Members float their boat on Newry Canal near Scarva

Members of the Newry and Portadown branch of the IWAI paddle up Scarva Canal.
Members of the Newry and Portadown branch of the IWAI paddle up Scarva Canal.

Members of the Newry and Portadown branch of the IWAI (Inland Waterways Association of Ireland) made their own bit of history near Scarva on Saturday.

Almost 20 canoes, kayaks and rowing boats gathered at Scarva on Saturday after the invitation.

The hard working volunteers of the Inland Waterways Association of Ireland have recently installed new lock gates at Poyntzpass and Scarva locks, re-watering the 4 mile summit level of the canal for small boats.

And – to add a spot of authenticity to the canal scene – they wanted as many members of the public as possible to turn up and negotiate the two-mile stretch of water that has become navigable by their efforts.

In fact, you can make it four miles, as the mantra is ‘From Terryhoogan and Back’ - from the locks to the village and another mile-and-a-half beyond.

It’s a small part of the 20-mile canal, which was navigable from the Frontier Town to Portadown and thence to Lough Neagh via the Bann.

The IWAI was glad to see a flotilla of small craft, that can move in four feet of water, turning up to paddle or row their way along the oldest canal in the British Isles (opened 1742, closed 1936).

It once lapped to the sound of lighters, laden with all manner of goodies, which disembarked at Shillington’s Quay. But its useful life waned with the advent of the railways in the mid-19th century.

IWAI chairman Peter Maxwell, said: “It’s a small beginning for small craft to take to the water, but a big, significant event for us.

“We are delighted that plenty of water enthusiasts turned up for what is an informal occasion. It was a really successful event.”

He continued: “We put out a casual invitation on Facebook during the week, just to see how many people would turn up and we were delighted with the response. The canal is there for everyone to use at their own risk and in their own time.

“What we have done is the first step in a long journey towards restoration of the canal. The more people who use the waterway, the more chance there is of investment and improvement of the facilities by the local council.”

The starting venue was the newly-appointed Terryhoogan Locks.