Stephen Brierley is one of three lock keepers in the city and a third generation from Irishtown who’s patrolled the canals. 32 years into the job and he confirms, “You couldn’t get a better job really.” Tracing the connections, Brierley informs us that his mother’s father was a locks man at the Sea Lock in Ringsend. “There was about eight of them, then he got my father in who became dockmaster, I remember being out with him as child opening the gates.”
“You get to know them all,” he says of the barge dwellers. “There’s lots of characters on boats.” When it comes to his own desire to experience the barge life, Brierley says, “I done it before I got married so you’re talking thirty-five, -six years ago. To me now it would be a busman’s holiday but it is a brilliant, brilliant, holiday. We get people who have come from the canals of France and England and come over here.”
“I’m 60 this year, and people would go why would you work past 65 and I go, I’m out in the air, I’m not on the clock, I’m meeting different people every day and there’s always funny stories.” He recounts one such story to us. “Sometimes I wonder how people in offices get jobs. I had painted these locks (at Mespil Road), the gates were open and I had tape everywhere. It was like the finishing of a marathon, signs everywhere. I went up to have a cup of tea with some of the lads on a barge and look down after a while and there’s a fellow straddled across the bridge. I go, ‘oh my jaysis, no.’ He had a lovely grey suit on him and I said to him, ‘You know that’s wet paint don’t you? and he says, ‘I knew I could smell it, I just didn’t know where it was coming from.’ He was destroyed.”
In terms of canal rivalry, Brierley jokes, he’s never been on the Royal. His van “coughs and splutters” when it gets to the seventh lock. “Get out there and make us look good,” he says as his parting shot. We will, but we are also seriously eyeing up his job in the near future. And he gets to escort ducklings across the road to water on occasion too!
Canal Bank S.W.A.L.K. is a summer partnership between Totally Dublin & Waterways Ireland
photos: Killian Broderick
Canal Bank S.W.A.L.K. illustration – Gav Connell