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Locals fear tourism downturn as world famous bridge swept away

LOVED by movie-makers, painters and photographers, the ancient bridge at Leenane, swept away by flood waters yesterday, was more importantly a vital part of a busy tourist route.

Debris carried on the swollen water of the Leenane river became trapped under one of the stone arches causing the partial demolition of the historic 182-year-old structure.

The bridge was a prominent feature in Jim Sheridan’s movie, The Field, much of which was shot in and around the village of Leenane.

"This is deep, very deep, deeper than you think," warns Bull McCabe, as he sends his grown son to persuade the Yank to withdraw his bid for the field in the John B Keane play.

Those words had an eerie ring to them yesterday as horrified locals witnessed the devastating flood which carried away part of the bridge at 5pm. The drama unfolded after hours of torrential almost incessant rain.

A large section of the bridge, which had withstood many deluges in its history, was carried away in a matter of minutes, onlookers said.

Today, engineers from the National Roads Authority will visit the scene to assess the damage.

Yesterday, engineering crews from Galway County Council were attempting to carry out emergency repairs in a bid to prevent further flood damage to the structure.

Locals, many of whom are dependent on Leenane’s tourist visitors, were last night hoping that emergency works could be carried out to keep the normally busy N59 route open. Until then, motorists on the main Clifden to Westport road face diversions of up to 110km.

Leenane, situated at the head of Killary Harbour, is often described as the ‘Gateway to Connemara’. The roads from Maam, Clifden, and Westport meet at this point.

Miraculously nobody was injured in the bridge collapse.

The film adaptation of The Field was made in Leenane in 1989. Well-known stars included the late Richard Harris, John Hurt and Tom Berenger. Since then visitors have been visiting many of the locations used as sets in the film, especially the bridge.

In more recent years the all singing Kelly Family, based in Germany, used Leenane and its bridge as the setting for a series of music videos.