Newry is situated in the "Gap of the North" on the main route between North and South of Ireland, and as such has always been vital for trade. As early as the Cromwellian campaign in Ireland, a route was surveyed for a “navigable trench” between the south of Lough Neagh at Portadown and Carlingford Lough. However, nothing came out of this proposal and it was not until the eighteenth century that the idea of constructing a canal was raised again. This canal was needed to ship coal deposits from the new coal fields in East Tyrone
By 1730 the construction of Newry Canal began. It took almost eleven years to complete and cost £1,000,000 (worth £19 billion today!). It was without doubt a great piece of engineering and resulted in Newry becoming one of the most important ports in Ireland during the eighteenth century.
The canal begins three miles south of Newry running parallel to the Newry - Omeath road. It continues for 18 miles to the upper Bann River. The first section of the canal from Upper Fathom to Newry is situated in one of Ireland’s most scenic areas, sheltered between the Cooley and the Mourne mountains.
As trade increased with more traffic using the canal, it became obvious that it would need to be widened and deepened. In 1750 the Ship Canal Albert Basin at Newry and Victoria Lock were completed to overcome these problems.
A natural channel runs through Carlingford Lough to Victoria Lock. The lock is 205ft by 50ft. With the exception of the iron sheeted outer gates installed in the 1930’s, it has changed little since it was completed to Sir John Rennie’s design. Carlingford limestone was used for the walls and the original gates had English oak frames. The lock chamber was emptied through paddle openings in the gates and through side culverts.
By 1777 Newry was the fourth busiest port in Ireland, but the coming the railway and the rise of Belfast as Ulster’s major port caused the decline of Newry and it’s canal and unfortunately by the 1970’s the canal had to be abandoned and the lock closed, as it was no longer commercially viable.
However in the 1990’s the MV Balmoral a 688 tonne heritage steam ship successfully sailed down the canal from Victoria Locks to Newry, proving that the lock and canal could still be traversed. Over the next decades sail was also welcomed back to the canal with the visits of the Asgard II, the youth sail training tall ship amongst many others. In 2007 Victoria Lock was automated and the lock surrounds were renovated, providing a lovely picnic and amenity area on the shores of Carlingford Lough featuring the built and industrial heritage of the 19th century as well as the natural heritage of tidal lough and fresh water canal including a series of popular angling stands.
Climbing through the Fathom Forest opposite the canal is a forest drive which follows the route of the old Lock-keepers Pad which leads to the Flagstaff viewpoint with its matchless views across Carlingford Lough. It is hoped to develop this as a waymarked trail as part of the Ring of Gullion Landscape Partnership, plans are also afoot to use Victoria Lock as an important stage in the Great Eastern Greenway that currently links Carlingford village to Omeath with big plans to continue to Newry via the middle bank that separates the ship canal from the sea.
To book a boat through the lock go to: http://www.newryandmourne.gov.uk/leisure/Activities/Sailing/Victoria_Lock.aspx
No permit is required for fishing the canal but the angler must hold a Lough’s Agency Rod Licence.