The reopening of the old Ballinamore-Ballyconnell Canal has revitalised a facility and a hinterland rich in natural beauty. Linking the renowned Shannon and the Erne, the waterway weaves together the streams, rivers and lakes which are picturesquely scattered between Leitrim Village on the Shannon and the Erne. Passing under 34 stone bridges it is checked by 16 locks on it's scenic course through wild, unspoiled countryside. Each lock takes about 15 minutes to negotiate and the cruising time for the 62.5 kilometers of navigation is approximately 13 hours.
During the 18th century and first half of the 19th century, a web of waterways was established in Ireland including the Newry Canal, the first watershed canal to be built in Ireland or Britain.
Although some work to make the Woodford River navigable began in the last decade of the 18th century, it wasn't until 1846 that excavations commenced in earnest on the Ballinamore-Ballyconnell Canal. The linking of the rivers and lakes with sections of still water was undertaken by the engineer, John McMahon. By the time his project staggered towards completion some 14 years later, the needs of drainage had triumphed over the navigational imperatives and cost cutting had resulted in leakages and collapsing banks. Only eight boats haltingly negotiated the navigation in its short nine-year history. Finally, in 1869 the canal was abandoned as the age of the steam train came into its own.
When the restoration project was undertaken a few years ago, 120 years of neglect had reduced the waterway to a sad, weed-choked channel of broken bridges and missing locks. Using the original sites and stonework, the bridges are now restored, the waterway is navigable for modern pleasure cruisers and the new locks are operated by a push-button electro-hydraulic system.
The still water canal section negotiates a series of 8 locks which provides a stairway from the Shannon to Lough Scur, a natural lake of great beauty. The dominant height in the area is the cairn-topped Sheemore, from which point there is a panorama embracing over 30 lakes. Sheemore, together with its sister hill, Sheebeg, provided O'Carolan, the 17th century blind harper with the title for a haunting Irish air which you are likely to hear in one of the music pubs as you travel.
The descent to Lough Erne is checked by another 8 locks and the waterway visits the angling towns of Ballinamore and Ballyconnell, towns which gave their names to the original canal. A barge marina marks the final lock as the Woodford River noses its way east to join Lough Erne.
No large cities or towns mar the landscape along the canal's pleasant course. Reed banks thrive in the lakes and hedgerows parcel the pleasant fields, providing refuge for a great variety of wildlife. Wild flora decorates the banks and moors, delighting the senses.