Ulster Canal

The Ulster Canal was constructed by the Ulster Canal Company between 1831 and 1841 to link Lough Neagh with Upper Lough Erne. It is only 6 metres wide and approx: 93km long.

The Canal does not recognise state borders and approximately 50% of the canal is located in Northern Ireland and 50% in the Republic of Ireland. It has a central location in the waterways network across Ireland and is often described as the missing link. When completed the Ulster Canal will allow boats to travel from Coleraine to Dublin or Limerick.

Historically, the Ulster Canal linked the Erne system and the Lough Neagh basin, running through the counties of Fermanagh, Monaghan and Armagh1. It originally passed through, or close to, Clones, Smithborough, Monaghan, Middletown, Tynan, Caledon, Milltown, Benburb, Blackwatertown, Moy and Charlemont.

In total, the canal ran for around 93km with 26 locks in total. Seven locks enable the canal to rise to its summit just west of Monaghan, and a further 19 locks descend the remainder of the route down towards Charlemount. The route comprises 13km of navigation via the River Blackwater, 74km via the original route of the Ulster Canal and 5km via the River Finn in Fermanagh.


Ulster-Canal-RouteRestoration and Regeneration of the Ulster Canal is not just about boats, but will include the restoration of towpaths, and the built heritage features of locks, aqueducts and lock cottages along the route.

The villages and town of the Ulster Canal Corridor still a wait in hope that we will see the Ulster Canal restored to its former glory. The canal can be described as an iconic project that will generate social, economic and environmental benefits to an area that has suffered much during the conflict.

Canals are being restored all over Europe as people realise their potential for leisure-based activities for rural and urban regeneration, for the creation of employment and for the enhancement of the natural environment.

Ulster Canal Steering Group

In 2006, Blackwater Regional Partnership published a socio-economic study on the canal highlighting a number of direct and indirect benefits secured from the restoration of the Ulster Canal. Benefits secured include the development of a signature tourism product, civic pride for local communities living along the canal corridor, health & well-being, business regeneration, additional employment and much much more.

Benefits Value
Increased tourism to the area £3.1m to £4m per annum
Broader economic regeneration – hospitality, new housing, ancillary business £5m to £10m per annum
Creation of potential development sites 12 indicative sites – 23 acres
Job Creation in construction  2,300 – 2,600 job years
Additional jobs in regeneration 300 to 400 jobs
Additional receipts to public exchequer £0.5m to £1 m per annum

Various agencies have come together to drive and lobby for the Ulster Canal, raise awareness and highlight the need for joined-up development on both sides of the border: –

  • Dungannon & South Tyrone Borough Council
  • Armagh City & District Council
  • Monaghan County Council
  • Fermanagh District Council
  • Craigavon Borough Council
  • Clones/Erne East Partnership
  • Inland Waterways Association of Ireland
  • Lough Neagh Partnership
  • Lough Neagh & Upper Bann Advisory Committee
  • Built Heritage

The Blackwater Regional Partnership are facilitating local projects to protect the heritage of our inland waterways and canals. These include community heritage events, business linkage initiatives and greenway and walkway development along the Canal route.

Culture and Heritage of the Canal

Currently the unique historical locks and architectural features of this Canal are in various stages of disrepair and are in danger of becoming lost or damaged beyond repair. The main reason for this situation is the lack of awareness of the valuable heritage of Canals and how they can contribute to the social and economic rejuvenation of the area. The Blackwater Regional Partnership recognises the need to take care of these historic and cultural assets and to protect the biodiversity of aquatic and wildlife habitat along the corridors of the routes. The project is particularly significant from the point of view of cultural heritage. It will provide a working link with the past, which can be experienced directly or by visiting or travelling along the waterways either on the canal or the towpath.

Waterway Restoration is a common theme across Europe with some countries further developed in their vision and delivery than others. It is on this basis that this project can learn from other countries and regions in how best to approach certain problems, identifying solutions that would not have come forward otherwise. The eventual re-opening of the full waterway network will act as a sustainable transport route, a tourism asset and an economic driver for communities along its length.

The start of the work on the Ulster Canal

We congratulate the North of Ireland on the commencement of this great national undertaking, second in importance only to the Caledonian canal: the one connecting the Eastern and Western shores of Scotland, and the other, in a few years hence, will open the communication between the Eastern and Western shores of Ireland, by connecting Lough Neagh with Lough Erne; from the former of which the already formed navigation of the Lagan and the Newry Canal will give the agricultural interest of this large and fertile district of country a cheap and speedy means of conveyance for their produce to the English shores, whilst, at the same time, it will enable the people of the West and North-west of Ireland to find a ready vent for their agricultural produce down Lough Erne and from thence, by the GREAT ULSTER CANAL, and its branches (if we may be allowed so to call the Lagan and Newry navigations), to the English market.

