A brand-new barge—a purpose-built boat for a very special purpose—will make its appearance on the inland waters of Ireland in early July.
The 55-foot barge, built in Newbridge, Co. Kildare by Morrell Power Craft, will be crewed by people with an intellectual disability, who will be undergoing training as part of the Ar an Uisce Horizon Employment Project which is promoted by the Sisters of Charity of Jesus & Mary at Moore Abbey in Monasterevin, Co. Kildare. Over the two years of the project, eighteen people with intellectual disabilities will have received training. Parents and staff will also receive training in handling a barge of this size. The barge will be under the supervision of Mr Mark Maguire.
The training objective of the project, which has been approved by the Department of Employment and Enterprise under the Horizon Strand of the Employment Initiative, is to enable people with disabilities to use the inland waterways system. The Project also has an enterprise and employment component which will be built around identified job sites and specific activities linked to tourism.
Trainees will be drawn from a number of day-care centres in the Kildare/Midlands area. They will enjoy access for the first time to a wonderful Midland resource—the inland waterways system of rivers and canals. While exploring these, they will be trained in a variety of skills including navigation, lock usage, galley catering, boat care, safety drills and berthing procedures. At the same time, the crews will also learn environmental awareness and study the wildlife along the waterways.
The Ar an Uisce project challenges traditional views on disability. Nowhere else in Ireland is there a similar project which breaks so radically with disability stereotypes. By December 1999, eighteen people with intellectual disabilities will reach certification level in a wide range of boating and allied water-based skills, which will enable them to participate in supported employment in specific areas of the tourism industry. During the project, many families who have children with an intellectual disability will enjoy a holiday aboard the vessel.
The Ar an Uisce project will bring new life to the Grand Canal towns. Monasterevin, once a famous canal stopping-off place, will again see activity in its harbour for twelve months of the year. Vicarstown, Edenderry, Tullamore and Athlone will have a canal passenger service once more—this time a service customised for people with disabilities.
During the training period, the barge will use the Barrow and Grand Canal systems, but for holidays it is planned to venture further—to the Shannon and the Shannon-Erne waterways. During July and August the barge will be available for holidays of weekly, fortnightly and weekend duration.
All of Ireland’s inland waterways will be explored over the project’s two-year period of operation—and in addition, crews will participate in boat rallies. The Sisters of Charity of Jesus & Mary see the project as a community activity and resource which will offer innovative employment and training for people with intellectual disabilities for years to come.
The project will also strengthen local networks by linking with county councils, health boards, Duchas (the Waterways Service), Midland Tourism and chambers of commerce.
Another exciting element of the project involves networking with similar groups in the Netherlands, France and Northern Ireland. Visits abroad are envisaged, while visitors from the other countries will also come here to share their experience.
The total cost of the Ar an Uisce project is £400,000, 75 per cent of which will be funded through the European Social Fund and the European Regional Development Fund. The remaining 25 per cent will be supplied by the Sisters of Charity of Jesus & Mary, Parents and Friends Support Group and project participants.