By the middle of the eighteenth century a number of proposals were being considered for building canals throught Ireland. Government funding was available and canals were seen as an instrument to assist economonic progress by encouraging trade and industrial development.
The attraction of linking Dublin with the River Shannon was obvious and in 1755 two alternative routes were put forward to the Irish Parliament. The Southerly route (via Sallins and Tullamore to reach the Shannon near Banagher) was approved and this became the Grand Canal.
In the 1780's a disgruntled director of the Grand Canal Company decided to build a rival link to the Shannon using a more northerly route (somewhat similar to that rejected in 1755), and got a parliament grant for the purpose. Work commenced in 1790, although it must have been doubtful even then as to whether the level of traffic could justify two canals.
Route & Construction
The exact route of the proposed Royal Canal had not been fully planned or surveyed in advance and this caused many problems. It was decided to cut the canal through extensive rock at Clonsilla and to cross the River Ryewater at Leixlip in order to serve the town of Maynooth, close to the estate of the Duke of Leinster, one of the principal shareholders of the Royal Canal Company. Both of these undertakings proved considerably more expensive and time-consuming than the Company had expected.
An early request by the Grand Canal Company that both canals save money by sharing a route to Dublin from a point near Edenderry/Kinnegad was rejected by the Royal Canal Company. Cost mounted and several times the company was rescued by further injections of Government money. As the canal neared the Shannon the rival Grand Canal Company helped prevent the link being made at Lough Ree and forced further expense by insisting that the canal followed the longer route set out in it's charter. The Royal Canal finally reached the river at Clondra, Co. Longford, in 1817. The total cost of building the canal was £1,421,954.