Ireland’s Narrow Little Neck

Examining the Emerald Isle, it becomes apparent to me that Northern Ireland comes very close to separating the tip of the Republic of Ireland from the remainder of its body. The neck constricts to perhaps as few as ten or eleven kilometres at its narrowest point between the border and the sea.

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It’s even shorter if we look at the width of available land: nearby Lough Melvin compresses any overland passage through here to only about six or seven kilometres. Still, it’s unobstructed countryside with many different paths available through the neck to make it a relatively simple transit. A much more remarkable situation exists a little further north in Ballyshannon, the so-called "Oldest Town in Ireland." Here the River Erne flows from Northern Ireland, crosses the entirety of the narrow neck, and empties into the Atlantic Ocean.

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The River Erne creates a water barrier that separates the tip from the remainder of the nation. As a practical matter there are bridges, boats, aircraft, and innumerable other ways to solve this problem. It’s not even that large of a river. Someone could probably swim or wade across it without too much difficulty. However let’s ignore those very realistic possibilities, suspend our disbelief for a moment, cross our eyes, wave our magic wand and try to have some fun with this.

Consulting the maps, the overland path through the neck appears to constrict to the width of a couple of roadways: those that connect Ballyshannon and points beyond to the rest of the Republic of Ireland directly: a local street (Main St.) and a highway (N15). Those are the only choices if someone wishes to take an automotive trek past the neck without leaving the country.

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Another option exists for those on foot, a really cool pedestrian bridge in Ballyshannon that crosses the River Erne. I’m not sure what it connects or why it’s altogether necessary. It looks to be less than a quarter-mile from the Main Street crossing but I suppose that it could make a meaningful difference to someone on foot. There are a several apartment buildings nearby so maybe it’s a nice shortcut between various sections of town.

A dam also crosses the river just east of Ballyshannon to create Assaroe Lake. Workers at the hydroelectric power station might be able to cross here on foot although I don’t think it would be feasible for members of the general public. I imagine the authorities would consider that a safety risk or a security violation.

In conclusion, I discovered only three easy paths across the River Erne under ordinary circumstances within the boundaries of the Republic of Ireland, two large enough for motor vehicles and one only by foot. That assumes one does not have routine access to a boat, helicopter, pole vault, or other extenuating means of movement.

I found one more "almost" crossing point where the River Erne flows across the border from Northern Ireland. There is a bridge located immediately to the west but the border hugs the northern riverbank along a short segment here. Thus the bridge crosses an international boundary. It’s interesting to note, however, that people from Northern Ireland can use this bridge as a shortcut, clipping a corner of the Republic of Ireland, and avoid a detour of several miles (map)

Random Tangent

Long-time reader Steve of CTMQ recently completed a visit to the CTMARI Tripoint. Check out his thorough trip report. He’s also recently discovered a state government website that show the exact location of every Connecticut boundary marker in tremendous detail. Steve doesn’t think he’ll visit all 374 markers but we should expect to see upcoming trip reports on some of the more fascinating ones. I’ve been trying to turn him into a County Counter so far to no avail, but he seems to be getting closer-and-closer.

3 Replies to “Ireland’s Narrow Little Neck”

  1. Actually the Erne river and lakes also create a water barrier that almost separates a large portion of southwestern Northern Ireland from the rest of Northern Ireland(about half of County Fermanagh). If you look closely there are only about 3 or 4 bridge crossings across the whole county with the main one being between the two lakes at Enniskillen. Makes that international border shortcut even more inviting to a would be traveler.

    Interestingly, when the partition of Ireland happened back in 1921 a border commission was set up and recommended giving east county Donegal to Northern Ireland and southwest county Fermanagh to the South. One wonders if the river Erne had any influence on the recommendation….
    In the end the respective governments decided to ignore it and made no changes.

  2. In June I cycled the length of the Republic of Ireland, from Mizen Head in the southwest to Malin Head in the northwest. I was curious to see what the experience of crossing at Ballyshannon would be like.

    Your guesses at the characters of the bridges are spot on. The main road crossing (the easternmost of the three) is a new bypass, opened in 2006 according to a plaque on its underside.

    So, until 2006, from a car driver’s point of view, the Republic effectively narrowed to a thorax of about five metres – the width of the old road bridge.

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