Though the towpath is only around 4 metres wide the area of grassland along the entire length of the river amounts to 44 hectares or 109 acres. The towpath traverses many diverse habitats. It’s not just a wetland habitat. It borders broadleaf woodland, open grassland, farmland, fenland and hedgerows and much of the path is an example of unimproved grassland that is rich in natural flowers and wild grasses. Waterways Ireland is proposing to construct a 2.5m wide path along the entire 115km length of the river. That is the same as paving over 71 acres or 28 hectares (13 in Carlow) of natural grassland (287,500sq m) – an area 3 times the size of St. Stephen’s Green in Dublin.




Excavating a path 2.5m wide and 300mm deep along the length of the river, as proposed by Waterways Ireland in their submission documentation, will entail removing around 177,639 tons of spoil containing hundreds of thousands of native wildflowers, grasses and insect colonies.

In County Carlow the proposed 52km long path will result in 92,372 tons of earth, grass and flowers being removed from the river bank and the equivalent amount of hard core being transported in. This movement of material in and out will require 5,773 distinct truckloads in Carlow alone. Where is the council proposing to dump the 92,372 tons of spoil?

This development is in contravention of the EU Green Infrastructure Strategy as it removes natural green infrastructure and replaces it with built infrastructure. The environmental impact on the wildlife and plant life along the river, especially in the rural 18km long section between Goresbridge, Ballyteigelea, Graiguenamanagh and St. Mullins, of having trucks, tractors, dumpers, JCB’s and rollers travelling along the towpath will be catastrophic and risks rendering this beautiful natural habitat as lifeless as much of the farmland across the county. Destroying and degrading this natural habitat by digging it up and replacing it with a hard core path with a top layer of crushed limestone is environmental vandalism.




Removing 177,639 tons of riverbank equates to 5,551 truckloads of spoil going out – if Waterways Ireland uses large 32ton, 4 axle rigid trucks, more if they use smaller trucks – and another 5,551 truckloads containing hard core coming in. That’s around 11,100 trucks driving onto or near the banks of the river, right along the length of the river Barrow. Many areas of the walk are not easily accessible for trucks so dumpers or tractor and trailer will have to transport the spoil or hard core from one location to another further disturbing and damaging the natural habitat. Waterways Ireland estimates they will complete the job in 15 months. Working a nine hour day, six days a week for 15 months, that’s 3 trucks coming and going per hour. The Waterways Ireland documentation shows a lot of pretty pictures of the finished path but what about the habitat damage that will be done from all of the dirt, dust and debris that will be created and possibly spilt into the river during the construction phase and where will the tons of crushed stone be stored until used. Based on the volume of trucks alone this development should not be allowed to go ahead.





The existing towpath needs to be repaired periodically, especially to correct erosion caused by flooding (see photo), but it has been in existence for over 200 years and should be there for at least another 200 years. Waterways Ireland is proposing 4 different types of surface finish to the paths from Lowtown in Kildare to St. Mullin’s in Carlow. The proposed construction of an unbound path of compacted stone and dust (Type A) for the rural areas along the river Barrow is not a satisfactory surface because according to a technical report on constructing paths and cycle ways issued by Sustrans (a UK based charity specialising in delivering walking and cycling infrastructure and travel behaviour change projects) this type of path has a life span of only 12 years and then requires thorough repair/resurfacing due to wear, ponding, pothole development and growing vegetation. While it is suitable for lightly trafficked, environmentally sensitive areas it is not suitable in areas where erosion is likely to take place; areas where difficult drainage or water is present or where heavy traffic or equestrians use the path. The TII Publication DN-GEO-03047 referenced by Waterways Ireland in their submission makes no reference to the life span of an unbound path of compacted stone and dust or that they require proportionally more repair and maintenance; but the report titled ‘Technical Information Note No. 8 – Cycle Path Surface Options’ issued by Sustrans clearly lists this information and goes so far as to say that over the past 15-20 years many off-road paths surfaced by them using unbound limestone dust have suffered erosion, rutting, ponding and other damage making them unattractive and unusable especially in wet weather conditions.



