CANALWALK : The Shannon Greenway

Collecting the camper from a garage in Carrick on Shannon, ( don’t ask ), we decided to spend the night in it and explore a walk on the upper reaches of the Shannon Greenway/ Blueway, an expanding network of paddling, cycling and walking trails on and by 200 km of Ireland’s mighty river.

In 1817 a canal was opened to transport clay, iron ore and coal from the western shores of Lough Allen down to Battlebridge on the Shannon. As usual the faster railways muscled in on the trade and by 1930 the ESB had decided to raise the water level of Lough Allen ,( to create a reservoir for the new engineering marvel that was Ardnacrusha power station nearly 100 miles away), and the canal was abandoned.

A big drive to establish recreational boating tourism in the 90’s saw the canal dredged and reopened in 1996 and the current big drive to establish Greenways has led to the development of a 13 km looped walking trail from Acres lake in Drumshanbo to Battlebridge.

We started at Ireland’s first floating boardwalk, a 600m construction leading walkers out across the lake and into the canal mouth. The €500,000 cost has been declared well spent with 120,000 extra visitors attracted in its first year and ” Drumshanbo has just thrived on the back of it”.

Certainly thought had gone into encouraging use of the old towpath route with picnic tables and shelters appearing now and then. The new gravel surface made it bike and buggy friendly but avoided the unnatural and hard tarmac of some other greenways.

The verges and hedges were richly coloured and scented by summer blooms as we approached Drumleague lock where we crossed over to return to Acres Lake on the opposite grassy bank.

Although the new Greenways on the river and canal banks of Ireland have definitely increased traffic on what were already lovely walking routes the waterways themselves still seem sadly underused and must be costing Waterways Ireland dearly. The Blueways projects have received mighty funding for their facilities, signage and branding but we have seen very little activity so far on our rambles, although one boat came zooming passed.

Still, the empty canal made for a very tranquil walk beside the still waters.

We drove back to the lock to spend the night and continued in the morning down to Battlebridge, with the Shannon running alongside us towards the end.

The canal was raised a fair bit above the wet land to our west side that farmers accessed by lowering metal bridges and sheep grazed amongst the thick clumps of rushes.

At the lovely lock house at Battlebridge we gazed at the confluence of the waters. From here the Shannon would take you to Limerick and out to the Atlantic. Or you could branch off at Leitrim and explore the Erne waterways in the North through the Ballinamore and Ballyconnell canal (and then on to the Newry or Ulster canal) . Originally only open from 1860 till 1869 it was returned to optimistic leisure use in 1994. The cross border nature of the project meant the opening ceremony was conducted under very tight security in an area sealed off by police and soldiers and patrolled by camouflaged commandos. Or further on you could branch off down the Royal Canal to Longford and Dublin or you might choose to continue south to Shannonharbour and then turn left down the Grand Canal towards Dublin where, at Lowtown you could head down the Barrow canal and river to Waterford.

There is , again, a long trailing network of boating, cycling and walking trails open and in development across Ireland on the remnants of its industrial past. The abandoned canals towpaths and railway tracks are once again the scene of huge investment of labour and cash. This time it’s for the health of the people and the planet. Minister Eamon Ryan announced recently a €63 million allocation under the Carbon Tax Fund to 26 Greenway projects. For 2021 alone! You will soon be able to walk and cycle traffic free across the length and breadth of the country. Bring it on.

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