+3531 6313822 nationalich@chg.gov.ie

Floating Heritage

Location Throughout the inland waterways of Ireland
Categories Knowledge and practices concerning nature and the universe
Oral traditions and expressions, including language
Traditional craftsmanship
Keywords Boating, maritime, crafts
Contact organisation Waterways Ireland

Ireland’s floating heritage is characterised by a unique ‘living relationship’ between the community of users and waterway communities and the traditional heritage boats that have been restored, adapted and/or preserved. This relationship is built on a strong foundation of traditions, knowledge and skills.

These traditional skills are shared by the boat owners within the wider community and through outreach events. This results in raising the status and awareness of floating heritage, heritage boats and their history as well as positive public engagement in cultural heritage.

Background information

Many traditional heritage boats, barges from the Grand and Royal Canals for example, require maintenance and restoration. This knowledge and skill is retained within the boating community and passed on to new members as well as intergenerationally – many current boat owners have fostered and nurtured this love of floating heritage in their children and grandchildren.

Practice and practitioners

Floating heritage incorporates inherited traditions from the past (traditional skills required to maintain the vessels) but also contemporary rural and urban practices in which diverse groups take part e.g. the Walk with the Big Boats annual festival which fosters connections between land based communities along our navigations and the boaters who traverse the waterways on their heritage craft;

The Heritage Boat Association, Inland Waterways Association of Ireland and Waterways Ireland have developed a range of initiatives to make Floating Heritage an inclusive living heritage. This is accomplished through annual events such as HBA and IWAI rallies to communities throughout the waterways. Events run by these organisation contribute to social cohesion throughout the inland waterways, encouraging a sense of identity and shared heritage which helps individuals to feel part of society at large. There are knowledge sharing initiatives such as the restoration of the 45M (one of the last remaining intact M Barges) which was a collaboration between the HBA, Waterways Ireland and the Heritage Council.

Floating heritage thrives on its interaction with waterway communities and depends on those whose knowledge of traditions, skills and customs is passed on to the rest of the community, from generation to generation, or to other communities. This is a core tenet of the outreach work and knowledge sharing undertaken by the HBA, IWAI and Waterways Ireland.

By embedding its activities in waterway communities throughout the Island of Ireland Floating heritage is recognised as a unique heritage element by the communities, groups and individuals that create, maintain and transmit it.

Development, transmission and safeguarding

Development: Floating heritage is developed by the boating groups such as the HBA, IWAI, Meitheal Mara, AK Ilen and Seo Sionna. This is accomplished through festivals, awareness raising lectures and practical workshops. State Agencies such as Waterways Ireland, local authorities, Heritage Council and LEADER companies also play an important role through grant aid and operational supports.

The knowledge and skill to maintain and manage the boats is retained within the boating community and passed on to new members as well as intergenerationally. In addition the partnerships developed with organisations such as Waterways Ireland also ensure that Floating Heritage and its practices are documented and made available to this and future generations.

Specific examples include:

  1. The intricacies of managing a barge of circa 70 tonnes with rope work.
  2. The knowledge to ensure sympathetic and appropriate barge conversions. This included repairing like for like riveted sections so the original appearance and design of the hulls remains intact and historically true to character. This skillset is held by groups such as the HBA and passed on from owner to owner during routine maintenance operations and to new conversions.
  3. The use and repair of Bolinder engines. No manual exists for these historic engine and all knowledge is contained within the flock memory of the boating community.
  4. Authentic fender craftsmanship i.e. wooden inserts outside spring steel as originally used.

This knowledge is transferred using peer to peer community based training and upskilling

Waterways Ireland, through its Heritage Plan 2016-2020, strives to document, preserve, promote and safeguard Floating Heritage through the following means:

  • Traditions/activities/practices are maintained through raising awareness and reconnecting communities with local heritage interests. We support this through our Community Grants Scheme to allow this take place at a grass roots level.
  • Installing supports to animate the community and voluntary sector is essential.
  • Waterways Ireland and the Heritage Boat Association has developed a dedicated oral history and placenames collection programme, all of which support the concept of Floating Heritage. These histories have been collected and curated in publications such as Fine Lines – Clear Water and Cool Metal – Clear Water. In addition to the history of these boats the individuals who worked on them, when they were work barges, has also been documented and safeguarded for this and future generations.
  • Our award winning (World Canals Conference Guardian Award 2016) Traditional Heritage Boat Survey which not only documented all heritage craft on all major Republic of Ireland waterways but also documented boat builders, boating terminology and international best practice in Floating Heritage. This was progressed in 2017 and again in 2019 which will result in all our waterways being surveyed.

Contact organisation

Waterways Ireland

Related and supporting organisations

Heritage Boat Association

Inland Waterways Association of Ireland

Meitheal Mara

Darina & John Tully, Waterways Ireland Traditional Boat Surveys

Row the Erne