A plan by Waterways Ireland, which owns the Barrow navigation, to cover part of the 114km towpath which goes through counties Kildare, Kilkenny and Carlow, with a combination of stone and limestone is due to go for planning permission in autumn.
However, a campaign of opposition to the project has gathered momentum since last year and now Hollywood star Gabriel Byrne, who has walked along the towpath “many times” has expressed his dismay.
Speaking to the KCLR Live show yesterday morning, Mr Byrne said that while Waterways Ireland do “tremendous work”, the towpath is recognised as a unique habitat for all kinds of flora and fauna.
“At the moment everybody uses it: Walkers, joggers, cyclists,” he told radio presenter John Masterson. “I think that to damage what’s been there for 300 years, to damage the banks and disrupt the species would be something I think that anybody who cares about the environment wouldn’t want to see.”
Other high-profile opponents of the towpath development include broadcaster and journalist Olivia O’Leary and broadcaster and environmentalist Dick Warner, who has said the stretch of Barrow between Graiguenamanagh and St Mullins is “perhaps the most beautiful riverside walk in these islands”.
Mr Byrne said he has spent much time in the area over the years. “I bought a house down there, in fact, near Inistioge and one of the things that really attracted me to that town, Graiguenamanagh, was the Barrow,” he said. “The natural environment that we walk in every day belongs to us and once decisions have been made about these places, they don’t come back.”
A spokeswoman for Waterways Ireland said environmental studies are still being carried out on the towpath plan, “with the intention of applying for planning permission in the autumn”.
The final blueprint will be the result of those studies and public consultation,said the spokeswoman.