N3 road

N3 road (Ireland)

Destinations (SE to NW)
On route / bypassed

* To be bypassed 2010 by M3 Clonee–Kells.
The N3 road is a National Primary Route in Ireland, running between Dublin, Cavan and the border with County Fermanagh. The A509 and A46 roads in Northern Ireland form part of an overall route connecting to Enniskillen, and northwest to the border again where the N3 reappears to serve Ballyshannon in County Donegal.

Rush hour congestion between Navan and Dublin city is very heavy (up to 22,000 vehicles per day on parts of the N3 in 2002), and problems occur at most built-up areas between these points. A tolled motorway bypass replacement, the M3 motorway, is under construction for part of the N3 route and is scheduled for completion near the end of 2010. When this occurs the bypassed former N3 road will be reclassified as a regional road and will officially be known as the R147


The route is known as the Navan Road as it leaves Dublin, passing near the Phoenix Park's northeastern exit and bypassing Castleknock.

It passes through a major junction with the M50 motorway, consisting of a busy (and often grid-locked) grade-separated roundabout on the N3. It is planned to convert it into a 'free-flow' grade separated interchange, as part of a major project to widen the M50.

Having crossed the M50 the road bypasses Blanchardstown, Mulhuddart and Clonee with dual carriageway. The dual carriageway reduces to a single carriageway shortly past the Meath border and it passes through the often heavily congested Dunshaughlin village, Navan town (which is partially bypassed on an inner-relief road with traffic lights controlling junctions) and Kells in County Meath, before passing through Virginia and reaching Cavan Town. After Cavan town, the road continues past Butlersbridge and through Belturbet (both in County Cavan), the route then crosses the border with Northern Ireland, becoming the A509 to Enniskillen. The A46 road connects Enniskillen and the Donegal border, becoming the N3 across the border at Belleek, and connecting to Ballyshannon. From there, the N15 goes North to Donegal Town and Lifford, and south to Sligo.

N3 upgrade

The National Roads Authority in conjunction with Cavan and Donegal County Councils plan major improvements to the N3 route in Ulster. It is currently planned that the Virginia bypass will be developed as 12.5 kilometres of type two dual carriageway. Type two dual carriageway has reduced width or no hard shoulders and also a reduced width median. This approach significantly cuts land acquisition costs.

M3 motorway upgrade

Part of the present N3 route is due to be bypassed by the construction of 47 kilometres of new motorway. The M3 is proposed to begin near the end of the existing dual carriageway outside Clonee and terminate south west of Kells just before the N52. The entire scheme will not terminate at this point as a new realigned N3 will continue to bypass Kells before terminating near the County Cavan border. The scheme also includes the N52 Kells northern bypass. Thus when completed, the M3 will bypass Dunboyne, Dunshaughlin, Navan, and Kells.


As of 2008 the motorway plan is contested because the route passes near the Hill of Tara and through the archaeologically rich Tara-Skryne valley or Gabhra. The planned route corridor was approved by An Bord Pleanála (Ireland's planning appeals board) in August 2003. The development is controversial, however construction is now well underway despite threats of further legal challenges. Objectors, including more than 350 academics and the head of the National Museum of Ireland, say the motorway will irreparably damage the region's heritage. Those opposing the plans wish for an alternative route to be chosen instead. The National Roads Authority and others (such as most local residents and business groups) insist that the alternative routes are too far from towns in the area, and that the road is needed to address urgent traffic problems. Supporters of the present M3 plans point out that 71% of the vote in the 2005 Meath by-election went to parties supporting the construction of the M3; these parties included Fianna Fáil, the Progressive Democrats and Fine Gael. This point was reinforced when 4 Fianna Fáil and 2 Fine Gael TDs were returned in Meath in the 2007 General Election. Supporters also state that the new M3 motorway will be farther away from the historic Hill of Tara than the existing N3 road. However, critics claim that the fact that it will be marginally further away is irrelevant because it will have a far greater visual and noise impact than the smaller, relatively hidden single carriageway road.

The visual impact of the motorway on the Tara-Skryne valley is one of the main objections to the present route. The NRA insist that the route will be heavily planted and integrated into the existing landscape. Those in favour of the route also point out that the Minister for the Environment is on record as saying that he has agreed remedial measures with the NRA to modify the proposed lighting at the controversial Blundelstown interchange near Tara to lessen its visual impact on the environment.

