River Blackwater Canoe Trail
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The River Blackwater, dividing counties Tyrone and Armagh, has been travelled for thousands of years as a highway. Early Celtic settlers, Viking raiders and English invaders all used it to their advantage.

In the early 18th century plans were made to construct the first modern inland waterway system in Ireland. The Blackwater with the Upper Bann, was incorporated into the scheme and the two planned artificial channels became the Newry Canal and the Coalisland Canal (known at the time as the Tyrone Navigation).

The ?Coalisland? Canal was opened in 1787 to exploit the coal fields of Tyrone and barges transported coal to Lough Neagh and down the Newry Canal (opened in 1742) to Newry and Dublin.

On entering the River Blackwater from the Canal at ?The Point?, barges would sail down the river for about three miles to Lough Neagh at Maghery, where they navigated the mouth of the River by Derrywarragh Peninsula, causing endless delays through silting, flooding and blockages. In 1802 work started under the direction of Daniel Monks to excavate a short channel from the eastern bank of the Blackwater River straight to the lough shore through the lower section of Derrywarragh Peninsula thus turning it into what is now Derrywarragh Island. This famous cut, finished in 1803, allowed vessels to avoid the sand bars at the river?s mouth.

A pontoon bridge was soon erected and was later replaced by a fixed bridge to allow access onto Derrywarragh Island.

In 1888, the Lagan Navigation Company took over the ownership of both the Tyrone Navigation and the Ulster Canal. The former, although never a very profitable enterprise as a trading waterway, gave rise to the unique town of Coalisland with its concentration of industries. In 1946 the last commercial vessel left the town and the canal steadily deteriorated to a mere drainage ditch. The latter, since its opening in 1841, had not been a success. Stretching from Charlemont on the Blackwater to Wattle Bridge on the River Finn, it was nearly 46 miles long. Lack of local support, poor maintenance and serious construction flaws all contributed to its demise in 1931, one of the major construction flaws being that the locks were too narrow for the lighters (or barges).

In their own way the Blackwater, Coalisland and Ulster canals have played important roles in the development of the local regions and their potential as a network for pleasure boating is being recognised. Landscaping of the derelict Coalisland Basin and improved towpath access has rekindled the age-old tradition of walking, ?down the line?. The vibrant campaign to restore the entire canal as a leisure and tourist amenity is underway and, if successful, will be a major contribution to boating and canoeing in Ireland. On completion, it will be possible to paddle or sail from Limerick to Coleraine!

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