Travelling the roads of the North East

There are three main arteries cutting through the Louth/Monaghan border – the N2 between Ardee and Carrickmacross, the R178 from Carrickmacross to Dundalk and the N53 from Dundalk to Castleblayney (albeit via a slice of south Armagh). One Saturday in late October 2005, we took a trip along all three. By Gerry Robinson.

The network of roads between Louth and Monaghan has altered and improved no end in recent times. The N2 has benefited most from recent upgrades, while the N53 has always been a good stretch of road. Though perhaps most testing to the motorist, the R178 offers the most scenic route of all, slicing hypnotically through a swathe of rural Ireland while simultaneously screaming out for some TLC.
When one travels from Monaghan to Louth or vice versa, they move between two counties and also between two provinces. Ulster and Leinster meet along the Louth-Monaghan border, which is traversed by three main roads – the N2, R178 and N53. All three routes have evolved beyond recognition in the past decade, dramatically reducing travelling times between Ardee, Carrickmacross, Dundalk and Castleblayney.

‘Wee County 2005’ trekked along all three pathways to gain a grasp of the current lie of the land. This is how things were in October 2005, but, of course, they are in a constant state of change.
We start our journey in Kingscourt, where the four counties (Louth, Monaghan, Meath and Cavan) meet and snake down the hill towards Carrickmacross, with Dun na Ri on the left, hanging a right at O’Reilly Concrete towards Drumconrath. Within seconds, we’ve left Cavan and are in the Royal County, Ardee-bound.

Ignoring the lure of Ballyhoe Lake and Meath Hill to the driver’s left, we stick to the tried and tested route to Drumconrath, arriving at the heart of the village seven miles later. Manfully fighting off the temptation to turn off towards Carrick’ on the approach to Drumconrath (the editor wouldn’t be impressed), we soldier on along the R165 towards Ardee town.

Exiting the village, a sign claims that Ardee lies 8km away. A kilometre later, a second sign says that it’s still 8km ‘til we get to Ardee. I’ll never get used to this French innovation known as the metric system.

Onto the N52 and within a mile the not-yet-weary traveller is welcomed to County Louth, Land of Legends. The next sign, speaking on behalf of the Department of Transport/NRA, warns that speeding could result in four penalty points. We get the point.

Besides, there’s little chance of speeding with all these roadworks going on. Roadworks are a bit of a Catch 22 – we can’t have better roads without them but we can’t have good roads with them! There’s a new stretch of roadway being constructed on the Kells Road out of Ardee and the traffic lights are red, of course. No harm, though – we’ll get the time back somewhere else.

Ardee sucks me in but any chance of enthusiasm welling up inside is obliterated by the announcement that this is a Pay Parking Area now. I’ll stop for a drink somewhere else, so.
There are a lot of new shops in Ardee, and certainly no shortage of traffic. The congestion is as bad as ever and there’s no chance of getting through this bottleneck in anything resembling a hurry. The new roads bypassing the town have made little difference. It seems people are determined to drive through Ardee, not around it.

For those who prefer public transport, the bus stop is now situated at the bottom of town on the left hand side. No point hanging around outside Tennanty’s any more.

And so the journey begins in earnest: Ardee-Carrickmacross.

Louth County Council and the NRA have carried out a splendid N2 Ardee-Rathory Improvement Scheme, which a dapper blue sign reveals was 85% funded by the Cohesion Fund of the European Community.

The junction out of town now comprises a trinity of roundabouts. The first gives way to a fork in the road, leading to two more roundabouts. To the right is a continuation of the N52 or an escape route to the motorway; to the left we encounter a roundabout offering Carrickmacross (Derry) via the N2 or Tallanstown via the R171.

Before departing towards Carrick’, one stops on the northern approach to Ardee to inspect the striking lump of modern art rather dubiously entitled the Ardee Helmet, known to others as the Fallen Warrior. You can stand inside it and read the graffiti. It’s class. Allegedly, we’ll be in Carrickmacross in 19km. That’s 11.875 miles. The speed limit is 100kmph. The journey should take 11.4 minutes. We’ll see…
Tributaries slip off the N2 in all directions, each promising its own magical journey. The open countryside is all around us, field upon field of lush greenery, and the road too is wide open before us, ideal for tipping along. Though I’m not holding back, the number of vehicles that bomb past is nothing short of alarming.

