"Crossing the divide"

The reinstatement of an old bridge has revived local communities and brought an isolated area back into the social and economic mainstream. Hopefully, Senator George Mitchell Bridge will become, in time, a symbol for building bridges across the whole region.

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Aghalane Bridge forms the border between the North and South of Ireland. It has been used for 150 years by locals as a crossing over the Woodford river. It has served as a link to economic hinterlands and communities and acted as as the primary route between Donegal and Dublin and the most direct link between the provincial towns of Enniskillen and Cavan. Unidentified paramilitaries blew up the bridge in 1972 with the result that for the next twenty seven years local people were forced to make a round trip of 40km rather than the short walk or drive to reach the other side. A new generation grew up without knowing their neighbours across the river, with an isolating effect on the economic and social life of the area.

Joan Bullock whose home and lands can be seen just across the bridge can recall an occasion when her brother-in-law who had a farm on the southern side of the bridge was unable to save his hay from the rain because he was in hospital. By the time she made the 12-mile round trip to the farm she found that a neighbour had already done the bailing work - a gesture which shows the strength of local community spirit that has worked to link their communities once again.

The bridge project began in 1994, 22 years after the bridge was destroyed. The European Union provided 75% of the funding for the project through its Peace and Reconciliation Programme and the balance was provided by the British and Irish Governments. A steering committee was set up involving the Roads Service-Omagh Division, the National Roads Authority and Cavan County Council. Since the existing route from Aghalane to Belturbet was sub-standard it was decided to realign parts of the route and to cross the Woodford River that forms the border, 200 meters upstream of the old Aghalane Bridge. This realignment scheme is located on a road which is a major cross-border artery and is of strategic significance to the area linking South Donegal, Enniskillen and County Fermanagh with County Cavan, central Ireland and Dublin. The bridge was re-opened in April 1999 and renamed the Senator George Mitchell Bridge in recognition of the American Senator's contribution as Chairman of the Peace Talks in bringing about the Good Friday Agreement.

The restoration of the bridge and the opening of the Shannon/Erne Waterway have brought increased tourism and has increased the passing trade giving new lease of life to the entire area.

While the new bridge is only one of more than 10,000 projects assisted to date under the EU Peace and Reconciliation Programme it is one of the most symbolic and visible.

The new bridge at Aghalane is, according to Irish Minister for the Environment and local Government Noel Dempsey "the replacement of a symbol of division with a symbol of reconciliation. �the new bridge represents the joining together of communities from different traditions in their demand for a real and lasting peace."
Last modified on January 2001

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