Motorways in the Republic of Ireland

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In Ireland, the highest category of road is a motorway (mótarbhealach, plural: mótarbhealaí), indicated by the prefix M followed by a one- or two-digit number (the number of the national route of which each motorway forms a part). The motorway network predominantly consists of two-lane dual carriageways and is primarily focused upon Dublin, although there are a few three-lane motorways and the M50 has four lanes at some points.

National Roads Network as of 2018

The completion of the Major Inter-Urban Motorway Project in December 2010, which saw Dublin connected to the cities of Cork, Limerick, Waterford and Galway by continuous motorway, as well as a number of other projects, increased the total length of the country's motorway network to 916 km. Planned new road construction will possibly lead to there being almost 1100 km of motorway by 2035, subject to the availability of funding.


Sign on the M18 warning that horses, horse-drawn vehicles, pedestrians and bicycles are forbidden.


Motorways in Ireland have a set of restrictions,[1] which prohibit certain traffic from using the road. The following classes of traffic are not allowed on Irish motorways:

Rules for driving on motorways include the following:

  • The keep-left rule applies unless overtaking
  • No stopping at any time
  • No reversing
  • No hitchhiking
  • Only vehicles that can travel faster than 90 km/h (55 mph) may use the outside lane
  • No driving on the hard-shoulder

The general motorway speed limit is 120 km/h (75 mph).


For more on motorway specification in general, view this motorway article.

Motorways in Ireland are generally constructed to high-quality dual carriageway standard – with sightlines, curves and elevation designed for 120 km/h speeds. Until recently, all motorways were built with wide medians in the centre, which typically have a wire or steel barrier. The more recent schemes have narrow medians, only 3 metres in width, with a concrete barrier in the middle. These narrow-median schemes also have reduced carriageway width – a typical narrow-median motorway cross section has two 3.5-metre running lanes, a 2.5-metre hard shoulder and a 1.5-metre central reserve in each direction whereas a typical wide median motorway has 3.75-metre running lanes and a 3-metre hard shoulder. Ireland has only a small amount of D3M (motorway with three lanes in each direction). The M50 is the most notable example, having been upgraded in parts from a two-lane motorway, to a three or four lane motorway in each direction.

Apart from terminal junctions, motorways can only be accessed using grade-separated junctions. These typically take the form of roundabout interchanges for higher-capacity junctions, or dumbbell interchanges – which are a variant on the diamond-style interchange. – for lower-trafficked interchanges. A number of other types of junction are also used on the motorway network. The M4/M6 and M7/M9 junctions use a variant of the trumpet-style interchange while the M50/N7 and M50/N4 interchanges use partial cloverleaf junctions.


Motorways in Ireland include several safety features not found on other classes of road. The most notable include the presence of a continuous hard-shoulder, use of crash barriers, superior lighting and provision of emergency phones at regular intervals. Some motorway schemes include deflectors to provide protection at interchanges.


Motorway signage in Ireland is blue, and is similar in design to UK signage. Route numbers use the Motorway font, and text uses an Irish variant of the Transport Medium typeface (officially described as italic, but more correctly oblique).

Route number inheritanceEdit

In Ireland all motorways form part of a national route. The M50 was the only motorway that initially did not form part of an existing national primary route, though it was designated as the national primary route N50 in 1994.

In most cases, motorways have 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 then generally reclassified as regional roads. Under Irish legislation (the Roads Act 1993), motorways are sections of roads with special regulations and they are signposted with the M prefix to indicate that they are under motorway regulations.

Present networkEdit

The following table shows a list of motorways currently open in Ireland.