There are no filling stations between Ardee and Carrick’, but there’s a mobile chip van, much to the haulage fraternity’s evident glee. Passing Knockabbey Castle to my right, I decline two invitations to re-visit Drumconrath and instead reach Aclint Bridge – the Monaghan-Louth border – six miles outside Ardee, almost exactly equidistant between the two towns.

Entering County Monaghan, we learn that it’s twinned with the city of Miramichi, New Brunswick, in Canada as well as the harrowing reality that 45 people have been killed on Monaghan roads in the past four years.

We’re in Killanny. The new Carrickmacross Bypass results from a joint venture between the Department of Transport, Monaghan County Council and the NRA, assisted by the European Regional Development Fund. Nine kilometres of single carriageway, the road opened in January 2005, three months ahead of schedule. Aimed at reducing journey times, it does exactly what it says on the tin.
This is a stunning stretch of road, taking Carrick’ completely out of the equation for northbound traffic. The road is smooth and straight but with just enough curves and dips to keep it interesting and enjoyable to drive on. It links directly to the Carrick’ Straight and the next stop from there is Castleblayney.

For the purpose of this exercise, however, we take a quick left as we reach CMX, then another and approach a roundabout offering Dundalk and Inniskeen to the left. The R178. We’re on the road from Carrick’ to Dundalk and have only travelled 10.6 miles since leaving Ardee. Following much-needed refreshments for both man and car at the Statoil station across form the graveyard, we delve back under the Carrickmacross Bypass and begin to dream of Dundalk.

A crooked crossroads imparts the wisdom that Killanny lies right and Inniskeen is to one’s left. The first five miles is like the road that time forgot. It’s bumpy, bendy and unsmooth. An interesting ride, in keeping with the rural tone of the area – unspoilt, rugged and unkempt. One can readily imagine what it was that fuelled Kavanagh. We see old houses, old barns, plenty of new houses too. There’s an odour of Old Ireland in the air. At the crossroads for Louth village and Inniskeen, there’s a house with a thatched roof. Nice.

Back into County Louth and drawing closer to Kilkerley, the road improves beyond recognition, serving up a new black surface, flat and simmering in the October sun. Encroaching upon Dundalk, we dive under the Dundalk Western Bypass, which opened in September 2005, five months ahead of target. The speed limit is back to 50. Town. Another pay-to-park zone. Dundalk is twinned with Reze in France.

No need to travel through town on a Saturday afternoon when one has the option of bearing left past the Clans pitch and out onto the N53, which seems to enter Dundalk almost parallel to the R178. Having travelled 14 miles since leaving Carrick’ and approximately 25 since departing Ardee, I’m now eyeing Castleblayney and the final leg of my excellent adventure.

A mile up the road and we encounter twin roundabouts, a unique looking double intersection that probably resembles a large tarmacadam Number 8 viewed from the sky. A left turn off the first roundabout and one is Dublin-bound on the M1; right off the second heads towards Belfast. Why not just one bigger roundabout with four exits altogether? We’ll leave that one to the architects and engineers. We proceed directly ahead and learn that a maximum fine of 1,900 euro applies to anybody caught dumping. And there’s that seatbelt reminder again.

This is an average enough road for a while, but things improve at Callan’s. There’s a hedgecutter blocking my side of the road – another excuse to shift through the gears. Through a crossroads offering Forkhill (right) and Knockbridge (left) and down to a patch of road about to be immortalised in this writer’s mind as the one where a northern driver pulled out right in front of me only to veer off almost immediately towards the Naomh Malachi pitch. I’m sure he/she had his/her reasons. It’s raining. Monaghan must be close.

Six miles from Dundalk, the road is wide again and it’s plain sailing. A brief flirtation with south Armagh (the roads in the North used to be better - or so they said – but now we’re catching up), where the speed limit falls by 2.5 mph. At Culloville, a chance to double back into Carrick’ via bandit country is resisted and we soon cross the bridge back into County Monaghan.

The N53 isn’t the newest road we’ve driven on today but it’s more than adequate. I’m in ‘Blayney in no time. A sign tells me that it’s 37 km to Ardee. My trek crisscrossing the Lough-Monaghan border took over 40 miles. Ardee to Castleblayney via Carrickmacross and Dundalk. Shouldn’t have stopped taking the medication.