Concerns have been expressed that the possibility of a fixed bridge as part of the proposed Southern Relief Road in Newry could harm tourism to the area, by seeing an end to the mooring of most ships at the Albert Basin as well as spelling the death knell for tall ship visits to the city.

It’s understood that the Blue Route option crossing the canal at Greenbank would have a nine metre clearance, well short of what would be needed to allow most of the ships already moored at Albert Basin to pass through. The two other proposed Red and Yellow Route options would cross the ship canal and river at a clearance of five metres and an opening structure would be needed to allow ships to navigate.

La Malouine moored at the Albert Basin. Photograph: Columba O'Hare
La Malouine moored at the Albert Basin. Photograph: Columba O'Hare

This year saw dozens of trips down Newry Ship Canal from tall ships Soteria and La Malouine as part of Iúr Cinn Fleadh festival and Newry City of Merchants. The option of a nine metre clearance fixed bridge over the Newry River and Canal would forever limit Newry Canal to only small vessels and eliminate the possibility of these tall ships ever visiting again as they need a minimum of around 25 metres clearance.

DfI Investigating the need for an opening structure

Replying to a query from Newry.ie a Department for Infrastructure (DfI) spokesman said “Three route options for the Newry Southern Relief Road have been developed and published for consultation. DfI will consider all views that have been put forward.

“Two of these route options propose to cross Newry Ship Canal / Newry River at a relatively low level (approximately 5m vertical clearance) and would generally require an opening structure to maintain navigation of the Newry Ship Canal. A third option crosses the Newry Ship Canal alongside Greenbank Industrial Estate. This route option is proposed to cross the Newry Ship Canal at a higher level, with approximately 9m vertical clearance above water level.

“The consultation is therefore seeking to establish what proportion of vessels would be accommodated by the proposed fixed vertical clearance and what vessels would continue to require an opening bridge. This would allow a comprehensive assessment of all three route options including projected costs."

The report which identified the three route options recommended that the need for an opening structure should be fully investigated in any future study, as this significantly increases the cost of the project.

The DfI spokesman added “The Department is seeking to fully investigate the need for an opening structure through this consultation.”

There must be no height restriction

While an opening bridge would significantly increase the cost of the project, Peter Maxwell of the IWAI Newry and Portadown branch says this is essential “The Newry Southern Relief Road must have opening bridges to allow passage of ships on the Newry Ship Canal. There must be NO height restriction.”

The reason lies in the name “SHIP CANAL”. We’ve all got used to seeing yachts berthed in the Albert Basin; imagine it with none!

Mr Maxwell pointed out that the Inland Waterways Association of Ireland was formed in 1954 to stop the building of new bridges over the River Shannon and that he wouldn’t want to see a repetition of the folly of the low bridges blocking Newry Canal, as they do at present in the centre of the city. “There were no hire cruisers in those days but river users saw the potential of keeping the navigation open for all craft. If the IWAI had not been successful, where would the enormous tourist trade on the river be today.”

A fixed bridge on Newry Canal as part of the Southern Relief Road proposal would be the end of tall ship trips to Newry. Photograph: Columba O'Hare
A fixed bridge on Newry Canal as part of the Southern Relief Road proposal would be the end of tall ship trips to Newry. Photograph: Columba O'Hare

He added “There may not be a lot of traffic on the Newry Ship Canal at this time but that does not mean that there never will be. Not having an opening bridge would rule out the possibility of ever having one of the magnificent “Tall Ships” visiting Newry as well as making the city inaccessible to 90% of thousands of ordinary yacht berthed around the Irish Sea.“

Sail to the heart of Newry City

Gerry Brennan of Silvery Light Sailing who is campaigning for the restoration of The Silvery Light as a signature tall ship for Newry welcomes the Southern Relief Road proposal and sees it as a positive step to the development of Warrenpoint Port but also cautioned that “Planners should be mindful when considering a bridge, to avoid restricting the access and full potential use by sailing vessels of the canal and Albert Basin.”

Mr Brennan also spoke of the tourism potential of the area “The development of a 15 acre park with the possible inclusion of a marina adds greatly to the recreational and tourism potential of the canal and Albert Basin. The council tourism strategy recognises the unique attraction for visiting yachts to ‘Sail to the Heart of Newry City’ and the Quays moorings. Presently the canal can accommodate sea going vessels to the size of a medium tall ship. Such vessels and larger yachts require on average an air draft clearance of a minimum of 24-25 metres.”

Albert Basin - A major tourist destination 

Also expressing concern at the possibility of Newry Canal becoming inaccessible. Newry 2020 Chairman, Brian Cleland commented "Newry 2020 welcome infrastructural investment in Newry, and the Southern Relief Road has the potential to make our city better for both residents and businesses. We are very concerned, however, that this project might make the Newry Canal inaccessible to tall ships, especially when the council has recently decided to turn the Albert Basin into a major tourist destination."

Mr Cleland concluded "It is vital that any new bridges do not present an obstacle to revitalising the Newry Canal as an active waterway and recreational facility."