Bellaghy Historical Society – November 2011

Tuesday, NOVEMBER 8th, 2011
RODDY HEGARTY: The development of a Road System in Ulster

A road system reveals the economic history of a region/country.
Here, there is a highly developed road system/more roads than elsewhere in Europe.
Roads are an essential prerequisite for economic development. Roads open up the
countryside and provide a link between goods and the marketplace.
1843, mail coach between Belfast and Derry travelled the coastal route-there was no A6
The 18th and 19th centuries saw the expansion of road construction under the
stewardship of local landlords, parishes, grand juries, Boards of Works, councils, postal
service, etc.
Probity of wills, roads and licencing of liquor was part of parish work in the 18th & 19th
A large part of the local tithe payments went towards the upkeep of roads in that parish.
Ancient roadways-neolithic tracks of 4.500 years ago served as paths between
communities and many underlie roadways today.
Rivers V Roads- standing stones, from the 8th & 9th centuries, along route ways may have
been early sign posts.
There is little or no Roman influence in Ireland.
Slighe Mór-wide enough for two chariots; linked major regal/ecclesiastical sites and are
strongly featured in the epics of the 4th & 5th centuries. There is archaelogical evidence of
a paved route way between Carntogher and Pontarosa.
Placenemes, bóthar/bealach, suggest a route way for people and/or horses.
Until 1601/03, the interior of Ulster was not known to the English because of the Irish
Gaelic fegal system.
Pre plantation, it was a cattle-led economy and settlements were not towns as was known
Post plantation, 1609-1612, lands were granted to the English/Scots, tenants paid rent and
made money from farming. A cash economy with markets and fairs meant a road system
was built.
1615-Roads Act.
Role of the parish: the new Church was not representative of the entire population.
Catholic and Presbyterian workers built/repaired roads in Anglican parishes. They worked
6 days a week, Easter to mid summer; load bearing animals/carts were supplied by local
landowners/farmers; to raise a levy for tools, there were no wages; no bridges were
provided for; each parish built itʼs own stretches of road. The vestry minute books record
evidence of the parish road building system.
It was a piecemeal & problematic system and proved unable to adjust to change in the
18th century-the linen industry.
Armagh-Tullahogue, the first map of Ulster shows roads built by the English military-a
military strategy to dominate the O Neills.
Raven-drew the first map of Bellaghy.
toll Roads-were used by the mail coaches as they were straighter than regular roads.
1735-50, turnpike/toll roads were built on the east coast: Dublin to Coleraine; Dublin to
The tollgate still remains on the A5, Strabane at the Five Tree Hotel; and at the High
School, Derry Rd.
East of Lough Neagh, because of the type and volume of traffic, there were more
turnpikes.1855-turnpike trusts wound up.
Taylor/Skinner maps show mail coach routes. The first mail coaches in Ireland appeared in
1792-the post office was given funding for the upkeep of postal routes only.
1820-grand juries had responsibility for bridges.
1831-Irish Board of Works took over; the OPW had responsibility for all roads.
Samson 1802 map of Derry was redrawn 1813 because of the change to the road system.
Rocks=drew map of Armagh road system; Rendwick, the road system of Antrim.
O.S. Memoirs 1832/4, mention broken whinstone, 22ʼ average breadth; the main Garvagh-
Toomebridge road, through Bellaghy.
The second edition, 1852/4, shows field boundaries and lanes.
Lewisʼ Topography Dictionary 1837, shows county maps with roads and by-roads between
Maghera, Tobermore, Castledawson, Bellaghy, Magherafelt.
Grand Juries built roads between market /postal towns or to ports.
Lanlords were allowed use the system to self-grandiose and designated hamlets as
market towns.
1760s, the Grand Jury system facilitated the growth of the linen industry and of Lanlordsʼ
1710, the parish system was bypassed.
The presentation books of grand Juries til 1890s show that gravel was used; landlords
and/or their agents were on these Juries and gave instruction on where roads were to
built/repaired and on who the workers would be-they were paid per perch.
1890s-Grand Juries were replaced by county councils. Paving also built/repaired in towns.
End 18th century Young states all transport- one horse carts; carried linen; better quality
roads because of lighter traffic.
1815-Bianconi travel established, superseded railways.
1852-Sligo-Derry route established.
Bianconis became feeders for trains.
Where railways served areas more than roads did, the roads fell into disrepair, but, for only
50 years. Linen transport stayed on the roads.
1930s-daimler international combustion engine; Bedford lorries.
1931-21.5% passengers travelled by train; 78% by road.
-36% freight by rail; 55% by road; 7% by canal.
Number of motor vehicles in N.Ireland: 1922-16,000;
Road surfaces-tar/bitmac.
Concrete roads-1927 Toome-Castledawson.
Speed limits-introduced Belfast, 1938/9-30mph; 1960s elswhere.

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