Something about the canal cheers you. You pass it on weekday mornings and the tow path is busy, the bike lane is busy. Commuters everywhere.
At lunchtime, workers sit on the banks, eat sandwiches and drink coffee. In the evening, couples stretch their legs, walk their dogs.
You like the canal when it’s busy like this, city-chic, sophisticated. But you like it when it’s country quiet, too. Sunday morning quiet.
On Sunday mornings, you have the tow path to yourself. You walk slowly from Grand Canal Street to Baggot Street and Leeson Street. The canal is over a hundred kilometres long, but this is your favourite stretch, a leafy two kilometre loop through Kavanagh territory.
You know that if you continued walking, continued following the canal, you’d reach the River Shannon. You know the Shannon is the real deal, majestic, curving, natural. The canal is puny in comparison.
Still, you like its four-foot depth, its steadfast insistence on travelling in a straight line. You like the slow impracticality of its locks, the enforced public scrutiny of barge travellers, bobbing on rising water like rubber ducks in a bath.
It pleases you that this canal, which began life as a commercial enterprise, has survived financial failure, neglect and the threat of development. It pleases you that it’s become a valuable wildlife habitat; rural corridor in an urban setting.
Its contradictions and complexities sustain you.
Once, you were driving past on a busy morning and you saw a man cycling along the bike path. He was listening to music, twitching his shoulders and bopping his head. You watched as he lifted his arms first to one side, then the other, and mimed playing the drums in the air. You’d never seen such a mix of control and abandon before, and you smiled all the way home.
The Grand Canal is one of two canals linking Dublin to the River Shannon. Construction began in 1755 and the canal was officially opened in 1804. (A rival canal, the Royal Canal, was built between 1790 and 1817.)
The heyday of the canals was short-lived, and their popularity declined with the coming of the railways and improved road networks. By the 1960s, the canals had fallen into disrepair and their future seemed uncertain. Attitudes changed, however, and in 1986 the Office of Public Works was charged with developing the canals as a public amenity. Today, the canals are managed by Waterways Ireland.
The main line of the Grand Canal is 131 kilometres long. It has 43 locks, 5 of which are double locks. (The Royal Canal is 145 kilometres.)
Although man-made, the canal is an important wildlife habitat and supports a range of fish, animal, bird and plant life. The water is clean and calcium-rich.