavan branch, a station at Ballywillin opened in 1856, but was fully closed in 1960. For useful information on Ireland's railway stations, please visit this website.
For more information on the built heritage of Longford's bridges, please read Longford Bridge Survey - Architectural Inventory a project commissioned by the Longford Heritage Office in 2007.
Bicycles, Motorcars and Tractors & Farm Machinery
On a personal level, the rise in the use of motorised vehicles in the 20th century allowed for the development of the countryside like no other innovation. Steam-driven and later motorised farm equipment along with tractors helped modernise Irish farming. The bicycle and motorcar liberated rural communities, providing convenient and reliable transport and allowing for wider participation in clubs and social activities.
The importance of vintage motorcars and tractors is recognised by vintage clubs in the county in particular. These clubs work hard to preserve Longford's industrial heritage for future generations. To find out more on the Longford Vintage Club, please visit their website or Facebook profile. The other major vintage club in Co. Longford is the Lakeland Vintage Club, based near Abbeyshrule.
Longford Industrial Heritage Survey - phase 1 (desktop study).
In 2008 a desk-top study was carried out to identify sites of potential industrial heritage significance in County Longford. This included all aspects of our industrial past from the 18th century up to the 1970s, including milling, transport, manufacturing and the peat industry.
Longford Industrial Heritage Survey - Phase 1 database
Longford Industrial Heritage Survey - Phase 1 report (Desktop Study)