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The Bargemen of the Canal
Cliff at Lyons lies along the scenic towpath of the Grand Canal at Aylmers Bridge and Lyons Demesne. The Grand Canal was constructed between 1757 and 1804 and the demense has always enjoyed a symbiotic relationship with the canal as it was the main method of transport in the eighteenth century.
The Grand Canal’s heyday coincided with that of a local Dublin brewery, Guinness, who began transporting their stout along the Grand Canal in the late eighteenth century.
By the early nineteenth century most barges were powered by a Swedish-made Bollinger 15hp engine and manned by a crew of four bargemen, sleeping in shifts in the bow.
Pressure to compete with railway and road deliveries meant barges were often overloaded, sometimes carrying so much weight their hulls scraped the bottom of the canal. Double locks like the one at Lyons provided welcome relief for the frequently overworked bargemen, enabling boats in either direction to continue without waiting for one another.
The last Guinness barge retired from active service along the canals in 1960.