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Ulster log: All aboard for Brian's book on our waterways

By Eddie McIlwaine

When a book was required to celebrate the 60th anniversary of the Inland Waterways Association of Ireland one name only popped up as the author - that of retired schoolteacher Brian Cassells, a man with a deep passion for the navigable rivers, streams and estuaries of this island.

"I've had the privilege to sail most of them," says Brian whose tome has just been released by Cottage Publications.

And in the 179 pages of IWAI he tells absorbing stories about every one of them and reproduces fascinating photographs, too. The only waterway he has not navigated yet is the Grand Canal into Dublin and that one will be boated on one of those days.

The IWAI was born in 1954 and today has a membership in excess of 3,500, reveals president Carmel Meegan, who assured Brian he was the unanimous choice as the writer of the celebratory book.

Even if you are only lukewarm about rivers and all that goes with them, this publication will keep you anchored to your armchair for hours - indeed you might even go out and buy a boat.

There are branches of the Association everywhere, the first one set up only a month after the formation of the IWAI in Athlone. There are other branches with names like the Boyle River, the Boyne, the Corrib and Coalisland where members love this little verse:

Belfast can boast of its harbour; Dublin can boast of its quay; But Coalisland can boast of her Basin; Where the boats come and go every day.

There are branches too in Newry and Portadown, Lough Erne and in Lough Derg.

On page 95 of this intriguing publication I even discovered a little bit of a mystery.

Brian Cassells admits he can't hit on a paper trail to help him trace the history of the Barrow branch. He can't find any of the founding Barrow Boys who launched it way back in 1955 in Carlow.

"I've been told that it was one of the first five branches," says Brian. "Some say it was a John Monaghan who came from Canada to settle in Carlow. Other original Barrow Boys were Bertie Shirley and Bill Duggan. I need to talk to them to find out about their time as Barrow Boys."

Martha may be back for more ballet

Canadian Martha Leebolt who has been enthralling ballet audiences at the Opera House with her performance in the title role of the new-look Cinderella brings the curtain down tonight - but is hoping to return in another Northern Ballet production in the New Year.

Martha began dancing at the age of three when she took tap and jazz lessons as well as learning some ballet steps.

She joined the Northern company in 2001 and won a National Dance Award for Outstanding Female Performance for her appearance as the Marquise De Merteuil in Dangerous Liaisons.

But her career highlight was starring as Cleopatra in David Nixon and and Claude-Michel Schonberg's ballet of that name.

Could she be coming back to Belfast in a ballet based on Jane Austen's Pride & Prejudice?

"That's one ballet I long to dance," she says.

The day Big James went out of line to give me slip

I had a story here a while back, provided by a reader, about a ploughing match at Lisnalinchy and it brought back happy boyhood memories of a team of plough horses with which I had an association.

Joey, Big James, Avril, Billy the Wicked and Sam were owned by my grandfather Edward Boyd and back in the '50s had all kinds of duties to perform - the most important of which, in season, was hauling the ploughs over acres of grass.

My job was to lead them from their stable in Carnmoney Village to the meadow which was their favourite grazing spot, half a mile away along a road called Tapsy Toosey.

One afternoon, with the other five following suitably tethered to one another, Big James slipped his halter and galloped off in the wrong direction.

My mistake was going after Big James and neglecting the others. Very soon Tapsy Toosey was like a scene from the old west, but with a little help, the horses were back in line.

I have to emphasise, by the way, that I was only 10 at the time.

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