Posted by: wesleyjohnston | July 9, 2012

Ireland’s first Motorway is 50!

Ireland’s first section of motorway, the M1 from Belfast to Lisburn, is half a century old.

When it opened at 6am on 10 July 1962 it was celebrated as a futuristic super-highway designed to facilitate fast, modern travel in an era when cars were in the ascendancy. People who were used to chugging along the congested Lisburn Road every day could now cruise from the Saintfield Road to Donegall Road in less than ten minutes.

At the time there were only a handful of motorways in England, and none at all in Scotland, Wales or the Republic of Ireland. Northern Ireland was thus ahead of many other regions in developing a motorway system.

The first person on the new motorway was Bob McFall, 37, of Highfield Drive, Belfast who completed the run on his 11 year old motorbike.

The motorway was first conceived in 1946 when a report recommended the construction of a “motorway between Belfast and Portadown”, but little work happened due to post-war austerity. The plan for the road was subsequently extended all the way to Dungannon. Work finally got underway on the first stretch in 1959, although the bridge over Kingsway in Dunmurry had actually been built ahead of the main contract.

The original stretch of motorway began at Donegall Road (junction 1) and terminated at Saintfield Road, Lisburn (junction 6). There was one intermediate junction at Stockman’s Lane (junction 2). Three junction numbers were reserved: junction 3 for a possible junction near Black’s Road, junction 4 for the proposed M11 motorway skirting round the north of Lisburn, and junction 5 for the proposed M8 to Annadale. Only the first of these happened, in 1988, while the others were scrapped.

The original plan at the Belfast end was to terminate the M1 on Grosvenor Road. However no agreement could be reached on the contentious issue of how to route the motorway through the dense industrial and residential lands around Roden Street. The engineers therefore ended the M1 at a temporary roundabout at Broadway. However, half a century on, the “temporary” roundabout is still there, as the smaller roundabout at the Park Centre.

Things were very different in 1962. Firstly, there was no speed limit on the M1 – drivers could go as fast as their vehicle allowed, and a few enjoyed using the M1 as a racetrack. At the same time, the average speed was just 50mph. During the opening year traffic levels were around 9,000 vehicles per day. But it proved so popular that traffic levels soon soared, reaching 22,000 by 1970, 45,000 by 1990 and 74,000 in 2009.

The motorway itself has changed greatly. The original peat central barrier has been replaced with concrete and steel, while the Belfast end has been widened to three lanes each way. The original 1962 bridges at Stockman’s Lane wore out over the decades and were replaced with modern structures between 2006 and 2009. The Westlink opened in 1981, a new junction was added at Black’s Road in 1988, and a hard shoulder bus lane was provided citybound. The most recent change was the construction of the underpass at Broadway, which opened in 2008.

Although many people associate the M1 with peak time traffic congestion, the motorway continues to be hugely popular, and facilitates thousands of journeys every day that would otherwise not be possible.

There is in fact a whole fraternity of road fans called the Society for All British and Irish Road Enthusiasts who meet online at


  1. Hi
    Does anyone know why work has stopped on the proposed Motorway Service Station heading out of Belfast on the M1 westwards.We pass their quite regularly on our way to our daughters in Hillsborough and are intrigued as to why work has stopped.The area is now fenced off and over the last 5/6 weeks work has ceased.

    • My guess is that there are two separate contracts. It was a condition of planning that construction vehicles could only use the motorway to access the site, not the local road network. Thus construction of the service area building, etc, cannot happen until the slip roads have been built. My guess is that the construction of the slip roads happened as a standalone contract, and that the construction of the buildings will come later.

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