Route Motorway section Destinations Toll
  Dublin to north of Dundalk. Dublin – Belfast J7 - J10
  Killshane to north of Ashbourne. Dublin – Derry -
  Dublin to north of Kells. Dublin – Ballyshannon J5 - J6, J9 - J10
  Lucan to Coralstown, Mullingar Dublin – Sligo J8 - J11
  M4 Junction 11 (Kinnegad) to east of Athlone; west of Athlone to Galway Dublin – Galway J15 - J16
  Naas to Limerick. Dublin – Limerick J18 - J21
  M7 Junction 19 (c. 15 km south-west of Portlaoise) to Cork. Dublin – Cork J1 - J3, J14 - J17
  M7 Junction 11 (c. 8 km south-west of Naas) to Quarry roundabout, Grannagh, Co. Waterford Dublin – Waterford -
  Shankill/Bray Bypass; Ashford to north of Oylegate. Dublin – Wexford -
  East of Galway to south of Tuam Galway - Sligo -
  Shannon, County Clare to east of Galway. Limerick - Ennis – Galway -
  Outskirts of Limerick City to Patrickswell, (Remainder to Cork Planned) Cork - Limerick -
  Entire route. Dublin ring road J1 - J2, J6 - J7

N networkEdit


N1 (Road in Ireland)[disambiguation needed]. Starts: M1, Ballinahattin, to Centrepoint Bussiness Park. Ballinahattin - Centrepoint Bussiness Park


N2 (Road in Ireland). Starts: M2/R 135, Ashbourne, to North Lisrooskey/Northern Ireland.


N3(Road in Ireland). Starts: N52/M3, Cloverhill, to Woodford Kilcorby/Northern Ireland



In 1983, the first sections of Irish motorway were opened: a short section of M7 bypassing Naas and the first stretch of M1 (part of which has now been redesignated M50). The M1 was later extended in 1985 to Dublin Airport.[2]


Ireland's motorway network began to expand significantly between 1990 and 1999. The first of the projects completed in this period was the western section of the M50, linking the N7, N4 and N3 together in 1990. This was quickly followed by the M11 Bray/Shankill bypass in 1991. After this there followed a lull in construction after what had been a busy few years in motorway construction by then Irish road building standards. 1993 saw an extension to the M7, continuing from the Naas Bypass and providing a bypass of the town of Newbridge, as well as the M9 Kilcullen spur. In addition, another small section of M1, a bypass of Dunleer in County Louth was opened. The Leixlip to Kilcock motorway was completed in 1994, forming part of the M4. In 1995 there were no new motorways opened and in 1996 only the northern section of the M50 was opened, linking the existing motorway to the N2 and M1. The Portlaoise bypass opened as M7 in 1997 and like the M1 Dunleer bypass, seemed very isolated compared to the rest of the network which was concentrated around Dublin. 1998 featured the opening of another short piece of M1, this time to the south of Balbriggan, modern day junctions 5 and 7. In 1999 however, there were no new sections of motorway opened.


This section of the M7/M8 motorways opened on 28 May 2010, completing the M8 route and extending that of the M7.

The first decade of the twenty-first century saw a major expansion in the construction of new motorways in Ireland, after an initially slow start. There were no new motorways opened in 2000 but another section of the M1, extending the Dunleer bypass northwards to the south of Dundalk (junction 16), and the M50 Southern Cross Route were opened in 2001. Continuing the quiet period, 2002 also saw no new motorway in Ireland, but 2003 was a big year. Finally the various sections of M1 were joined together, creating continuous motorway from Dublin to just south of Dundalk. A key part of this route was the Drogheda bypass which was tolled. Also in 2003, the M7 was extended westwards from Newbridge to also bypass Kildare (up to modern day junction 13). A year later and this had been extended further so that both sections of M7 were joined. This provided continuous motorway from Naas to Portlaoise.

By 2005, projects were beginning to be completed faster and in this year the M4 was extended from Kilcock to Kinnegad,[3] this section of motorway having a toll applied to it, one of the first PPP schemes to be trialled in Ireland. The M1 Dundalk bypass was also finished, meaning that there was now a full motorway link on the Dublin to Belfast route virtually as far as the border. Finally in 2005, the M50 was extended to link up to the M11, providing a full western bypass of the capital. In 2006, the M8 Fermoy to Watergrasshill motorway was opened,[4] another section that was tolled. Also a section of what would become M6 was completed, going westwards from the M4 at Kinnegad to Tyrrellspass,[5] the road was opened as N6 and was the first section of road to be completed that would be affected by the Roads Act 2007 and motorway redesignation. In 2007 the same road was extended by some 10 km (6 miles) to join with the N52 north of Tullamore, still opened as N6 as the first tranche of motorway redesignations had only just been submitted.

