Roads in Ireland

Roads in Ireland

Ireland, both north and south of the border, has an extensive network of roads. Northern Ireland has had motorways since 1962, and has well developed primary routes. With the advent of the Celtic Tiger and European Union funding, most "national roads" in the Republic continue to be upgraded. In the 1990s the Republic went from having only a few short stretches of motorway in the country, to partly expanding the motorways on most major routes. This is part of a National Development Plan. Road construction in Northern Ireland has proceeded at a slower pace in recent years, although a number of important bypasses and upgrades to dual carriageway have recently been completed or are about to begin..

Roads in the Republic of Ireland

The Republic's major road network is focused on Dublin, and motorways are currently being extended to other major cities as part of the Transport 21 programme which aims to have a world class motorway network in place by the end of 2010. By then Ireland's main cities (Cork, Limerick, Galway, Waterford, Belfast) will all be connected to Dublin with motorways or with near-motorway standard roads. Dublin has been the focus of some other major projects, such as the East-Link and West-Link toll-bridges, as well as the Dublin Port Tunnel. Other cities and towns have by-pass projects, most of which are under construction as of 2007. The Jack Lynch Tunnel under the River Lee in Cork was a major project outside Dublin, and a fourth crossing at Limerick under the River Shannon (known as the Limerick Tunnel) commenced construction in 2006.

Major roads are either known as motorways or national roads. There are two classes of national roads:

* National Primary Routes are currently numbered from 1 to 33 and 50 (route numbers 34-49 are not currently allocated).
* National Secondary Routes are currently numbered from 51 to 87 (however, the N57 was reclassified as the N26, the N64 was reclassified as a section of the N18 and the N79 was reclassified as the N30).

Non-motorway sections of national routes are sign-posted with the N prefix, motorway sections are signed with the M prefix.


In the Republic of Ireland, the highest category of road is a motorway, indicated by the prefix M followed by one or two digits. The motorway network is focused on Dublin. The first motorway section in the state was the M7 Naas by-pass, which opened in 1983. As of 2008, all motorways in Ireland are part of, or form, "national primary roads". At the end of 2004 there were 192km of motorway in the Republic and 286km of dual-carriageway [ [,2184,en.pdf NRA source] ] . This was extended, by the end of 2005, to 247km of motorway and 297km of dual-carriageway [ [] - Schemes completed in 2005] . As of September 2008 405km of new motorway or high-quality dual carriageway is currently under construction. In addition, 17km of dual-carriageway has been reconstructed, specifically 15km between Naas and Dublin (see thumbnail) and 2.4 km on the Cork Southern Ring road [ [] - Schemes activity 2006] . Most of the new dual carriageways being built in Ireland are built to motorway standards with full grade separation and controlled access, however to avoid the lengthy statutory motorway planning process and in instances where no alternative non-motorway route is available the motorway designation [M] is not used.

In June 2007, it was announced that around 800 kilometres of 'new' motorway will be created; however, this will result from the re-classification of most of the country's high quality dual carriageways to motorway standard. This will affect most of the major inter-urban routes and some of the Atlantic Corridor along the West coast [ [] - Motorists can go 20 km/h faster] . In December 2007, it was announced that a planned high quality dual carriageway scheme between Galway and Tuam would be built as a motorway, the first such new motorway project to be announced since the early 2000s [ [,10900,en.html] - N17 Galway to Tuam] [ [] - M17 Galway (Rathmorrissy) to Tuam official website] .

*Another new motorway, the M20, is being planned as the main route between Cork and Limerick.

*By 2015, there will be an estimated 964 km of motorway in Ireland, comprising the M50 (45 km), M25 (23 km), M20 (90 km approx), M17 (25.5 km), M11 (8 km), M9 (116.5 km), M8 (155 km), M7 (175 km), M6 (144 km), M4 (55 km), M3 (47 km) and M1 (80 km).

* It is possible the 26.6 km Gort to Oranmore scheme may designated motorway as it links into the proposed M17. If that were to be the case, the route would be designated the M18. On 30 September (see below), it was announced that this scheme was to be included in the 2nd tranche motorway re-designations.

Route number inheritance

In the Republic of Ireland, motorways use the route number of the national road they form part (or possibly in the future, all) of, albeit with the M prefix rather than N. In most cases, the motorway has been built as a by-pass of a road previously forming the national road (e.g. M7 by-passing roads previously forming the N7) - the by-passed roads are reclassified as "regional roads", although updated signposting may not be provided for some time, and adherence to signage colour conventions is lax. Regional roads have black-on-white directional signage, national roads use white-on-green (with the route numbers in amber). Motorways in the Republic of Ireland have white-on-blue signage (see thumbnail). Destinations reached by other classes of routes should be listed on a correctly coloured "patch", except on motorways, where all signs should be blue.

