I hesitate to criticise the Newry & Portadown Branch of the Inland Waterways Association of Ireland, admirable folk who conduct regular work parties improving the Newry Canal. So perhaps I should say that I disagree with them instead — at least on the proposal for a Southern Relief Road, aka bypass, around Newry, linking “the Warrenpoint Dual Carriageway to the A1 Dublin/ Belfast Road“.
Such a bypass is a very good idea and, of course, far better than the insane Narrow Water handsacrosstheborder project. But the new road must cross the Newry River and the Newry Ship Canal, and I would be vastly surprised if there were any economic justification for the cost of an opening section or for the disruption that each opening would cause to traffic. Certainly six or twelve sailing vessels would no longer be able to reach the Albert Basin in Newry, but the greatest good of the greatest number should surely prevail.
I can’t see that the absence of sailing pleasure craft from Newry would in any way diminish the heritage or historic value of the ship canal or the basin, and they are of course entirely irrelevant to the stillwater canal.
A spokesman from the Inland Waterways Association of Ireland” says that
The IWAI was formed in 1954 to stop the building of low bridges on the River Shannon. Fortunately this campaign was successful otherwise there would be no hire boats on the Shannon today. Think of the loss of revenue. This should be a lesson to the bridge builders in Newry.
This is rubbish, for two reasons. First, sailing vessels on Carlingford Lough are never going to be available for hire on the Newry Canal, so their inability to reach Albert Basin would have little effect.
Second, the IWAI campaign on the Shannon was notably unsuccessful. Instead of swivelling bridges that would allow masted vessels through, the Shannon now has fixed bridges (Banagher, Shannonbridge, Athlone) and lifting bridges (Roosky, Tarmonbarry) that lift enough to allow motor cruisers through, but not enough for sailing vessels.
Ruth Delany [in Ireland’s Inland Waterways: celebrating 300 years Appletree Press, Belfast 2004] says that the IWAI Shannon campaign resulted in there being a minimum clearance of 4.3m on the Shannon, which is a long way from the 35m that the Newry & Portadown folk are seeking. The only Shannon bridge providing that clearance is Portumna, a swivel bridge, which (unlike the others mentioned above) was not — or its ancestor was not — built by the Shannon Commissioners.
By using the Shannon as a model, the N&P folk have actually weakened their case: the 9m clearance suggested for the Newry bypass is more than twice what the Shannon provides.