The Newry Canal is the oldest summit canal in Britain and Ireland.
The canal has two main sections, the inland stretch
from Portadown to Newry and the ship canal from Newry
to Victoria Locks, halfway along Carlingford Lough.
Work began in 1732 and officially opened in 1742. It
closed to navigation in 1947. It is 18 miles from the
Point of Whitecote to Newry. It is 20 miles from Portadown
to Newry along the Canal and there are 14 locks along
the canal, 9 of them south of the summit level at Poyntzpass.
In 1982 Newry/Portadown Canal Joint Development Committee
established. The development of the canal and towpath
has had the involvement of Armagh, Banbridge, Craigavon
and Newry and Mourne Councils, as sections of the canal
fall within these different council areas.
The main reason for building the canal was the discovery
of coal deposits at Coalisland, Co Tyrone and the need
to transport them quickly to Dublin at a time when road
transport was difficult. Initially inland navigators
or ‘navvies’ dug the canal and each labourer
had to bring his own tools. These men lived in temporary
camps along the canal while it was being built.
The summit level was 78 feet above sea level and locks
had to be constructed to allow boats to climb this and
then descend to Lough Neagh. The canal was 18 miles
in length and travelled through the countryside between
the towns of Newry and Portadown, passing Poyntzpass,
Scarva, Madden Bridge, and Knock Bridge on the way.
There were 14 locks in total on the canal.
One of the largest users of the Portadown Waterways
was the firm of T A Shillington and Son Limited of Castle
Street, who owned 4 barges. Boats came and went from
Shillington’s Quay, drawing coal, timber and iron.
The extraction of sand was also an important activity
and much of this was transported by canal. The Newry
Canal helped to establish the town of Portadown as a
leading inland port.
The canal and tow-path today
Many of the lighters or barges were privately owned,
horse-drawn boats. As it could take days or a week to
deliver cargo, the lighterman’s family often went
with him on his journey. The haulers would have stayed
in the bothy at Moneypenny’s Lockhouse if they
needed overnight accommodation.
The Lockkeepers job was to look after the locks and
help boats pass from one level to the next along the
canal. The lock-keeper had to open and shut the lock
gates, collect money called a “toll" from
the lighters that were using the lock and to keep a
record of all the boats that used the lock. The lock-keeper
also had to conserve the water so that the locks could
be kept open in dry weather.
The lock-keepers houses were owned by the same company
that owned the canal. They employed the lock-keepers
who were given the house as part of their job. The lock-keeper
kept daily records of the boats passing through the
lock and these were sent to the office in Newry every
Moneypenny’s Lock was originally known as Trueman’s
Lock, after a family who lived in Brackagh House. Stephen
Moneypenny became lock-keeper around 1800 and the Moneypenny
family were the lock-keepers for around 85 years. Moneypenny’s
Lock was the last lock before the canal entered the
River Bann. Almost all the traffic on the inland canal
was horse drawn.
The stables and the bothy for the accommodation of
the men and the horses was provided at Moneypenny’s.
The stables originally had stalls to accommodate 8 horses.
The decline of canal transportation was due to the development
and speed of rail transportation. The Ulster Railway
extended from Moira to Lurgan and Portadown between
1839 and 1842.