​Discover the Waterways Ireland Archive

Discover the story of the waterways through direct contact with original documents from the past. With a unique collection of over 3,000 drawings, sketches and records of the Irish inland waterways there is a wide range of material to uncover in the Waterways Ireland Archive.

At the heart of the archive are the original drawings tracing the development of the waterways from their conception in the eighteenth century through to their construction and their ongoing maintenance during the nineteenth and early twentieth century. Included are engineer’s plans for locks, sluices, bridges and harbours, all providing a fascinating insight into our heritage.

The records in the collection can be used for many purposes including:

•The history of the waterway and transport network in Ireland

•Family and local history

•Industrial projects

•Current engineering and maintenance work programmes

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Did you know?

•The engineers had to design the tools and machinery to be used on construction projects. Surviving blueprints reveal designs for loading cranes, winches and pumps, all of which were required for their work.

•Much of the construction works carried out in the 1840’s were during a period when Ireland was experiencing a nationwide famine. Public work schemes provided much needed employment for thousands of families but at its height the famine and emigration had decimated the population that it became difficult to find sufficient men to carry out the work.

•The canals were used primarily to transport barrels of porter from St James in Dublin to the rest of the country. The toll books document their journey from the Guinness Distillery to the the various towns and cities on the waterways.

Researching Family History

Toll Books

These are the most commonly used resource for family historians. Although they were originally used for the allocation of tolls on a canal, they are very useful for locating relatives who worked as boatmen on the canals and tying them to a particular place at a given time. Toll books provide peoples' names, the names of boats worked, (usually) a boat number, the names of owners and details of the cargoes carried.

Other sources
Almost any record that gives names and personal details can help you in your research. There are personal work diaries, correspondence – from canal companies' official correspondence to engineers' and inspectors' correspondence, and boat traffic records.


Accessing the Archive

It is not possible at this stage to see all of the documents online but we have tried to provide a snapshot of what is available. To access the archive records you can:

•See what’s in the collection by visiting the archive in the Headquarters building in Enniskillen

•Or ask us a question about what’s in the collection

Basic reference search is available free of charge with all requests responded to within 30 days.

To consult the archives researchers need to make arrangements in advance by contacting +44 (0) 28 6634 6205  or emailing Archive. You can order records ahead of your visit.


Donating Material to the Waterways Ireland Archive

The Waterways Ireland Archive collects primary source materials that have historical significance.

If you own material of significance and would like to contact a staff member about donating them to the Waterways Ireland Archive, please e-mail us​.

The following kinds of papers are most useful to researchers:

•Professional correspondence with engineers, foremen, lock-keepers, contractors, organisations,


•Scrapbooks, clippings

•Financial papers, including bills, receipts, lists and ledgers.