2008 was one of the most important years for Irish motorways, with a large section of M8 opened, making it the longest motorway in the country. Stretching from Urlingford to just east of Mitchelstown, the motorway opened in various sections, the first being the Cashel bypass, which opened in 2004, and which was followed by the Cashel to Mitchelstown section, both of which were open before the redesignation to motorway came into effect on 24 September 2008. The Urlingford to Cashel section opened later on in the year and so became motorway immediately. Also opened in 2008 was the M9 Carlow bypass which was also open to traffic before the redesignation came into effect. Finally, the M6 was extended to the Athlone bypass and Ireland's motorway network was greatly expanded.

2009 was another major milestone in the development of the Irish motorway network, with many projects under construction finished by the end of the year. Redesignation of High-Quality Dual-Carriageway sections of National Primary routes to motorway took effect on 28 August 2009, further expanding the network. On 18 December 2009 the M6 was opened (Dublin-Galway direct).[6] It is 194 km (120 miles) of motorway. The M9 (linking Dublin to Carlow) was opened on Monday 21 December 2009 and was expanded in March 2010 to link Dublin to Waterford directly. The M9 was fully completed with the opening of the Carlow to Knocktopher section on 9 September 2010.

2010: M3: 61 km (38 miles) of motorway in County Meath opened on 4 June 2010.[7]

M7: Nenagh – Limerick, 38 km (24 miles) long, opened in three stages, being fully opened on 28 September 2010.[8]

M7: Limerick – Shannon motorway tunnel, 10 km (6 miles) long, opened ahead of schedule on 27 July 2010.[9]

M7: Castletown – Nenagh, 36 km (22 miles) long, opened 22 December 2010.[10]

M7/M8: Portlaoise – Castletown, Portlaoise to Cullahill, 40 km (25 miles), opened on 28 May 2010.

M9: Carlow – Knocktopher, 40 km (25 miles) long, opened 9 September 2010.[11]

M9: Knocktopher – Waterford, 24 km (15 miles) long, opened 22 March 2010.

M50: improvements for Dublin, completed August 2010, but expected earlier.

M18: Crusheen and Gort, 22 km (14 miles), opened 12 November 2010.[12]

Motorway redesignation (tranche 1)Edit

The Roads Act 2007 was passed into law in mid-2007. This Act makes provision for the redesignation of suitable dual carriageways to motorway status. The National Roads Authority made formal applications under Section 8 of the Act to the Minister for Transport on 16 October 2007 regarding dual carriageways which the authority believed to be suitable for redesignation as motorways.

On 29 January 2008, the Department of Transport published notice of the Minister's intention to make the orders being sought and invited submissions or observations to be made to the Minister regarding the NRA's applications.

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.[13] The Carlow bypass and Kilbeggan-Athlone roads opened with motorway signage but with temporary 100 km/h (60 mph) general speed limits between their opening and their official re-designation as motorways.

The following sections were redesignated:

Route Proposed motorway section Destinations
N6 road Kinnegad (M6 J2) – Athlone[14] (Dublin) – Galway
N7 road South of Borris-in-Ossory to Annacotty[14] Dublin – Limerick
N8 road UrlingfordFermoy[14] (Dublin) – Cork
N9 road KilcullenPowerstown[14] (Dublin) – Waterford

Motorway redesignation (tranche 2)Edit

This section of the N8 5km (3 miles) north of Cork City has been redesignated as motorway, effective 28 August 2009.

On 30 September 2008, the NRA announced its second tranche of proposed motorway redesignations. The closing date for submissions was 14 November 2008 and the Statutory Instrument reclassifying the roads as motorways was made on 2 July 2009, taking effect from 28 August 2009.