The objectors claim that the motorway will do little to ease the misery of commuters in County Meath as it will feed into the existing N3 dual carriageway which includes an at grade roundabout in Blanchardstown near its junction the M50 motorway, the busiest road in Ireland. However, both the M50 and the junction with the N3 are going to be reconstructed; the M50 capacity is being increased by 50% and the junction is to be developed as partially 'freeflow'. The NRA stated in response to a query at the statutory oral hearing into the M3 toll scheme, held in Navan on January 17, 2007 that the N3/M50 junction would not be fully freeflow as was widely believed. Motorists traveling north on the M50 wishing to leave the motorway at the N3 interchange to travel west on the N3 (Cavan and Ballyshannon) or east on the N3 (Dublin) will have to pass through traffic light controlled junctions.

The opponents of the M3 also point out that (in the worst case) a commuter traveling to work in suburban South Dublin from Kells would have to pay 3 tolls in each direction (two on the M3 and one on the M50).

The M3, as planned, will cut through the grounds of one of Ireland's most historic, palladian stately homes, Ardbraccan House, through parkland in the vicinity of the rapidly growing town of Navan at Dalgan Park, and cut off a medieval graveyard which is still in use at Ardbraccan from its hinterland. This has been criticised by environmentalists who claim that alternative routes were available that would have avoided these impacts on heritage or environmentally important sites. The National Roads Authority deny this and state that only one other route would have had less archaeological impact than the chosen route but it would have had far greater impact under other impact assessment headings. They also point out the motorway has gone through the full planning system and was subject to an 28 day oral hearing by An Bord Pleanala, the State planning appeals board, who granted permission for its construction in August 2003 subject to certain conditions.

Conor Newman, of the Department of Archaeology at NUI Galway, has written some of the most important academic works on Tara. He said that what happens at Tara would be "the yardstick against which our reputation as guardians of cultural heritage will be judged". Dr Pat Wallace, the Director of the National Museum of Ireland, has questioned the methodology used by National Roads Authority (NRA) archaeologists as they document the area before work on the road begins. He said there should be a pause in the work to allow experts to recommend the best way to excavate the site of the henge at Lismullin. Newman went further to say the only way to preserve the site at Lismullin was to cover it with topsoil and walk away. However, in more recent times the committee, on which both Wallace and Newman sit and which was set up to advise the Minister on excavations at Lismullin, has agreed in its first report to the Minister that due to the fragile nature of the site it should be excavated as soon as possible due to the fact it would not survive the elements at this stage even if covered due to the continuing bad weather.

Brian Duffy Chief Archaeologist of the Department of Environment, Heritage and Local Government holds a different view to that of Wallace and Newman. He is on record as defending the route of the road. In advice to the Minister in the recent released M3 file he advised, "In addition a route to the west would have a major impact on the amenity and setting of the National Monuments on the Hill of Tara. A motorway to the west of the hill would be highly visible from the hill itself and would be difficult to screen from the hill to an acceptable degree. The view to the west of the Hill of Tara is the most impressive and significant aspect and to route a motorway across that aspect would be an unacceptable impact. A route to the east of Skreen could also impact on the archaeological heritage and would most likely turn west again north of the Skreen ridge to pass to the north of the Hill of Tara but on a higher slope and with higher visibility than the approved route."

It also states that "If it were decided to move the route entirely and to opt for an alternative route there would still be major archaeological concerns to be addressed."

