Irish Ships and Shipping


Gas co. ship models and Grand canal lock keeper Sonny Byrne 
by Ray Peacock


I thought you and your readers would be interested in the accompanying photographs of my model of SS  “Glenageary”, which if published might stimulate some memories in your readers of days gone by.  Some years ago my wife Joan, née Doyle, was given a photograph of her mother’s father, Patrick ‘Sonny’ Byrne, at the Grand Canal Locks, of which he was the Lock Keeper from about 1915.  In the background to the photograph is a ship, the ‘Glenageary’, passing through the locks.  This sparked my interest, because my hobby is model shipbuilding.

The model of ‘Glenageary’ in the Ringsend Locks was built in 2004 - 2005, to a scale of 1/10 inch to 1 foot (1:120).  The figure in the model operating the winding mechanism (the ‘grabs’) represents ‘Granda’, the father of Anne Doyle (née Byrne) and grandfather to her daughters Joan and Anne.

Granda’ Byrne, known to most as ‘Sonny’, and some as Paddy, was born in 1869 or 1870, and operated the pleasure vessel ‘Aja’ on the Grand Canal between Dublin and the Shannon for about 20 years, for Mr. Sankey, one of the owners of the company, and his guests.  On Granda’s death in 1953, Mr. Sankey’s widow, Laura, (who lived at 2 Wellington Road, Ballsbridge), wrote a letter of condolence to his daughter Anne, in which she said that it was 60 years since ‘Paddy’ first went on the ‘Aja’ with her husband whom, she recalled, Sonny always called ‘The Guv’nor’.  This would take us back to his starting the job in 1893.   In the letter, Mrs. Sankey says that “war broke out, and the ‘Aja’ had to go, and nothing was the same’”  

The war she refers to is the First World War.  With the demise of the ‘Aja’, Mr. Sankey offered Granda the position of Lock Keeper, which he held until he retired.  His daughter Anne recalls that he said he didn't know how old he was, because many birth records were lost in fires during “The Troubles”.  When he thought he was nearing 70 he told his sister Maggie Dalton that he wanted to retire.  Knowing his age, but not wanting him to leave Ringsend - he had been a widower since 1925 when his wife Anne died - she told him to “get away with that, you’re not old enough”, so he carried on for a few more years.  We have another photo of him from the Irish Times of 19th November 1937 captioned ‘Leaving Her Through, a ship entering the Grand Canal Dock at Ringsend’.    It was probably in 1941 – 1942 when he finally retired to the home run by the nuns in Kilmainham.

 The story as we know it is that because Granda’s father, a deep-sea diver, had been lost at sea, the Company guaranteed his sons a job ‘for life’, so Mr. Sankey must have had wider interests than just the business on the Grand Canal.  Granda was also offered residence in the Lock Keeper’s cottage beside the Grand Canal docks, but his wife Anne (née Fleming) was so frightened that her toddler daughter Anne (born 1913) might fall into the lock waters she refused to live there.  They lived instead above Kitty Whelan’s drapery shop, Cullen’s, in Thorncastle Street, Ringsend, opposite St. Patrick’s Church, where the Pharmacy is now located. 

Granda’s sister Maggie lived in the Pidgeon House, near the Costello family.  Her husband Tommy Dalton worked at the Power Station.

 In addition to his daughter Anne (92 and living in a Nursing Home in Cheshire, England – her husband, Patrick Doyle, from 58 Dock Street, just across the road from Shelbourne Park, died in 1996), there were four more children:  Christine Willett (87 and living in a Residential Home in Greystones), Peggy Drahos (who died October 2005 at the age of 85, lived in Long Branch, New Jersey to where she emigrated as a War Bride shortly after World War II), Kevin, (who was in the RAF and died in 1979), and John (who moved with his wife Mary to America in the early nineteen fifties, returning with his family to Rathfarnham in the mid-sixties.   John died in 2002.)  


The model of ‘Glenageary’ is made from a block of cedar to the plans of a sister ship, ‘Briarfield’.  She is depicted as in the photograph of Granda Byrne in the late 1920’s in the Grand Canal Locks, which open onto the River Liffey, close to the mouth of the Dodder.  The small figure operating the lock winch represents Granda Byrne.  The steam whistle line, almost invisible, running from the rear of the cabin to the top of the pipe on the front of the funnel, is a length of Joan’s hair (to preserve the ‘genetic link’ with Granda!).  The large stones bordering the lock were individually cast from plaster-of-paris before being tinted and suitably ‘planted’ with tufts of grass.  The other lock gates are operated by ‘bottom power’.   The colours used for the Lock stonework were selected using a series of the photographs taken by Joan and sister Anne Gorman on a rather dull damp Dublin day!  

Glenageary was scrapped  in 1962. 

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