Canal towpath: final account

After the building and opening of the Ulster Farmers Bacon Factory sometime in the late fifties the canal and also the Bessbrook River became quite polluted and fell out of favour as a swimming spot.

The Bacon Factory was not supposed to discharge waste to the canal – and actually they didn’t – they simply discharged into the Bessbrook River – which just happens to flow into the canal, thereby polluting both waterways at one stroke. 


The County River though remained clear of the factory’s polluted discharges because of the wall that separated it from the canal. It still remained a popular place of aquatic delight right up until the opening of the Newry Swimming Pool in the late sixties. 


The Towpath and canal have again changed their aspect,  compared even to my childhood reminiscences earlier. The Towpath itself has been tarmac-covered along its entire length; this makes it a lot easier for cyclists to navigate.  Some of the locks have been cleared and the lock gates restored.


The old lockkeepers’ cottages at the first three locations, Riley’s, Fearons’s and McKnight’s locks, have all been demolished lending a sad and lonely appearance to the whole place.  The ubiquitous hens have all gone and have been replaced by the usual anti-social element of under-age drinkers and feral children. 


The recent new construction work carried out at St. Coleman’s College, towers above the old towpath and dominates it. The result is not at all in keeping with the air of tranquillity that used to prevail at this location. It would have been much better to have kept the little copse of trees that this monstrosity replaced.


The greatest changes to have taken place in the towpath area though must surely be at the place we used to call ‘the track’.  The little bridge is still there, as is the canal and also the Bessbrook River, but the County River has been subject to a huge diversion.  The river has been straightened up removing that long curving bend that used to swing the river around to meet with the canal and outlet leading to Damolly Mill.


This huge area that used to encompass the river itself, Sandy Bottom, and a lot of the old Damolly Mill grounds is now the (unused) lorry park of the disused Customs Road Vehicle Examination Station.


The joyful cries of delight from the kids who used to use this area for swimming have been replaced by the throaty roar of the traffic passing over the Newry bypass flyover that straddles the towpath a hundred yards or so further on, beyond ‘the track’ …


Is this what we call progress?


… Dick’s Ashtray ? …


…  end : Baby Bernadette ?…

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