Visiting the Tassagh Viaduct, Northern Ireland: a monumental piece of industrial architecture recalling Partition
Landmark with 11 arches leading nowhere
It all seemed so dynamic and hopeful. In 1910, this imposing and monumental railroad viaduct, built from 1903, was completed. Under the auspices of the Castleblayney, Keady and Armagh Railway Company, this line was intended to enhance travel and economic activity to a rural part of Ireland's historic province of Ulster, with nearby Keady being in County Armagh and Castleblayney in County Monaghan.
Spanning the Callan River, the proportions of the Tassagh Viaduct are impressive: with no less than 11 arches, the structure's height is 21 metres and its length is 174 metres. On completion, the Viaduct seems to presage economic growth and opportunities and ease of travel for the neighbouring parts of these Ulster counties.
Then came the Partition of Ireland in 1922. Six of Ireland's counties — Antrim, Armagh, Down, Fermanagh, Londonderry and Tyrone — were excluded from the Irish Free State, established following the 1921 Anglo-Irish Treaty. Economic activities in the border areas between the Free State and Northern Ireland slowed drastically, accelerating a process of rural depopulation.
Regarding the Tassagh Viaduct, what seemed like such a good idea in 1910, suddenly became impractical after Partition. Because Armagh City and Keady on the one hand, and Castleblayney on the other were suddenly situated on different sides of the border.
Soon after Partition, customs inspections made travel for passenger traffic so cumbersome that the line became uneconomic to continue. Freight services also ceased several years later.
But wait a minute, some observant readers might ask: aren't Counties Armagh and Monaghan both located in Ulster? Why would there be customs posts between these Ulster Counties?
Well, yes, this is the case and these are good questions: Northern Ireland is indeed sometimes referred to as 'Ulster', but in fact about half the territory of the historic province of UIster is actually in the Republic of Ireland: Counties Monaghan, Cavan and Donegal — all Ulster counties — are said to be South of the border (actually in the case of Donegal, west of the border). So the border between first the Free State and later the Republic of Ireland, and Northern Ireland does pass between Counties Armagh and Monaghan.
So this fine, imposing series of arches stands, amidst the Armagh border countryside: a landmark to where? to nowhere (not in the sense that the countryside isn't worth seeing, but that the railroad has long ceased to function.)
One wonders what would have happened to the railroad if Partition had not occurred? 40 years later, the much maligned minister Dr Beeching drastically closed many railroads in the United Kingdom. Interestingly, the Republic of Ireland continues to use railroad routes which date from long before Partition. A moot question, maybe?
Note on flag
As in all these travel articles, I am including a local flag. In the case of the flag for Northern Ireland, discerning readers will notice that the flag used by the Police Service of Northern Ireland is the same as the State Flag of Alabama, known as the St Patrick's Saltire.
Also worth seeing
Armagh City (distance: 11 kilometers); with two cathedrals, the city is sometimes referred to as the ecclesiastical capital of Ireland; the Mall is a scenic green, faced by other imposing church buildings; local historical museums add to visitor interest.
Monaghan Town , Republic of Ireland (distance: 25 kilometres); this county town has a number of fine structures, including the Rossmore Memorial; nearby is picturesque Rossmore Forest Park.
How to get there: United Airlines flies from New York Newark to Belfast International Airport, at Aldergrove, where car rental is available. Please note that some facilities may be withdrawn, without notice. You are advised to check with the airline or your travel agent for up to date information.
MJFenn is an independent travel writer based in Ontario, Canada.
Other of my hubpages may also be of interest
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- Visiting the Rossmore Memorial, Monaghan Town, Republic of Ireland: remembering the transient nature