The Strabane Canal is a short (four mile) canal in County Tyrone, Northern Ireland. It connected the market town of Strabane to the navigable River Foyle and thence to the port of Londonderry on the north coast of Ireland. The canal opened in 1796 and closed in 1962.
The locks were designed to accommodate sea-going schooners, capable of carrying 300 tons of cargo. Devlin's lock was 108 by 23 feet (33 by 7.0 m), with 7 feet (2.1 m) of water over the cill, while Campsie's Lock was 117 by 24 feet (36 by 7.3 m), with a depth of 6.5 feet (2.0 m). Tolls were collected by the Marquess's agents, at a flat rate of two shillings (10p) per ton. An upstream trade in coal, timber, hardware and foodstuffs developed, although there was dissatisfaction with the tolls, which were considered by the merchants to be too high and unreasonable. Traffic from Strabane to Derry developed more slowly, but a trade in agricultural produce gradually increased. Lighters were towed by a steam tug to the entrance of the canal, while horses provided the power for the journey up to Strabane.
From 1820, a group of local people leased the canal from the Marquess, and continued to run it successfully. 583 lighters made the journey between Strabane and Derry in 1836, carrying a total of 10,535 tons, most of which was grain. A number of warehouses, grain stores and wharves were build along the banks at Strabane. The canal brought considerable prosperity to Strabane and to Lifford in the first quarter of the nineteenth century and the towns became flourishing markets for agricultural produce. However, in 1847 a railway opened from Derry to Strabane, which was extended to Omagh in 1852, and a network of connecting railways soon developed.
The effect on the canal was dramatic, and the canal was soon in financial difficulties. The canal company which had leased the canal for the last 40 years was wound up in 1860, to be replaced by the Strabane Steam Navigation Company. Although traffic remained at about 20,000 tons until the end of the century, this generated between £2,000 and £3,000 of income, and by the time operating costs and the lease were paid, the net annual revenue was always below £300. The new company was also wound up, to be replaced by the Strabane Canal Company in 1890, who took out a 31-year lease at £300 per year.
Conditions continued to decline. The water was less than 2 feet (0.61 m) deep along much of the canal, as over 2 miles (3.2 km) of the east bank required repairs to make it watertight, and the lock gates leaked. Shoals and sandbanks had developed in the Foyle below the entrance to the canal, as a result of the failure of the Derry authorities to dredge the channel. Whereas coasters had been able to reach Strabane in the early years of the canal, this was no longer possible, since the construction of the Carlisle Bridge in Derry in the 1860s and a bridge carrying the narrow gauge Donegal Railway over the canal below Strabane Basin.
Previously, the only bridges over the canal had been two wooden swing bridges, which allowed tha passage of boats with masts or funnels. Despite the fact that lighters could only complete the journey if half full, trade continued, with Smyth's grain mill generating up to half the trade. By the basin, there were two saw mills, a tannery, a brewery and repair shops and docks which were used to service the lighters. A little further down, coal was unloaded to supply the gas works, where a jetty had been built into the canal.
In June 2006 the Strabane Lifford Development Commission awarded a £1.3m cross-border waterways restoration contract to Doran Consulting of Belfast. The project was launched by President of Ireland, Mary McAleese, in Lifford and involves the restoration of 2.4 km (1.5 mi) of canal and two locks to working order.
Current status :
The two sets of locks have been fully restored and work will now be carried out on the clearing of the canal channel and the restoration of water into the channel. The construction work has been completed on the canal, but to a poor standard. The council has refused to maintain the restored section of canal in its present state, and it has begun to deteriorate again.