Latest developments

  • 12 May, 2005 Excavation licenses were approved by the Environment Minister Dick Roche permitting excavations to be carried out on sites of potential archaeological significance along the route of the motorway.
  • July 4, 2005 Leave was granted to Vincent Salafia in the High Court to judicially review the decision of the Minister.
  • March 1, 2006 The challenge by Mr. Salafia to the proposed route of the M3 motorway near the Hill of Tara monument was dismissed on all grounds by the High Court.
  • April 19, 2006 Vincent Salafia announced that he was to appeal against the ruling to the Supreme Court and subsequently to the European Court of Justice if necessary.
  • October, 2006 After protracted negotiations with the authorities, Mr. Salafia announced that he was withdrawing his appeal to the Supreme Court.
  • March 7, 2007 SIAC Ferrovial joint venture trading as Eurolink M3 signed a €650 million contract for the construction of the M3 motorway. This was the biggest road contract yet signed in Ireland.
  • April 4, 2007 An Taisce applied for an injunction in the High Court to halt the construction of the motorway on the basis that the National Roads Authority had failed to draw up a 5 year national roads plan as required by section 18 of the Roads Act 1993. The application was refused. Among the reasons given was undue delay in bringing proceedings and that the application was not out of concern to ensure the law was complied with (as stated) but to block construction of the road. In late April 2007 An Taisce lodged an appeal in the Supreme Court against this decision. The case still awaits hearing before the court.
  • April 30, 2007 The first sod of the M3 motorway was turned by the then Minister for Transport, Martin Cullen.
  • May 1, 2007 Archaeological work was temporarily suspended on a section of the motorway after archaeologists were reported to have uncovered a potential site of major archaeological significance, an ancient wood henge at Lismullin in the Tara-Skryne Valley, calculated to be at least 4,000 years old, three times the size of a football pitch, evidently a site of ancient outdoor worship, an adjunct to the Hill of Tara, part of the entire Tara complex. Further work at this site was pending the assessment of the Director of the National Museum. The Director was soon after reported to have assessed the site and to have recommended excavation and preservation by record. The monument consisted of the remains of holes made in the ground by wooded posts and once exposed the Director pointed out that it would be impossible to preserve them.
  • June, 2007 Following the general election, Dick Roche, Minister for the Environment signed an order drafted under the National Monuments Act 1930-2004 directing Meath County Council to excavate the site and preserve the newly discovered monument by record in accordance with the expert advice he had received from the Director of the National Museum. On the same day Meath TD, Noel Dempsey, was announced as the new Minister for Transport. The Minister has on many occasions publicly expressed his personal support for the project. The new Minister for the Environment, John Gormley TD is expected to review this decision. Gormley is a member of the Irish Green Party, which opposed the route of the motorway during the 2007 election campaign, but then accepted the route in a deal which saw them enter coalition government with Fianna Fáil. The grounds for his change of tack were that the authorization is irreversible for legal reasons. However, among others, the former chairman of An Taisce, Michael Smith has queried the legal basis for Gormley's new stance on the issue. Minister Gormley appointed Newman and Wallace to a special committee to oversee archaeological work at the site. The committee also includes Prof Gabriel Cooney, Head of Archaeology at University College Dublin and representatives from the NRA and the National Monument's Service at the Department of the Environment.
  • June, 2007 The site was declared an endangered monument by the World Monuments Fund. Opponents to the road vowed to take further legal action against the archaeological directions. A similar action in the High Court was dismissed in 2006 in relation to the initial directions given in 2005. A small group of protesters continued to congregate at construction site entrances in the general Tara area and blockaded these access points on a number of occasions.
  • July 18, 2007 Construction workers moved in to carry out preliminary works on the approved road scheme at Blundelstown, two kilometres from the Hill of Tara. Protesters tried to stop the works by blocking construction traffic. Seven protesters were arrested by Gardaí, four of whom were remanded in custody for a week until the next sitting of the district court after they refused to agree to bail conditions not to interfere with any site along the M3.
  • July 25, 2007 The four protesters were released from custody having accepted the bail conditions not to interfere with any construction site or workers on the M3. Eleven defendants are due to appear before a three day special sitting of Navan District Court on May 29, 2008 to answer charges including trespass, public disorder and in relation to blocking the free movement of traffic and failing to follow the lawful direction of a Garda.
  • August 7, 2007 Excavation began on the site of the National Monument at Lismullin approximately 2.2 km from the Hill of Tara. Work on the remainder of the motorway continued.
  • August 22, 2007 An Bord Pleanála directed that the excavation did not require fresh planning approval or a new environmental impact assessment as it was not a material change to the overall road scheme. The motorway had now completed every statutory approval process and construction was ongoing and progressing rapidly.
  • October 2, 2007 Minister Gormley issued a temporary preservation order on the Rath Lugh monument in the Tara/Skryne valley on the advice of Conor Newman who cautioned that nearby works on the M3 may be undermining the stability of the earthwork. The minister is reported have to taken this action to allow the area to be structurally assessed to ensure the monument was not damaged. The order halted all works at the site, which is alleged to have been already damaged, although this is disputed.
  • January 23, 2008 Progress on the construction was well advanced and notices were posted in the national newspapers advising of the imminent closure of sections of the existing N3 with traffic diverted to a new alignment of that road to be known as the R147.
  • January 26, 2008 The Chairman of the National Roads Authority is quoted in national newspapers as saying the construction of the M3 is 36% complete after only 10 months and that the road is significantly ahead of schedule of its 2010 construction deadline. The road now appears likely to be open at some point between mid to late 2009 in line with its original envisaged Transport 21 opening date.
  • March 11, 2008 Anti-roads protesters invade construction site at Rath Lugh National Monument and tunnel into the base of the monument. All removed bar one woman in a tunnel.
  • March 13, 2008 Protesters' attempt to get High Court injunction to prevent work at the site fails. Giving judgement, Ms Justice Laffoy said a challenge to the route of the M3 had already been dismissed by the High Court and an appeal to the Supreme Court was withdrawn. She also said it was clear from the preservation order that there were substantial penalties for anyone who interfered with the national monument at Rath Lugh or to the buffer zone around it. The woman in the tunnel under the National Monument claimed to have chained herself to a car-jack supporting the tunnel roof and was then described by her supporters as "trapped".
  • March 15, 2008 The woman Squeak left the tunnel she was 'trapped' in after a deal with the NRA which included NRA agreement that certain works would be suspended until April 17th.
  • March 18, 2008 Trouble erupted between the protesters and Gardaí and work stopped in the area. Conflicting claims were made of violence by both sides. Arrests were made.
  • March 20, 2008 NRA cancels the "deal" and begins work at site; within 24 hours the section of the ridge which the protesters had been occupying had been removed. It was described as the "last obstacle in the way of the M3

