Taoiseach hails Ulster Canal restoration as embodying benefits of peace process

Harris marks phase two completion of landmark €28.4m cross-Border project

The Clones Marina in Co Monaghan is the latest phase to be completed in the Ulster Canal restoration project. Photograph: Niall Carson/PA

The restoration of the Ulster Canal will be “transformational” and embodies the benefits of the peace process, the Taoiseach has said.

Addressing a packed marquee overlooking Clones marina in Co Monaghan on Wednesday, Simon Harris unveiled the completion of phase two of the landmark €28.4 million cross-Border project, which he said was “part of the DNA of people in this area”.

Water bikes were peddled down the 1.5km restored stretch between Clones and Clonfad under a cloudless blue sky as crowds queued for free ice-cream beside the new greenway.

Running through counties Armagh, Fermanagh and Tyrone in the North and Cavan and Monaghan in the Republic, the Ulster Canal was built in the 19th century but abandoned in the early 1930s.

The Clones Marina in Co Monaghan after completion of the restoration project. Photograph: Niall Carson/PA

Tánaiste Micheál Martin was also present at Wednesday’s event and recalled visiting the site two years earlier “when there was no water”. He described the milestone as a “physical manifestation of delivery of a core objective of the Good Friday Agreement”.

Funding for the flagship scheme — phase three will lead to its final completion — was delivered through the Government’s Shared Island fund.

Waterways Ireland managed the redevelopment and described the restoration of the disused waterlink as one of the largest engineering feats it had ever undertaken.

Phase one led to the restoration of a 2.5-kilometre stretch of the canal from Upper Lough Erne in Co Fermanagh to the International Scout Centre at Castle Saunderson near Belturbet in Co Cavan.

Phase three will link phases one and two.

The hope is to create a “destination hub” and boost tourism. New water activities as well as walking and cycling trails have opened between Clones and Clonfad.

“I look forward to the transformative impact it [phase three] will have connecting Clones to Upper Lough Erne, and to all of our navigation routes throughout the island of Ireland, allowing people get in their boat in Limerick, come up the Shannon-Erne system, come through Lough Erne in Fermanagh and then on to the stretch at Castle Sanderson to Clones,” said Mr Harris.

“It is a project which embodies so clearly the benefits of the peace process, here in Co Monaghan, and across the whole border region ... it symbolises peace and reconciliation on our island and is one that will bring lasting benefits for generations to come.”

The Clones Development Society started the process of reopening the canal in the late 1980s when they bought the then derelict 19th century Canal Stores building on its banks.

The building is now a visitor centre, bistro and museum, featuring the Clones lace that became an integral part of the community during the 1850s following the Famine years.

Praising local people who had “kept faith” in the canal restoration that had been “talked about for decades”, the Taoiseach paid tribute to Ollie Murphy, a digger driver involved in the restoration scheme, following his recent death.

Stormont Minister for Infrastructure John O’Dowd, and Junior Minister in the Executive Office Pam Cameron, were also present along with Government Ministers Darragh O’Brien, Heather Humphreys and Minister of State Malcolm Noonan.

Addressing media outside the Ulster Canal Stores Visitor Centre, Ms Humphreys said the redevelopment was about reconciliation and is a “legacy project”.

“I lived on this Border, only 10 minutes up the road. There were dark days in Clones — we’ve moved on. This here is a symbol of where we are. The future is in projects like this and it’s about people working together and breaking down barriers.”

Seanín Graham

Seanín Graham

Seanín Graham is Northern Correspondent of The Irish Times