The oldest canal in the world, developed in c. 4000BC and now c. 6000 years old, is believed to be between modern day Iraq and Syria. Other canals, in North India, Pakistan, Egypt and China, are believed to be between 2000 and 5000 years old – the Hong Gou canal in China (Canal of the Wild Geese) connects the old Chinese states of Song, Zhang, Chen, Cai, Cao, and Wei. China also has the longest canal in the world. At 1,794Km the Grand Canal of China, built in stages between Beijing and Hangzhou and incorporating / connecting numerous existing canals, is by far the world’s longest. Constructed between c. 500BC and c. 600 AD its width is rarely less that 30.0m.
Western Europe’s first artificial canal was the Fossa Carolina (south Germany) – built under the personal supervision of Charlemagne in the 8th century. From the 12th century onwards a significant expansion in canal construction took place in northern Europe, particularly in Belgium, Denmark, Netherlands, Flanders, Germany and France. The development of the ‘flash lock’ and ‘pound lock’ for regulating/controlling water heights in locks plus increased commercial expansion and industrial developments utilising water power led to further canal expansion.
Opened in 1563 England’s first canal was ‘the Exeter Canal. However, the ‘industrial revolution’ of the 17th and 18th centuries saw a huge expansion of canal throughout the UK. Development of canals in America didn’t start until the 17th century – the oldest, Mother Brook in Dedham, MA was constructed in 1639.
The development of artificial canals came about by the need for a cheap and fast way to transport commercial goods – using ships/boats there was no cheaper or more efficient system to do so anywhere in the world up to about 400 years ago…when better roads began to be constructed.
List of Canals on Island of Ireland
- Boyne Navigation
- Broharris Canal
- Coalisland Canal (Tyrone Navigation)
- Dukart’s Canal
- Grand Canal
- Lacy’s Canal
- Lagan Canal
- Lecarrow Canal
- Newry Canal
- Royal Canal
- Shannon-Erne Waterway
- Strabane Canal
- Ulster Canal
For more information on Irish Canals, please contact us.