Royal Canal & Grand Canal

The history of the Royal Canal and the Grand Canal stretches back to the mid 1700s. Canals were seen as the way to achieve economic progress through encouraging trade. The Grand Canal was granted permission in 1755, and the Royal Canal was approved shortly afterwards in the 1780s. Today, the canals are mainly used as pleasure waterways.

The Grand Canal travels 82 miles from Ringsend in Dublin to the River Shannon at Shannon Harbour in Co. Offaly and has 43 locks, while the Royal Canal is 146km long with a total of 46 locks. Both canals pass through Co. Westmeath.

The Royal Canal
© Sean Magee and Westmeath County Library

Habitats & wildlife

There is a huge variety of habitats along the canals, such as reed and sedge swamps, grasslands, hedgerows, as well as the canal waterway itself where the Yellow Water-lily occurs. They provide shelter and support for a diversity of animals.

Reed and sedge swamps are typical of habitats found along the margins of rivers, lakes and canals where the water is slow-moving or still. Common Reed, clubrush, meadowsweet, horsetail and flag iris are all frequent species of this habitat. This is an important habitat that provides shelter for fauna during bad weather and from predators along the canal corridor. The reeds are also a good source of food for birds and insects. Reed and sedge swamps also make ideal breeding ground for birds. Common bird species include moorhens, Grey Herons, and Blue Tits.

Along banks of the canals lie the grasslands, which act as a transition zone between terrestrial & aquatic habitats. Rye Grass, Meadow Grass, and a colourful array of flowers occur during the summer:   meadowsweet, Field Scabious, Ladies’ Bedstraw, Bird’s Foot Trefoil, Ox-eye Daisy. Ash and willow are among the most common tree species along the canal banks, providing shelter for birds such as the kingfisher.

Typical animals species of the canal corridor include fox, badger, hedgehog, otter, Grey Heron, mallard, Mute Swan, and moorhen. Numerous smaller birds inhabit the stretches of hedgerows, for example thrush, chaffinch, bullfinch, Blue Tit and robin.

Two species of note that grow along the canalsides in the Westmeath/Offaly area are guilder rose and spindle. While they are common here, they are rare throughout the rest of Ireland.

Please see our Transport section for further information on the inland waterways of Westmeath.

previousPrevious - Lough Derravaragh
Next - River Shannon Callowsnext