The following schemes were included:

Route Proposed motorway section Destinations
N2 road Junction 2 – north of Ashbourne[14] Dublin – Derry
N3 road MulhuddartDunboyne[14] Dublin – Ballyshannon
N4 road Kinnegad – McNead's Bridge[14] Dublin – Sligo
N6 road West of Athlone – Galway[14] (Dublin) – Galway
N7 road Annacotty – Limerick[14] Dublin – Limerick
N8 road Watergrasshill – Cork[14] (Dublin) – Cork
N11 road AshfordRathnew and ArklowGorey[14] (Dublin) – Wexford
N18 road ShannonEnnisGort[14] Limerick – Galway
N20 road Limerick – Patrickswell[14] Limerick – Cork

On the N6, the Athlone bypass had also been included in the proposed redesignations. However, the final order (the Roads Act 2007 (Declaration of Motorways) Order 2009) did not include this section. However, the section of the N9 road between Powerstown and Waterford, which had been proposed as part of the first tranche but not included in the final order, was included in this order.

Inter-urban motorwaysEdit

Linking Dublin to regional cities. These motorways are:

  • M1 – linking Dublin with Dundalk (and dual carriageway to link in with Northern Irish motorway network)
  • M6 (via M4) - linking Dublin with Galway (Officially opened, 18 December 2009 and the first city to city motorway in Ireland)
  • M7 – linking Dublin with Limerick
  • M8 – linking Dublin with Cork
  • M9 – linking Dublin with Waterford (completed 9 September 2010)[15]

All sections of these motorways were completed by the end of 2010. The completion of these schemes added more than 300 km (200 miles) of motorway to the network at the time.


Atlantic CorridorEdit

Under the government's Transport 21 initiative, Letterkenny will be linked to Waterford and Cork with new high quality roads – collectively known as the "Atlantic Corridor". While it is anticipated much of this scheme will be constructed as either 2+2 dual carriageway or higher quality single-carriageway – a significant portion of it is expected to be constructed as motorway.

  • The M20 scheme linking Cork with Limerick (the state's second and third largest urban areas), will provide a complete connection between the two cities. It will be approximately 90 km (55 miles) in length. Its construction was given the final go-ahead on 13 October 2017.[16]
  • The final M18 scheme connecting Gort to the M6 near Galway city opened ahead of schedule on 27 September 2017.
  • The construction of the M17 was bundled with the final M18 component and also opened on 27 September 2017.[17] The two motorways meet at Rathmorrissey Interchange, Co. Galway.

Other motorwaysEdit

On 18 July 2019, the M11 Enniscorthy bypass was opened.[18] A scheme to widen the M7 from two to three lanes in each direction from the beginning of the Naas bypass, at junction 9, to the M7/M9 merge near Newbridge, junction 11, was completed in November 2019.[19]

A motorway project, the Dublin Outer Orbital Route, may be progressed in the future.[20] It is possible that a motorway will be built to the north of Cork City to link the existing N22, N20 and M8 routes: this route, if built, will most likely be designated as the N40. Other potential motorways include a possible extension of the M4 from Mullingar to Longford[21] and the Galway City Outer Bypass which may be built as an extension to the M6.[22]

The Cork to Ringaskiddy road improvement scheme, originally envisaged as dual-carriageway, will now proceed as a motorway scheme.[23]

The planned Adare - Rathkeale dual carriageway, being progressed as part of the Limerick to Foynes improvement scheme, may proceed as a motorway scheme.[24]

Motorway service areasEdit

This is a list of motorway service stations operating in the Republic of Ireland.

Name Operator Road Town Notes
Castlebellingham services Applegreen M1 Castlebellingham
Lusk services Applegreen M1 Lusk
Enfield services Applegreen M4 Enfield
Birdhill services Applegreen M7 Birdhill
Paulstown services Applegreen M9 Paulstown
Wicklow services Applegreen M11 Wicklow
Athlone services Circle K M6 Athlone
Manor Stone services Circle K M8 Laois
Cashel services Circle K M8 Cashel
Fermoy services Circle K M8 Fermoy
Carlow services Circle K M9 Carlow
Kilcullen services Circle K M9 Kilcullen
Gorey services Circle K M11 Gorey
Kinnegad Plaza Supermac's M4/M6 Kinnegad
Galway Plaza Supermac's M6 Kiltualgh
Barack Obama Plaza Supermac's M7 Moneygall
Junction 14 Mayfield Supermac's M7 Monasterevin

TII is building a series of service areas[25] across the motorway network to provide for safe rest areas. The first of these opened on 15 September 2010 on the M1 at Lusk.

