Canal greenway in Westmeath finished
"My hope is that we'll have a greenway network in Ireland that you'll be able to get on a bike in Dublin and cycle to Valentia Island or Mizen Head."
Those were the words of Minister of State for Tourism and Sport, Patrick O'Donovan, on his aspirations at the opening of the Royal Canal Greenway section that links Westmeath to Longford October 7.
At a cost of €790,000, provided under the government's 'Stimulus' package, that section completes the 47km greenway route in Westmeath.
The minister has a strong affinity with Mullingar as his grand uncle, Paddy Whelehan, came to the town selling coal a long time ago.
"It's a long time ago since the concept of the first greenway was developed in my own area in west Limerick, along the Limerick Kerry railway line.
"My own people were CIÉ people, they were level crossing railway gatekeepers on the line, which was closed in the late '70s, and it's now the Great Southern Trail, which will hopefully link Limerick to Dingle."
The minister complimented Westmeath County Council for their engagement with local landowners and interest groups, to ensure the access points and the planning process ran smoothly.
"While it no longer carries traffic in the form of barges pulled by horses, it is now an amenity for people to enjoy. 2016 was a record year for inward tourism into Ireland and this scheme in 2017 promises to be even better."
The minister said that for the culturally curious and those who enjoy the great outdoors, Westmeath has a very good network of attractions that allows people to come into the centre of the country and experience its hospitality, hotels, attractions and amenities.
"Europeans are very much into the outdoor experience and cycling is a huge part of that. And while we have record tourist numbers we must make sure that it's distributed into provincial Ireland."
Cathaoirleach of Westmeath County Council, Cllr Frank McDermott, welcomed the minister to Coolnahay and thanked the staff of Mullingar Municipal District for undertaking a project they can be proud of and which will stand the test of time.
"The new path is already extensively used by both cyclists and walkers and is a very welcome addition to the recreational facilities in this area of our Lake County," he said.
"Hopefully this investment will lead to further business opportunities along the canal, and the villages and towns it traverses."
Chief executive of Waterways Ireland, Dawn Livingstone, said the important amenity was an opportunity for the villages and communities around the Royal Canal to attract overseas visitors.
"Nine million Germans take a cycling holiday twice a year. Only 1% of them come to use our long distance routes, so this will make an enormous difference in bringing overseas visitors to these areas," said Ms Livingstone, adding that in order to make amenities like this work, "it's about local people, their facilities, and about creating jobs."