Barge retires to Lagan after 150 years of toil

The Industry Barge.
The Industry Barge.

A 150-year-old barge which travelled Ulster waterways in support of the linen industry and two world war efforts has returned to the Lagan in Belfast as a tourist attraction.

The vessel, named ‘Industry’, had fallen into disrepair and ended up abandoned on waste ground beside the River Shannon in Co Roscommon.

Now it is being restored and has been returned to the Lagan in Belfast where it once hauled heavy loads – but this time as a cultural attraction.

The barge, or ‘lighter’, has been moored beside the old Lock Keeper’s Cottage in what is the first stage of an extensive restoration programme to return it to its original condition.

Mayor of Castlereagh, Alderman Jack Beattie, was pleased to see the Industry return to the borough.

“I am thrilled that Lagan Canal Restoration Trust discovered the barge and it can be returned today to its rightful home on the Lagan Navigation,” he said.

“It is hoped the barge will not only add a nostalgic feel to the area, but it will also complement the existing facilities on site and provide visitors with an exquisite piece of Northern Ireland history.

“I wish to thank the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development and the European Union for funding the project, and also the Lagan Rural Partnership for their continued support.”

Once refurbished, the Industry will contain an exhibition focusing on the history of the Lagan Navigation and the workings on the locks, along with a set showing the living conditions of the Lighterman and his family. The barge will also be available for private hire.

The restoration of the lighter is expected to be completed later this year.

The 1871 records show it was much involved in ferrying coal between Belfast and Lough Neagh in that year.

In 1920 it is believed to have gone into the Portadown Foundry for modifications, possibly for an engine or steering wheel.

In the early 1930s it was owned by the Irish Peat Development Co which may have had a peat extraction works at Maghery.

In 1941 the Industry was skippered empty by J Milligen to Lough Neagh; the consignee was ‘Ministry Shipping’ with evidence suggesting it was requisitioned at this time for the war effort. Later that year it was carrying coal from Belfast to Coalisland.

By 1945 Industry seems to have been confined to the Lagan and to Belvoir Park in particular where, at the start of the Second World War, the Admiralty had taken over the estate for use as an armaments depot.

The last record for the Industry in the Lagan Navigation toll books is on May 21 1946 when the old lighter made two trips to the armaments depot at Belvoir Park – one empty and one with 34 tons of stores.