The Inland Waterways Association of Ireland

IWAI is a voluntary body of waterways enthusiasts, founded in 1954. It was formed to promote and encourage the use and development of Ireland’s navigable waterways. In its early years the association was a campaigning organisation ensuring that the Shannon was navigable for pleasure boating helping guarantee the development of the river as a national asset for waterways tourism. The early campaigns were extended to include the drive to prevent the threatened closure of the Grand Canal in Dublin. The association has worked to assist the improvement of the Barrow and to focus interest and activity on the restoration of the Royal Canal, the Shannon Erne Waterway, the River Boyne, the Kilbeggan Line of the Grand Canal, the Ulster Canal the Newry Canal and other closed navigations.


The Shannon Boat Rally – History and Development

In 1961, Athlone Branch IWAI, Carrick on Shannon Branch IWAI and the Boyle Development Association came together to organise the first of the big Shannon Boat Rallies as we know them today. The aim of the original organisers of the event was to preserve the navigation, to campaign against the closure of the Shannon Navigation as we know it today and to set an example in the safe use of the waterways through organised competitions and fun events. They encouraged other like-minded individuals to participate in a week-long trip of the Shannon from Athlone to Lough Key, and so, the Shannon Rally was born.


The rally was launched in 1961 at a civic reception in the Royal Hoey Hotel, Athlone and the official list shows that 71 boats participated that year. Most of the boats on the first rally were petrol powered and Esso even sponsored the rally by supplying free petrol. The boats departed from Athlone at 6am on Saturday 5th August 1961 under the command of commodore Paddy Flynn in his boat “Barracuda”. The 1961 rally was a huge success, and it gained much publicity from the press, from Pathe News films and boating magazines. Most of the feedback from the first rally was positive but it was decided the rally would be moved forward into July to allow entrants to also take part in the RDS horse show.


In 1985, to mark its 25th year, the Rally committee published a book called The Silver River, which documents in detail the early years of the boating event. To mark the 50th rally the committee published a book called Stories of a River. To date, over two thousand five hundred boats and ten thousand people have participated in the Shannon Boat Rally.


IWAI Today

The IWAI is an all-Ireland organisation, represented by 23 branches locally based around the waterways (6 in Northern Ireland and 15 in the Republic and two activity-based branches) representing approx. 3500 members, the majority of which are family members. The IWAI works in partnership with national and local government, statutory agencies and development companies, the community, voluntary and business sectors, lobbying, advising, and working together to protect and promote the long-term development of the waterways. The organisation publishes a quarterly magazine “Inland Waterways News” which is a unique publication covering a wide range of topics of interest to waterways enthusiasts at local, national, and international levels. IWAI also publishes a number of waterways-related books and guides. The association activities range from boat rallies, social events, training events, and heritage and conservation projects to setting up work parties for restoration or improvements to navigation e.g. Ulster Canal, Lagan Navigation, Coalisland Canal, Boyne Navigation, and the Kilbeggan and Corbally lines of the Grand Canal. The IWAI website is one of the largest single reference sources for waterways-related material in Ireland.