NORTH CLARE REPRESENTATIVES have criticised the lack of energy applied to linking the planned West Clare Greenway with the UNESCO Global Geo Park in the Burren.
Two sections of the West Clare Railway Greenway are part of the development plans, the first is from Kilrush to Kilkee with two rounds of public consultation completed for this. Options assessment for the second section from Ennis to Ennistymon are being progressed by Clare County Council.
Commencing construction in early 2026 is the planned target for section two which has an estimated cost of €25m and a four year schedule to complete.
At the July meeting of the West Clare Municipal District, Cllr Joe Garrihy (FG) sought proposals on how the Greenway will integrate “with the most trafficked, visited and popular area of the county north of Ennistymon and to the towns of villages of Doolin, Liscannor, Lisdoonvarna, Corofin, Kilfenora, Fanore and Ballyvaughan and on throughout the Burren and Cliffs of Moher UNESCO Global Geo Park”.
He stressed, “the integration of one of the most visited and marketed environmentally sensitive areas of our county with the Greenway plans is critical and should be actioned as a priority”.
In a written response, senior engineer in the project management office of Clare County Council, Seán Lenihan flagged that the current proposed route “doesn’t go north of Ennistymon but southwards to Lahinch, Miltown, Quilty and Doonbeg where it will join up with the Kilrush to Kilkee section at Moyasta. That being said, the longer-term strategy is that our Greenways would link up with those in neighbouring counties such as Limerick, Kerry and Galway so we will certainly consider the possibilities”.
Transport Infrastructure Ireland (TII) is now the approving authority for Greenways. Lenihan confirmed that he would raise the request with the TII regional manager at the next steering group meeting.
This opportunity must be grasped, Cllr Garrihy stated. “It is critical that we seize the opportunity to underpin that UNESCO globally recognised destination to add mobility through walking and cycling connections down to the Greenway. This is one of the most trafficked and visited places in the country, it is an opportunity for us, we talk about sustainable tourism, regenerative tourism and part of the future of sustainable communities, we need to invest and focus in it, we need to make sure there are cycling and walking options connecting with the greenway”.
He continued, “I’m disappointed we haven’t started already, the right time to plant a tree is twenty years ago, the right time to start this was twenty years ago but the next best time is today, prioritise this piece of work which should have started twenty years ago. Make people stay and have slow tourism, sell their cups of coffee and have their camper van sites. I am disappointed with the response, to me this is at the core of UNESCO global geo park”.
Public consultation gives the chance to finalise the route, Cllr Joe Killeen (FF) observed. He pointed out, “there are lots of green roads in North Clare, the roads are already in place”.
Integrating with the communities is vital, Cllr Shane Talty (FF) believed. “It is not necessarily a network of greenways, Seán is trying to fall under national criteria to get the project funded and delivered, we’ve slow routes and roads which could be prioritised for pedestrians over vehicles”.
All old bog roads in the Loop Head Peninsula were mapped to create the Loop Head Trails, Cllr Cillian Murphy (FF) advised the meeting. “They’re basically trafficked by a tractor and a handful of cows,” he remarked when giving an example of what could be achieved, “they’ve connected it and it is trying to connect them to greenway and to each other, it is not about building 100km of greenways”.
Cathaoirleach of the West Clare MD, Cllr Ian Lynch (IND) accused the senior engineer of only “going from A to B and not thinking outside of the box”. He added, “Until we know what we want to achieve in West Clare Municipal District then we won’t know how to resource it”.
Director of Service, Leonard Cleary responded to back up his colleague, “he leaves the door open and doesn’t in anyway close it”.
A start financial picture was then painted by the Director, “Have we a team available to take on this project? No. The potential of the Active Travel budget gives us the opportunity to utilise some of the green roads, it would have to cover the staffing costs and a technical person to put a design plan in place”. He told the meeting that John Gannon has left his role as a senior engineer in the roads section of the Council and that this was “a substantial project to take on”.
Cleary concluded, “The motion is a worthwhile one, I need to be honest about the resources available, we don’t have the SEO post filled and the senior engineer post in roads is not filled”.
Lisdoonvarna based Garrihy commented, “it baffles me that we have a UNESCO Geo Park and not having an optional link road for travel as one of their validator questions. “I appreciate the lack of resources but I won’t accept that a UNESCO designated Geo Park is coming as far as its boundary but we haven’t the resources to try find a link between them. We can say this but it’s not the highest priority, it shows up we’re a sustainable tourism destination as just a statement with no actions behind it”.