Where Are Dublin's Houseboats?

There’s no shortage of people curious about living on Dublin’s canals. To wit: the regular queries from visitors to the Waterways Ireland Visitors’ Centre in the Docklands.

“I get one person a day in here, asking about residential boats,” says Ifty Finn, manager at the centre. Some are tech workers wanting to be near work, some are college students looking for cool digs, others are wistful holidaymakers.

But, while the market is there and adding more residential boats to Dublin’s canals could be an economy-booster, it’s unclear when it’s going to happen.

Sitting with the Minister

At the moment, you can’t get a permit to live all the time on a houseboat. But plans to introduce residential permits for boats on Ireland’s canals have been afoot for a while, as part of a package of changes to the bye-laws that currently govern the country’s waterways.

In early 2014, Waterways Ireland, a cross-border government body that manages the canals, held a public consultation on changes to the existing canal bye-laws. There was much in the document that regular boaters were unhappy about.

The Inland Waterways Association of Ireland (IWAI), a voluntary group that represents people who use the canals, took issue with a five-day permit rule that would force boats to move often, as well as fixed penalty fines, and generally high fees.

There were a few issues with residential houseboat permits, too.

On the one hand, they give individuals certainty in terms of location and cost, said Gregory Whelan of the IWAI. “But they are only for one year at a time, this makes decisions on things like childcare and schooling very difficult.” The IWAI wants to see permits for longer periods and an “open and transparent pricing policy”.

After a fractious consultation process that saw more than 2,000 submissions, there were some amendments, but most details of the exact revised bye-laws are secret until the Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht signs them. The problem is, it’s unclear when that might be.

They’ve been sitting with the minister a while. “The bye-laws are currently with the minister for signature,” said Katrina McGirr, spokeswoman for Waterways Ireland.

But the press office at the Department of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht says there is “ongoing liaison” between the department and Waterways Ireland as they finalise the draft bye-laws.

“The draft bye-laws are being reviewed  to identify any legal issues prior to final drafting,” said Treasa Seoighe, in the department’s press office.

Whelan, at IWAI, says there still needs to be agreement reached with communities who use the waterways. “The proposed Waterways Ireland Canal bye-laws do not put user requirements, tourism development and local communities at the centre of the regulations,” he argues.

IWAI are open to talking. “We wrote twice to the previous minister and two letters and one email to the current minister. Both declined to meet us,” he said.

Living on the Water

If the minister signs the bye-laws, and if the final bye-laws are the same as the draft version, then one of the major changes for Dublin (and elsewhere) will be the introduction of residential permits. Because there are no explicit provisions for living on the waterways at the moment, it’s difficult to say how many people are doing it.

“The main areas that people are living in are Shannon Harbour, Sallins and Hazelhatch,” says Whelan. There are a few people in the Grand Canal Basin and a couple of dedicated houseboat-mooring facilities at Shannon Harbour and Sallins. “The one at Shannon Harbour is dormant, as users felt the charge and rules imposed were too onerous,” he said.

For Dublin, the first regulated year-round houseboat moorings would likely appear at Grand Canal Dock. Already, the berths across from Boland’s Mill create a picturesque waterside community: a cluster of houseboats, office boats, and rental boats.

“It brings a real holiday vibe to the area,” said Conor Brennan, strolling back to his boat on Sunday afternoon. He lives there as it’s near his work and cheap, he says.

Brennan says some of his friends pay well over €1,000 a month in rent for their apartments nearby. If the bye-laws are approved, the cost for a residential boat permit in Grand Canal Dock would be €3,500 a year, plus the the cost of services such as water, electricity and refuse, according to McGirr, of Waterways Ireland.

Brennan, a Belfast native, says that living on a boat does create one problem for him. Technically, he has no permanent address, which makes it tough to get post. But he uses his work for that at the moment.

There’s a magical side of living on the water, he said. The night before, he’d had a party. He and some friends had sat on top of his boat in the early hours, and watched a swan glide past, close to the boat, with cygnets on its back.


Lois Kapila: Lois Kapila is Dublin Inquirer's editor and general assignment reporter. She covers housing and land, too. Want to share a comment or a tip? You can reach her at [email protected]

Reader responses

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Mel Healy
at 9 July 2015 at 12:18

Spot on. The Minister really should get her, ahem, Act together

If you’ve ever encountered a busy and thriving waterway system such as the Canal du Midi in France, you realise how lifeless the canals in Dublin have become. Or think of houseboats in Amsterdam or Paris or Oxford.

If this were a typical stretch of the Canal du Midi, what would you see?

* Full-time boat-dwellers
* Part-time pleasure boats
* Large restaurant boats
* Even larger day-tripper excursion boats, often with full-blown restaurants on board
* Then at stopping points along the canal there’d be boat-hire companies, boat repairers and outfitters, shops with supplies such as fuel and, er Marmite and baked beans (for the Brits)
* The tourist traffic in turn – along with the houseboats – generates business for local shops and bakers, bars and restaurants, tourism centres and what have you.

But the only business I’ve come across on the Dublin canals in recent times is that restaurant moored near the lock at Mespil Road.

According to the official records, the last cargo boat passed through Ireland’s Grand Canal in 1960. The navigation system then fell into disuse, a dumping ground for tyres, traffic cones, shopping trolleys and dead bodies. In 1986 the control of the canal was transferred to the OPW. Much was spent on improvements, it was cleaned up, wildlife thrived. Then Waterways Ireland, assumed responsibility for the Grand Canal and it looks great again. But prettiness isn’t enough when the canal itself looks pretty empty of human activity.

Why the Minister is delaying and secretive is beyond me. Changing the by-laws to enable this rebirth is a no-brainer.

at 17 August 2015 at 12:00

Sadly in brown envelope Ireland nothing will ever happen which is only of benefit to the ordinary citizens. Of course development of the waterways should be a priority, but not as envisioned by politicians who only have eyes for fast buck making wealthy individuals.

Planning should ONLY be done by ELECTED members of the populace.

But HEY thats not the Irish way

Malcolm Kindness
at 20 August 2015 at 10:56

I’ve never understood why this wonderful amenity, our canals, has not been more fully used. I live in Leitrim and have a cruising boat. I am due to retire soon and would love to travel up to Dublin for a few weeks. However the lack of services and from what I hear, the threats of intimidation, as one gets near to Dublin would put me off.
Please, let’s get this sorted out soon.

at 2 September 2015 at 02:36

Threats? Who from? I wonder what your security would be like living on a houseboat in Grand Canal Dock. It would be nice to see the canals used more alright I’ve lived beside the Grand Canal most of my life and aside from the peak summer months there is little activity.

Alan McCabe
at 14 September 2015 at 23:45

Hi everyone … I’m looking for a house boat to live on any help greatly appreciated 🙂 0834408440. Thanks

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