The Bargeman

My grandfather was born in the late 1930s. He lived in Athlone Co. Westmeath. His parents (my great grandparents)owned a cinema beside the river Shannon in Athlone town bridge. When he was 4 years old he had the easiest job in the cinema. His job was to check everyone’s ticket. To check tickets, you had to take the ticket which was divided into half and take the half and discard it. He would occasionally go fishing down at the docks.
At that time, the main transport of goods was done by barges. These open steel 20 metre barges would take 60 tonnes of Guinness coal, or wood from Dublin down the Shannon and into lough derg. As the barges came through the lock my grandfather would run down from the bridge to the lock and hop on the barge in the lock and get a ride back to the bridge . From then on he became fascinated with barges. Most of these barges had 15 bollander engines with a top speed of 3 mph. Barges belonged to the grand canal company. When they were going on a trip it took 2 hours to warm up the engines.
In the 1950 the trains started to take business away from barges then the waterways were closed in the 1960s. When the grand canal company shut its doors all the barges were sold. These barges were exceedingly difficult to manoeuvre my grandfather’s friend Sid Shine first had a small barge which my grandfather at the age of 10 would go with him on trips down to lough derg. Sid Shine was a bargeman, a musician and a great sailor. He bought a barge called “the fox” this was a maintenance barge which had a crane on her and had been used to pick up buoys and maintain them and this is where my grandfather spent all his free time.
At 23 he married and was on honeymoon on the barge “the fox” when he saw a barge half sunk under a bridge at lainsborough. It was full of old bicycles prams and rubbish and the deal was done for 10 pounds.
This barge was called “Miranda” .my grandparents fixed it up and lived onboard for the first 3 years of their married lives having 3 children onboard.
The big thing at the time was to go on rally’s on the river. My grandfather remembers one time on a rally the bearing went on the kelvin engine and he took the engine apart and fixed the bearing wita lot of solder. So, he needed graphite to finish the job, so he got the others onboard the boat pearing pencils to use the graphite.
My grandparents moved to dromineer in Tipperary on lough derg they built a house and used the barge for holidays. their family grew to 9 and they had many happy trips and holidays on the barge. now my parent are bringing me on Miranda and showing us the fun, they had when they were young. I love going on holidays on the Shannon now and we have travelled as far as lough ree.
My grandfather is an amazing barge man at 82 he will dock Miranda skilfully.