A29 (Northern Ireland)
|Location Map ( geo)|
|Distance:||90.5 miles (145.6 km)|
|Meets:||A2, A26, A54, A37, A42, A6, A31, A505, A45, M1, A4, A3, A25, R177|
|Old route now:||B520, A45|
|Route outline (key)|
The A29 is a major north-south route across Northern Ireland, starting at Portrush on the north coast and finishing on the border at Tullydonnell, east of Crossmaglen, where the R177 continues into Dundalk. The A29 is longest A road in Northern Ireland, other than the meandering coastal A2.
The A29 can be considered in 3 sections. It is the major approach road to the south to Portrush on the northern coast. It then by passes Coleraine and becomes trunk and forms a major part of the trunk route designated as the T15. This is the main north-south route in the centre of Northern Ireland, on the west side of Lough Neagh. The road's original route passed through Cookstown then deviated east via Coalisland before continuing on to Dungannon; however, the road was straightened in the 1960s by taking on the former B34. There's a multiplex along the A3 through Armagh, after which the A29 ceases to be trunk. It continues via Keady and Newtownhamilton, where it is the dominant number in a multiplex with the A25, after which it ends at the border.
Portrush - Coleraine
The A29 begins its lengthy trek across Northern Ireland just a stroll from the centre of Portrush, a fairly lively resort occupying a promontory on Ireland's northern coast. The straight main road into the town crosses the A2 Causeway Coastal Route at a double mini-roundabout located a short distance from the terminus of the railway line from Belfast. The A2 is staggered here, despite being the route passing through the junction.
The A29 gains its number at the more southerly of the two roundabouts, and sets out for Coleraine. The road heads southward up a long, straight incline, passing housing estates and the odd hotel and filling station. At the edge of the town, it gains the National Speed Limit and proceeds as Atlantic Road, across mostly flat farmland. We pass the odd house and country lane. This section of the A29 forms the eastern edge of 'The Triangle' - a term used locally to describe the settlements of Coleraine, Portstewart and Portrush, on account of their geographical locations and interdependence upon one another. The A2 forms the northern and western sides of this triangle, which means that we shall almost meet it again at the southern end of the wedge.
After its quick, straight run through the countryside, the A29 reaches the sleepy market town of Coleraine. The road used to run straight on into the town centre, through the staunchly Unionist Ballysally housing estate, to meet the A2 again next to the River Bann, just a short distance from the town's very convoluted one-way system. Nowadays, however, the A29 provides a wide and effective ring road to the east and south of the town. A link road from here, forming the northernmost (unclassified) section of the ring road, connects to Cromore Road and the head campus of Ulster University.
Following the ring to the east of the town, the A29 avoids all of this. It heads along a broad, lengthy straight, to a roundabout with the B17 to Bushmills, famous for its whiskey. Then it curves around the eastern suburbs of Coleraine to a second roundabout, where it meets the B67, the road to Ballycastle. The road then makes a south-westerly course, along a section which has been widened in recent years to allow for two lanes in each direction. It crosses over the Belfast-to-Coleraine railway line to the Lodge Road roundabout. This is a large five-arm roundabout with three or four filter lanes around its circumference, and traffic signals. It is located on the southern edge of Coleraine, between the Lodge Hotel, the Causeway Hospital, and Coleraine rugby ground. A right turn here will take you into Coleraine town centre. A left-turn marks the start of the A26, another of Northern Ireland's major routes, and the main road from here to Antrim and Belfast (via the M2. A third option leads into the leafy Mountsandel residential area. The A29 takes the fourth exit, heading straight across the roundabout onto a dual carriageway which has evidently been future-proofed to cater for potential grade-separation.
