At the moment of writing, as Ireland is still in lockdown, it is difficult to contemplate how the next few months and years will play out. The country will begin to take its first small steps towards a return to normality by easing restrictions on May 18th. The Covid 19 pandemic has brought with it much tragedy. It has taken many freedoms that were hard to fully appreciate until they were gone. The 2km and 5km travel limitations have forced us to make the most of what we can find on our doorstep. I write this looking towards the future when the crisis has passed, and freedom of movement has been returned to propose linking two of Ireland’s greatest linear walking and cycling routes.
The proposal is to develop an off-road walking and cycling route from Lanesborough/Ballyleague to Castlecoote in Co. Roscommon. A rough estimate of this distance would be in the region of 20km/12.4miles. This relatively short distance walking/cycling trail would connect the 145.6km/90.5mile Royal Canal that begins in Spencer Dock in Dublin City Centre and ends in Cloondara Co. Longford to the 1023.9km/636.2miles Ireland Way, a walking and cycling trail that begins in West Cork and incorporates 20 different way marked ways to finish at the Giants Causeway in Co. Antrim.
A dedicated walking/cycling route that begins in Dublin City Centre and can end in either West Cork or the Giant’s Causeway would appeal to both domestic and international tourists. Roscommon is in an ideal situation to capitalise on the significant investment that has already been put into developing the Royal Canal Greenway and the Ireland Way as it can connect both trails by constructing a relatively short 20km/12.4miles trail. The scenic towns of Lanesborough/Ballyleague and Roscommon Town would be ideal locations for walkers and cyclists to take rest days before they continue their adventure South to Cork, North to The Giant’s Causeway in Co. Antrim or East to Dublin.
Before the Covid-19 crisis, Waterways Ireland were due to launch the Royal Canal this Spring 2020 as Ireland’s longest Greenway. It is now possible to cycle off-road from Maynooth, Co. Kildare to Cloondara, Co. Longford. The final section from Maynooth – Spencer Dock in Dublin City Centre is open to walkers, but the trail is not yet suitable for cyclists. However, it is in Waterway’s long-term strategy to upgrade that final section from Dublin to Maynooth and make it accessible to cyclists.
The Royal Canal Way – Spencer Dock, Dublin – Cloondara, Co. Longford 145.6km/90.5miles
The Ireland Way incorporates the Beara-Breifne Way and the Ulster way. It is a 40 day 1,023.9km/636miles walk that spans the length of the country. This is both a walking and cycling trail that crosses 14 counties on the Island of Ireland. It passes through Ballygar on the border of Co. Galway and Co. Roscommon and follows the Suck Valley Way North to Loughglynn from where the walker/cyclist continues their journey North on the Lung/Lough Gara Way.
The Ireland Way – Dursey Sound, Co. Cork – The Giant’s Causeway, Co. Antrim 1,023.9km/ 636miles
Currently a walking and cycling trail is under construction across sections of bogland to connect Lanesborough to the Royal Canal Greenway. This trail will link Kilnacarrow, a short walk from Lanesborough, with Cloondara, the end of the line for the Royal Canal. A Bord na Mona railway line continues West across the picturesque Kilnacarrow Bridge and under the Strokestown road and ends soon after crossing the Line Road just West of Ballyleague. I estimate that this railway line runs within 1km of some of the wind turbines at Sliabh Bawn Wind Farm.
Just as Bord na Mona approved the development of a walking/cycling trail to connect the Royal Canal to Lanesborough so too could the case be made for the development of their land as part of a new walking/cycling trail to Castlecoote. It would be possible to incorporate sections of Bord na Mona bog West of Kilnacarrow and the beautiful trails that already exist at the Sliabh Bawn Wind Farm as it takes walkers/cyclists to Roscommon Town and then onto Castlecoote. At Castlecoote walkers/cyclists would follow the Suck Valley Way for 23km/14.3miles South-West to join the Ireland Way at Ballygar.
The development of a walking/cycling trail from Lanesborough/Ballyleague to Castlecoote would also need the cooperation of private landowners and farmers. It is a lot to ask as there are many legitimate reservations surrounding this issue. However, perhaps we can look to the success of the Ireland Way for inspiration and guidance. The men and women behind this walk were able to highlight the benefits of such a trail for their local area. Over 400 farmers got on board and gave their permission for access to their lands for this walking trail to be possible. 1Allen, Caroline. P29. ‘A Guide to Hiking the Ireland Way’ Ireland Way Guides, 2017.The Ireland Way was launched in 2013. To date over 40,000 people have completed sections of the Ireland Way2Heritage Council ‘The Beara Breifne Way’ https://www.heritagecouncil.ie/projects/the-beara-breifne-way accessed on 15/5/2020.
Featured Image: Way marker along the Ireland Way. Taken by Dermot Breen. https://www.theirelandway.ie/news/previous/2 Accessed 18/5/2020
Map 1 Royal Canal Way map. Royal Canal Amenity Group. https://i0.wp.com/royalcanal.ie/wp-content/uploads/2015/05/full-royal.png Accessed 14/5/2020.
Map 2 Ireland Way map. https://www.theirelandway.ie/ Accessed 14/5/2020
The Ireland Way Website: https://www.theirelandway.ie/
The Bear-Breifne Way Website: https://www.bearabreifneway.ie/
Information on the Ulster Way: http://www.walkni.com/ulsterway/
A Guide to Hiking the Ireland Way’ by Caroline Allen. Ireland Way Guides, 2017.
Guide to the Royal Canal Ireland’s Inland Waterways. Waterways Ireland.
Walking the Royal Canal, History and Local History by Peter Clark. Published by Canal walks in Association with the Royal Canal Amenity Group. (2014).