Cyclists are becoming spoiled for choice. The magnificent Great Western Greenway from Westport to Achill Island in Co Mayo has been open for several years and has been a spectacular success with around 200,000 visitors annually. At least 20 other greenways around the country of various lengths are at different stages of development.
However, there’s a new kid on the block which promises to outshine all the others: meet the Déise Greenway in Co Waterford. With 23km of stage one of the development just opened from Dungarvan to Kilmacthomas and the remaining 23km coming on track in the spring, the designers of this multi-million euro project have set out to make this the gold standard for Irish cycleways. Already, thousands of cyclists have been exploring the sections near Dungarvan.
Garvan Cummins of the Déise Greenway is even more ambitious saying the project “will not only be used as a benchmark for Irish greenway construction, this will be the benchmark for European and worldwide greenway construction.”
Waterford City and County Council, director of services Lar Power said: “We are delighted that the Kilmacthomas to Dungarvan section of the Greenway is now open to the public for use. The route is safe and fully accessible for everyone, including cyclists, walkers, families with children, and both young and old. The Greenway is a terrific facility, not just for the people of Waterford, but for the whole country and for international visitors. ”
The greenway begins in the heart of Dungarvan and straightaway winds along the seafront before a gentle climb brings the cyclist above Clonea Bay. The surface is smooth with a lovely comfortable feel. After a few kilometres the Durrow Viaduct is crossed. One of two viaducts on the route, the Durrow Viaduct was built in 1878 above an existing road which itself crossed a river. A superb feat of engineering. Cycling over the viaduct you are high above the surrounding land with a wood below you.
One of the highlights of the greenway is presented shortly after the Durrow Viaduct as you cycle through a tropical-looking gorge to the first of several tunnels on the route. The Ballyvoile tunnel was built by copper miners in Bunmahon and is 400m long and discreetly lit “to keep its magic and mystique”, says Garvan. Lights are definitely needed for bikes here. The copper mines are long since closed and once had a connection (not underground) to the copper mines at Allihies on the Beara Peninsula.
Just after the tunnel a short spur off the track leads to Shanacoole and one of the first knock-on effects of the greenway. O’Mahony’s pub has seen a strong uptick in business says proprietor Helen O’Mahony.
“It’s a phenomenal success from many points of view. Locally, everyone has become more health conscious, they’re cycling, they’re walking. They’re socialising with one another more than previously. Economically things are looking up as there is a lot more bicycle hire and accommodation. This is only the start of good things to come,” she says.
Onwards through rolling green fields and plentiful cyclists - groups, families and singletons - towards what is being described as the heart of the greenway: the village of Kilmacthomas. A stunning viaduct crosses above the village which is not so clear as you cycle over it. To appreciate it fully take the spur into the village and gaze up in wonder at this marvel of engineering. The access track was built by a very progressive development group in the village which also has re-landscaped the park below the viaduct. Kilmacthomas too, is already seeing the benefits of the greenway. “All the shops are doing up their premises and there are plans for at least two new cafes.” says Garvan.
The remaining distance to Waterford of the Déise Greenway is not yet open. Several sections of kilometres in length are fully prepared but need to be joined up.
In order to appease landowners along the route of the high volumes of cycling traffic expected there are many examples where walls have been built to ensure householders’ privacy. Where obstructions presented themselves in the shape of natural features like rivers or access points to farms, Waterford Council engineers went over, under or around such impediments in engineering feats worthy of the designers of the original Ballyvoile viaduct.
Several more highlights lie in wait from next spring. In this sneak preview I got to cross the newly built bridge which spans the N25. It’s a short bridge but the aspect beneath the Comeragh Mountains is very beautiful. The Waterford and Suir Valley Heritage Railway at Kilmeaden is on the greenway and will be incorporated into its route. Grab a tea and snack in the cafe made from an old carriage on the platform, have your ticket stamped and off you go on an 8.5km run up towards Waterford City. A lovely day out with the kids. It is planned to extend the route right into the city. Meanwhile, cyclists pass by the old Congreve estate, a Viking settlement (yet to be fully excavated) and the ruins of a castle on the banks of the Suir.
The greenway project is not just about the towns and villages on the actual route but is more of an inclusive project with various interests highlighted off route: Mining heritage and surfing at Bunmahon; Ecclesiastical history at Lismore; seaside resort of Tramore, the milling history of Portlaw, the attractive villages of Dunhill, Rathgormack and Stradbally and the Victorian Dunmore East.
“We see this greenway as a vital artery through Waterford. The greenway knits it all in to one impressive package,” says Garvan.
The Déise Greenway has been a project initially developed by a volunteer group in Dungarvan which has campaigned relentlessly for its funding. With the added weight of the council tied into government funding the project has all the necessary momentum to see it through to its conclusion. Hopefully, our other greenway projects can look to Westport and Waterford as inspiration to push ahead with their projects.
Greenways growing all over the country
- The success of the Westport to Achill greenway has inspired volunteer groups and local authorities around the country to develop greenways for their own areas. There is a sense that Ireland could become an international hub for cycle greenways and not only would they not be competitive against each other but that they would complement each other.
- Here are the main ones at various stages of development: Blessington Greenway; Boyne Valley to Lakelands County Greenway; Cahirciveen to Glenbeigh Greenway; Castlebar Greenway; Clonmel to Carrick-on-Suir Greenway; Connemara Greenway; Deise Greenway; Dublin to Mullingar Greenway; Great Southern Trail; Great Western Greenway; Louth Greenway; Monasteries of the Moy Greenway; Mullingar to Athlone Greenway; Northern Ireland Greenways; Sligo Mayo Greenway; Sligo to Manorhamilton Greenway; West Clare Railway Greenway; West Cork Railway Greenways.
Just to keep the colour-coded theme going, there are now a growing number of blueways to join our greenways. Seeking an initiative that would make available the myriad of ‘water trails’ around the coast that could be used by kayakers, Waterways Ireland is in the process of developing coastal trails that encourage kayakers to explore the coast but other activities such as canoeing.
- Three to try. 1. Bantry blueway: Kayak or paddle board between the islands of Bantry Bay, Co Cork, gsup.ie 2. Shannon Blueway: Lough Allen to Drumshanbo, Co Leitrim; Vertical Kayakers on Facebook; 3. Royal Blueway: 16km route along Royal Canal in Co Longford.