Newry is situated in the "Gap of the North" on the main route between North and South of Ireland. Its ancient name Iubhar-cinn-lragha means the yew tree at the head of the strand. This strand approaches Newry from Carlingford Lough (Joyce 1990, 74). As early as the Cromwellian campaign in Ireland, the land between the south of Lough Neagh and Carlingford Lough was surveyed and consideration was given to cutting a navigable trench to link Portadown to Newry due to their importance as trading towns. However, nothing came out of this proposal and it was not until the eighteenth century that the idea of constructing a canal was again proposed. This was a result of finding coal deposits in east Tyrone. (McCutcheon 1980,17)
By 1730 the construction of Newry Canal began. It took almost eleven years to complete and cost £1,000,000. It was without doubt a great piece of engineering and resulted in Newry becoming one of the most important ports in Ireland during the eighteenth century. The Dublin newsletter reported that the "Cope" entered into Dublin harbour after becoming the first vessel to negotiate the fifteen locks of Newry Canal and sail down the Irish Sea. It had a flag at her topmost head and fired guns as she came up the channel. (Bardon 1992, 183)
The canal begins 3 mile south of Newry running parallel to the Newry- Omeath road. It continues for 18 miles to the upper Bann River, unfortunately there is a large section that has fallen into disrepair. The first section of the canal from Upper Fathom to Newry is situated at one of irelands most scenic sites as it shelters between the Cooley Mountains on the left and the Mourne Mountains across the strand. The Mournes are a granite outcrop and its stone was once quarried extensively and used as building material. The first Lock of Newry Canal "Victoria Lock" was partly constructed from Mourne granite(Green 1963, 68).
As trade increased with more traffic using the canal, it became obvious that it would need to be widened and deepened. In 1750 the Ship Canal Albert Basin at Newry and Victoria lock were completed to overcome these problems.
A natural channel runs through Carlingford Lough to Victoria Lock. The lock is 22011 by 50ft (Wilson 1989, 5). With the exception of the iron sheeted outer gates installed in the nineteen-thirties it has changed little since it was completed to Sir John Rennies design. Carlingford limestone was used and the original gates had English oak frames. The lock chamber was emptied through paddle openings in the gates and through side culverts (Green 1063, 68).
By 1777 Newry was the fourth busiest port in Ireland. Arthur Young on his travels through Ireland noted his amazement at seeing ships of 150 tons and more on the canal. (Bardon 1992, 202) Unfortunately by the 1950ís the canal had to be abandoned, as it was no longer commercially viable. The coming of the railway and Belfast having replaced Newry as Ulsterís major port in the nineteenth century were the two main reasons for its decline (Wilson 1989, 5).
In 1996 the Belfast Telegraph reported on plans to revitalise Northern Irelands historic canals. The aim of this was not to restore the canals to their original industrial use; rather it is believed they could provide a major "shot in the arm for tourism" Hopefully the four councils involved will receive the funding necessary to restore the remaining locks to the same standard as Victoria Lock.
Bardon J. 1992 A History of Ulster. Blackstaff Press Limited,
Green, E.R.E. 1963. The Industrial Archaeology of County Down
Government of Northern Ireland, Ministry of Finance, Her Majestyís Stationery Office, Belfast.
Joyce, P.W 1980 Irish Local Names Explained Billings Limited, Worchester.
Mc Adam N Belfast Telegraph 3rd January 1996,4
Mc Cutcheon, W.A 1965 The Canals of the North of Ireland. The Newry Navigation, Chapter 11 London.
Mc Cutcheon, W.A 1980 The industrial Archaeology of Northern Ireland. Her Majestyís Stationery Office, Greystone Press. Antrim
Wilson, A. The Newry Navigation ó A Brief History and Plans for the Future 1988-1989 Journal of the Craigavon Historical Society Vol 6 No 1.