Save the Barrow line

 


SAVE THE BARROW LINE PUBLIC MEETING - Feb 2017

Save the Barrow Line with Chairperson and Carlow Ambassador Olivia O'Leary will hold a public meeting in the Abbey Hall, Graiguenamanagh, at 5pm on Sunday 19th February. We will have template letters of objection available at the meeting. Hope to see you all there!




SAVE THE BARROW LINE PUBLIC MEETING - Aug 2014

Speech delivered by the Save the Barrow Line committee chairperson Olivia O'Leary at the public meeting on 8th August 2014:

 

 

First I want to apologise profusely to all the people who came to our meeting in Graignamanagh on Friday night and couldn’t find seats. We were thrilled and overwhelmed by the numbers of you who came.  You have taught us an important lesson.  Never underestimate the real passion local people feel for the river Barrow and its wonderful green track.

If it weren’t so beautiful, we wouldn’t be so exercised about it.  But it is.  The grassy towpath of the Barrow waterway is to me the most beautiful place on God’s earth.  About 70 kilometres of it, a grassy way drawing you deep into the heart of the river country, not the sound of a car, not the sound of your own steps to be heard, and your feet telling you that you are walking on soft grassy earth.  Not on gravel or  hardcore but on nature’s own green surface.  It is the undiscovered jewel of Western Europe, says Mary White.   The most beautiful riverside walk in these islands, says Dick Warner.

And it’s not just the river, it’s the grass which makes this paradise.  The grass is a carpet, it dictates the quiet.  It dictates the pace, a pace which accommodates both walkers and joggers and cyclists.  No one can go so fast that they intimidate or endanger any of the other users.  People walk at a pace which allows them to stop and talk to one another, to look at the kingfisher, to stop and watch the fish jumping.

Cyclists share the space, as they should.  They don’t dominate it.  It is paradise.  Why destroy paradise?  Joni Mitchell’s song goes: ‘To see Paradise, put up a parking lot’.  Well, our planners seem to think that to see Paradise you have to have a road.  Because it is a type of road surface that is being put forward.

 

WHOSE IDEA?

The idea first arose in from a study, the Barrow Corridor Recreational, Tourism and Commercial Product Identification Study. The study was commissioned by Waterways Ireland together with Fáilte Ireland and the Carlow, Kildare, Kilkenny, Laois and Wexford County Councils that border the Grand Canal Barrow Line, the Barrow Navigation and the estuary of the River Barrow.   Then a feasibility study into a cycle track was done on behalf of Carlow Development Partnership and the Leader groups attached to Carlow, Kildare and Kilkenny Co Councils.  They looked into developing a Class 2 cycle trail in accordance with the National Trails Office which are “suitable for urban or urban fringe or core recreational areas”.

So this is the first problem. It is a urban/suburban idea, not ideal for a rural wilderness. Second: it will take up pretty well the whole line.  I quote from the feasibility study the width of trail is limited to a maximum width of 2.5m from Carlow southwards and a maximum of 3.0m on the Monasterevin to Carlow section. Waterways have revealed since that the maximum width will be 2 metres, or 6.6 feet wide. Anyone who walks the line knows that will take up most of the present walking and cycling space between the two verges with their wildflowers and grasses.

Thirdly, and most importantly, it will be a hard surface.  They propose an unbound surface of hard core or stones and then put down over that crushed limestone.

In some places that will be a bound surface, impermeable, like a road and will involve a layer of asphalt on the top.

When the secretary of our group, Cliona O’Connell, wrote to Waterways about the proposal, the engineer, Rosanna Nolan, told her “the surface proposed would be similar to the surface upstream of Graignamanagh Bridge”.  If you look elsewhere on the website, you can see what the surface upstream of Graig Bridge is like.

It is a gritty, hard surface. Is that what we want the whole way down the towpath? Rather than the lush, grassy path we know?

This grassy towpath is a shared amenity for walkers and joggers and cyclists and anglers.  The grassy turf is wonderful for walkers and joggers because it is so easy on the knees and legs. Ask any doctor.  

 

SHARING

And it dictates a pace which makes it possible for it to be shared by pedestrians and cyclists alike.  A hard surface encourages speed and makes it more difficult for walkers and cyclists to co-exist peacefully.  I walk on hard surface shared trails in Dublin and there are constant tensions between walkers and cyclists.  And there’s danger. Speed beside the river is not the wisest thing. 

There are environmental reports being prepared on the effects of this proposed cycle track which are not yet completed. But remember the whole area of the Barrow river is a Special Area of Conservation under the EU Habitats Directive.  Carlow County Council in its draft plan for 2015-2021 promises specifically to:

“Protect and enhance the natural heritage and landscape character of river and stream corridors and valleys, maintain them free from inappropriate development and make provision for public access where feasible and appropriate”

 

DISRUPTION

Think of the disruption to flora and fauna there will be. Think what it will do to the wild life to have machines ripping up the towpath surface from Monasterevin to St Mullins- and according to the feasibility report, they’re planning to do all this work this over about 13 months.

Think of the massive amounts of machinery, of diggers and dumpers, of noise, of great heaps of stones dumped on or beside the line!  And then think of shy creatures like the otters at Ballytiglea and further down; of the swifts at Ballytiglea and Milltown; of kingfishers at Lower Tinnehinch. 

