A26 (Northern Ireland)
|Length:||74.3 miles (119.6 km)|
|Meets:||A2, A29, A44, M2, A42, A523, M2, A36, M22, A6, A57, A52, A30, A3, M1, A50, A1|
|Former Number(s):||A36, B101, B12, A1|
|Old route now:||A523, A57, B12|
|Belfast International Airport|
|Route outline (key)|
The A26 is the third-longest A-road in Northern Ireland. It is also very varied. Its northern stretch is an important strategic route connecting the towns of Coleraine, Ballymoney and Ballymena to Antrim and Belfast. This section also forms part of the T7 trunk road. The middle stretch of the route is a significant road providing a link between Antrim and Moira, and affording access to Belfast International Airport, as well as being a means of driving between Northern Ireland's two main motorways without having to travel through Belfast. The final stretch of the route is a relatively minor road between Lurgan and Banbridge.
Coleraine - Antrim
The A26 originally started on the A2 in Coleraine. Some maps claim that it still does, running along the Lodge Road out of town. However, signage suggests that it has been moved out to begin on the A29 eastern bypass. As a result, it has primary status from the start.
The road begins as a dual carriageway, taking it past the Causeway Hospital, to which access is provided via a signal-controlled T-junction. The speed limit through half of this stretch is 50mph, raising to the National Speed Limit after the hospital. The road becomes a single carriageway at the next roundabout, which provides access to the Mountsandel suburb of Coleraine and to some local businesses. As it leaves Coleraine behind, the road is fairly flat and mostly straight. There are occasional side-roads and the odd house, farm, or business. After the barely-noticeable hamlet of Damhead, the road returns to dual carriageway (with hard shoulders) for about half a mile. The northern half of the A26 is typically a busy road, and this section provides a useful opportunity to make some progress.
After another lengthy section of single carriageway, the road curves left onto the Ballymoney bypass. It arcs around the town to the north and the east, before returning to its original course. The bypass is a high-quality single carriageway. There are extensive hatched areas protecting filter lanes. There are also two roundabouts. The first of these provides access to the B62, which heads out of Ballymoney towards the ominously-named Ballybogey and the Northern Irish seaside resort of Portrush. On each side of this roundabout, the A26 possesses a short stretch of overtaking lane, to enable traffic to pass slowly-accelerating vehicles. From the central stretch of the bypass, unclassified roads lead off towards Dervock and Stranocum. From the second of the bypass's roundabouts, a further unclassified road leads to Dunaghy. All of the roads also provide an opportunity to enter Ballymoney town centre.
The A26 heads south-east from Ballymoney to reach the northern end of the M2 Ballymena bypass (at J12). This is another long, straight section, containing one brief stretch of dual carriageway and an overtaking lane in the opposite direction at Ballynaloob. Eventually, after a gradual descent, the road curves southwards. Here, the A44 bears left for Armoy, Ballycastle, and the Rathlin Island ferry. You can also take this road to reach Lissanoure Castle.
The next stretch of the A26 is currently being upgraded to dual carriageway. This is a worthy project, because the road is at present an unsuitably narrow, undulating single carriageway through boggy ground, and a tree-lined avenue where the trees grow very close to the road. At Glarryford, it splits into a rather old dual carriageway. At this point, there is a staggered crossroads with turning gaps in the central reservation. This junction is now being configured in accordance with the northward extension of the dual carriageway. The road crossing us here is the B64; from our left, it leads up into the Glens, while to the right it winds its way across the northern part of Northern Ireland towards Derry.
After the Glarryford Cross, the A26 bridges the Clogh River. Its two carriageways part company for the crossing, but soon converge again for the run down to Ballymena. The original course of the A26 before it was dualled runs parallel to the modern route, along Loughmagarry Road. Just north of Ballymena, we reach a large gyratory which offers free-flowing access onto the M2, which provides a very effective bypass to the east of the town. The A26, to which free-flowing access is also provided, continues straight through town. It becomes an urban dual carriageway just north of the town centre, and winds its way between the central business district and the Braid River. It then takes over the original route of the A36 out of town, crossing the river and heading out of the urban area to meet the motorway and the current starting point of the A36 at J10. From here, the A26 takes over the final section of the Ballymena bypass to the south of the town. The A523 follows the original line of the A26 to the south of the town centre.
After leaving Ballymena behind the A26 heads south to Antrim, along the Lisnevenagh Road. This is an antiquated and rather dangerous stretch of dual carriageway, linking the two incomplete sections of the M2. The carriageways themselves provide a swift route for the considerable volume of traffic that uses this road, and the National Speed Limit applies. However, the central reservation varies in width throughout its five-mile length, and there are at least twenty turning gaps. Some of these provide access to properties or businesses. Others are junctions where unclassified roads to places such as Kells and Randalstown connect. As such, this piece of road is a relic of the mid-twentieth century, before turning gaps began to be eliminated in the interests of safety. It is not unknown to see a farm vehicle parked in a gap with its trailer on the carriageway it has just crossed, nor to see vehicles turn out of gaps and use the overtaking lane as an acceleration lane, obliging traffic already on the carriageway to either brake hard or undertake at speed.
