As the greenway co-op group vow to step up their campaign, Jessica Farry speaks to Martin Brennan about the potential it holds.
Tubbercurry native Martin Brennan learned about the campaign to construct a greenway from Bellaghy to Collooney, his head was turned.
Then living in the United States, Martin was anxious to get involved in the project.
He had seen the success of a similar project called ‘Katy Trail’ in Dallas.
This trail, similar to a greenway, was constructed along an abandoned rail line and is now a walking, running and cycling path.
Knowing that he was moving back to Tubbercurry, Martin was keen to get involved in the project.
“When I saw what a positive impact it had on its community, I followed it and when I saw the greenway concept being suggested in Sligo I thought ‘what a great idea’ and I was anxious to get involved,” he told The Sligo Champion.
Martin, born in London, returned to Tubber in the 1960s where he attended national and secondary school before going on to study in Galway.
He then moved to the United States, where he had lived for over 30 years before he moved back home in recent weeks.
“I went to the States for a year or two and forgot to come back! When I was there I was involved in the hospitality industry. I went from hotels to resort hotels to food and beverage. While I was there, it was amazing the number of times I met people who had been both to Ireland and the North West and so many times they had such a positive report about visiting Sligo.
“It’s only when you’re away that you come to realise how much your home turf has to offer. I was a very frequent visitor. I always said I lived in Sligo but worked in America. Any opportunity I had I came back to Tubbercurry.
He added: “I liked to hike and I liked to cycle so anything involving the outdoors caught my eye. This is a win-win concept. Under the auspices of the committee, local politicians and local council officials, we will put together a greenway from Bellaghy to Collooney that’s going to be a model for greenways throughout the country. We’re not simply looking at a bicycle path, we’re looking at an entity that’s going to be a living, breathing part of our community, that people will see an opportunity on that path to highlight cultural, historical, artistic traditional aspects of life in Sligo.”
Martin has brought new ideas to the committee, and he has his own vision for what the greenway could offer, not just for south Sligo but for the county as a whole, should this project get the go ahead.
“It’s going to be a path dedicated to socialising, physical wellness, mental wellness. Everybody is on board to promote it as such. It’s not strictly because of the economic viability of it, which the potential is huge, it’s not just because of the economic attractiveness for businesses, the potential for new businesses, some of them full-time, some seasonal, all of them holistic, all of them long term beneficial for the locality, the environment and all of them on the cusp of a new up and coming industry, which is eco-tourism.
“With the market that we have for that, and with the undersold facilities that we have in Sligo we can be on the cutting edge. These businesses can enhance the hotel industry, the culinary industry. I’d like to see if the IT, for instance, could in conjunction with St. Angela’s have an organic farming department.”
Part of Martin’s vision for the greenway is for it to become a hub for a number of communities, incorporating towns and villages that are within close proximity to the greenway, not just the areas the greenway would run through.
“I’ve been invited to come and join the committee and I’m glad to be given any opportunity to try and promote this. This is good for everybody.
“It’s not just a greenway that’s running through South Sligo. We envisage that at every intersection on every road and lane, we’ll be able to invite people and show them where they can go off the greenway to see different things. For instance if you go to the intersection on the N17 where the road leads to Moylough, you’ve got the Moylough Belt which is presently in the national museum and you could go beyond that to Gurteen to the Coleman Centre, the musicians and composers that have come out of there are legendary. We want to include that community.
“We want to bring it further north. We’d like to have an intersection for people who are interested in the facilities at Lough Easkey, there’s a marvellous amount of adventure in the Ox Mountains. You come to Knocknashee and Court Abbey, there’s so much history and mythology there.
“Then you come to the intersection where we would be able to direct you to Temple House. We’ve got Eagles Flying there. Everyone within 15-20 miles on the greenway stands to benefit from this.
“People who live next or near to it can benefit from the physical benefits of it. It would be great if we have vegetation along the greenway that would start with cherry blossoms in the spring, tree-lined where practical and you could see the change in the leaves in Autumn, we’d like to see the type of foliage, shrubbery, foliage that would enhance the birdwatching experience.”
He also feels that the ‘Woodlands for Health’ programme from County Wicklow is a model that could be followed here in Sligo.
Woodlands For Health is an innovative Eco Therapy programme developed by Coillte and prescribed by HSE medical professionals for adult mental health patients to engage them in forest activities to enhance their quality of life.
Woodlands For Health is a great example of how the environmental and health sector can work together to benefit participants mental and physical health.
“This has contributed to a major decline in the incidents and the well-being of these people. The sky is the limit. A lot of our history can be projected on murals. A lot of the artistic work will be done, if not by people who reside in the community, maybe their sons and daughters or grandsons and granddaughters or people who do reside here. There’s so much for so many.