Yesterday, our correspondent informs us, this great undertaking was commenced. At an early hour in the forenoon, a large assemblage of the labouring classes were collected at Carrickaness (where Mr Cross had given the Company possession of that part of his ground through which the Canal will pass, without waiting for the decision of a valuation jury), to ascertain if their long cherished hopes of employment were to be realised; they were not disappointed.

At an early hour the Ulster Canal Company’s flag was hoisted on a promontory that commanded a view of the battery from which the salute was to be fired, the ancient castle, the waterfalls and romantic scenery around. Sir James Strong, and others of the gentry of the surrounding country, displayed flags from their residences, and on many of the neighbouring hills preparations were making for bonfires in the evening, and at the appointed hour (twelve o’clock), the royal standard was hoisted on the old castle of Benburb, once the residence of the O’Neils, Kings of Ulster.

Mr M’Cleery, on the part of the Directors of the Company; Mr Caseborne, the resident engineer; and Mr Magee, on the part of Mr Dargan, the contractor, were on the ground, and a number of blasts having been prepared in the mass of rock on this spot, a royal salute of 21 shots was fired, which was simultaneously echoed by the shouts of hundreds of people assembled on the hills around, and answered from the castle by a discharge of cannon and small arms. After the blasting was finished, a number of men were instantly set to work to mark out the boundaries of the line, and to commence the off-bearing of the quarry.

During the intervals of the blasting, the country people were liberally supplied with ale, and every thing passed off with the utmost eclat. On the ground we observed a great number of the gentry of the surrounding country. In the evening it was the intention of a number of the friends of the undertaking to dine together at the Caledon Arms. We have only again to congratulate our friends in the province of Ulster upont he commencement of this really national work, and to wish success to the “Inland Navigation of Ireland” and, more particularly, prosperity to the Ulster Canal.

Dublin Evening Post 24 May 1834

On the evening of Friday, the 23d ult, the gentlemen connected with the Ulster Canal and also a good many others, comprising a number of the inhabitants of Caledon, dined together at the Caledon Hotel, in commemoration of the opening of the works. No pains were spared by Mr Taylor in furnishing the entertainment, and affording every accommodation to the company. Among the toasts were —

“The King” — “The Queen, and the rest of the Royal Family” — “The Army and Navy” — “Prosperity to the Ulster Canal, and Lord and Lady Caledon” — “Sir A Chichester, one of the earliest friends to the undertaking” &c &c.

The evening passed off in the greatest harmony, all present being highly delighted with the prospect of the blessings likely to result from the completion of the Ulster Canal. — Derry Sentinel

Dublin Mercantile Advertiser, and Weekly Price Current 16 June 1834

Good Friday Agreement

Waterways Ireland was one of seven north south bodies established as a result of the Good Friday Agreement, where the Ulster Canal was one of the projects earmarked for restoration. What started off as an innovative solution to the conflict situation in the North of Ireland has contributed to an economic solution for the Border regions of Ireland and Northern Ireland.

The original route of the Ulster Canal ran for 93km linking the Erne system and the Lough Neagh basin through the counties of Fermanagh, Monaghan and Armagh. However, the decision was taken at a North South Ministerial Council meeting in 2007 that only a single south-western section of the Ulster Canal would be reopened, running from Clones to Upper Lough Erne. This section is 13km long, with 75% of the route in Northern Ireland and 25% in Ireland.


The Ulster Canal Steering Committee is looking for an Ulster Canal barge;

  • Why an Ulster Canal barge,
  • How might you recognise it and what do they want it for?

Firstly Ulster Canal barges or as they were more commonly known, lighters were much narrower that those that operated on the Lagan, Newry, Coalisland or Shannon navigations. Although the locks on the Ulster Canal were designed to be twelve feet wide the narrowest one is a mere eleven feet eight inches. Many of the early barges were wooden; these will have gone, rotted beyond repair but the riveted iron ones may have survived. With the partition of Ireland in the 1920’s traffic on the canal virtually ceased but where did the barges go? Some may have gone to other navigations or indeed ended up put to other uses, hopefully someone, somewhere knows of the existence of such a vessel.

The Blackwater Partnership is anxious to restore such a vessel and put it on show as an interpretation centre for all to see and enjoy, to tell the story of the boats and those who worked the navigation. Perhaps you know of one sunk, scuttled to make a quay or abandoned and now a rusted hulk; was it converted to a pleasure boat, is one still floating today? Latterly most were owned by William Dargan, famous for his involvement with the railways, he operated a fleet of barges on the Ulster Canal. Craigavon Museum Services found an old Lagan lighter, used as a sand barge on Lough Neagh, now she has been re born, restored and stands in front of the museum building at Oxford Island proudly telling the story of the Lagan Canal. Can you help, do you know of such a vessel, give me a ring on 0777 881 2264 or the Partnership offices on 028 8772 8624 and I’ll go and have a look.

Happy hunting.
Brian Cassells