Antrim - Moira
The A26 heads into Antrim initially as a single carriageway. It becomes an urban dual carriageway while passing the Kilbegs business park and the Enkalon industrial estate. From here, the B518 sets off to provide an urban ring road paralleling the motorway to the north-east of the town. The A26 then returns to single carriageway and the 30mph speed limit is imposed as we reach the town centre.
Antrim town centre - if, indeed, it has one - is nondescript. There is a roundabout to the north of where it is supposed to be, where the A6 arrives from Randalstown. That road then takes priority over ours along another short stretch of urban dual carriageway next to the Castle Mall shopping centre. A left-turn here leads onto the A522, which heads through the town along the original route of the A6; the single carriageway has an unusual and possible over-engineered grade-separated junction providing access to a shopping centre. Nowadays, a suburban bypass carries both the A6 and A26 in a sweeping arc over Six Mile Water, to the curious little roundabout (with red, white and blue-painted kerb stones) where the A6 and A26 both turn left towards Belfast. The road straight ahead is a green-signed route with a good surface but no number, leading straight to Belfast International Airport at Aldergrove.
The A6 and A26 both rejoin the original route of the main road through town at a large roundabout where the A522 arrives from the left. It is then just a short run out of town to the T-junction where the multiplex ends, and the A6 continues towards Belfast. After regaining its number, the A26 heads south. It runs along Six Mile Water for a while before returning to the countryside as a high-quality single carriageway. It is straight and reasonably busy as it passes through the hamlet of Killealy and meets the A57 at a roundabout; this is the important link from the M2 to Belfast International Airport. The A26 runs to the east of the airport to another roundabout at Nutt's Corner, where it meets the A52, which climbs steeply out of Belfast to meet us here, before proceeding towards Lough Neagh and town of Crumlin.
From here, the A26 is a fast and sweeping single carriageway, mostly with hard shoulders. It crosses the flat terrain to the east of Lough Neagh on a modern route which departs from the one it originally followed; it used to run much closer to the shores of the lake. We pass through Glenarvy and Ballinderry before meeting the A3 and M1 at a roundabout at J9.
Lurgan - Banbridge
After the motorway, there is a multiplex of over five miles to the west, in which the A26 is very much the junior partner of the A3. This extends as far as Lurgan, and results from the fact that before it was redirected to its current route, the A26 ran through Aghalee and Aghagallon along what is now the B12 to Lurgan. After regaining its number at a signal-controlled junction to the south of Lurgan's large public park, it heads south to a roundabout with the B3. That roads heads out to Ballynagarrick and Gilford, while the A26 takes a twistier course to Waringstown. Some time afterwards, the B9 turns eastward at a T-junction, to make a scenic run through Donaghcloney and along the River Lagan to Magheralin.
The A26 here is a mere shadow of what it was at its more important northern end, being narrow and winding as it heads towards it terminus at Banbridge. As it meets the River Bann - alongside which it started back in Coleraine - the road arrives at a three-arm roundabout to the east of Lawrencetown. Here, the A50 joins us, forming a multiplex with the A26 through Lenadurg and alongside the Bann into Seapatrick and Banbridge. The multiplex ends right in the town centre, at a signal-controlled junction with what would originally have been the A1. There is a short section of urban dual carriageway connecting this junction to an egg-shaped, signal-controlled roundabout where the A50 regains its independence and resumes its run alongside the Bann towards Newcastle and the Mourne Mountains.
For the A26, there is little left to do, but there are two options. At the end of its multiplex with the A50 in Banbridge, it splits into two, running in both directions to end on the A1 Banbridge bypass either side of town. The northern spur is the shorter of the two, running out to meet the bypass at a trumpet interchange that looks more like a G-clamp. The southern spur crosses the Bann and the bridge that presumably gave the town its name, and then runs once more as an urban dual carriageway along Bridge Street before meeting the B10 at an ancient diamond GSJ interchange, through which it reduces to a single carriageway in order to pass under the bridge carrying the B10 overhead. This section ends at a roundabout, after which the final stretch of the A26 runs along Newry Road to meet the A1 at a dumbbell GSJ, to which the original carriageway provides one of the slip roads.
The third-longest A-road in Northern Ireland ends here.
The original route of the A26 heading south out of Ballymena town centre is now numbered A523; the A26 has been rerouted along the original western end of the A36 to allow it to access both ends of the M2.
The long multiplex along the A3 can be explained by the fact that the A26 route between Antrim and Lurgan has been moved eastwards since its original classification. The road originally followed the direct route via Crumlin and Aghalee. With the construction of the M1 the A26 and B12 swapped routes south of Glenavy to allow easier access from the A26 to the motorway. Later on, the road, which had already been rerouted west to avoid RAF Aldergrove (now Belfast International Airport), was severed completely and a new road built to the east.