At this point, the A29 assumes the primary status that it will now retain all the way to Armagh. It also takes over the route of the T7 (Northern Ireland) trunk road here. The dual carriageway heads down hill towards the River Bann, which it crosses via the impressive Sandelford Bridge. There is another large roundabout immediately after the bridge. A right-turn here will take you up the Strand Road along the river bank and into the town centre on the Waterside. A left-turn will take you onto the A54, a fast and sweeping rural road which hugs the Bann closely to Kilrea, before it meets the A6 near Castledawson. This road - in combination with the A31 - offers an alternative route to the A29 as far as Cookstown. However, to stick with the A29, we need to head straight over the roundabout, and past the Riverside retail park and industrial estate. At the next roundabout, which serves the western residential estates of Coleraine and the Killowen area, the ring road and dual carriageway both end. From here, the A29 heads uphill out of town, with an overtaking lane as far as the crest.
Coleraine - Cookstown
Once clear of Coleraine, the A29 turns south at a roundabout. To continue westward here would take you onto the A37, which takes the T7 trunk road onward to Derry. The A29 heads instead towards Cookstown, via Garvagh, taking the T15 trunk road with it. We get to Garvagh by sweeping our way through rolling farmland, passing through the hamlet of Crossgare and to the west of the village of Aghadowey. The B66 crosses the A29 here, passing through a short multiplex on its way from Limavady to Ballymoney.
At Garvagh, the A29 works its way into the town centre flanked by low terraced houses. It meets the B64 at a staggered crossroads, from which a left-turn here would take you along the B64 to Kilrea, whereas a right-turn would take you towards Limavady on an unclassified road. The B64 runs together with the A29 in a multiplex along the Garvagh's long main street which, imaginatively enough, is called Main Street. This takes the A29 close to the Agivey River, which it crosses it at a red, white and blue-painted bridge leading onto Carhill Road. After running along the other side the river, we leave the town. Shortly before the return of the National Speed Limit, the B64 leaves its multiplex with us at a T-junction, from which it departs to the right, bound for Dungiven. To the immediate west of here, is a small wooded area known as Garvagh Forest.
After leaving Garvagh, the A29 road sweeps to the left and then to right before resuming its fairly straight course for Cookstown. It passes through Carhill, which seems to consist of a few houses and large car dealership, without slowing down. It does, however, slow down for the larger settlement of Swatragh. From there, it is a short, quick run on to Maghera, a bustling little town through which the A29 passes with some difficulty. There is a signal-controlled crossroads in the very heart of the town, which are staggered against us. This means that it is necessary to execute a flick to the right and then another flick to left, in order to remain on the primary route. This marks the start of the A42; a left-turn here takes that road through Gulladuff and Portaglenone, before it meets encounters the major town of Ballymena and continues through the Glens to the Causeway Coast. A right-turn here leads to the hamlet of Tirkane and little further, because of the high moorland to the west.
A short distance after Maghera, the A29 meets the A6. As the main route from Belfast to Derry, this road links Northern Ireland's capital to its second city. Although both roads are single carriageway at this stage, the A6 passes straight over the A29 via a wide, straight bridge, from which the road below is scarcely noticeable to traffic. Connecting the two major routes, is a short link road with a T-junction at each end. This simple configuration ensures that traffic remaining on either route continues on its way with barely any interruption.
After the crossing with the A6, the A29 passes to the west of Ballynahone Bog, a large wooded area to the left of the road. We then bridge the Moyola River before arriving in Tobermore. Here, our primary route again finds itself on the wrong sides of a staggered junction with an inferior road, this time the B41. We must turn left and then right at a double mini-roundabout in order to continue on our way towards Cookstown. From the right, the B41 heads south-west to Draperstown. From the left, an unclassified road leads back to the A6, in the direction of Belfast. Almost immediately after executing our left-right manoeuvre, we are back in the country again.
The B40 joins us from Draperstown and runs with us through another multiplex as far as the small settlement of Desertmartin, where it leaves us for the much larger town of Magherafelt. Some way south of Magherafelt, we run into the A31, which links both the A6 and the A29 to that town. The A31 arrives at Moneymore, before a 90-degree bend to the right in the centre of the village takes us onto Cookstown Road, and then into the town of that name.