Political considerations

In the run-up to the 2007 general election opponents of the route of M3 motorway called on the people of Meath to show their dissatisfaction with the route of the M3. An umbrella group of Save Tara organisations published an advert in The Meath Chronicle outlining each parties position on the motorway the day before the election and called on the people of Meath to give their preference to the parties which had policies to reroute the road out of the Tara/Skryne Valley. These parties included Labour, the Green Party and Sinn Féin. The people of Meath did not return any candidates from these parties to the Dáil, choosing instead to elect four Fianna Fáil TDs and two Fine Gael TDs. This was interpreted as a clear indication of local support for the motorway along its current route.

Motorway reclassification

On 30 September 2008 the Department of Transport announced the second round of proposed motorway reclassifications under the Roads Act 2007. A short section of the N3 bypassing Clonee, from northwest of Mulhuddart to the start of the M3 toll motorway scheme, is affected by this. If the reclassification is approved following a consultation process, this will also become part of the M3 motorway, but will not be tolled.


  • The most expensive single contract road project ever undertaken in Ireland coming in at approximately €650 million according to SIAC.
  • It will be tolled at two locations, one point north of Navan and another point between Dunshaughlin and Clonee for 45 years running from 2007. The Government have the option to buy out this contract at any time.
  • The price level of tolls is controlled by the Board of the NRA and they can reduce, increase or remove the tolls as they see appropriate (as is the case with every other toll road in Ireland e.g. [Dublin Port Tunnel] weekend price reduction). Should they lower the tolls on the M3 the government would have to make up the difference of what is owed yearly to Eurolink M3 Ltd through tax revenue. Thus Eurolink are guaranteed a certain agreed return from their investment and would not suffer from any reduction in toll revenue from either a toll reduction or the planned opening of the Navan rail line. The toll revenue is collected by a private company on behalf of the state as a means to pay the private sector consortium annually for their initial once off investment in constructing the road.
  • The toll at each of the M3 toll plazas if they opened in 2007 would be €1.30 according to the M3 Toll Byelaws. This would be the lowest toll on the national road network, being €0.40 cheaper than the M1 or M8. If users paid both tolls travelling in one direction the toll would be equal to that presently charged on the Kilcock - Enfield - Kinnegad M4 motorway. Navan residents will pay €0.80 less per day on a round trip to Dublin using the M3 than residents of Drogheda or Dundalk using the M1. This is €4 less per week or approximately €18 less per month than M1 users.
  • It is the longest road project ever to be constructed in Ireland including nearly 100 kilometres (circa 95km) of new or upgraded road including 47 km of new M3, 12 km of new N3, 20 km of new link roads and interchanges, and approximately 15 kilometres of local road improvements, footpaths, cycle lanes and new bridges.
  • It was originally planned to open in 2006.
  • An Bord Pleanála initially approved the project on 22 August, 2003. Exactly 4 years later, on August 22nd 2007, they directed that the excavation of the Lismullin monument did not require fresh planning approval.


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