Grand vision unveiled for future of Offaly's canals
The prospect of turning the Grand Canal in Offaly into a tourism hub has been discussed at the latest monthly meeting of Offaly County Council.
Speaking to councillors and management staff on Monday last, March 26, was Dawn Livingstone, CEO of Waterways Ireland. She spoke of the "huge opportunity" to develop the canals into recreational hotspots for walking, cycling and general watersports.
She siad that Offaly could become a destination for such activities, and that projects in that vein could result in social, economic and health benefits. She spoke of recreational spurs on the canal line that could see events, sports and other community activities taking place.
She pointed to the potential for tourism in this regard, suggesting that with the onset of Greenways and other recreational projects, income from tourism on the canal could reach €2 billion by 2028 between cycling and walking alone.
The National Greenways Strategy sets out provision for a €56 million investment between 2018 and 2021.
Dawn Livingstone said that although the strategy is not yet published, the Grand Canal is an identified route and the prospect is there to create a greenway over 132km long connecting the West and East of the country. There would be links to feed the likes of Lough Boora in Offaly.
She added that such a project would have to be brought to fruition through a partnership between Waterways Ireland and local authorities.
Livingstone also unveiled a plan to initiate an opening up of Tullamore Harbour to a multi-faceted commercial and housing development in the coming years.
Councillors at the meeting broadly welcomed the intentions of the plans, but pointed to a number of issues that need to be addressed first.
Cllr Martin O'Reilly questioned the current state of the road and path network surrounding the canal in Offaly, while also pointing to the need for investment to continually dredge and clean it. "If we don't invest in this, the issue would serve to erode the possibilities discussed with regard to the use of the canals as an amenity."
Cllr Declan Harvey also raised the issue of upkeep, suggesting areas around the canal in Offaly need to be cleared of rubbish and litter, and that grass length needed to be managed.
Cllr Brendan Killeavy also asked about the condition of canal line roadways used by many residents, pointing particularly to a stretch at Ballycommon that has fallen into a bad state of repair.
Waterways Ireland responded by saying that they "would look at it again," but when asked for a change of surface from hard gravel to tarmac and chip, said they would be in favour of retaining the gravel in light of the heavy machinery using the routes, including dredging equipment.
Cathaoirleach Liam Quinn also raised the issues of weed growth in and around the water of the canal, and also asked that the canal between Kilbeggan and Tullamore be linked back up to aid the tourism effort. Cllr Noel Cribbin also asked what the plan might be for Edenderry harbour in light of the plan for Tullamore. Dawn Livingstone said that growth would be looked at and that the path between Kilbeggan and Tullamore was available, subject to planning.
Cribbin also mentioned the fact that the likes of rowing had died away in Edenderry over the years, and asked about the possibility of Waterways Ireland making the harbour suitable for such activity again. In response, Dawn Livingstone said she was hapy to discuss initiating one of Waterway Ireland's development programmes in Edenderry.
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