Cookstown - Armagh
Through the centre of Cookstown, the A29 runs along the long, wide and distinctive central street, which takes various names. The A29 first joins it at a double mini-roundabout with the B162, which arrives from the north. The A29 proceeds gently uphill as Oldtown Street, with two lanes serving oncoming traffic and one with occasional filters serving ourselves. Once over the crest, we descend gently into the busy town centre, where the road splits to become a dual carriageway with parking spaces lining its flanks. There are also trees planted at regular intervals, giving the place the aspect of a kind of 'Irish avenue'. We pass various fast food outlets and the odd café, and without altering its course the road becomes William Street at a central crossroads providing access to the suburbs. The dual carriageway disappears where the road changes its name again, this time to James Street, although it continues to give the 'Irish avenue' impression as it becomes Loy Street and Chapel Street. We climb up to a crest similar to the one we passed over when entering the town. Throughout there is a good chance of seeing flags flying whatever the season, reminding us of the town's predominantly Loyalist inclination.
As we leave the centre behind, the road continues to run dead straight, and the A505 begins at a T-junction to our right. It heads to Omagh and - as we are informed by a brown sign - Drum Manor Forest Park. The A29 heads out of Cookstown past a retail park and industrial estate, and we cross the Ballinderry River before arriving at a large roundabout. From here, the twisty little Tullywiggan Road takes the B520 (Northern Ireland) down to Stewartstown, while another exit provides local access. The A29 carries straight on, towards Dungannon. The route shadows the Killymoon River, even though the former is as straight as the latter is winding, and the A29 crosses over the Killymoon near Tullylagan. For much of this stretch, the A29 sports hard shoulders despite only being a single carriageway road for the most part. The villages of Newmills and Coalisland can be reached via an unclassified side road. Before long, the A29 arrives in Dungannon, which brings about an abrupt interruption to its straight and sweeping nature.
The A29 enters Dungannon near the South Tyrone Hospital, at a five-arm roundabout that it shares with the A45. This is an oddly-shaped road that first heads north-east to Coalisland, before dog-legging its way south-eat to meet the M1 for Belfast. However, if the M1 is your intended destination, it is better to stick with the A29 through Dungannon, even though it can be a challenge! The positioning of the signage on the roundabout by the hospital could lead unsuspecting sabristi to take the A45 instead of the A29 itself, on account of the directional indicator simply pointing left at the two roads which both lead off from the left. Taking the second exit will take you through Dungannon - a very attractive town - on the A29. Taking any of the others (after the A45) will simply lead you along unclassified roads to other parts of the town, including the centre. The A29 lacks a bypass of Dungannon, but it does skirt its way around the town through some leafy suburbs on the appropriately named Circular Road. One corner, however, is inappropriate for such an important route, being difficult to navigate if an HGV wishes to share it with cars. On the other side of the town centre the A29 reconnects with the route through the town at a mini-roundabout where Perry Street meets Northumberland Place. The A29 then drops down out of the town, again through some more tidy suburban areas and past Windmill Park and Dungannon Park, before becoming a dual carriageway in Moygashel Lane. This brief stretch of dual carriageway is there to sort out the traffic before the route meets Northern Ireland's M1.
South of its junction with the M1, the A29 resumes in typical fashion as a straight single carriageway road with hard shoulders. It leads through a briefly curved section before crossing the River Blackwater between Moy and Charlemont. It continues southwards on a mostly straight but occasionally curving course, passing through Allistragh before reaching the city of Armagh.
