Staycation on the Canal


Ten years ago, when the country was going mad for buying houses in rural France and snapping up apartments in Bulgaria, Michael Rankin bought himself a 20-year old barge for a fraction of the cost. It was a simple, practical decision – with four children, foreign holidays were not just expensive, they just weren’t do-able.

Leaving flights aside, rental cars on the continent didn’t cater for the needs of a bigger family, so a barge that slept everyone was the solution.
Over the years, Michael has lovingly renovated the boat and brought his family to some of the most beautiful parts of the island, introducing them to a lifestyle that no other holiday can offer. For a few months of the year, the barge is kept in Grand Canal Dock in Dublin, and then at various locations around the country.

The barge he bought was built in the 80s, and so it qualifies as a heritage barge. According to The Heritage Boat Association, that’s any boat of historical significance more than 25 years old.

Michael had just bought the barge when he was approached in Shannon Harbour by a fellow barge owner who complimented him on how he had renovated the craft.

This turned out to be Jean, a woman in her 70s, who, with her now-deceased partner, had actually built Michael’s barge back in 1981. She told him how the barges were built upside-down, suspended by a crane, and the tricky job of turning the boat upright was only done when it was close to completion. Jean described how she would down a stiff brandy every time, before operating the crane and single-handedly flipping the barge upright in one go. Jean, now in her 80s, lives full time on her own 80-foot barge in Shannon Harbour.

One of the things Michael loves most about having a barge is the community aspect. You are at once welcome and part of the family, and at the same time, nobody needs to know who or what you are in real life.

Barges, especially the heritage ones, take a lot of maintenance. According to Michael, all youhave to do if you have a technical issue you can’t fix, is stand up on the deck of your boat with a piece of machinery in the air and straight away, you’ll get a flood of helpful suggestions, parts, tools and labour offered for free. Everyone helps out everyone else – no questions asked.

If you want to find out more about what it’s like to own a barge, there are two sites you should visit:, which celebrates the floating heritage on Ireland’s inland waterways. Another great site to check out is, run by Giles Byford and Jill Parkinson. They live all year round on their 60-foot barge and have an upholstery and canvas boat cover business. They also write a barging blog, complete with an online art gallery of Jill’s art and her gorgeous, barge-friendly recipes.

Picture: Ross Waldron.

By Ruth Kennedy