The M50, an entirely new (construction began in 1989) national road, is an exception to the normal inheritance process as it does not replace a road previously carrying an "N" number. The M50 was nevertheless legislated as the "N50" route (despite having no non-motorway sections, other than a very short section at Tallaght that has been subsequently subsumed) to record this national road number in the statute books. It was thereafter designated M50 due to the route being entirely motorway standard. The route also breaks the sequential numbering scheme, but 50 was deemed an easily recognisable number. It is referred to by the NRA in its "National Route Lengths 31/12/2004" publication as the N50, as the publication does not distinguish motorways from national primary roads. Instead it classifies motorways where present as the national primary road under an N designation, for example its states there is 14.21 km of the N1 in County Meath while also stating there is 14.21 km of motorway in Meath. The NRA have designated the M1, which indeed is 14.21 km in length in County Meath, as the N1 in the document (the road which was previously part of the N1 through Meath is only approximately 8.5 km long). As of 2008, N34 is the next unused national primary road designation.

An interesting anomaly occurred on the 31 May 2004 in Limerick when the N7 Parkway scheme and the N7 Limerick Southern Ring Road which is parallel to and bypasses the N7 Parkway were opened simultaneously by the Minister of Transport. The N7 Parkway scheme was labeled as such to get National road funding and within minutes of opening was immediately redesignated a regional road, so as the Minister could open the N7 Limerick Southern Ring Road. [,907,en.html NRA]

List of motorways in the Republic of Ireland

Motorways not yet open are in italics. Destinations not directly served by the national road in question are in brackets.

The consultation procession lasted until 28 March 2008. On 17 July 2008 the statutory instrument redesignating the roads as motorways was signed, and any open parts of these roads have officially become motorways as of 24 September 2008 [] . In the interim between the passing on the statuatory instrunment and it coming into effect: the Carlow bypass and Kilbeggan-Athlone HQDCs opened with motorway signage but with temporary 100 km/h general speed limits.

On 30 September 2008, the NRA proposed that the following further dual-carriageways be redesignated as motorways:

Submissions will be accepted until November 2008. It is expected that a statutory instrunment (subject to acceptance of the proposals) will be passed in early 2009, with the instrunment coming into effect in mid 2009.

National primary roads

This category of road has the prefix "N" followed by one or two digits. The most important routes are numbered N1-N11 ( radiate anti-clockwise from Dublin), with those in the range N12-N33 being cross-country roads. National secondary roads (see next section) are numbered under the same scheme with higher numbers. On road signage, destinations served but not on the route in question are listed in brackets, with the connecting route also listed (see thumbnail).

Northern Ireland route sections (which are classified separately according to NI schemes) are in some cases included in a theoretical complete cross-border route – for example the N3 route, which re-enters the Republic. These are listed here in brackets for completeness (and are present on southern road signage).

This list ignores the sections of route reclassified as motorway (see previous section).

:N1 Dublin - Border (North of Dundalk) - (A1 Newry - Belfast):N2 Dublin - Monaghan - (A5 Omagh - Derry):N3 Dublin - Cavan - Ballyshannon:N4 Dublin - Sligo:N5 (N4 from Dublin) - Longford - Castlebar with planned extension to Westport:N6 (N4 from Dublin) - Kinnegad - Galway:N7 Dublin - Limerick :N8 (N7 from Dublin) - Portlaoise - Cork:N9 (N7 from Dublin) - Kilcullen - Carlow - Waterford:N10 (N9 from Dublin) - Paulstown - Kilkenny - Ballyhale - (N9 to Waterford):N11 Dublin - Wexford:N12 Monaghan - (A3 to Belfast):N13 (N15 from Sligo) - Stranorlar - Letterkenny - (A2 to Derry, A6, M22, M2 to Belfast):N14 Letterkenny - Lifford - (A5 to Strabane):N15 Sligo - Donegal - Lifford - (B72, A5 to Derry):N16 Sligo - (A4 to Enniskillen, A4, M1 to Belfast):N17 Galway - Claremorris - Collooney - (N4 to Sligo):N18 (N4, N17 from Sligo) - Claregalway - (N6 from Galway) Oranmore - Ennis - Limerick:N19 (N18 from Limerick/Ennis) - Shannon Town - Shannon Airport:N20 Limerick - Cork:N21 Limerick - Castleisland - Tralee:N22 Cork - Killarney - Farranfore - Tralee:N23 (N21 from Limerick) - Castleisland - Farranfore - (N22 to Killarney):N24 Limerick - Waterford:N25 Cork - Waterford - Rosslare Europort:N26 (N4, N5 from Dublin) - Swinford - Ballina:N27 Cork city centre - Cork Airport:N28 Cork - Ringaskiddy:N29 (Spur off N25 east of Waterford to Belview Port):N30 (N25 from Cork, Waterford near New Ross) - Enniscorthy - (N11 to Dublin):N31 (Spur off N11 at Dublin to Dún Laoghaire):N32 (Continuation of M50 to Malahide Road):N33 (Spur off M1 to Ardee):(N50) Dublin ring-road. Only exists as the M50, but route set out in legislation as a primary (N) route. []

