Baptism of Water
Nessa Winder is a “blow in”. She might be living in Coke Ovens Cottages on the Royal Canal for 23 years, but she still considers herself one, even though she’s firmly embedded in the canal scene. Nessa remembers it being “very bare” when she first moved in. “There were just horses everywhere,” she recollects. “It was pretty good but pretty wild too.” She had moved from New York, so the prospect didn’t bother her.
Behind her cottage gate lies a deceptively large garden replete with beehives, a pond, a banjaxed caravan and a treehouse in the making. Owing to being at the “mish-mash” confluence of rail lines (Maynooth rail line and Broombridge Luas), the area also benefits from abandoned spaces which have become a sanctuary for wildlife.
“We’ve got otters, bats, badgers, hedgehogs, foxes, frogs and newts, over 20 species of birds, butterflies, dragonflies, insects…the bees are a perfect solution, they roam and will take nectar from practically every wild plant. They also take it from the trees from the hawthorn, blackthorn, wild cherry, chestnuts and brambles,” enthuses Winder.
The evening we join Nessa, she is welcoming Agnese D’Anna, a fellow volunteer with the Royal Canal clean-up group which meets the second Saturday of every month and is eight years in existence. They clean along the banks but, also, some of them go out in kayaks. Agnese is ready to take her first plunge into the canal on a kayak. Originally from Sicily, Agnese has been living in Ireland since 2017 and recently became a resident after purchasing an apartment in nearby Crossguns Quay. “I like being in the countryside even though you are in the city. I think having a water source beside you is always good for mental health, studies have shown this,” she says.
In recent times, Nessa has been instrumental in securing lock-up points for the kayaks including a 20ft container nearby. She’s hoping that the sociable aspect of their endeavour will return now also, which includes complimentary teas and coffees from the Brian Boru nearby.
Can she ever see herself leaving here? “In a box,” is how she responds. And with that she sets off down the canal with Agnese, her dog Rowan and their litter pickers.
The next meet-up of the Royal Canal clean-up group is on Saturday September 11 at 10am with starting points at North Strand (Charleville Mall), at old Lock Keepers Cottage, 6th Lock (near Crossguns Bridge) at their container, and Royal Canal Park (near Ashtown) at the boathouse. Gloves, bags, high viz vests and litter-pickers will be provided. It’s completely up to you how long you clean for, but generally, they work for about three hours. Rubbish collections start at Spencer Dock at 1.30pm and finish at Ashtown at 3 pm.
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. illustrations – Gav Connell