Dick Warner, the environmentalist who helped to put the Barrow on the map with his stunning TV series, ‘Waterways’, has described the rivers and its towpath bed as being of inestimable value and of huge beauty: “It’s a treasure incredibly rich in wild-life”.  He says he is completely opposed to the proposed hard track and says the construction and the subsequent faster traffic on the line would be a real deterrent to wildlife especially otters who will leave a place and never come back if disturbed.  This plan is a real threat to this wild place.

 

JOBS

We are told that this will bring increased numbers of visitors to the river towns and that that in turn will bring jobs.  Well, remember how we were always told during the Celtic Tiger era that all sorts of dreadful developments had to be allowed in the name of progress and jobs? Our planners allowed some of the most beautiful places in this country to be utterly destroyed with thoughtless building and development, some of which we now have to pay to have pulled down again, not to mention the massive debts we are stuck with because of banks who lent for this thoughtless development.

Guard your treasure well, nurture it and it will bring jobs.  Sell this area as a peaceful haven for walkers and cyclists and nature trails and anglers and you will get your numbers.  Failte Ireland and Carlow Tourism have never ever understood the jewel they have here in this green sward, one of the few long distance grassy walking ways in Europe.

I have yet to see the sort of poster I would use, of a pair of walkers setting out along a peaceful green riverside path. Peace, quiet, the sort that can mend our nerves and salve our souls.  I know that every time I have written an article for the Irish Times or done an RTE programme about this area (and I have done a few), I meet people for the next year on the Barrow Line saying ‘we read your piece and decided to come down and we’re delighted.’ They love it.  They wonder why they had never heard of it. And they have never heard of it because it has never, never been promoted by the authorities as it should.

But then some bright spark saw the Greenway in Westport and said: ‘Hey, why not do a cycle track down the Barrow?’  But this isn’t Westport and this isn’t a railway. The Westport Greenway is a new amenity based on a disused railway. It didn’t exist before. The Barrow towpath is an existing established amenity beloved of so many of us.  It is a jewel.  It should be passed on from generation to generation.  It should be protected and sold as the sensitive grassy peaceful haven that it is.

 

WATERWAYS

Waterways Ireland have done great work on the Barrow.  They have maintained the track and the locks and they have tried to keep the canals weed-free.  But why not use the money proposed for this project to make what’s here better, not to destroy it. Yes, there are areas of the line where remedial work needs to be done because the line has collapsed.  Yes, there are places where there are potholes; places where overhead foliage needs to be curtailed so that cyclists don’t bang their heads. Map installations are needed for walkers and cyclists. And the river activities have to be encouraged: canoeing and canoeing camps; the restocking of the river- remember the hordes of British and Dutch fishermen who used to come here when there were fish in the river?

My Aunty Kitty O’Leary ran a B and B in Graig which was full of German and Dutch and British fishermen in the summertime.

 

RAILWAY

If the authorities want to provide a hard surface cycle track, why not use our own old railway.  The Palace East Line is still there though in a piece of cultural vandalism Carlow VEC allowed Borris Community School to make a break in the embankment in Borris. But have now built on it-but there are ways around that.

The feasibility study makes very sketchy suggestions about the increased number of people who would come to the Barrow as a result of a hard surface cycle track.  No proper study has been done.  But remember, this is now a shared facility for walkers and cyclists.  And they both matter.  Nearly 600,000 people from overseas took walking holidays in Ireland in 2012.  That’s nearly 600,000 walkers while 171,000 took golf holidays and 149,000 took cycling holidays.  Walkers are big business and this is a walkers’ Paradise..

But they all matter, walkers and cyclists.  They are all so welcome on the line. My own two brothers cycle the line every day. Some of those cyclists from abroad went on Trip Advisor to give five star reviews to the Barrow towpath cycle. What words did they use? Peaceful, tranquil, quiet, undiscovered. We meddle with this at our peril.

And remember.  Not every tourism offer is about mass markets; buses full of people and traffic and noise and instant photo opportunities of famous landmarks.  Some holidays allow you to discover things gently, slowly, around the next green corner, to have an experience of the wild that you find all by yourself.

 

MOVE FAST

We have to move fast if we are to save the grassy line, because this proposal is going to move much quicker than you think.  I heard last night through Leader contacts that this proposal could go for planning permission before Christmas.  We thought we had longer.  Save the Barrow Line as a group will lodge an objection and we will be looking for those of you who have signed a petition to sign up again when we finally get the official proposal and can set up online an objection form. If it gets planning permission, we will appeal it to An Bord Pleanala.

 

PROTECTION ORDER

In the meantime, the Save the Barrow Line campaign are also going to propose that the new Draft Development Plan for Co. Carlow 2015-2021 should contain a Protection Order on the existing surface of the towpath.  This would mean that the surface could not be changed and if repair work needed to be done, that the original grassy sod surface would have to be restored. 

So please go online to keep up to date.  Please sign our petition online.  And when the time comes, please sign our online objection to planning permission.

And remember how people outside the country see this.  Resonance Consultants are an international consulting company hired by Failte Ireland’s to look at marketing the East and South Region of the country.  And this is what they had to say: ‘In sharp contrast to the ruggedness of the western seaboard experience, the East & South region of the country is more complex, more understated, yet equally intriguing. A verdant tapestry that has been worked, reworked and layered from the earliest times, its appeal is deduced rather than declared.’

They have been hearing about the plan to put a hard track down the river line -and here is their comment on the Resonance Co Facebook link of 30th July - https://www.facebook.com/ResonanceCo?ref=ts&fref=ts

‘A unique path of grass by a river of sublime peace. Should it be changed?’ 

Should it be changed?  I think the answer is no.