National secondary roads

National secondary roads are also indicated with a "N" prefix. Routes N51 and higher (currently to N87) are national secondary routes. Typically these roads are of a similar standard or higher than regional roads. Many of them have been resurfaced with higher quality pavements in recent years with relatively smooth surfaces and good road markings and signposting. However, road widths and alignments are often inadequate, with many narrow and winding sections. Some of these routes are of lower quality than the better regional roads, due to the localised funding for regional roads.

National secondary routes generally do not bypass towns on their routes although the N52 bypasses Mullingar (with a further N52 bypass of Tullamore planned), the N55 (along with the N3) bypasses Cavan, the N61 and the N63 bypass Roscommon, the N71 bypasses Halfway and Skibbereen and the N80 bypasses Carlow.

Examples of national secondary roads are:

:N52 Dundalk via Mullingar and Birr to Nenagh joining M7 to Limerick:N59 Galway - Clifden - Westport:N62 Athlone - Horse and Jockey:N74 Cashel - Golden - Tipperary Town:N81 Dublin - Tullow:N86 Tralee - Dingle via Lispole

Regional roads

While funding for national primary roads is administered centrally by the National Roads Authority (NRA), regional and local roads are less well funded (although funding has increased in the 2000s). Local councils are responsible for these roads, as opposed to the NRA.

Regional roads are numbered with an "R" prefix and a three-digit number, ranging from R1xx in the north-east to R7xx in the south-east of the country, with newer regional roads numbered R8xx and R9xx. Some of the more important regional roads such as the R136 Outer Orbital, Dublin and the R710 Waterford Outer Ring Road are dual-carriageway in whole or part. Most regional roads are however single carriageway roads, and many are rather narrow country roads.

Other roads

Other roads (Local Roads) are not generally referred to by number, but are registered with a four- or five-digit "L" number, taking the form Lxxxx. It is rare to see these numbers on signposts or Ordnance Survey maps, although as of 2006 the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government have begun a programme of new signage for regional roads that will incorporate localroad numbers on directional signage (see thumbnails). [ [,5597,en.pdf Policy on the Provision of Tourist and Leisure Signage on National Roads] (PDF), page 3 - [ National Roads Authority] ] .

Old system

Confusingly some old road signs will still carry the previous (now obsolete) classifications, "T" for trunk road, or "L" for link road. Trunk roads were broadly equivalent to the present national roads, and link roads to the present regional roads. However there were some differences. Most notably, the present N5 was not designated as one of the major arteries under the trunk/link system.

Former major trunk routes:

:T1 = present N1 road:T2 = present N2 road:T3 = present N4 road:L21 = parts of present N5 road:T4 = present N6 road:T5 = present N7 road:T6 = Dublin - Cork (including parts of present N9 road and N8 road):T7 = Dublin - Waterford (including most of present N11 road):T35 = present N3 road

Unlike the present system, where each road (whether N- or R-) has a unique number, under the trunk/link system, the L-roads were numbered separately beginning with L1. These L classifications are not related to the current Lxxxx numbers for minor roads.

Roads in Northern Ireland

The main roads in Northern Ireland, which connect well with those in the south, are classified "M"/"A"/"B" as in Great Britain. Whereas the roads in Great Britain are numbered according to a zonal system, [cite web |url= |work=Pathetic Motorways |title=How the Motorways were Numbered |accessdate=2007-11-19] there is no available explanation for the allocation of road numbers in Northern Ireland, [cite web |url= |title=Northern Ireland Assembly - WRITTEN ANSWERS Friday 15 December 2000 |accessdate=2007-11-19] though their numbering is separate from the system in England, Scotland and Wales.


