October 13th, 1890: Tunnel mooted to link Antrim with Scotland


BACK PAGES:Several 19th-century schemes to build a tunnel under the English Channel were killed off by British fears of invasion from France. A plan for a tunnel between Antrim and Scotland, however, received the overwrought enthusiasm of an Irish Timesleader writer who saw it as the solution to many political problems.

IN THIS period of the greatest engineering and monetary projects the world has known, we never can say what may not next be proposed, or where we are to draw the line at the impossible.

The experience of the projectors of the channel tunnel from England to France would not be supposed to have encouraged any other tunnellists. And yet we are face to face with an actual scheme, not a suggestion only, for carrying a tunnel through from the coast of Antrim to that of Wigtonshire.

The argument that an enemy might use the subway does not in this case apply. On the eighth of the month there was a meeting in Belfast, with the mayor in the chair, when a requisition was drawn up, signed by 68 leading representative men, for a public meeting to discuss the proposal.

The mayor, Mr Connor, has summoned the assemblage, and the matter is fairly a subject for debate. We admit that if the tunnel were open, and fast trains running through it, there would be a large change in consequences, and the “so-called capital” [Dublin] might suffer.

But what must be must be. If the Belfastmen dig their way over to Scotland and annex that dear, old land, they will be fairly entitled to all the advantage of the undersea express . . . Talk of Larne and Stranraer boats! . . . Keels no longer are needed. Wheels take their place – or, if that be not strictly true, will serve in place of them. The good engine Union will run through from shore to shore, impartially carrying across “repealers and their foes”. Ireland a nation will be cancelled by going sufficiently deep into the common British soil. Separatists will be unheard of when a dozen times a day first-, second- and third-class will pass from shore to shore in less than an hour’s time . . . Holyhead will become a deserted village. We say nothing of Kingstown. . . .

Mr Gladstone [former and future prime minister] strongly supported the Dover tunnel. Will he show equal zeal in furthering the Belfast one? Surely the union of hearts would be promoted by it . . . At any rate, when sitting down to frame his home rule scheme he has a new trouble added to that of the Irish members at Westminster.

On which side of the channel is the ownership of the tunnel to lie? Is it to be Saxon or Celt? Will different flags fly at the entrance and exit – the Harp here, the Jack yonder? Must the drivers of the steam engines be half-and-half, English or Scotch, and Irish? Or, will the tunnel be neutral territory – no man’s land, except the directors of the track? Many questions of difficulty will arise, which, however, it will not pass the wit of such a man to solve. . . .

But the political aspects of the tunnel are not just yet in question. The eight noble lords and 60 merchants who have put their hand to the plough that is to make such a strange furrow are concerned, first of all, with the engineer and the financier, these two chief powers of modern earth and sea, and regions beneath the sea, and if the first can conquer the roof-drip, and the latter pay 10 per cent, the tunnel is as good as made . . .

The Ulster people are not chargeable with an excess of imagination, and they know something of figures, and who knows what more they may do to show the Empire that their province has the sway and all other earth is – bog and waste.