Armagh - Tullydonnell
The A29 arrives in the pretty city of Armagh from the north. It passes by the Spires retail park before meeting the unclassified road from Loughgall Country Park at a roundabout. It then heads between the red-brick Victorian terraces of Railway Street before forming a multiplex with the A3. This road arrives from the direction of Belfast, Lurgan, Craigavon and Portadown. Both roads continue southward together, with the lower-numbered route taking precedence. At a rather awkward signalised junction in Gaol Square, they execute a TOTSO and turn right to skirt around the southern side of the city centre. They form an urban dual carriageway, where the A28 arrives from Newry at another signalised junction. This is the point at which the A29 parts company with the T15 trunk road, which it has carried all the way from Coleraine, and which now heads towards Newry and Warrenpoint. All three A-roads - A3, A28 and the A29 then run together down Priory Road, past Armagh Rugby Club towards the GAA ground. The A3 and A29 both separate from the A28 via a link road that takes them down to Irish Street, over which the main carriageway passes; the A28 continues westwards towards Aughnacloy, Enniskillen and (via the A5) Omagh.
At the end of Irish Street, the A29 leaves its multiplex with the A3 by carrying straight on when the A3 executes a TOTSO, and makes for the Irish border and County Monaghan. At this point, the A29 loses the primary status that it has held all the way from Coleraine. The road now proceeds as a road of rather different character than before, being generally narrower and a lot more twisty. It passes close to farmyards, and undulates more frequently than it did earlier on its journey. In many places along this final section, the A29 looks more like a B-road.
Just south of Armagh, the B31 splits off at a fork, taking the left branch towards Lisnadill, before rejoining the A29 near Newtownhamilton. Indeed, the B31 is the more direct route between the two points, as the A29 heads south-west to Keady before turning back towards the south-east. A short distance before Keady, the road meets the B3, with which it shares yet another multiplex. The B3 arrives from the left and gives way to us at a triangle. It stays with the A29 through the town centre, following Kinelowen Street into the centre. Keady has quite a picturesque town centre, with a spacious square dominated by a war memorial and surrounded by several brightly-painted pubs. In fact, so 'Irish' does the setting look, that you could be mistaken for thinking that you'd already crossed the border. From this square, the B3 continues straight on to do precisely that just a few miles down the road near Derrynoose, while our route turns left onto Bridge Street.
The A29 climbs out of the town centre, and head on towards Newtownhamilton. It now becomes very twisty, in comparison with its earlier sections. It also runs roughly parallel to the Irish border, which lies just a couple of miles away. We meander our way through uplands, where the farmland so familiar on the A29 gives way to patches of forest and moorland. We even pass a number of small lakes, although only one lies close to the road and is barely visible on account of the hedgerow.
The B31 returns to us just north of Newtownhamilton, and shortly afterwards we arrive in the town centre. Here we meet the last - and perhaps the oddest - of the A29's many multiplexes. What is strange is that the A25 arrives on our left from Newry, but signage suggests that it is already hidden in a multiplex in which the B78 takes precedence. The B78 terminates here, but the hidden A25 comes with us. We pass down through the town's modest central square and along Dundall Street, which looks decidedly more like somewhere you'd expect to find south of the border, with terraced houses in various colours pressed right up to the pavement.
Once we are back out in the countryside, the A25 leaves us, bound for Altnamackan and Castleblayney, in the Republic of Ireland. From here onward, the A29 avoids all of the settlements by which is passes. Our road presses on southward, returning to open farmland and frequent copses. An unclassified road to the left provides an opportunity to cut back to the A25 and Newry. We pass close by Cullyhanna, which is only accessible via a couple of country lanes to our right, and we arrive at a staggered crossroads. The B30 crosses over us here, providing access to the nearby village of Silverbridge. To our left, this road offers one final chance to head back in the direction of Newry, while to our right it heads to Crossmaglen and Northern Ireland's 'other' A37 at Cullaville.
By this point, the A29 has regained the kind of straightness that characterises it through so much of its journey, even if it continues to be quite narrow and undulating. We now run along between a number of big smart houses of various ages, before passing into County Louth. The signage announces that we are now on the R177, that Dundalk is 8 kilometres away, and that the speed limit is now 80kph. These are the only indications that we are entering the Irish Republic; in the opposite direction, there is no indication whatsoever that traffic is entering the United Kingdom.
Therefore, even less conspicuously than it began, Northern Ireland's longest north-south route reaches its conclusion.