Work set to begin on Ulster Canal

THE Republic's government has given the thumbs-up to work starting on the first phase of the long-awaited restoration of the Ulster Canal.

Work is set to begin on a 2.5km stretch of the long-disused canal between the Shannon-Erne waterway and the International Scout Centre at Castle Saunderson, close to Belturbet in Co Cavan.

The Republic's heritage minister, Heather Humphreys, yesterday confirmed that the restoration, which is expected to cost around €2 million (£1.5m), would be funded by the all-is-land body Waterways Ireland, rather than taxpayers on either side of the border.

The minister, who has served as a TD for the Cavan-Monaghan constituency since 2011, said the project had the potential to act as a "catalyst for the regeneration" of the border area, providing a "wonderful recreational facility for local communities" and a tourism magnet.

"This project will have a very positive impact in an area that is still recovering from the long-term effects of the Troubles," she said, adding that it demonstrated the govern-ment's commitment to investing in projects for the benefit of communities on both sides of the border.

"This is an excellent example of cross-border support and cooperation. The project will give this border region, which has suffered greatly from economic deprivation, a much-needed boost in terms of job creation and tourism," Ms Humphreys, said.

She revealed that the stretch of canal was already "shovel ready", with much of the preparatory work now completed, and that she expected the restoration to begin "without delay".

The completed project will focus on an area from Upper Lough Erne to Clones in Co Monaghan and will be around 14km in total, with 5.5kms of river navigation from Quivvy Lough to Gortnacarrow, and 8.5kms of canal from Gortnacarrow to Clones.

The Ulster Canal is a disused waterway running through parts of counties Armagh, Tyrone, Fermanagh, Cavan and Monaghan. Completed between 1825 and 1841, it originally linked the Lough Erne river system to Lough Neagh but operated for less than a century before it stopped being used completely in 1929.

Its narrow locks and inadequate water supply made it unfeasible as a means of transporting goods.

The 30-acre International Scout Centre at Castle Saunderson is capable of hosting more than 1,000 campers on site. Last year alone, more than 12,500 people visited the centre.

Waterways Ireland has said the complete restoration of the canal would create a link to the four corners of Ireland.