A5 (Northern Ireland)
|Length:||53.3 miles (85.8 km)|
|Meets:||A2, A38, A32, A505, A4, A28, N2|
|Route outline (key)|
The road is currently part of a major road project, where it is planned to be almost completely replaced by an off-line dual carriageway.
Derry - Omagh
The A5 begins in the historic walled city of Derry, at the 'Waterside' end of the impressive 'double decker' Craigavon Bridge. It departs from the A2 (Northern Ireland), which passes through a TOTSO at a crossroads controlled by traffic lights, and over the upper deck of the bridge towards the city centre. Initially, the A5 takes a south-westerly route along Victoria Road, right next to the River Foyle. It passes by the Everglades Hotel, which was bombed by dissident Irish nationalists in 2014, a timely reminder that Northern Ireland is not yet completely free from terrorism. As the route leaves the urban area of Derry, the National Speed Limit is achieved briefly along the stretch past the City of Derry Golf Club, until we arrive at the rather uninspiring village of Newbuildings. Here you can expect to see Union Flags flying from the lamposts and kerbstones painted red, white and blue throughout the year.
We then pass into beautiful, lush open countryside, still shadowing the Foyle closely. Another brief stretch of road under the National Speed Limit brings us to Magheramason, a village which is mostly skirted by the modern road. When we clear the residential area, we gain an overtaking lane which takes us up the hill towards Bready. There is then a longer rural stretch of road to Ballymagorry, through which we pass before entering Strabane.
The market town of Strabane is a location of some significance, for it provides the first opportunity since Derry to cross the Foyle. This is possible by turning right at the roundabout that greets us as we arrive, from which the A38 - the Northern Ireland version being as short as its eponymous counterpart in England is long - heads over the border to connect with the N14 and N15 in the Republic of Ireland. This is the route to take to head towards the County Donegal town of Letterkenny, or towards Sligo and the west coast of Ireland. It is also possible, from here, to turn into the centre of Strabane itself, because the modern A5 passes to the west of the town.
Just after the roundabout, the A5 crosses the Mourne River, a tributary of the mighty Foyle, and a second roundabout provides another opportunity to head into the town. The A5 continues in a straight course with a large curve at each end, to circumnavigate the town. The bypass ends at a third roundabout, connecting to the original route of the A5 through the town centre, before leaving both Strabane and the Foyle behind.
The road now follows the Mourne, running upstream to the south. We cross the River Derg, and the Mourne oddly changes its name here to become the Strule. We continue to follow the main waterway until we pass into the attractive town of Sion Mills, where the road follows a long straight high street right through the town centre. After exiting Sion Mills, the A5 is obliged to negotiate a curve in the river by sweeping right and then left before passing through Victoria Bridge. We continue along the Mourne for some distance before bridging it twice to avoid passing through Newtownstewart. The A5 once passed through the town, and it is possible to access the original route by turning off at a curious kind of junction which mimmicks a grade-separated intersection but which is in fact a conventional T-junction on the wrong side of the road, from which they old route executes a U-turn and passes beneath the newer road; there is a single slip road on the other side, to enable northbound traffic to enter the town more easily.
The A5 continues to follow the River Strule closely upstream, passing by the Ulster American Folk Museum and the delightfully-named Fairy Water before arriving at Omagh.
Omagh - Aughnacloy
The A5 passes Omagh Rugby Club on the right and proceeds to enter Omagh with the River Strule to its left. A roundabout with the B48 (Northern Ireland) provides access to the town centre as the main road largely avoids the urban area thanks to a high-quality single-carriageway bypass, with a painful 30mph speed limit. At a crossroads controlled by traffic lights, a brief turn to the left enables traffic to reach the A32, which then passes under the A5 and heads out towards Dromore and Northern Ireland's beautiful Lake District. There is then a rare example of a grade-separated junction over the A5's single carriageway, which provides access to the route that used to carry the A5 before the modern bypass was constructed.
The river now changes name again, becoming the Drumragh, and the A5 meets a roundabout just after crossing it. From here, the A505 heads east towards Cookstown and Lough Neagh, which prevents it from reaching Belfast. The A5 continues to follow the Drumragh for some distance before the river curves away and we are left - for the first time - with no waterway to follow. The A5 now enters territory that is rather more hilly than before, yet it continues to be quite straight to Gortaclare and Garvaghy (which is does not enter). This changes as we approach Seskilgreen, where we gain a climbing lane to take us up the long hill past the settlement. The road returns to two lanes at the highest point in the area, before heading down the long Ballygawley bypass, where there is a climbing lane in the other direction. At the bottom of the hill is long layby, where the presence of cars parked regularly on a daily basis suggests that it serves as a parking area for commuters sharing the cost of commuters travelling on a daily basis to Belfast.
The A5 then meets a roundabout. A left turn here will take you into to village of Ballygawley. Continuing straight on will take you onto the B34, which is impressive for having a climbing lane marked with green signage, taking it to Cabragh. The route and built-quality of this road belies its earlier incarnation as the A4, which was dualled and moved a short distance to the south several years ago. Indeed, the A5 turns right here, and proceeds along a short, curved link road, which meets another roundabout on the A4. This is the only stretch of dual carriageway on the A5.
The roundabout here provides A5 traffic with access, to the east, to the high-quality A4 dual carriageway and then the M1 to Belfast. It also provides traffic, to the west, with an opportunity to head to Enniskillen, the Lake District, and, over the Irish border, to Sligo. Remaining with the A5 towards Aughnacloy, which continues for some distance as a high-quality single carriageway with long overtaking lanes, the result of a 2010 improvement. Before entering this very Irish market town, with its wide main street, the road narrows considerably and passes through a wood. The B128 (formerly the A28) exits to the west, where it shadows the Irish border before eventually meeting the A4. From this point, there is a short multiplex through the town, during which the A5 takes precedence. As we come to the end of the wide main street, the road passes over a rise, just over which the A5 turns right at a TOTSO. The A28 continues straight ahead, shadowing the border again, on its way to the city of Armagh.
To head towards Dublin, we must turn off the main line, which is not easy to do if you don't know the road; there is no advanced warning of the turn, its importance notwithstanding, and we only know where we need to go when we are right at the junction itself. It's almost as though the sign-makers wouldn't expect you to want to go that way. Consequently, the turning is very easy to miss, and doubtless many who are not familiar with the area have done so. The quality of the road gives this impression too. As it heads downhill out of Aughnacloy, it is narrow and twisty, and the surface is dreadful. We run briefly alongside the River Blackwater, that forms the border between the North and the South of Ireland at this point, before the road straightens out and crosses both the water and the border at a barely-noticeable bridge. The only indication that we are passing from one state to another is a bump in the road, and two signposts indicating that the speed limits are now in kilometres per hour.
- Official Website for dualling project
- SABRE Forum Topic about the dualling
- Northern Ireland Roads Site page for the scheme