Barge or narrowboat? Hunting a housing fix on the banks of the Royal Canal – The Irish Times

On a sunny day on the Royal Canal, Eolain Downey might be mistaken for a pleasure craft operator standing aboard the 35ft long narrowboat named The Little Otter. For the 21-year-old Maynooth University student, however, this is home.

He has taken to the water as a means of avoiding the high rents in the Co Kildare town, and says the cost of the boat per month has worked out at roughly half of the cost of student accommodation.

“I don’t have a lot of money. It wasn’t a wealthy family solution,” he says. “For me it was either get a car and stay at home, rent for exorbitant fees or buy a boat.”

Normally he is moored at a lock several kilometres outside of Maynooth, a town that was at the centre of controversy recently when an investment fund bought out a housing estate ahead of first-time buyers. Downey says trying to get student accommodation in Maynooth is “like trying to win a lottery ticket”.

Using his savings and a loan he purchased the boat in August 2020 in Co Offaly, and with his monthly costs at around €370, he now has his own mobile living space. His main monthly outgoings are the loan repayment, fuel and groceries. Insurance costs for the year are around €300. His electricity comes from solar panels on the boat’s roof which he installed himself.

“When I pay it off I’ve got something for myself, something that’s an asset that I could potentially sell on.”

He works in a coffee shop and spends roughly five days a week on the boat and the remainder of his time at the family home in Co Meath.

Price range

Downey is not alone in seeing the attraction of this unorthodox living arrangement at a time when dwelling on land is so costly.

Barges on the Royal Canal at Castleknock, Dublin. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill
Barges on the Royal Canal at Castleknock, Dublin. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill

DJ and radio presenter Claire Beck saw the potential back in 2017 when she returned to Ireland from a stint abroad. Working as a freelancer, she found it difficult to get accommodation in her price range as “the rents had jumped up so much”.

After an evening’s browsing on a boat-selling website, her plans changed. She found a canal boat, fell in love with it and quickly did a deal and set herself up to live aboard it permanently at a mooring point in Co Kildare.

“I saw this boat and I was like ‘that’s my boat’. It made sense for me to do that rather than paying rent while I wasn’t working full time.”

During the first lockdown in 2020 she and three of her neighbouring vessels remained at a mooring point on the edge of their 5km radius and inadvertently formed their own bubble.

“The first thing we did was untie and move a few kilometres away from the road access so we could be completely isolated.”

As the restrictions eased, she moved her boat along the Grand Canal and on to the Shannon.

June 8, 2021 sally Wood