The dismantled but famed West Clare Railway line is to breathe new life.
Works is to commence on a new greenway project, a 42km cycling and walking route linking Ennis to Lahinch via Corofin and Ennistymon.
Once completed, it will serve as a piece of recreational infrastructure, as well as a tourism attraction.
The railway will be forever associated with the Percy French song ‘Are Ye Right There, Michael?’.
In 1897, French sued the directors of the West Clare Railway Company for loss of earnings when he and his troupe of entertainers were late for a performance at Moores Hall, Kilkee. He was subsequently awarded £10 damages, with the incident providing the inspiration for the famous song.
The first phase of the line will see the construction of a 3km cycle and walking track linking Ennis to the townland of Ballymaquiggin, and will include off-road, bidirectional cycle and footpaths via the rededication of existing roadway, crossing the River Fergus at a number of locations on widened paths.
Phase four of the project, which links Ennistymon to Lahinch, has already been completed.
“The first phase of the cycle and walking track will not only serve as a multifunctional route helping to attract tourism, but as a commuter and recreational route for the people of Ennis and its environs,” said Pat Daly, mayor of Ennis.
“The linking up of the town centre to Active Ennis Sports & Amenity Park will be of particular benefit to the people of the town.”
The railway line, which closed down in 1961, dates back to the 19th century, and received worldwide attention through French’s enduring tune.
The five-hour delay at Miltown Malbay due to ‘technical difficulties’ cost French and his travelling troupe £11 in box office receipts — and formed the basis of the well publicised court case. When the judge awarded French damages, the result was no surprise to locals, many of whom had rueful experience of the line’s many delays and breakdowns.
The incident did indirectly enrich French, as it led to the song which became one of the most popular numbers of the day. The ballad’s witty verses caused such embarrassment and ridicule for the rail company, it was eventually forced into taking a libel action against the composer.
Local lore has it that French arrived 50 minutes late for the court hearing and when, questioned by the judge on his tardiness, responded: “Your honour, I travelled by the West Clare Railway.” The case was thrown out.
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