Ballynafagh Lake, Co Kildare
Born out of the industrial revolution and feeding the roads of bygone days, Blackwood Reservoir or Ballynafagh Lake as it is now known, was instrumental in the construction of the Grand Canal connecting Dublin in the east of the country to the River Shannon in the west. The lake sits near the highest point in the canal, linked by a 3km feeder canal, the Blackwood Feeder. Strategically placed, the water from the feeder can flow east or west maintain the water depths in the furthest reaches of the canal towards Dublin and the Shannon.
Located 2km north of Prosperous in Co Kildare, the reservoir was reclaimed from the Bog of Allen stretching for twelve acres and held back via a series of values in a sluice house on its western extent. The reservoir faithfully served the feeder and the canal until the 1950's when the feeder and reservoir were decommissioned. It was during this late period in its life that the Blackwood Feeder played an important role during World War II.
At the outbreak of World World War II, Éamon de Valera, leader of Fianna Fáil, proposed to Dáil Éireann that Ireland should remain neutral, a proposal that was almost unanimously supported by the Opposition. Despite the neutrality, the 1937 Irish constitution was amended for the first time to permit the government to declare emergency powers and thereby commence 'The Emergency'. During this period, rationing resulted in shortages of sugar, tea, electricity and fuel amongst other items. Of relevance to our feeder, coal imports for domestic use fell drastically in 1941 with political measures implemented to rapidly fill the shortfall with home produced peat. The bogs of County Kildare and the adjacent counties, the "Kildare Scheme' were at the forefront of the expansion programme resulting in the drainage of 24,000 acres of bog to produced some 600,000 tonnes of turf in the period.
The government commissioned a fleet of horse drawn timber canal barges known as G-boats to transport the harvested peat from the bogs of Kildare and the midlands back to Dublin. The Blackwood Feeder, located in mid-Kildare in the Bog of Allen, was ideally placed to facilitate the storage and transport of peat.
Today, what was reclaimed by man has now been reclaimed by nature. The lake has shrunk in size from its peak as Blackwood Reservoir and is now a shallow alkaline lake supporting fen vegetation both along its shore as well as in the middle of the lake. The most prominent section of the lake is at the eastern shore near the car park, with the now abandoned sluice house holding back a sea of rushes rather than the water of the lake. The ecological value of the lake is of particular importance, home to a variety of flora, fauna and birds including 2 rare snail species and the marsh fritillary butterfly resulting in a european designation as a Special Area of Conservation.
Paths encircle the entire lake but can be soft in places so bring wellies or minimum stout boots. You are walking in a bog after all!