“That’s why this is a very positive project.”
The group will be asking for ideas and such from members of the public as they continue to push for the project to go ahead.
“We’re looking forward to devising a programme whereby, there’s a lot of people in Sligo who like their history, we’d like to see articles written in relation to the history of this county, things varying from the armada through to the famine.
There’s still a lot of information that needs to be uncovered. A lot of people have that but they’re just looking for a forum in which they can put it out there. We could celebrate along the route at different times of the year, the 4th of July, Bastille Day, German Unity Day.”
Martin may only be new to the committee, but he wants this project to take off as much as any of those who have been there since the start.
He is confident that it will go ahead, and he is willing to do whatever it takes in order to get the Bellaghy - Collooney Greenway up and running.
“I’m pretty much working any which way. If I can help with publicising it, good and well. If I can help with the co-ordination of the attractions that would make it more viable, I’m happy to do that. I’m very anxious for this to take out, I’m confident it will work. I’m passionate about the concept. It’s all volunteer-ism.”
Of course, with any project there will be opposition, and Martin says he is willing to hear the concerns of anyone who is against the proposed greenway.
“Very often opposition to these kind of projects is wedded in fear, fear of the unknown. People who are concerned simply have to ask questions.
“I certainly would entertain anybody’s concerns because more often than not people’s concerns are well grounded, they need to be respected.
“They can come away reassured, however, that there is much less nothing to featr about the creation of this greenway, but there is a lot to respect about it.
“For them to see misinformation that appears in some of these projects, that’s where opposition can stem from.
“I don’t see how anybody can look at this project rationally and not think that it is attainable.”
Sligo Greenway are holding their third Annual General Meeting this Wednesday in the Yeats County Inn, Curry at 8.30 on May 23rd. The Co-op is now a firmly established community group working continuously for the establishment of a greenway on the route of the disused railway running between Collooney and Belaghy (Charlestown).
Speaking in advance of the AGM, Chairperson of the group, Pat McCarrick said, “For the greenway to progress, a few things need to happen. Sligo Co.Co will require to enter a license agreement with Irish Rail. This will of course provide that the line will revert to Irish Rail if and when required to reinstate a rail service. The project will then require planning and funding from the Government. The good thing is, the case for Sligo Greenway is very compelling; Irish Rail are well disposed to granting such a licence. Additionally, Sligo’s new County Development Plan provides for the development of the greenway and finally, this project as an ideal candidate for funding under the new National Greenway Strategy due to be published shortly by the Minister for Transport Tourism & Sport.”
The statement continues, “A number of key documents are required together with a planning process before the funding application can be submitted. While an Economic Study and a Technical Feasibility Study have been completed on the proposed greenway project, new requirements will demand Tourism Impact Assessments and the previously mentioned planning application.
McCarrick goes on to say, “Our priority now, as a community group, is to keep working closely with Sligo Co.Co in an effort to proceed the project with a view to ensuring that this game changing amenity and tourist attraction for Co. Sligo. Our goal now is to have both the funding and planning applications underway in this current year.”
The AGM of Sligo Greenway Co-op takes place at the Yeats County Inn, Curry, Co. Sligo on this Wednesday, 23rd May at 8.30. All local shareholders are asked to attend and new members are welcome on the night.
Contact – Pat McCarrick
Phone – 087 2512030 or email@example.com
Tourism network South and West Sligo has launched a new tourism brochure “Sligo’s Hidden Gems” for the 2018 tourist season. The attractive A5 publication is part of an ongoing programme promoting the rural areas of Sligo. A video, media visits and a sustained social media campaign are all part of the plans for the coming year.
“Sligo’s Hidden Gems” is a fabulous tool for any visitor and is bigger and better than the 2017 publication. It include details of tourist businesses in the area - everything from surfing, seaweed baths, horse riding, rock climbing and golfing to attractions, walking trails and festivals. It also includes a comprehensive calendar of events and a very useful map of the area with details of heritage and historic sites. It is ideal for visitors and for people living in Sligo who are planning a day out.
Over 40 businesses including Sligo Greenway Co-op are part of the fledgling network, including signature festivals, adventure and activity providers as well as essentials such as accommodation and eateries. “Sligo’s Hidden Gems” will be distributed through members, tourist offices and tourism related festivals and events.
Speaking at the launch which took place in the Ocean Sands Hotel, Enniscrone, Chairman Paul Taylor said, “We are delighted to present this comprehensive tourism guide for our area. Now tourists can easily find out about all the hidden gems and less known parts of the county”. He went on to compliment the energy and enthusiasm of the network, saying, “I’m delighted to be part of a vibrant organisation, full of committed and enthusiastic people who wish to showcase their region. With this vision and commitment to working together, we will soon be firmly on the tourism map.”
