It was all blue skys ahead this week as tall ship La Malouine gracefully and silently sailed up Newry Ship Canal on it's journey from Carlingford. The future may not just be as bright though.

There is increasing concern that a fixed bridge across Newry Ship Canal as part of the proposed Southern Relief Road would be the final nail in the coffin for the canal. As a result the Inland Waterways Association of Ireland, Newry and Portadown Branch have launched an urgent campaign to ensure that Ship access to the Albert Basin is maintained for the future.

As their campaign explains "It is imperative that this major objective, as outlined by the Newry and Mourne Council in 2008, is fulfilled. That is - navigational access for tall ships with a mast height of 35 metres."

Tall Ship La Malouine travels towards Newry city on Newry Canal. Plans for the proposed Southern Relief Road include a bridge at this point (as visualised), travelling over Newry Canal, Carlingford Lough Greenway and Clanrye River. A fixed bridge at proposed height, like one illustrated will mean the end of ships visiting Newry FOREVER. Any bridge built MUST be an opening bridge! Photograph: Columba O'Hare/
Tall Ship La Malouine travels towards Newry city up Newry Canal. In future it wouldn't be able to get any further than here if a 9 metre fixed bridge (as illustrated) was part of the Southern Relief Road project.  Photograph/ mock-up: Columba O'Hare/

Newry Canal which opened in 1742 is of immense historical importance to Newry City. It was the first summit level canal to be built in Ireland or Great Britain. It predated the Bridgewater Canal by almost thirty years. A £500K scheme saw the Victoria Lock gates repaired and refurbished in 2015/2016 to enable ships to travel up the canal for years to come. At Victoria Lock the canal opens out into Carlingford Lough and onwards to the world.

The proposed road will take traffic from the Warrenpoint Dual Carriageway to the A1 Dublin/ Belfast Road.

The Southern Relief Road plans to cater for heavy traffic travelling to and from Warrenpoint Port, taking it directly on to the A1 from the Greenbank end of the Warrenpoint Dual Carriageway. The plans take the road across Newry Mitchels GAA pitch at Greenbank, over the Clanrye River and Newry Canal and upwards to the A1 on the Dublin side of Newry.

The Department for Infrastructure originally had three route options with the route at Greenbank chosen recently as the preferred route.

A fixed bridge at the preferred location would have approximately nine metres clearance, while Tall ships such as the La Mauline, Brian Boro and Soteria which have all visited Newry Port recently, need a clearance of at least 35 metres!

Virtually all ships moored presently at the Albert Basin would not be able to traverse the canal with a fixed bridge of nine metre clearance. 

The IWAI Newry and Portadown regularly carry out maintenance and rennovation work on the canal and ultimately would like to see Newry Canal to re-open.

A spokesman from the Inland Waterways Association of Ireland commented "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.

"Yes! The City needs a Southern Relief Road but not at the cost of a deserted Albert Basin. Any bridge built must allow access to the Basin by all yachts and Tall Ships. The construction of a fixed low level bridge would be short sighted and ruin one of the greatest facilities that Newry has."

The Department for Infrastructure are holding another Community Drop-In Session on Thursday 6 December from 10am to 8pm at Newry Conference Centre, The Mall and the IWAI are requesting members of the public to call and "Ask if access for masts of this height is planned. If not, fill in a consultation form insisting on 35 metre access."

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