Council keen on Athlone to Glasson greenway idea

A new extension of the Old Rail Trail Greenway in Athlone, bringing it as far as Glasson and possibly further, could be developed in the coming years after the idea received strong support at a recent council meeting.

Cllr Frankie Keena called for a feasibility study to be prepared on what he described as "a spur" off the existing Athlone to Mullingar Greenway which would bring it to Glasson and could ultimately be extended to link with the Royal Canal Greenway, via Ballymahon.

"There's serious funding being provided by Government departments for greenways, greenway extensions, and outdoor recreation. Surely there is a funding stream we can tap into to move on this?" said Cllr Keena.

"We're all very much aware of what Glasson can offer to tourists, linking in with Lough Ree and the inner lakes. There are fine restaurants, public houses and amenities in the area.

"Also, from a heritage point of view Glasson has a huge amount of heritage to offer, so I think it would be a natural fit."

He said a link with the Royal Canal Greenway would create "a looped greenway where people could go from Athlone to Ballymahon to Mullingar and back to Athlone again."

Cllr Louise Heavin was one of several councillors who spoke in favour of the idea at the April meeting of the Athlone Moate Municipal District.

"In our development plan, which we agreed recently, there's an objective to provide a cycle and walking track between Glasson and Ballykeeran so this could definitely be part of that, or vice versa," she said.

"The verge (on the N55) between Ballykeeran and Athlone is quite wide and could easily accommodate a safe cycling and walking path to connect Athlone to Ballykeeran. So I think there are huge opportunities even within the existing road space."

She stated that cycling between Athlone and Glasson would only take approximately half an hour.

"It's not a long cycle, so this isn't just about tourism, it's about local people who want to go into Athlone on a Saturday and do shopping on a fine day and cycle back.

"Or people going in and out to work, or people from Athlone who want to go out to Glasson on the weekend, eat some tasty food and go back again. This would be a huge local amenity for everybody and I think it's something we should be progressing."

Cllr John Dolan agreed that it "made sense" to examine the project in greater detail. "Until we look at it, and have an idea of what it's going to cost, we have no idea whether it's fundable or not," he said.

Athlone's Mayor, Cllr Aengus O'Rourke, was also in favour of it, saying "the funding seems to be there now for these types of projects."

The council's written reply to Cllr Keena said a greenway to Glasson would be "very beneficial" but noted that it would be "a significant project, especially so in that there is no available corridor in public ownership."

Director of Services Barry Kehoe said it would be an attractive new amenity for the Athlone area.

"It would be a very welcome addition to the cycling infrastructure to have a link to Cloondra to get onto the Royal Canal. It would create a lovely loop, and as well as that, as Cllr Heavin has pointed out, it would facilitate local journeys, which is what we want to achieve," he said.

"We do need to identify a particular funding stream, and I'd agree that there are lots of opportunities there to avail of funding for this."

He said that the council was about to appoint consultants to examine the possible development of cycleway links between Athlone and Clonmacnois and between Kilbeggan and Mullingar.

"We're progressing both of those, and we'll see how they go. This is a very similar brief, really, for another link north of Athlone, so it's one that we will be able to progress fairly quickly if we have a funding source."

He said the feasibility study on an Athlone to Glasson route would cost in the region of €100,000.

"We're looking at about €100,000 to get the study done, so I will see if we can do that and certainly we'll move it on," he said.