Re: Planning Application #1781, Waterways Ireland proposed development on the Barrow Navigation

To whom it may concern,

I wish to object strongly to the proposed development.

At this stage, others will have no doubt pointed out the beautiful and largely unspoiled amenity that is the Barrow Way. Indeed, official trail websites such as extol its virtues. In their site, Irish Trails list the Barrow Way as a walking/hiking trail. In particular they say the Barrow Way is: “a peaceful route through a quiet sylvan landscape, with the constantly expanding river, growing more majestic every mile, for company. Terrain consists mainly of grassy towpaths, tracks and quiet roads.”

It is this very quality that makes the Barrow Way what it is. To try and turn it into a cycle path with hard-packed grit finish is to destroy the very thing that makes it so attractive.

My wife and I hike, walk and cycle a lot around the country. We appreciate the mix and diversity of what is on offer. We have cycled the Greenway in Westport, and can understand the value of such a project to the local community. But this is not the situation with the Barrow. The Barrow Way, if developed as you envisage it, will be lost. The knock-on benefits to the community will not accrue; on the contrary, you will most likely find that there is an overall loss to the local economy, though you may find that hard to quantify. 

It also flies in the face of your own stated county development plan in relation to protecting tourism amenities, though I have read enough of these plans now, and seen the actual results, to realise that most of them are highly aspirational at best, and should all carry a health warning.

Instead, if the local authorities that are blessed with the Barrow Way on their doorsteps (Kildare, Carlow, Laois and Kilkenny) are serious about facilities for cyclists, they should invest in some proper cycling infrastructure on their roads before they start destroying some of the few natural trails that were never intended for cycling. Cycle paths in Kildare are few and far between, and the few that do exist are in some cases more dangerous than the roads they are supposed to help us cyclists to avoid. Dismantling the Barrow Way is short-sighted and lazy; spend some time, money and resources on cyclists where it is actually needed and wanted.

As has also been pointed out, the grassy path which makes the Barrow Way so enjoyable is also a relatively benign surface to maintain, not least in areas prone to flooding. Unlike the surface proposed, which will be costly and in some cases, next to impossible to preserve in situ.

This grassy surface also serves native wildlife too, and several of these species, including the Otter, are offered protection under law. The proposals will breach these laws, so under that heading alone, the application should never have seen the light of day.

Trails such as the Barrow Way are vital wildlife corridors in a landscape that is becoming bereft of such natural and native features. Adding a wide cycle path will do nothing for this native corridor, other than remove large sections of it. No doubt your Heritage Officer (Bridget Loughlin <>) can explain wildlife corridors if that is a concept with which you are not familiar. 

I think it should be admitted at this stage that the idea is not a runner. Somebody somewhere lost the run of themselves and saw the Wild Atlantic Way in the midlands. This is not the case with the Barrow. With the Atlantic Way, for example, nothing has been done to alter what is already there. In fact, that is the genius of the Wild Atlantic Way. It’s just good marketing, and some signage. Narrow roads that are not suitable for traffic didn’t ‘make the grade’. There was no push to widen them. Nothing was removed or destroyed. With the Greenway out to Achill, an old rail line was co-opted. Again this was a good fit, and there was no destruction of an existing natural trail; no loss of amenity. Only gain.

Widening and resurfacing the Barrow Way will ensure that in the end, no-one will enjoy the trail. There can only be conflict if you try and mix walking, hiking and angling with cycling. This is the real tragedy of the proposal.

There is no reason why the Barrow Way cannot be promoted in a similar fashion to the Wild Atlantic Way. Make the best of what is there already, and what makes it special. Nobody would begrudge local businesses making some extra income from an increase in tourism. But as I said already, I don’t believe that a cycle path would be see a boost in trade overall. One or two bike hire shops, maybe, would benefit, but you would also lose more from the walking and hiking community, who typically spend more time (and money) in an area. There are many hundreds if not thousands of tourists who will not visit the Barrow Way again, or at all, if this proposal is allowed to go ahead.

Promoting the current Barrow Way as a ‘green way’ (or ‘blue way’, if you prefer) would cost a fraction of the spend that is being proposed. What is required is not a huge investment in money, but imagination. Sustainable eco-tourism is the way forward for this country, and in this instance, a cycle path is not part of the solution. And that’s from a keen cyclist. Someone has been sold a pup here. There is much cheerleading from some small sections of the community for these kinds of projects, but this is misplaced. In addition, Waterways Ireland, I’m afraid, don’t do subtle. They are destroying canal banks in our county as we speak, for similar ends. That you, the planning authority, have allowed this, is a very worrying trend.

There is a win-win solution here and that is to do very little. Unfortunately some agencies are just not happy until they have ‘marked their territory’ in some way. There is no need to meddle with this gem of a trail. By all means promote it better. Certainly encourage more green eco-tourism and related activities. But why destroy the very thing that makes it unique?

Imagine if Kerry County Council decided to push a dual carriageway through the Gap of Dunloe. Some things need to be left as they are. Just because someone has an idea doesn’t automatically make it a good one.

I urge you to reject this application, and instead arrange public discussion with the other local authorities and the wide-ranging communities along the Barrow to really get a sense of what they want, and don’t want. Just because Waterways Ireland have been handed ownership of this resource does not give them the right to destroy it.

Yours sincerely,