Cleaning the Grand Canal

“It’s the end of the line for you, Mary!” On her knees on the banks of the Grand Canal in south Dublin, a pensioner in wellies and a thick woolly hat leaned unsteadily towards the water and dragged a large Mary Davis presidential campaign poster onto the footpath.

Mary’s saviour is part of the Friends of the Grand Canal Community Group, volunteers who meet every first Saturday of the month to clear the waterway of rubbish. The group was jointly set-up five years ago by Breffnie O’Kelly, a local resident who wanted to add support to the maintenance of the canal performed by Dublin City Council (DCC) and Waterways Ireland (WI).

At 10 am on a cold sunny November morning, 16 volunteers gathered just off the Leeson Street bridge. Blue disposable gloves, green rubbish bags and a rubbish picker were issued to everyone.

Two by two, cleaners spread out along the different sections of the canal. “Ten to 25 people join the action each month depending on the weather”, said regular volunteer Brian Roe. “We fill 30 large refuse bags of rubbish a month, which is over 350 a year, you can imagine the state of the canal if that amount of rubbish was allowed to accumulate!”
Between the Leeson Street and Charlemont bridges, dozens of cans of beer, cider and soft drinks emerged from the reeds, as one group slowly progressed towards the Luas bridge.

Sprinklings of crisp wrappings shimmered in the sun, as ducks bobbed lazily in the current with their heads tucked under their wing, apparently enjoying the lie-in that was shunned by the volunteers.

An umbrella was painfully dislodged from the mud, where it lay like a broken daddy long-legs, probably the casualty of recent downpours. It was followed by a pair of shoes, a sock, a tennis ball, a golf ball, two more umbrellas, a metal spoon and a child’s bike. With its white tires and shimmery stickers, it looked as good as new despite the algae flowing from its handle bars like ghostly tassles.

A spokesperson for local councillor Paddy McCarthan said voluntary cleaning activities encourage a sense of pride in the community. “Mr McCarthan believes in challenging the culture of entitlement and expectation, where someone else will take responsibility.”
This view is echoed by others. “We are a dirty nation,” exclaims Mick Kinahan, chairman of the Dublin branch of long-standing voluntary group the Inland Waterways Association of Ireland (IWAI).

He explained that his place on the DCC fleet management team allows him to witness the amount of litter discarded by people in the city. “You can’t fault DCC or WI, who do the best job they can. There is a lot of cooperation between them and the voluntary organisations.”

“Canal treasure, that’s what we call the rubbish because you never know what you’re going to find,” he continues. “Toilets, motorbikes, pallet lifters, bodies… Once, my propeller got stuck in an old mattress, it took me two days and a diver to remove it!”

This month, an array of presidential posters could be seen piling up at the locks. Several Marys were found floating face down in the currents, sometimes joined by a Martin or a Michael D.

Councillor McCarthan’s spokesperson explained that each party is responsible for the removal of posters and ties but Mr Kinahan explained that after the last general election the DCC ended up doing a lot of poster removal. The candidates themselves didn’t respond.

“You’d never know Michael D was this heavy by looking at him”, jokes a student as she drags a water-logged Michael D Higgins poster from the Leeson Street Bridge lock. Indeed, Mr Higgins turned out to be the heavyweight of the recent election despite his size. Today however, he’s canal treasure.

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About monicaheck
Monica Heck is a bilingual freelance writer and journalist based in Dublin, Ireland.

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