Community group bids to have Fermanagh's oldest bridge listed

Published: 13 Jul 2012 13:000 comments

CLEENISH Community Association is on a mission to have Fermanagh's oldest bridge listed as a structure of local historical importance.

Members of Cleenish Community Association (from left) Barney Devine, Megan Jackson, Hannah Devine and Jenny Magee, campaigning for the listing of Arney Bridge.<

The group, along with the support of Killesher Community Development Association has approached the Northern Ireland Environment Agency (NIEA) in order to have Arney Bridge listed.

The listing process to date has revealed some interesting facts about the bridge, one of which is that it is believed to be the oldest in County Fermanagh, built as long ago as 1650 as part of the Plantation of Ulster.

A map dating from 1685 shows the bridge carrying a road from Kinawley to Enniskillen castle.

The NIEA carried out an initial survey of the bridge earlier this year and the Association was delighted when it was decided that a second survey should be undertaken as soon as possible.

This new survey will include a physical check on the bridge, an accompanying photographic survey, and an examination of research material on the history of the bridge and its use by the community over the years.

The benefits of getting the bridge listed are many not least of which is a requirement that it will be preserved to certain heritage standards.

Over the years it has incurred extensive damage in at least two places, particularly where the walls of the parapets were hit by army and police vehicles in the 1950s and 1970s.

CCA believe that as the oldest bridge in Fermanagh, it projects a rich historical legacy for local communities and indeed the County in terms of its age, unique design and as a communication route between Enniskillen, Bellanaleck Arney, Florence Court, Killesher and beyond.

Sean Cox, the Chairman of CCA said: "From an architectural point of view the old bridge is most unusual, as it curves for its entire length where it spans the River Arney. It has three arches and four recesses built into its walls to allow for the safety of pedestrians when vehicles pass. "Its construction came about as part of the building programme associated with the Plantation of Ulster, and it is believed that the bridge was possibly built on the site of the ford synonymous with the battle of the Ford of the Biscuits [1594].

"The bridge subsequently carried the old coach road from Enniskillen to Dublin and was the main road south until a new road was constructed two hundred years later, some four miles to the east.

"Arney brick was manufactured by local people in the fields around the bridge before being loaded into cots and transported by river and lake to Enniskillen for sale. Local fairs were held at the bridge and Arney village, now in ruins, housed the families of brick makers. The Kingfisher cycle trail crosses the bridge and the area around it has of course been wonderfully documented by the ethnographer and academic Henry Glassie in his book Passing the time in Ballymenone. Clearly the old bridge has played many important historical, cultural, economic and social roles in the life of the local community and county."

Jenny Magee, the Secretary of the CCA believes the bridge should be preserved for future posterity.

But the group is calling upon the help of the local community to ensure this objective is realised.

"It appears that there are only a handful of other bridges of similar design and age in Northern Ireland," she said, "However, we are not taking it for granted that the bridge will be listed because it has been badly damaged over the years, so we have to persuade the NIEA of its importance, past and present, to the life of the community.

"This is where we need the help of local people. Through research in the public records office in Belfast and Enniskillen library we have found out that it will probably never be known exactly when the bridge was built as written records are rare before 1700.

"However, recent memory is also an important way to collect research so we are appealing to people in the area to lend us any photographs that they may have of the bridge, or of events that they were involved in or around it such as fishing or just gathering there of an evening! There used to be a fair at Arney Bridge many years ago and Gaelic football was played in the field next to it so photographs or artefacts of these events, or of old Arney Village in Mullanavehey and brick-making would be particularly welcome. Any muskets, shot, cannon or swords found in the locality and given on loan would be a real bonus!"

Mr Cox ensures that all photographs will be copied and returned safely, as will any artefacts loaned to the Association.

"Stories of course cannot be lent or copied but we would be delighted to capture these as well," he said, "So please don't hesitate to contact us should you have any. The support of Killesher Community Development Association to have this beautiful old bridge listed is very welcome indeed, as is the support from Fermanagh District Council. It demonstrates the fondness and importance that local people attach to the bridge, and their desire to see that it gets the protection and appropriate refurbishment it deserves."

For further information contact Sean Cox on 66348553 or Barney Devine on 66349710.

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