Let’s assume that the unbounded compacted stone path being proposed is suitable for the Barrow. According to Sustrans, the UK based charity, in their ‘Technical Information Note No. 8 – Cycle Path Surface Options’ the cost (2012 prices) of repairing and/or resurfacing the ‘Type A – Compacted Stone and Dust (unbound)’ path will be in the region of €18 per square metre. Annual maintenance costs are higher than for bound surfaces at around €2 per square metre per year. Ignoring the initial capital cost outlay of making the cycle path the estimated cost of repairing, resurfacing and maintaining each square metre of this cycle path over a 50 year life-cycle will be:

Repair/Resurface costs after 12, 25 & 37 years ð      54

Annual maintenance (50 yrs x €2)                                      ð       €100

TOTAL COST:                           €154 per square metre.

According to Waterways Ireland 84.8% or 97km of the cycle path will be constructed of ‘Type A - compacted stone and dust (unbound). The cost of maintaining and repairing this 97km length of path over the next 50 years works out at a whopping €37,345,000.       (97,000m x 2.5m x €154) 

That’s an annual maintenance cost of €746,900 between the three councils. Assuming that each council is responsible for the maintenance of their own section of the walk then as Carlow possesses 45% of the trail the council will have to pay 45% of €746,900 or €336,105 annually towards the upkeep of this path.


Even if we halve the estimated cost of routine maintenance and repairs it will still leave Carlow County Council having to find €168,052.50 every year for the next 50 years.

This figure could increase considerably if the path wears at a faster rate, possibly needing a complete rebuild after a shorter period. Has the council factored this cost into their annual expenditure?




The National Trails Office Guide to Planning and Developing Recreational Trails in Ireland indicates that a sustainable trail is required “to be valued and supported by the local communities”. The Save the Barrow Line petition to save the grassy sod surface has approximately four thousand signatures proving that the Blueway proposals are not valued. In addition the results of the WI survey carried out to coincide with their public information sessions showed that 84% of respondents felt that the proposal will have “no positive contribution to community life, jobs, local groups or businesses” (Waterways Ireland has omitted this detail from their planning application – see section 6.3 of their “Supporting Information document.)

Furthermore, the National Trails Office states that “sustainable management (for trails) is defined as - meeting the needs of today without negatively impacting on future generations’ right to enjoy the same.” The Barrow Blueway will negatively impact on future generations: it is unmaintainable, situated as it is on the bank of a river which floods almost every year. Indeed the Irish Trails guidelines are explicit in this regard “Flash Flooding Areas that are subject to occasional or seasonal flooding should be avoided.”




There is no word on the Comma butterfly (Polygonia c-album) in the Waterways Ireland environmental impact document. The Marsh Fritillary is mentioned because it is protected but this butterfly is not found anywhere along the Barrow but the Comma is and the area between Ballyteigelea and Clashcanny is one of the best breeding sites of the rare Comma butterfly in the country. The Comma butterfly (see photo) is a new resident in Ireland and is not mentioned on any lists as it only appeared on Irish shores about 8-10 years ago, initially in coastal parts of Co. Wexford. Since then it has been moving slowly northward and this location in Carlow is one of the best in the country and butterfly enthusiasts from all over the country and Northern Ireland visit the area in the hope of seeing one. The main breeding location is close to the towpath between Borris Lock and Ballinagrane Lock after the Ballytiglea Bridge. The Comma breeds in open woodland and the margins of fields and hedgerows – the exact habitat offered by the towpath and the surrounding area. It uses Nettles (Urtica dioica), Currants (Ribes spp.), Hop (Humulus lupulus) and Willows (Salix spp.) as the host plants for its larvae, many of which are growing along the towpath and in the sunny clearings of the broadleaf woodland beside the towpath. Carrying out this path construction work risks wiping out the breeding habitat of this butterfly that has only just established a foothold in Ireland.