Three Men (in a Boat) and Tom Rolt in Ireland

We’ve just been enjoying the latest Three Men (in a Boat) series about Ireland. We have had some limited experience of the Irish Waterways but would like to have more.

Over the summer I obtained a first edition of Tom Rolt’s Green and Silver which was published back in 1949 just 5 years after his more famous Narrow Boat and shortly before the infamous 1950 IWA Rally at Market Harborough where the split with Aickman became public. Green & Silver is illustrated by photographs by Angela Rolt and so it is probably more similar to the original concept of Narrow Boat before the publishers decided to use the woodcut illustrations by Denys Watkins-Pitchford.

It was therefore with some interest that I watched the Three Men because they appeared to be following some of Rolt’s original route. However, I soon found that there were some surprising similarities between these two contrasting journeys over 60 years apart.

Now the Three Men series is hardly a series designed for waterways enthusiasts; it is more about the personalities of the stars (Griff Rhys Jones, Dara O Briain and Rory McGrath) than the waterways. But the first of the two episodes started with some excellent footage of 45M, an original Grand Canal working boat, and its 15hp Bolinder engine. Of course Bolinders are hardly the ideal engine for beginners. In fact, the Bolinder became the star of the first episode. It became Griff’s bête noir since he had considerable trouble starting it on the three days they were on board. In fact, he never really managed it! The blowlamp start, the backfires and clouds of smoke were all very impressive.

The scenes in the locks leaving Dublin were very interesting and the efforts required to stop 45M without a reverse gear were also entertaining. 45 M was reported in the programme to have survived un-modified because was sunk for many years. She was in fact at the bottom of Lough Derg for 29 years after she sank in a storm. Tom Rolt in Green and Silver reports details of the disaster that in 1946 that cost the lives of three men. It happened shortly after Tom and Angela had themselves crossed Lough Derg. Stills from the Three Men journey are available on the Heritage Boat Association web site.

Bye-trader Grand Canal boat photographed by Angela Rolt

Giving up 45M the Three Men resorted to an amphibious car (Dutton Commander) and took to the Royal Canal for the journey to Mullingar; another place featured heavily in Rolt’s book. They finally ended the first episode at Athlone which was the hub for Rolt’s journey. The trip down the Shannon to Limerick in the second episode was in the delightful wooden sailing cruiser, Amaryllis which was not to dissimilar to the Le Coq cruiser that the Rolts borrowed. The Three Men started their journey down the Shannon in thick mist, just like the thick mist that engulfed Tom Rolt on Lough Derg. On the way down the Shannon the Three Men managed to take part in a dinghy race at the Lough Derg Yacht Club. Tom and Angela Rolt also visited the Yacht Club when they were holding their annual regatta.

Tom and Angela Rolt negotiating Lyons Lock on the Grand Canal

The trip down to Limerick by the Three Men included descending Ardnacrusha Lock, the deepest lock in Europe. The Tuesday Night Club (TNC) took NB Earnest through this magnificent and daunting structure in 2007. The TNC also noted some places they visited that were highlighted in Green & Silver, including the dustcover.

Three Men can be viewed on BBC I player.