Communities upset by plans for fifth bridge across Corrib


Galway Races visitors might yearn for it - those who eschew helicopter transport to Ballybrit - and many doubting commuters may have had their minds made up for them by urban traffic chaos over the past Arts Festival fortnight.

However, several of the city's most established communities oppose plans for a fifth bridge across the Corrib river. They are not alone.

The residents of Anglingham, Ballagh, Ballindooley, Ballinfoyle, Bushypark, Carrowbrowne, Castlegar, Coolough, Daingean, Gortacleva, Menlo, Killeen, Killoughter and neighbouring townlands - now united as Hands Across the Corrib - join a plethora of communities on compass points east.

Right across the county, there is mounting unease over the impact of the proposed new Galway-Dublin motorway. Presented as a superhighway which would boost economic development, the redrawing of the N6 has already attracted much political lobbying.

Several months ago, The Irish Times reported that chambers of commerce had sought to influence proximity to their respective towns.

Some residents in smaller communities view it differently, however. Meetings have already been held about the impact on community life.

"Townlands might be carved up through compulsory purchase orders, neighbours divided, but as long as it fits in with EU and national policy on conserving heritage and wildlife, humans won't matter so much", says one resident with links to the Gaeltacht village of Menlo.

After the arguments are over, "there will still be plenty of car drivers to pay the requisite tolls".

The proposed Corrib bridge is just one piece in a jigsaw involving the local authorities and the National Roads Authority (NRA). That jigsaw is at design contract stage on the section of the N6 between Athlone and Galway.

The official titles include the proposed N6 Oranmore-Ballina sloe corridor, the proposed N6 Ballinasloe-Athlone corridor, and the N6 Galway city outer bypass, which is split in two at Menlo.

Maps have already been produced as part of the consultative process, with coloured corridors representing finished routes of 40 metres in width. Parts of the proposed routes may be interchangeable, and there has already been much speculation about a route north of the existing Galway-Athlone road.

Whatever the final decision, one link seems certain - a fifth bridge across the Corrib, relieving pressure on traffic between eastern industrial and western residential areas. For the still-rural village of Menlo, the impact will be "devastating", the Hands Across the Corrib campaign says. It will bisect the village, cutting off the 17th-century castle - the subject of a separate proposed development involving Galway Corporation and solicitor and businessman Noel Smyth - from the graveyard nearby.

"The banks and wetlands of the Corrib are home to listed threatened species of plants and animals," the campaign states.

"Menlo has a geological and botanical composition similar to the Burren in Clare. The region is also important in terms of culture and heritage. These treasures, so close to the city, must be preserved from destruction."

The campaign points to the success of Galway in terms of economic development, and the fact that the city has already expanded at the expense of towns and villages in both its own and neighbouring counties.

Hands Across the Corrib says the proposals would lead to the "uncontrolled expansion of the city and block the growth of economic development elsewhere in the west". It believes that a bypass at a more northerly point would be more appropriate and better suited to the entire region's industrial needs.

The campaign recently hired the Corrib Princess river cruiser and invited public representatives and journalists.

Writing afterwards in the Sentinel, Galway's evening weekly, historian Peadar O'Dowd re called the journey "from the Aoidinn, up by the huge tree-clad ring fort at Dangan (beside Corrib village), a monument which probably gave the name to the townland; up by the Coffee/Tea house folly (one of the few remains of the Martin estate there); past the shoal in the river where so many Neolithic or New Stone Age materials were found on the river bed there back in the 1980s".

He continued "past the magnificent ruins of Menlo Castle with its famous gate lodge in the distance . . . past the deep pool immediately above the castle where dug-out canoes (log-boats to use the modern archaeological term) were discovered in the 1980s; past Menlo graveyard and the famous village where, in the 1830s, 350 thatched houses (only five today - but that's five more than what's left in the Claddagh!) emitted smoke in a village also famous for its Gaelic traditions, and complete with enigmatic `Crois' stone".

And on "past the former creek up to the lake, near where Galway's oldest structure, the megalithic tomb of the portal dolmen class, dating back more than 5,000 years, can still be seen; and finally over the deepest pool in the river at the entrance to Menlo Pier, which perhaps still holds the remains of that boat of sorrow that sank in 1828 during the Anach Cuain tragedy, subsequently made famous by Anthony Raftery".

O'Dowd didn't forget the west bank, with a "plethora of famous buildings", such as Dangan, Bushypark and Killeen houses, as well as Glenlo Abbey - "all with their own stories to tell".

Campaign chairman Mr Pat Foley believes that traffic congestion can only be solved by giving priority to the development of a clear, in-depth, traffic management campaign.

He refers to Galway's land use and transportation study, published in September 1999, for Galway Corporation and County Council, by Colin Buchanan and Partners in association with Ryan Hanley and Company.

It took a broad approach to transport, placing much emphasis on measures to reduce car use in the expanding city area. Public transport was identified as a priority: "Improvement of bus services is urgent and cannot await subsequent developments," it said. A self-financing park and ride system, and State-assisted "dialaride" services in rural areas were also recommended. It advised that "every effort" should be made to encourage walking and cycling, subject to several qualifications on cycle routes.

Cycling in parts of Galway is something of a nightmare. The Galway Cycling Campaign has already lodged a formal complaint with the European Commission over the corporation's pedestrianisation campaign.

The fifth bridge controversy has taken a political twist in a constituency which appears to be on an election footing.

Several weeks ago at the Fianna Fail selection convention for Galway West in Maam Cross, one of the three successful candidates - the party's Minister for the Marine and Natural Resources, Mr Fahey - accused Labour TD and former arts minister Mr Michael D. Higgins of "gombeenism" over his support for the campaign.

Mr Fahey asked Mr Higgins to explain his attitude to thousands of commuters caught in traffic jams at the Headford Road roundabout, and accused him of "pretending that some other option, like light rail to Moycullen and other areas", would work instead.

Mr Higgins says the proposed bridge would be sited on one side alongside a national monument, would cross the river at an archaeologically rich area and would land on the other side "right in the middle of a Special Area of Conservation".

He says the people of the city were being "steamrollered" into a fifth bridge option, without any real consultation.

Ironically, the Government has just published a code of conduct involving the NRA and the Minister for Arts, Heritage, Gaeltacht and the Islands, Ms de Valera, which will require that the NRA employs archaeologists to vet its route planning.

Last week the Minister of State for the Environment and Galway West TD, Mr Bobby Molloy, expressed concern about the "decline and dereliction" of small rural towns when he gave details of the new Town Renewal Development Scheme.