Industry makes return to Lagan Canal as an old friend barges in
A barge that once carried coal supplies along Ulster's waterways is back on the Lagan Canal for the first time since 1946.
The Lagan lighter, built in 1871, is now moored close to the Lock Keeper's Cottage in south Belfast as the first stage in a major restoration programme.
For years it had lain half full of stagnant water at a marina on the River Shannon, until it was tracked down by Brian Cassells, president of the Inland Waterways Association of Ireland. He had been asked by Castlereagh Borough Council to source one of the original lighters.
Now that the barge – 'Industry' – is back where it once served, its restoration will be completed later this year.
Industry will then house an exhibition focusing on the history of the Lagan Navigation, the workings of the locks, and the living conditions of the lighterman and his family.
The exhibition will include a Bolinger engine, although the barge would have been pulled by a horse.
The barge will also be available for private hire.
The vessel passed through the hands of numerous owners during its long service between the 1870s and 1940s.
The council bought it from Hilary Boylan, the widow of a man who once navigated it on the Lagan.
A 1920 document indicates that it was owned by Lambeg Bleaching & Dyeing Co when it is believed to have gone into the Portadown Foundry for modifications.
The Industry was owned for a time in the early 1930s by the Irish Peat Development Co, which may have had a peat extraction works at Maghery. In May 1934 it was carrying coal for the Antrim Iron Ore Co.
On March 31, 1941, Industry was skippered empty by J Milligen to Lough Neagh when the consignee was 'Ministry Shipping'. It is understood the vessel was requisitioned at this time for the war effort.
On May 21, 1946 it made two trips to the Naval Armament Supply Officer at Belvoir Park – one empty and one with 34 tons of stores.
Supported by the Lagan Rural Partnership through the Northern Ireland Rural Development Programme, the project aims to increase provision for visitors in the area by enhancing the heritage and tourism offer. Castlereagh mayor Jack Beattie, said: "I am thrilled that Lagan Canal Restoration Trust discovered the barge and it can be returned today to its rightful home on the Lagan Navigation.
"It is hoped the barge will not only add a nostalgic feel to the area, but it will also complement the existing facilities on site and provide visitors with an exquisite piece of Northern Ireland history.
I wish to thank the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development and the European Union for funding the project, and also the Lagan Rural Partnership for their continued support."