COUNTY transformed — the Waterford Greenway has seen 40-year-old local businesses boom and even a famine workhouse brought back to life.
On March 25, the Waterford Greenway, a 46km stretch from Waterford city to Dungarvan opened to cyclists and pedestrians and now just four months on footfall in the area has increased by 54% and businesses are seeing a bounce of almost a third in custom as tourists flock from Letterkenny, Switzerland, the US, and France.
“It has changed a little dying village forever, it has. All the pubs are doing coffees and snacks. It’s unbelievable,” says a spokesman for Waterford Greenway Bike Hire, whose head office is based in Kilmacthomas, the halfway point of the cycle path.
“I remember people saying that a quarter of a million people would have passed that bridge [in Kil-macthomas] by the end of the first year and no one believed them and now I think it’ll be more.”
A spokeswoman for Waterford City and County Council told thethat data from a counter based in Dungarvan, which is at the opposite end of the path to the city, has shown a huge surge in footfall for the area.
“Footfall has increased by 54% in between the 2013 and 2017 count due to the completion of the Greenway project,” she says. “It is possible that up until the opening of the entire Greenway that most pedestrian and cycle traffic recorded was predominantly local.
“The significant increase in June 2017 is most likely due to both increased use by the local community and visitors to the area alike following the completion and opening of the entire 46k off road Greenway.”
The owner of the bicycle hire service in Kilmacthomas says that, even with his 300 bikes, from electrical to child and adult bikes, customers now need to book in advance because more and more tourists come every day.
After less than one season in business, the Waterford Greenway Bike Hire has already hired 10 full-time staff and offers a free shuttle bus for people to and from the end points of Waterford city and Dungarvan.
“We can see ourselves having to take more people on. It’s just unbelievable,” says the spokesman.
It is not just bike companies that are doing well but pubs and cafes too.
Kiersey’s Bar and Tea Room in Kilmacthomas has seen its business “multiply two and a half times.”
“It’s huge,” says owner Jenny Kiersey. “We would have always had regular customers but it’s a whole different ballgame now. In the recession, you’d be saying: ‘Oh God,’ at the end of the week, hoping to be able to pay your bills but now it’s just brilliant.”
Business is so good for the pub and tea room that they are now offering accommodation, which has already “started to take off”, and Jenny has taken on five staff to meet growing trade.
“We’re flat out,” she says. “I didn’t think it would be so big so fast. Even on the wet days, there are still people around. We don’t know what’s hit us.”
While they have a lot of Irish customers they also meet many domestic tourists from Cork as well as foreign ones from America and Spain.
Another sign of growing demand is the food service that Kiersey’s has expanded to, now offering breakfast and lunch as well as evening food on Friday, Saturday and Sunday nights.
“Everything is homemade and all the businesses help each other and work together,” says Jenny. “If someone wants a nice icecream, I’ll send them over the road. There’s plenty for everyone.”
Someone else seeing a huge surge in business is Dan Casey, who runs Casey’s Caravan and Camping Park, close to Clonea Beach outside Dungarvan.
“1978 we opened and it’s the best season ever, I’d say,” says Dan.
“It’s really taken off in a huge way, it’s one of the best things that has happened to the county.”
Dan says people are staying at his park, which has a capacity for 1,400 people, from all over Ireland and Europe.
“They’re coming constantly now,” he says. “One English man came in from Rosslare and he said it was the best investment Waterford ever made.
“It’s unbelievable the amount of people coming. They’re even pulling babies and pet dogs behind them in trailers on the bikes. We would have nights of near full capacity.
“We get a good lot from Switzerland. I don’t know why Switzerland, but there are a lot of continentals coming, they’re mad for the Greenway.”
Dan, like other business owners in the area, is keen to credit the council for their work on the path, saying: “They couldn’t be praised enough. Even the old workhouse is flying.”
One of the new tenants in the workhouse is Coach House Coffee. Business has been so good for them that they have already expanded to having an adjoining kiosk to reduce queues.
“We opened on the same day as the Greenway so on March 25. It’s been really busy,” says owner Stephen Lynch.
“We opened the coffee shop at the workhouse in Kilmacthomas because it’s just 50 metres from the Greenway. It was a no-brainer.”
Stephen and his business partner Craig Dee, while having no prior coffee shop business experience, had done their homework on the site and the cycle path.
So far they have two chefs and more than a dozen other staff. They host story-telling sessions, invite choirs and buskers on site and even offer customers peace of mind with CCTV cameras to watch over their bikes.
“The workhouse has a whole new lease of life. We always knew the Greenway would do well but we didn’t expect this success,” he says.
And the spin-off from the cycle path goes on.
Tony O’Mahony from O’Mahony Cycles in Dungarvan, a bike shop that offers a rental and a repair service will celebrate 29 years in business this August.
“I don’t think anyone expected this,” said Tony. “The rental side of things has gone massive. We rent out a lot more bikes. I really didn’t think we’d get as many people coming to the area but we did.”
Tony goes on to name a long list of other businesses whose success he is keen to celebrate too, such as the caravan park, The Moorings and The Tannery, both in Dungarvan and the Cliff House Hotel in Ardmore.
“Anyone you ask will say it’s done nothing but good,” he said. “It has done an unmerciful amount of good for the county.”
Riverdance star steps out on viaduct
Riverdance star Colin Dunne will perform live on top of Waterford Greenway’s iconic viaduct during a brand new festival for the south-east.
The free boutique performance is one of the highlights of the first ever Dungarvan Summer Music Festival which runs from this Friday in the Waterford seaside town.
Organisers say the three-day spectacle will be a major revenue spinner for Dungarvan and the wider Waterford and East Cork region.
The programme is the brainchild of renowned uilleann piper and the festival’s artistic curator, David Power, who has brought together many big names in Irish music and dance for a signature event.
The festival opens with Edges of Light, a newly commissioned theatrical music performance comprising contemporary music with traditional arrangements and featuring dancer Colin Dunne, Tola Custy on fiddle, Maeve Gilchrist from New York on harp, and David Power on uilleann pipes.
The second day’s features include the Greenway Sessions, 15-minute, free-to-the-public performances along the Waterford Greenway including an 11am show with New York-based harpist Maeve Gilchrist at the Victorian bandstand in Dungarvan Town; a 1pm recital with Finnish viola-player Marja Gaynor in the tunnel at Ballyvoile; and a 3pm show with Colin Dunne and fiddle player Tola Custy from Co Clare on the viaduct at Kilmacthomas.
Saturday’s main event is a star-studded concert bringing together some of the brightest luminaries in traditional music. On Sunday, Camerata Kilkenny will take the stage at St Mary’s Church of Ireland to perform a programme entitled The Piper and the Faerie Queen, with David Power as soloist.
Mr Power says it promises to be a landmark few days in Dungarvan.