Antrim Coast Road

Year:1842

Duration:10 years

Cost:£3.8m (in today's money)

Country: Northern Ireland, UK

What did this project achieve?

Make it easier and quicker to get along the north east coast of Ireland by road

Until the 1830s the Glens of Antrim – a region on the north east coast of Ireland – were largely isolated from the rest of the country. The area was pinned in by the Antrim Plateau, a range of steep hills that rise as high as 360m.

Government officials at the time reported that the Glens ‘were cut off from any reasonable communication by the badness of roads over [the] mountains’.

The Commissioners of Public Works in Ireland, a government department that advised ministers, came up with the idea of building the Antrim Coast Road. The commissioners hoped the project would create better access for the area, make it easier for the Glens to trade with the rest of the country and reduce unemployment by creating jobs.

Civil engineer William Bald was put in charge of building the new road.

 

Difference the road has made

The Antrim Coast Road had a political, economic and social impact.

Running between the Black Arch at the town of Larne and the Red Arch at the village of Cushendall, the 25 mile (40km) road integrated an isolated region into the rest of Ireland.

It also opened up the area for trade and brought better law and order to the region.

How the road route was decided

William Bald decided to build the road at the foot of cliffs that ran by the sea. Some of these cliffs were 330ft high (about 100m).

This was a revolutionary idea. Previous plans had suggested building the road some distance from the coast.

Putting the road inland would have meant it followed steep gradients, particularly coming down from the Antrim Plateau to the sea. This would have made it tough for horse-drawn carts using the route. Building the road close to the sea meant it would be more level.

Bald wrote in 1834 that the project had two main difficulties:

‘One, the necessity of conducting the road under a very considerable extent of rock and the other, its passage along portions of very steep hills of moving clay bank.’

Bald found some of his building materials onsite. He blasted off the cliff face using explosives - rocks crashing down to the foreshore formed the base of the new road.

Bald used the safety fuse – recently invented by William Bickford – to detonate the explosives he was using on the cliffs.

‘It reduces in a great degree the chance of those accidents to which [the mining industry] has been particularly liable,’ he wrote in a report on the project.

Work on the Antrim Coast Road finished in 1842. It remained largely unchanged until the 1960s.

“​‌

One of the most beautiful [roads] in the whole of the UK

Ian Paisley

former First Minister of Northern Ireland

Fascinating facts

Before the road was built it was easier to travel to Scotland by sea than it was to get to the rest of Ireland by land.

Engineers blasted over 300,000ft3 of rock off the cliff face during construction.

The Antrim Coast Road is now regarded as one of the great tourist routes of the world.

People who made it happen

  • Civil engineer William Bald
  • The Commissioners of Public Works in Ireland

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