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A3 (Northern Ireland)

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Location Map ( geo)
Cameraicon.png View gallery (29)
From:  Lisburn (J264638)
To:  May Hill (H427187)
Via:  Lurgan, Armagh and Monaghan
Distance:  66.3 miles (106.7 km)
Meets:  A1, A30, A520, M1, A26, A76, A27, M12, A50, A4, A27, A29, A51, A28, N12, N54
Primary Destinations
Grid References
1st Border Crossing: H737370
2nd Border Crossing: H490249
3rd Border Crossing: H466233
4th Border Crossing: H436213
Highway Authorities

DfI Roads

Traditional Counties

Antrim • Armagh • Down • Fermanagh

Route outline (key)
A3 Lisburn – The Border
(N12) The Border – Monaghan
(N54) Monaghan – Clones
A3 Clones – Rabbit Island
(N54) Rabbit Island – Colonooney
A3 Colonooney – May Hill


The A3 is one of the key routes in Northern Ireland. It heads south-west from Lisburn, where it splits from the A1. It picks up traffic from the M1 (via the M12) halfway between Craigavon and Portadown, before heading through Armagh, though there's a short bypass avoiding the very centre. After this it heads south-west towards Monaghan, becoming the N12 as it crosses the border into the Republic. However, there's a brief resurgence of the A3 further west, as the main road from Clones to the N3 at Butlers Bridge crosses between Counties Monaghan and Fermanagh several times. While in the Republic, the route east of Monaghan is the N12; west, the N54.

Lisburn - Moira

The A3 on Hillsborough Road, Lisburn

The A3 starts at a crossroads with the A1 on the Lisburn inner ring road. The A1 executes a TOTSO here, turning left to head south towards Newry and Dublin, while the A3 takes the main line straight ahead to complete the circuit of the city centre. This section of road is a single carriageway with two lanes in each direction, but it has a narrow hatched area that serves as a central reservation. At a gyratory just west of Lisburn city centre, it meets the A30 from Glenarvy, and turns left to head westwards along Longstone Street. We pass a Loyalist housing estate to our left and a long row of small businesses - mostly shops and takeways - to our right. There is a signalised T-junction where Ballinderry Road departs from our right, and we proceed onto Moira Road. This takes us past several more residential estates before curving in an arc around the Tata Steel plant. Throughout this section, the A3 has run between the twisting River Lagan to the south and the obviously straight Belfast-to-Dublin railway to the north.

There is a brief section of tree-lined road as we reach the countryside. We pass to the north of Mazetown, where the landscape is flat, agricultural, dotted with occasional houses, and crisscrossed by power and telegraph wires. We pass to the south of the village of Maghaberry, and reach the M1 at junction 9. At this point, we also meet the A26, which arrives from Coleraine near the north coast and now joins us for a five-mile multiplex to Lurgan.

Moira - Portadown

Upon leaving the motorway, we meet Moira. Moira is not a person, but a bustling little town through which we must pass in order to follow the A3 to Lurgan. It would be quicker to follow the motorway, which runs to the north of Moira and Lurgan, but the A3 is certainly more direct as it passes the villages of Magheralin and Dollingstown before arriving in Lurgan. In Magherlin, the B9 sets off the south for a scenic run alongside the River Lagan to Donaghcloney. Between Dollingstown and Lurgan the B2 also heads off in a southerly direction for Gamblestown and Dromore, where it meets the A1.

In Lurgan itself, the route has recently been diverted away from the town's long, wide and leafy High Street; so instead we turn left at a signal-controlled junction into Flush Place. At the next roundabout A26 leaves its long multiplex with us, bound for Banbridge and the A1, while we turn right onto a commercial road behind the High Street. At the end is a T-junction: turning right takes us by means of a short spur to a gyratory surrounding the Shankill Parish Church, from which the A76 provides access to the railway station and a link to the M1. Left is the main route of the A3, which takes us through the Nationalist area surrounding Edward Street, and onto Portadown Road. The road is wide and straight and governed by a 40mph speed limit as it approaches Portadown, gaining two lanes in each direction shortly before arriving at a large roundabout. Here, the A3 splits into a stretch that is technically a dual carriageway, but where the two sides are so far apart it resembles a one-way system between two roundabouts. The A3 then resumes as a more conventional dual carriageway towards a third roundabout. All three of these roundabouts provide local access. Things only really become serious at a fourth roundabout, where the main line of the dual carriageway becomes the A27, and takes over the original line of the A3 into Craigavon.

Craigavon is a New Town similar to those that were built in England during the 1960s. It was planned to constructed in a linear arrangement between the existing settlements of Lurgan and Portadown. Its construction began in 1965, but less than half of the planned work was ever completed. There are two artificial lakes, roundabouts and pedestrian bridges are used extensively, and the settlement is planned to keep vehicles and pedestrians well apart from one another.

The A3 turns north, along a very short stretch of dual carriageway that looks future-proofed to provide for a flyover, although it is by no means clear where that might head or what benefit it would bring. Today's A3 returns to single carriageway as it passes a retail park and turns decisively to the left. From here, it runs to the north of Craigavon in parallel to the Belfast-Dublin railway line. At an unassuming signal-controlled T-junction to the left, a road leaves us and immediately turns 180 degrees and passes over the A3 again before heading off to the right. You could be forgiven for not really noticing, but this is the terminus of the quirky little M12.