The most important roads are motorways, designated as in the Republic and Great Britain by the letter "M". The motorway network is focused on Belfast. Legal authority for motorways existed in the Special Roads Act (Northern Ireland) 1963 similar to that in the Special Roads Act 1949 in the Great Britain. [cite web |url= |title=Conceptions and early history of the motorways in Northern Ireland |work=Motorway Archive |publisher=The Motorway Archive Trust |accessdate=2007-12-31] The first motorway to open was the M1 motorway, though did so under temporary powers until the Special Roads Act had been passed. [cite web |url= |title=M1 Belfast to Dungannon and M12 to Craigavon |work=Motorway Archive |publisher=The Motorway Archive Trust |accessdate=2007-12-31] Work on the motorways continued until the 1970s when the oil crisis and The Troubles both intervened causing the abandonment of many schemes. [cite web |url= |title=Westlink (M1 to M2) |work=Motorway Archive |publisher=The Motorway Archive Trust |accessdate=2007-12-31] The final scheme to open has been the M3. [cite web |url= |title=M3 Dock Street to Bridge end and Sydenham By-pass |work=Motorway Archive |publisher=The Motorway Archive Trust |accessdate=2007-12-31]

"A" roads

The next most important roads are designated with the prefix "A" and a one-, two- or three-digit number.

"B" roads

Less important roads are indicated with the prefix "B" and a one-, two- or three- digit number.

"C" roads

Minor roads can be indicated with the prefix "C" and a one-, two- or three- digit number, though it is very rare to see these marked on signposts or Ordnance Survey maps

Euro Routes

The following Euro Routes include sections in Ireland:

*E01 - Larne - Belfast - Dublin - Rosslare - A Coruña - Pontevedra - Valença do Minho - Vila Real de Santo António - Huelva - Sevilla
*E16 - Derry - Belfast ... Glasgow - Edinburgh ... Bergen - Arna - Voss ... Lærdal - Tyin - Fagernes - Hønefoss - Sandvika - Oslo
* E18 - Craigavon - Belfast - Larne ... Stranraer - Gretna - Carlisle - Newcastle ... Kristiansand - Arendal - Porsgrunn - Larvik - Sandefjord - Horten - Drammen - Oslo - Askim - Karlstad - Örebro - Västerås - Stockholm/Kapellskär ... Mariehamn ... Turku/Naantali - Helsinki - Kotka - Vaalimaa - Vyborg - Saint Petersburg
*E20 - Shannon - Limerick - Dublin ... Liverpool - Manchester - Leeds - Kingston upon Hull ... Esbjerg - Copenhagen - Malmö - Helsingborg - Halmstad - Gothenburg - Örebro - Stockholm ... Tallinn - Narva - Saint Petersburg
*E30 - Cork - Waterford - Wexford - Rosslare ... Fishguard - Swansea - Cardiff - Newport - Bristol - London - Colchester - Ipswich - Felixstowe ... Hoek van Holland - The Hague - Gouda - Utrecht - Amersfoort - Oldenzaal - Osnabrück - Bad Oeynhausen - Hanover - Braunschweig - Magdeburg - Berlin - Świebodzin - Poznań - Warsaw - Brest - Minsk - Smolensk - Moscow - Ryazan - Penza - Samara - Ufa - Chelyabinsk - Kurgan - Ishim - Omsk
*E201 - Cork - Portlaoise

ee also

* Irish National Secondary Roads
* Irish Regional Roads
* Irish Vehicle Registration Plates
* Northern Irish Vehicle Registration Plates
* List of Ireland-related topics
* Transportation in Ireland
* National Roads Authority
* Road speed limits in the Republic of Ireland


* [ S.I. No. 209/1994: Roads Act, 1993 (Declaration of National Roads) Order, 1994] (revoked)
* S.I. No. 49 of 1995 Roads Act, 1993 (Declaration of National Roads) Order, 1995 (revoked)
* S.I. No. 347 of 1996 Roads Act, 1993 (Declaration of National Roads) Order, 1996 (revoked)
* S.I. No. 26 of 2003 Roads Act, 1993 (Classification of National Roads) (Kilcock – Kinnegad Route) Order, 2003 (revoked)
* S.I. No. 249 of 2004 Roads Act, 1993 (Classification of National Roads) (Fermoy, Rathcormac and Watergrass Hill) Order, 2004 (revoked)
* S.I. No. 18 of 2004 Roads Act, 1993 (Classification of National Roads) (Gormanstown to Dundalk Route) Order, 2004 (revoked)
* [ Roads Act 1993 (Classification of National Roads) Order 2006] (PDF)- [ Department of Transport]

External links

* [ Roads Service - Northern Ireland]
* [ National Roads Authority] (Republic of Ireland)
* Unofficial [ Northern Ireland road site]
* Unofficial [ Proposed motorway plans for Belfast]
* Unofficial [ Motorway Database]
* Unofficial [ Pathetic Motorways]
* A discussion on RTÉ Radio One's science show Quantum Leap about the quality of GPS mapping in Ireland is available [ here] . The discussion starts 8mins 17sec into the show. It was aired on [ 18 Jan 2007] Requires Real player.

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