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Building of the Month - February 2012

Lock 44 Keeper's House, BALLYCLARE (Killashee) Td., Killashee, County Longford

Lock 44 Keeper's House, Killashee 01 - 1992 Lock 44 Keeper's House, Killashee 02 - 2008

Figures 1-2: A photograph from 1992 of the derelict keeper's house at Lock 44, one of a series of houses erected (1815) along the Royal Canal linking the River Liffey in Dublin with the River Shannon in County Longford.  A recent photograph (2008) shows the house as restored by Frances Kelly, the symmetrical plan form, and the openings in arcaded recesses, all evoking a simple Classicism

The restoration of Lock 44 Keeper's House on the Royal Canal was my mother Frances Kelly's passion, being present for the reopening of the canal her dream.  Family and friends wondered why she purchased what had become an animal shed.  She had little as a child, led a frugal life and yet she gladly put every penny into its repair.  But in the end no one questioned what was thought of as a fruitless effort: she was in the middle of treatment for cancer.  Frances knew she wanted to bring an abandoned house back to life.  As her health deteriorated she must have felt it therapeutic to watch a derelict structure transform back into a home.

It was by chance, while walking the towpath, that my brother Billy stumbled upon the house.  Frances bought it around 1990.  Billy did a lot of the initial construction work during the summer of 1992.  A local contractor did the new construction work.  Mom made contact with Mike Kelly, a cousin from Abbeyshrule we had never met before, and he was able to oversee the project.  A window opening, which had been broken open to allow cattle and sheep to enter, was repaired.  A local plumber was hired to install back boilers to provide for the luxury of hot water.  Frances and Billy wanted all the repairs to keep in line with the character of the house.

Lock 44 Keeper's House, Killashee 03 - Frances Kelly Lock 44 Keeper's House, Killashee 04 - Frances Kelly

Figures 3-4: Frances K. Kelly of Forest Hills, New York, whose dream it was to see the lock keeper's house restored as a home.  A plaque records that Frances 'always loved old buildings and the history that went with them'

Her final summer there was shared by me and my family.  Although the restoration of the canal had not been completed, mom was quite content to sit outside watching the boys run up and down the towpath.  She enjoyed reading children's books by candlelight while keeping the turf fire going.  Although family members dropped hints about electricity she preferred to keep the house as basic as possible.  She seemed quite at peace with herself.  At that time I hadn't realized how precious those moments were to all of us, not knowing that it was to be our last time there together.  A short time before her passing mom told me she only had one thing to ask of me.  She asked that I look after the canal house that she loved so dearly.

Lock 44 Keeper's House, Killashee 05 - Restored Lock 44 Keeper's House, Killashee 06 - 2008

Figures 5-6: A photograph of Frances with her family at the restored keeper's house.  Although Frances did not live to see the Royal Canal reopened her daughter Rosemary, and grandson David, returned to Ireland in September 2010 to see the first boat pass through Lock 44 on its way to the River Shannon

Although she enjoyed her passion, mom never saw water back in the lock.  In 2010 I became aware of the upcoming grand reopening of the Royal Canal slated for that September.  I felt compelled to be present for the event.  I knew mom would have urged me to do so.  And so my son David and I made the journey back in honor of her long time dream – to see the boats pass through Lock 44.  It was a joyous and emotional time.  I felt certain closeness with mom as I watched the lock gates open for the first time allowing boats to pass towards the River Shannon.

Rosemary Kelly, New York, USA

Figure 2 photographed by Nutan Photography for the NIAH publication An Introduction to the Architectural Heritage of County Longford

Lock 44 Keeper's House, Killashee 07 - Introduction 

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