It has been dubbed the “Clones Sheugh” by one blogger Irish waterways history, who believes the Canal restoration would be a folly. Another industrialheritageireland.info has questioned the viability of the planned restoration of a 13km section of the Ulster Canal and River Finn from Clones to Upper Lough Erne and wonders where the finance will come from to maintain the waterway and any associated buildings if the restoration goes ahead. But there are local groups which believe the project is viable and will help to preserve an important part of Ulster’s industrial heritage.
One such group of enthusiasts is the South Lough Neagh Historical Society which this afternoon visited the Ulster Canal Stores in Clones and took a trip along the section of canal due to be restored. The decision was announced at a meeting of the North/South Ministerial Council in Armagh in July 2007. I remember doing a report on the proposals having travelled along much of the same route as the visitors did today. However there are few visible signs of any progress in the past six years. The situation was discussed at the inaugural meeting of the North/South Inter-Parliamentary Association a year ago which produced a background paper on the cross-border plan.
The Ulster Canal opened in 1841 and linked Lough Neagh with Lough Erne. The plan was to create a navigable waterway connecting the ports of Belfast and Coleraine with the Shannon and onwards to Limerick or Waterford. It is 46 miles long with 26 locks. It left the River Blackwater below Moy and climbed through 19 locks to the summit on the far side of Monaghan. It ran through the counties of Fermanagh, Monaghan and Armagh. It originally passed through or close to Clones, Smithborough, Monaghan, Middletown, Tynan, Caledon, Milltown, Benburb, Blackwatertown, Moy and Charlemont.