It was the start of the beginning on Saturday when 20 canoes, kayaks and dinghies conquered 2.5 miles of the Newry Canal, the first navigation of Britain’s oldest canal since it closed more than 50 years ago.
And had it not been for a mighty tree that had crashed down from the bank (nobody knows when it tumbled) they could have completed the journey from Scarva to Poyntzpass – a distance of four miles.
The stretch between the two villages has become navigable thanks to the yeoman efforts of the IWAI (Inland Waterways Association of Ireland) who recently attached steel lock gates to Campbell’s Lock near Scarva and to the lock near Poyntzpass, thus raising the level of the canal on that famous summit stretch.
The tree, though, got in the way when it was discovered on the approach to Poyntzpass. So the next step is to have it taken away and to try and persuade the Rivers Agency to dredge part of the canal on the approach to Poyntzpass.
The invitation from the IWAI was accepted with great relish, with owners of small craft congregating from Portadown, Tandragee, Gilford, Poyntzpass, Banbridge and beyond.
Peter Maxwell the branch chairman said, “We put out a casual invitation on Facebook during the week and in the Portadown Times, just to see how many people would turn up. We were delighted with the response.
What we have done is the first step in a long journey towards restoration of the canalPeter Maxwell
“The canal is there for everyone to use at their own risk and in their own time. What we have done is the first step in a long journey towards restoration of the canal. The more people who use the waterway, the more chance there is of investment and improvement of the facilities by the local council.”
Many of the locks are still sound. It would take vast investment to make them useable again, but the IWAI insists a start has to be made. The 20-mile canal, which was navigable from the Frontier Town to Portadown and thence to Lough Neagh via the Bann, was a marvel of the age.
Peter Maxwell said, “It’s a small beginning for small craft to take to the water, but a big, significant event for us. Plenty of water enthusiasts turned up and we were delighted with the response. Out of small acorns, and all that. And hopefully the might oak – or whatever breed it was which barred our progress - will soon be removed!”