Craigavon Museum Service

Vol. 9 No. 1 - 2007

Craigavon Museum Service

by Brian Cassells

For quite some time the Museum Management Committee have been considering how it delivers the service. Members were conscious of the fact that we were one of thirty-seven small facilities in Northern Ireland and that to survive under any new local government re-organization; we needed to radically re-think the future.

Lisburn museum has linen as its main theme; the railway story is being told in Downpatrick and at Whitehead; no one as yet is telling the story of the inland navigations. When Craigavon Council offered premises at Waterside House, this seemed the ideal location to tell the waterway story; close by was the former Kinnego Harbour and the Lagan Canal, and not very far away were the Ulster, Newry to Portadown and the Coalisland Canals.

A consultant’s report was commissioned and the Council accepted the recommendations, so the facility is being re-themed as an inland waterways museum. While this will be the main thrust for the future, the existing religious and other book collections, with other unique resources will still remain an important facet for research and display in the future. Indeed, the Museum Services committee is adamant the facility will have a firm academic resource base. The consultant’s recommendation suggests setting up a trust to manage the new development. The Borough Council will continue to support funding at the existing level; this new initiative should allow the facility to seek additional funds in grant aid from outside sources.

We already have examples of dug out canoes and various canal memorabilia but management quickly realized we need something iconic to attract the curiosity of the public. Numerous trips were made to view old canal boats and just recently we were fortunate to find the “Enterprise” a Lagan lighter, reputably built by Portadown Foundry around 1910 although it has not been possible to verify the exact date of construction.

The "Enterprise" taken in the 1950s when she was in the service of W D Irwin, sand merchants.

She was one of three sand boats that were operated by Mulholland’s, the others being the “Industry” and the “Margaret”. We understand the “Industry” is now on the Shannon, while the “Margaret” is in quite a sad state, having been sunk as part of Mulholland’s sand quay. We have been informed, the “Enterprise” was re-bottomed around 1954 in Lisburn dry dock and as far as we can determine, was one of the last commercial barges to move along the Lagan navigation from Lisburn to Lough Neagh. The hull would have originally been riveted but has now been over welded. Her previous owners claim she may have been originally fitted with the legendary Swedish Bolinder single cylinder engine, this has now gone and a five cylinder Gardiner diesel is installed.

The Enterprise today - the crane will be removed before she is moved to Oxford Island.

The hull seems to be in quite good condition, the decks will require re-placement and the old ugly wheel house removed. In examining the ledgers from the Lagan Navigation Company in the Public Record Office, there is no record of either the “Margaret” or the “Enterprise” as having sailed on the Lagan Canal, however Mr. W A McCutcheon, who wrote the authoritative resource book “The Canals of the North of Ireland” did photograph the barge entering the Upper Bann in the early 1950s; at that time she was in the sand fleet of W D Irwin’s. Hence it may be that both the “Margaret” and “Enterprise” were renamed by Irwin’s - anyone with further information please get in touch!

What then do we do with this historic exhibit, should she be craned out and made an exhibition area, after all she is sixty feet long and quite a width, or should she be kept in the water at the marina at Oxford Island as a floating example of a bygone era, the jury is out at present! The future then is brighter, the waterways museum sits comfortably alongside the marina, the newly re-established boat club, the Discovery Centre, all in the nature conservation area that is Oxford Island. Who knows, we might just need to change that brown sign on the motorway some day, to announce Craigavon’s latest arrival, “The Inland Waterways Museum!”

Footnote: why are boats always referred to as ‘she’ well they steer clear of buoys!