Hereafter, the A3 takes on two lanes in each direction, and passes to the north of Portadown Rugby Club, losing a lane (in the opposite direction), and hitting a 40mph speed limit. It then crosses over the River Bann, with the railway clearly visible on a separate bridge to the right. We then regain the (oncoming) lane that was long before the bridge, and we pass the rather American-sounding 'Portadown Train Station', which is built immediately to the right of the road. We continue with a narrow hatched area serving as a central reservation between the traffic flowing in each direction, and pass another retail park to our left. The road then becomes a dual carriageway proper for a short twisty section, where a signalised exit to the left provides access to the retail park and town centre.

The road then loses its central reservation but retains a total of four lanes while it turns hard right and crosses over the railway. The central reservation returns briefly - and is very wide - where the road forks. From here, the A4 branches off to the right, beginning its long journey off to the west of the province, and the lakes of County Fermanagh. The A3 branches to the left, loses its central reservation again, and narrows to three lanes before becoming a normal single carriageway. A GSJ provides access to/from the A3 to the east as an important but unclassified local road crosses over our path. The A3 then gains red hard shoulders and curves gradually to the left as we approach a roundabout with the A27.

Portadown - Middletown

A3 between Portadown and Armagh

The A3 resumes its original route at a roundabout with the A27, which has taken over most of its old route through Craigavon and Portadown, and which heads southwards towards Newry. After the roundabout, we find ourselves on Armagh Road, which possesses hard shoulders and an overtaking lane as it heads into the countryside. At the end of the overtaking lane, it retains its red hard shoulders and curves gently to the right as we pass a number of local businesses. There is a 50mph speed limit in force throughout this section. The landscape becomes more distinctively Irish as we head towards Armagh, with scrubby fields and lush green hedges, clumps of trees, and occasional patches of gorse.

After a long and subtly undulating straight, we arrive at a roundabout. The inviting Cartin's Mill restaurant sits on the corner as the B131 crosses our path. A left-turn here would take us into the village of Richhill, whereas a right-turn would take us into the attractive area surrounding the hamlet of Kilmore.

If we remain on the A3, we can make speedy progress as the road is of a very high standard, featuring gentle curves, a smooth surface, and those red hard shoulders. It becomes rather more twisty as it approaches Armagh, but it there is nothing to take us by surprise. There is a very gentle decline that features a long overtaking lane in the opposite direction, which we are barred from using on account of the curves. The overtaking lane disappears a short distance before we enter the city.

The city of Armagh is the historic and picturesque ecclesiastical capital of Ireland. Although it only obtained city status in 1994, it has a long history. To the north of the modern city is Navan Fort, a pagan site and important centre of power in Gaelic Ireland. Armagh has two cathedrals - Protestant and Catholic - which are both dedicated to St Patrick. They occupy prominent positions on hills in the town, and can be seen clearly from several of the approaches to the city centre.

We pass across two roundabouts, each providing access to suburban residential estates, which are still effectively cut off from the city itself by fields. We arrive in Armagh passing close to the Armagh Community Hospital and Armagh Planetarium and Observatory. In the city centre the A29 arrives on its long trek from Portrush on the north coast, and joins us for a multiplex. Both roads circumnavigate the city centre together, with our route taking precedence. At a rather awkward signalised junction in Gaol Square, both routes execute a TOTSO and turn right to skirt around the southern side of Armagh. They form an urban dual carriageway, where the A28 arrives from Newry at another signalised junction. 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) towards Omagh. At the end of Irish Street, the A29 parts company with us by carrying straight on into the South Armagh countryside.

Entering County Monaghan

The A3 executes a TOTSO, and makes for the Irish border and County Monaghan. The red hard shoulders return as we pass along the very long, fast straight to Milford. The hard shoulders finally disappear before the road takes on a more twisty aspect than it has done at any point before. We wind our way through some beautiful countryside before the B132 turns off to the left, bound to rejoin the A29 at Keady. Middletown (at the border) and Monaghan (over the border) are now signposted as destinations as we press onward. There are a couple more lengthy straights before the A3 winds its way into Middletown. From the village centre, the B210 heads north to meet the A28 near Caledon. Middletown is an unassuming settlement located very close to the Irish border. However, once we have passed through it, we remain in Northern Ireland for a while. The border runs along the Cor River, and we do not reach County Monaghan and the Irish Republic until we cross it, as we do about a mile after Middletown.


There are two postscripts to the A3's story. If we follow the N12 to Monaghan town, and then take the N54 through Clones, we will see the A3 again. It reappears for a brief stretch roughly one mile in length, where the border between Counties Monaghan (in the Republic of Ireland) and Fermanagh (in Northern Ireland) darts hither and thither. The road then runs returns to the Irish Republic for another mile, again as the N54. It returns to the UK one final time at Gortnacarrow, where the revived A3 bridges the Finn River at a scenic little spot before meeting the B533 at a T-junction located on a southward bend. B533 provides a final opportunity to remain in Northern Ireland, before the A3 disappears for good at Gannon's Cross. From here the road proceeds into County Cavan, once again as the N54.

A3 (Northern Ireland)
Armagh • Clones • Craigavon • Lisburn • Lurgan • Monaghan
Related Pictures
View gallery (29)
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