As is common outside urban areas, the tourism businesses have tended to operate alone rather than in conjunction with one another. Through the network, businesses will come together, building a stronger tourism product through collaboration, which will benefit the entire region.
Contact info:@southandwestsligo.ie for further information or visit the website www.southandwestsligo.ie
Now that the train is gone, we must remember that we still have the rail corridor itself; its landscape and its infrastructure. We also still have the towns and villages, but their needs are no longer being met. Business growth and tourists are seldom to be seen. The generation of a greenway on the route solves this problem. Employment, tourism and the health and mental benefits of a local amenity follows as sure as day follows night.
Another potential benefit of greenways in local communities is the option to create loop walks and cycleways to parishes and villages not directly on the route of the greenway. In the case of South Sligo, loops taking in rural laneways and village pubs in places such as Rockfield (Coolaney), Cloonacool and Curry can be easily created. This new activity has proven results and show great gains for hard-pressed rural businesses. Very rural communities and landscapes in Co Sligo will then have the opportunity to display their many charms to visitors from all over the world.
The further development of this disused line (Coolooney to Athenry) will provide the opportunity to develop such life giving arterial loops bringing revitalisation to Easy Mayo, and North Galway. The infrastructure is there, the climate is right and the need is great!
There can be a tendency to dismiss greenways as just creating routes for tourists that have no value to communities, but in fact the main beneficiaries of trails are the communities through which they pass.
Greenways deliver obvious benefits, a place to walk and cycle away from traffic, a place to push a buggy and let small children run and play, a safe commuting route to school and work, the value of healthy exercise. But there are other advantages to having a national trail on your doorstep.
Greenways create jobs; this has been the experience everywhere. From cycle hire to service jobs in the food and construction sectors, the invigoration of an area by developing a trail through it results in a lot of extra work, and somebody has to be paid to so it. These jobs are sustainable too; they don’t disappear to a low-wage economy when taxes change.
Greenways improve the quality of life for everyone. In the case of old railways or canal towpaths, cleaning them up and making them accessible gets rid of dereliction, fly-tipping of waste and antisocial behaviour. Making an area a nice place to visit makes it a nice place to live.
Greenways create business opportunities. The increase in economic activity that a greenway brings will create opportunities for enterprising people. Hotels reopen, and guesthouse accommodation is revived. Farmers in Northumberland were some of the biggest beneficiaries of the Hadrians’s Wall Path; many of them turned old stone sheds into camping barns and are earning significant income from these enterprises. The same trail spawned a number of baggage-carrying companies that move bags from one hotel or guesthouse to the next each day, leaving walkers to travel unencumbered. These same companies also provide a courier service along the route that supports other small enterprises.
Greenways keep existing businesses open for the benefit of local people. We complain when key local businesses close, but additional visitors to an area can keep them open. In Waterford the Deise Greenway now supports a number of thriving businesses that were headed for closure before the development took place. Newly created businesses also serve the local population.
Greenways increase property values. The experience everywhere has been that property values tend to increase when a greenway is developed, and it is common to see property advertised in relation to its distance from such infrastructure.
Greenways attract other jobs. One of the key factors used by companies in deciding on a location is the quality of life in the area, essential to retain staff. A region with no ‘quality of life’ attractions will be quickly dismissed by an industry seeking a base in Ireland.
Louth Greenway a Shining Example
A greenway on Co. Louth is a shining example of how this type of tourist infrastructure can bring prosperity to a marginalised region. In recent years, the Carlingford to Omeath Greenway has proved hugely popular both as a local amenity and as a tourist attraction. Businesses in Carlingford report an increased year-round upswing directly as a result of the Greenway being created. The region displayed many similarities to South Sligo; isolated towns and villages, unemployment yet stunning scenery.
The benefits of the Greenway to the economy of this corner of the Wee County - through accommodation, restaurants, and bike rental - was so notable that the route is currently being extended as far as Newry. This extension will spectacularly pass right through Carlingford Lough with the Newry Ship Canal on one side and the open Lough on the other! The route will form part of the Great Eastern Greenway, which once completed, will provide a traffic-free link from Carlingford to Portadown, Co Armagh.
Hopefully this is an example that will be followed in Sligo in the near future through the use of the disused railway running between Collooney and Bellaghy.
Oh, Mary this Greenway’s a wonderful sight with people out walking by day and by night. It’s neat and it’s fenced with clear pathway beneath and there are gangs of them cycling all the way to Omeath.
At least when I walked there that’s what I could tell And I wondered if Sligo could have one as well; To have a wee Greenway like the one there’s to see Where the Mountains of Mourne sweep down to the sea!