Gridlock as record visitor numbers flock to Slieve Gullion

April 13, 2015

The Slieve Gullion Forest Park became a victim of its own success when, over the Easter break, record numbers of visitors resulted in lengthy traffic jams and many disappointed families, unable to access the facility.

The fine weather attracted huge crowds to the mountain where the recently opened ‘Giant’s Lair’ has proven to be a massive hit with children of all ages.

The unique children’s arts project, led by Newry-based Sticky Fingers Arts, is an innovative “living storybook” featuring fairy houses and art features dotted along a mile-long woodland path through the forest.  Based on the mythical folklore of the area, the Giant’s Lair has added to the already well-established appeal of Slieve Gullion Forest Park as one of the north’s premier visitor attractions.

The increasing appeal of Slieve Gullion to day visitors, however, has impacted negatively on residents living close to the park and to road users of the narrow access routes.  On Easter Monday and Tuesday, record numbers flocked to the area, creating traffic tail-backs stretching several miles, and the volume of cars effectively blocking the main Newry to Forkhill road.  Disgruntled residents took to social media to vent their frustration at being unable to get in and out of their houses and criticized the lack of consideration shown by some of the visitors.

One Examiner reader claimed damage was caused to some cars and locals were verbally abused when they challenged those responsible.

“Locals are outraged at this” the reader said.  “You can’t drive up and down the road and [the park entrance] is on a blind spot.  Houses and small country roads are completely blocked off and cars have been damaged.  Locals have suffered abuse from some of the visitors with fingers being given and rude language used.”

The situation was particularly bad on Easter Tuesday when cars were just abandoned by visitors who were unable to drive into the park.

“Hundreds of cars that couldn’t park at Slieve Gullion were just parked or abandoned along the narrow exit road, which is a residential road. They were parked in driveways with no regard for anyone and two cars were damaged in a short space of time,” the reader said, adding that one motorist even drove the wrong way up the one-way traffic system.

“This narrow road cannot cope with this amount of traffic. If an emergency arises while cars are parked like this there is no way emergency services could get in. This needs urgent attention.”

Slieve Gullion Forest is managed by the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development’s (DARD) Forest Service.

A DARD spokesperson said the attractions at Slieve Gullion “are the responsibility of the Council who are also responsible for managing the resultant increase in visitors and their vehicles within the forest”.

Pointing out that traffic offences should be referred to the police, the spokesperson added: “DARD will continue to work with both organisations in seeking to improve the current situation.”

The Examiner contacted Newry, Mourne and Down Council but at the time of going to press had not received a response.