Calls for action on improving the appearance of Athlone's town bridge

The need for work to improve the appearance of Athlone's town bridge has been on local representatives' minds lately, with the topic raised by separate councillors at the last two monthly meetings of the Athlone Moate Municipal District.

At last month's meeting, Cllr Aengus O'Rourke said a new plan was needed for the bridge, as it had been "poorly maintained" for years, leading to "weeds, ivy and invasive wild growth" being visible on it.

At last week's October monthly meeting, Cllr John Dolan took up the cause, asking the council to "enhance the town bridge in Athlone by fully cleaning it and erecting hanging baskets on the full length of the bridge."

Cllr Dolan made a comparison with Westport, where he said there was a similar bridge but one that was adorned with hanging baskets, creating a great impression for visitors.

"We need to take a leaf out of (Westport's) book, when it comes to the bridge… we need to have a plan in place to make it a centrepiece of Athlone," he said.

Cllr Frankie Keena asked council management for an update on when a proposed "state-of-the-art" lighting programme for the bridge and Athlone Castle would be put in place.

He also mentioned that the Athlone Festival Infrastructure Group, in consultation with Destination Athlone and the town's Chamber of Commerce, had secured banners for the bridge.

"These banners, promoting Athlone, will be going up on the bridge early next year and will be another added feature to promote the town from a tourism perspective," said Cllr Keena.

Cllr Louise Heavin had some reservations about Cllr Dolan's call for a "full cleaning" of the bridge because she felt it could impact on insects and other biodiversity.

"What does 'fully cleaning' mean? There's a lot of biodiversity living in the bridge, in terms of insects and different things. I think we just need to be careful we're not destroying what is still a habitat for small creatures," she said.

The Green Party councillor supported drawing up "aesthetic plans" for the bridge, but wasn't sure about the proposals for hanging baskets or banners.

"I'd like to have somebody look at this in a focused way, and come up with a great solution," she said. "Cllr Keena mentioned banners being erected - should that not come before us as members? I'm not sure banners promoting Athlone are needed in the centre of Athlone, as you are there already."

The Mayor of the Athlone Moate District, Cllr Liam McDaniel, voiced his support for Cllr Dolan's motion, saying the topic of improvements to the town bridge, particularly during the summer months, came up at a meeting he had with a 'Make Athlone Litter Free' group.

Council director of services, Barry Kehoe, confirmed that an 'aesthetic maintenance plan' for the bridge would begin in 2022.

He also said the planned new lighting for Athlone Castle and the town bridge should be in place in the early months of the new year.

"We are moving to floodlight the bridge and the castle, as a single contract. Hopefully we'll go to tender on that fairly soon, and install it in the early part of next year," said Mr Kehoe.

He agreed the bridge was "critically important" to Athlone. "It's a protected structure, the traditional crossing point from Connacht to Leinster, and vice versa. It has been there for hundreds of years and it is important that it's maintained and is aesthetically pleasing as well.

"We need to prepare a plan for its maintenance, and that plan would have to address the conservation issues, because it is a national monument, so the National Monuments Service might have an interest in that."

Mr Kehoe said the council would be getting "advice on how to best present the bridge" and would then come back to the councillors in the coming months with proposals "around the erection of banners and flowers" on it.