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The Newry Canal.

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In 1723 an entrepreneur, Francis Seymour, began mining coal at Brackaville County Tyrone, soon to be known as Coalisland. Transportation at the time by road was difficult and slow, a horse and cart could carry about one ton, however the same horse could pull a barge laden with seventy tons. So it was decided to build a canal system to transport the coal to Dublin. A few years later a 'cut' was begun to connect Coalisland to the River Blackwater to take the coal to Lough Neagh. In 1703 Francis Nevil, collector of Her Majesty's Revenues in Ireland, was asked by the Irish parliament to carry out a survey to ascertain the feasibility of a canal between Lough Neagh and Newry.

No further action was taken until 1729, when parliament set up the Commissioners of Inland Navigation for Ireland. The Newry Navigation was begun in 1731 under the direction first of Sir Edward Lovett and then of his deputy, Richard Cassels, and finally of the engineer Thomas Steers, the canal was completed in 1742 On 28 March in the same year the Cope and the Boulter of Lough Neagh sailed into the port of Dublin with the first cargoes of Tyrone coal. The barges were pulled by a horse while in the canal, when they reached open water such as Lough Neagh of the sea they hoisted sail.

Building this canal which crosses eighteen miles of rough country and rises to a height of 78 ft above sea level was a great feat of engineering. It was the earliest true summit level canal, and predated both the Sankey Cut at St Helens and the Bridgewater Canal to Manchester by some 20 years, a fact which was omitted in a recent documentary on English canals. The Newry canal closed in the early 1950 due to competition from the railways. As far as I understand the canal is still largely intact, it should be possible given the will and of course the money, to restore it adding a valuable tourist resource to Ulster.

The 14 locks on the inland canal are 44 feet long and 15 feet 6 inches wide. And could accommodate boats of up to 120 tons. They were 12 to 13 feet deep and each lock was faced with stone from the Benburb quarries. Lough Shark, now known as Acton Lake was the feeder for the canal. It is 78 feet above sea level. The walk from Scarva to Poyntzpass passes Acton Lake and the old sluice keeper’s cottage has also been restored. There are 9 locks from the sea up to the header Lough and 5 on the descent.

During its history the canal carried a variety of cargoes clay, linen, farm produce and various goods imported through the sea port of Newry, which in its heyday was the fourth most successful port in Ireland.The canal also operated a successful passenger service between Portadown and Newry. The morning train from Belfast connected with the boats three days a week, the journey took about four hours and passengers could choose first or second class.

The last vessel to sail the canal was a pleasure yacht in 1937 and the canal was finally abandoned in 1949. The tow path is now open for the entire length from Newry to Portadown. The majority of funding for the reopening of the tow path was provided by Sustrans as part of the National cycle network. There was a plan in the early 1960's to construct a motor way along the length of the canal, happily this did not come to fruition and the canal is now protected.

In the village of Scarva on the banks of the canal is an interpretation center chronicling the history of the canal. At its northern end where it meets the River Bann near Portadown is Moneypenny's Lough, named after the family who were custodians of the lock for eighty-five years. The cottage where the family lived has been restored by Craigavon Borough Council. It was at Moneypenny's lough that the horses were stabled, and where the lighter men often slept, records were kept of tolls collected and cargoes carried, it is unclear if any of these records are still in existence.

The thirteenth lock on the canal takes its name from Terryhoogan House, in which John Wesley, the founder of Methodism, is reputed to have stayed in the mid-Eighteenth Century. It is the only lock on the canal where the original gates have survived.

The Newry Canal Restoration Project.

The Newry Canal Restoration Project, involves Newry & Mourne Council, Banbridge District Councils, Craigavon Borough Council and Armagh City & District Council, all of which have stated a commitment to restore the canal and bring it back into use as an amenity which would not only benefit the local community, but would be a valuable tourist attraction, Currently Northern Ireland lags far behind the south, where considerable tourist revenue is generated from their excellent waterway system.

Other Canal Projects.

The restoration of the abandoned Ulster Canal would give access to the Erne Waterway, which since 1994 has been linked to the Shannon, this would surely be another project worthy of consideration. If the Ulster canal were to reopen it would be possible to travel the entire length of Ireland from Coleraine in the north to Waterford in the south. Apparently a feasibility study has been completed.

For more information on this and other canals in Ireland visit The Waterways Ireland web site address and contact details below left.

Video of the Newry Canal

Watch a video featuring The Grand Canal.

Waterways Ireland
20 Darling Street
Co Fermanagh
BT74 7EW
Tel +44 (0)28 6632 3004
Fax +44 (0)28 6634 6237
E Mail
Web Site

Formed in 1998 as part of the Good Friday agreement Waterways Ireland is responsible for all of Irelands inland waterways.

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