Tranche 4 Motorway Services were announced in 2016 and are proposed for the following locations:

  • M3 - Dunshaughlin
  • M6 - Oranmore (also accessible from M17/M18)
  • M18 - Newmarket-on-Fergus

The following sites have also been proposed:[26]

  • M20 – Charleville
  • M28 - TBD
  • N69 - TBD

Originally, service areas were to be located at 12 locations, but a recent An Bord Pleanála decision ruled that a service area to be located at Rathmorrissey at an M6 junction be removed from an adjacent scheme.

It is anticipated that service areas will be provided on both the M3 motorway and the proposed M20 and M28 motorways.[27]

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ Rules for driving on Irish motorways Archived 21 December 2008 at the Wayback Machine
  2. ^ Campbell, Paula (11 August 2008). "Naas bypass comes of age". Leinster Leader. Check |archive-url= value (help)
  3. ^ "New 50km stretch of motorway opens". RTÉ News. 12 December 2005.
  4. ^ O'Brien, Tim (2 October 2006). "Fermoy bypass opens today". The Irish Times.
  5. ^ O'Brien, Tim (5 December 2006). "Section of Galway motorway to open". The Irish Times.
  6. ^ O'Brien, Tim (18 December 2019). "Galway-Dublin motorway opened 10 years ago today". The Irish Times.
  7. ^ "Controversial M3 opens ahead of schedule". RTÉ News. 4 June 2010.
  8. ^ "Opening of Nenagh-Limerick motorway link". RTÉ News. 28 September 2010.
  9. ^ "Limerick tunnel officially opens". The Irish Times. 27 July 2010.
  10. ^ O'Brien, Tim (23 December 2010). "Final section of M7 motorway opens". The Irish Times.
  11. ^ "Final section of M9 motorway opens". RTÉ News. 9 September 2010.
  12. ^ "Crusheen-Gort By-Pass officially opens today". Clare FM. 12 November 2010.
  13. ^ Labanyi, David (18 June 2008). "Just under 300km (200 miles) of roads upgraded to motorway". The Irish Times.
  14. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m "Roads Act 2007 (Declarations of Motorway) Order 2009". Irish Statute Book.
  15. ^ O'Brien, Tim (9 September 2010). "Final section of M9 motorway opens today". The Irish Times.
  16. ^ Brennan, Cianan (13 October 2017). "The new M20 road linking Cork and Limerick will be built, says Taoiseach".
  17. ^ "Transport Minister says new M17 motorway will attract business to the region". Galway Bay FM. 27 September 2017. Archived from the original on 28 September 2017.
  18. ^ O'Brien, Tim (18 July 2019). "Taoiseach opens Enniscorthy bypass amid locals' concerns". The Irish Times.
  19. ^ O'Brien, Tim (14 January 2020). "M7 upgrade: Speed restrictions to be lifted on new three-lane carriageway". The Irish Times.
  20. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 23 August 2010. Retrieved 9 May 2009.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  21. ^ "New dual carriageway to link Mullingar and Longford – Boxer". Westmeath Examiner. 13 February 2018.
  22. ^ O'Brien, Tim; Pope, Conor (8 February 2020). "Oral hearing into plans for €600m Galway ring road". The Irish Times.
  23. ^ "M28 Cork to Ringaskiddy Motorway Scheme". Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport. Archived from the original on 4 March 2016.
  24. ^ "New €400m-plus Foynes to Limerick road and Adare bypass plans lodged". Irish Examiner. 19 December 2019.
  25. ^ "NRA Motorway Service Area Policy Document" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 7 August 2016. Retrieved 30 May 2016.
  26. ^ "M6(M17/M18) Motorway Service Areas" (PDF). Transport Infrastructure Ireland. 2016.
  27. ^ "Second PPP Roads Programme". National Roads Authority. 2009.