It's been nearly 140 years since business was this brisk at O'Mahony's pub in Durrow, Co Waterford. During the construction of the Waterford-to-Mallow rail line, the pub – which opened in 1868 – catered for thirsty railway workers.
Now things have come full circle, says proprietor Helen O’Mahony. These days, she and her husband Tom are kept busy serving drinks and ice cream to people on the Waterford Greenway – a 46km off-road walking and biking trail built along the railway line, which officially opens on Saturday (March 25th, 2017) – 50 years to the day after the last passenger train travelled the route.
The pub has attracted a steady trade since the railway opened in 1878, surviving waves of emigration that afflicted the area in the 1950s and the latest recession. Things had been quiet in recent years. But, O’Mahony says, they “never thought of retiring. It’s different when you live right there I suppose.”
Then last summer, the section of the Greenway alongside the pub opened – a stretch that includes the eerie, atmospherically lit Ballyvoyle tunnel from which you emerge blinking into a lush, almost tropical gorge, and spectacular views of the Suir Valley that stretch as far as Clonea.
Word got out and business began to flourish again. “People were on it immediately, and it’s been busy ever since. We’ve had people from Spain, England, Wales, and all over Ireland. There’s such rich history and scenery in this area, and it’s lovely to be able to share it with the rest of the world.”
One of those who is passionate about bringing that history to life is Garvan Cummins, a teacher, historian, keen walker and one of the earliest campaigners for the Deise Greenway. “The idea goes back as far as 2004 – the council even resurfaced a couple of kilometres of it – but ran into difficulty with landowners in around 2008,” he says.
In 2013, Cummins and others revived the greenway initiative, and in 2014 got the support of the newly appointed city and county manager, Michael Walsh. “It is fitting that we’re officially opening the greenway on the anniversary of the last passenger train running on the line,” he says.
Through his The Greenway Man business, Cummins runs history tours and a bike hire business beside O’Mahony’s pub in Durrow (also known as Shanacool).
“My market will be the family market, and people who want to park at Durrow and just do a short walk or bike ride along the most spectacular stretch of the greenway,” he says.
Highlights of Cummins’s history tour include the history of the railway and the tunnel, the ruins of the old Durrow station, and the Ballyvoyle viaduct, which was blown up in the 1922 civil war.
Other points of interest for history buffs include the Waterford and Suir Valley railway at Kilmeaden, and the Kilmacthomas workhouse and viaduct. In Dungarvan, there's King John's Castle, the Augustinian church overlooking the sea at Abbeyside and Walton Park, named after Ernest Walton, the physicist who split the atom.
The greenway has been a long time coming, too, for Donal Jacob. His family ran a grocery shop on John’s Hill in Waterford city for 58 years. Three years ago, its future was looking bleak. “The shop was going downhill, so I started looking for something different,” he says.
A keen cyclist and triathlete, he launched cycling tours and began teaching cycle safety in schools. Then, 18 months ago, set up Greenway Waterford Bike Hire.
“I have about 60 adults’ and 60 kids’ bikes and, in the future, I’ll have electric bikes, disability bikes and tandem bikes. I’ve taken on a full-time employee and I’ll take on more part-timers as the business grows,” he says.
This week was a significant one for Jacob and his family: the shop was sold and he got the tender to provide bike hire from Waterford Institute of Technology’s Carriganore campus, which has direct access to the greenway through a wooded pathway.
What’s his favourite stretch of the greenway? “Just outside Waterford, along by the River Suir with Mount Congreve on one side, the river on the other and the train in the middle.”
Best ways to enjoy the Waterford Greenway
1. A good place for walkers to start is at O’Mahony’s pub in Durrow. Within a short distance, you’ll get to experience the spectacular Ballyvoyle tunnel, the old Durrow railway, views of the Suir Valley and a new playground carved from the oak of a tree felled on the Mount Congreve estate. O’Mahony’s pub is an excellent place to finish up too.
2. At the Waterford and Suir Valley railway in Kilmeaden, grab a coffee in the old carriage on the platform.
3. There’s also coffee at Kilmacthomas workhouse.
4. Dress warmly, as it can get windy along the route.
5. Cycle on the left, pass on the right, and use your bell.
6. Keep your dog on a leash, clean up after it and bring your litter home.
7. Most of the time the wind will be behind you when you’re cycling west back towards Waterford.
8. If you’re hiring a bike, inquire about whether your tour operator can provide a shuttle bus to or from the greenway. Bikes can be hired on the Waterford side from Greenway Waterford Bike Hire (086 1292724) or from The Greenway Man at Durrow (086 8351233). In Dungarvan, there are several bike tour and hire operators – find them at visitwaterfordgreenway.com
9. Look out for the signs along the route linking traditional songs to parts of the greenway.
10. The interactive map at visitwaterfordgreenway.com gives information about cycling conditions, greenway highlights and parking availability.