Rural Ireland on two wheels
A national Greenway cycling route would cost the same as a few kilometres of motorway, and transform how tourists and locals travel through the country
From the Phoenix Park, the route could rejoin the Royal Canal and at Blanchardstown it would need a new cycle bridge to cross the N3/M50 intersection. It would be a spectacular span across our biggest spaghetti junction, with a rail line, canal and flyovers running above and below.
Once across that gap, it is plain sailing along the banks of the Royal Canal all the way to Mullingar. From there, you switch to the disused rail line, which would bring you to Athlone and the Shannon. Once again, we would have to build another cycling bridge across the river. The benefit to Athlone would be immense. Of the three existing bridges across the Shannon, only one can be used by pedestrians or cyclists.
The rural sections could be built for less than €50,000 per kilometre and would involve minimal disturbance. Every town and village along the route would be a winner, like those places where Shannon cruise boats tie up overnight. Pubs could be reopened; cafes, shops and B&Bs could start to make a living.
The route west of the Shannon is not yet decided. There is less publicly owned land, other than the Bord na Móna bogs, so an arrangement would have to be made with private landowners. The success in Mayo and the resolution of some of the more contentious issues around walking routes make it likely we could get a solution that benefits everyone. In the end, it might come down to a competition between communities who want the route to come their way.
The final stretch along the seafront into Galway City would be spectacular, but it should not stop there. Restoring the old Clifden rail line as a cycle route would add a further 80km to the 230km it would take to get from Dublin to Galway. Joining the two projects together would create an international bestseller in the growing world of cycling tourism. By connecting from Clifden to Westport and from Oranmore to the Burren, we could then start building the second big European route that would give the whole west of Ireland a lift.
These tourist routes are for our own people as much as for visitors. Getting people back on a bike on a Sunday will start them thinking of cycling rather than driving to the shops. The health and social benefits are immense, even if it would be hard to put them down on any Department of Finance balance sheet.
Leo Varadkar will be considering around now whether this project is included in his capital budget for next year. For the price of one or two kilometres of motorway we could start a national “Greenway” network that would help turn our country around. We have already passed the point of no return. There is a nice downhill spin ahead if we can get over the next rise.
Eamon Ryan is leader of the
Irish Green Party