Belfast Telegraph

How Carrick man planned to link Scotland and Northern Ireland 150 years before Boris Johnson

The plans drawn up by Luke Livingston Macassey
The plans drawn up by Luke Livingston Macassey
Luke Livingston Macassey
Allan Preston

By Allan Preston

Over a century before Boris Johnson's push for a multi-billion pound bridge linking Northern Ireland and Scotland, a Carrickfergus-born engineer had envisioned a rail link beneath the waves.

Luke Livingston Macassey (1843-1908), a water engineer and barrister, drew up several options for the unlikely infrastructure project 150 years ago.

He pitched the idea of a channel tunnel link between Glasgow and Belfast to promote "order and prosperity".

One of the most respected engineers of his day, he had already worked on huge infrastructure projects like the Silent Valley Reservoir to meet the soaring demand for a reliable water source in Belfast.

In 1869, the hope had been to cut the 174-mile journey time in half to a tolerable four-and-a-half hours.

With an estimated cost equivalent to £455m in today's money, the plan was ultimately rejected as a financial impossibility with train companies unlikely to foot the bill.

His ambitious project, reported yesterday by the Daily Mail, have re-emerged recently after Prime Minister Boris Johnson repeated his support of a bridge between Northern Ireland and Scotland.

Earlier this month Mr Johnston described it as "very good", and estimated the cost at around £15bn. Two possible routes have been suggested; between Portpatrick and Larne or near Campbeltown to the Antrim coast.

National identity and the promotion of the British Empire were a motivation for Macassey at the time.

A report he wrote with his colleague William Scott in 1868 said the "railway-led union" would "in turn tend to the consolidation of empire, so greatly desired by all lovers of order and prosperity."

For another 20 years he continued to make his case, proposing seven other options in 1890, one including a link in the North Channel between Stranraer and Belfast.

The general public's "dread of seasickness," he said, remained a strong enough reason to greenlight the project. "They would undergo the fatigue of a hundred miles' trip by rail rather than risk the horrors of 20 miles in a rough sea?"

Over a hundred years later, supporters of the bridge have also promoted the patriotic potential of such a project by saying it could become a symbol of a can-do spirit in the post-Brexit era.

The DUP's 10 MPs have voiced their support for the project while critics, like the SDLP's infrastructure spokesperson Sinead Bradley, have called Mr Johnson's comments "a pathetic distraction" from the chaos of Brexit.

Economist Dr Esmond Birnie from Ulster University also said the money would be better spent on other infrastructure projects.

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