Almost a quarter of a million people have visited the new Limerick Greenway since it opened, adding to the list of successful Irish greenways. Can the Boyne Greenway achieve similar?
The success of Ireland’s greenways is a well established story by now. With over two million people visiting Ireland on cycling holidays every year, greenways have played a central part and have been transformational for local communities and tourism alike. The likes of the Waterford Greenway and the Great Western Greenway have led the way and become award-winning, internationally recognised successes. Now, one of Ireland’s newest greenways, the Limerick Greenway, announced it attracted almost a quarter of a million people since it opened, just over five months ago, which is an incredible statistic.
Counters placed at strategic locations along the route of the Limerick Greenway show that 218,496 people have visited it since it re-opened to the public in 01 July 2021, up until November 2021. According to Fáilte Ireland, “greenways are one of the biggest success stories of Irish tourism that have brought transformative benefits to local communities.” The Limerick Greenway is just another in a long line of successful greenways in Ireland.
On our doorstep
With that in mind, whenever I see or read about the successes of new greenways such as this, it always comes with a touch of envy. I can’t help but think of what we have here on our doorstep in the Boyne Valley. I still don’t think the powers that be in Co Meath and Co Louth have truly grasped the potential that exists with greenways, and specifically, the Boyne Greenway. Meath and Louth has in its midst what will be the best greenway in Ireland, and one of the best in Europe, and one which can create links to both the East Coast Trail and the Royal Canal (Dublin to Galway) Greenway. And so the question must be asked: why has it taken so long to be delivered?
Plans to develop a greenway alongside the canal and the banks of the Boyne go back to 2008, over 13 years ago (or even further depending who you ask!), when Peadar Tóibín first put forward a motion to Meath County Council (see our dedicated page on the Boyne Greenway for more information here). The Ramparts in Navan, Slane and Drogheda have long since been a much-treasured trail for locals and visitors alike to enjoy the beauty the magnificent river has to offer.
Back in 2010, the National Cycle Network Scoping Study (subsequently developed in to the 2013 Greater Dublin Area Cycle Network) officially identified a key greenway from Drogheda to Trim as ‘Corridor 13’ of the National Cycle Network (see graphic below). The job of developing each of these routes or ‘corridors’ fell upon each local County Council, and in 2010 Meath County Council carried out a feasibility study for developing a greenway from Drogheda to Trim. Whilst that study showed that it would be economically viable and successful, funding was not readily available at the time. Despite this, as the Great Western Greenway, and similarly other greenways in the coming years after that showed, issues such as funding and land ownership can be overcome if there is enough of a push from the local council, elected representatives and stakeholders involved in the project.
Now, in 2022, 12 years after that initial feasibility study, there are finally design plans underway for the Oldbridge-Navan section of the Boyne Greenway to go to public consultation. But this is just a 27km section of the 52km in total. Why have we had to wait for 13 years for this key section to finally go to design stage? Why hasn’t planning work on the remaining section, Navan-Trim, started? In late 2021, funding of €60m was announced by the Department of Transport for over 40 greenway projects in 2022. That funding showed that multiple allocations were awarded to the same greenways in a number of counties, including the Connemara Greenway, the South Kerry Greenway, the Limerick Greenway, the Mallow to Dungarvan Greenway, and the Inishowen Greenway, to name just a few. So why have all the stages of the full Boyne Greenway route not been progressed?
It is no secret that the Boyne Greenway could be transformational for the area. All of the signs were there, right from the start. In 2011, when the Great Western Greenway was first officially opened, it attracted almost 100,000 visitors and generated €7 million for the local economy. New businesses opened and the towns and villages along the route flourished. Everyone agreed that the Boyne Greenway could do likewise. From locals who regularly visit the Ramparts along the Boyne, to tourism agencies like Failte Ireland and Meath Tourism, to environmental groups like An Taisce and the Irish Environmental Network, to state bodies like the National Transport Authority; support for this project has been unanimous.
The Boyne Greenway has the potential to not only be a world-class trail, but also to truly open up the wonders of the Boyne Valley. Considering the vast amount of ancient heritage sites it contains, I think it’s fair to say the region still has so much untapped potential. Failte Ireland and Discover Boyne Valley have long sought to develop the region as one of the best tourist destinations in Ireland, yet there still remains a lot of work to do. Last year they released a new ‘Ancient Destination Experience Development Plan’ (see here), a five-year plan to develop the Boyne Valley. It was good to see that these new plans recognise the Boyne Greenway as perhaps the single most prominent feature in this reimagined Boyne Valley, and there’s no doubt it will play a major role going forward. A fully developed Boyne Greenway, as well as the Boyne Valley to Lakelands County Greenway, can help to truly open up the wonders of the region, and more.
Yet there is a danger the Boyne Greenway will miss out. Funding is readily available now, but who knows what will happen in the future? Demand in greenways and cycling will continue to grow, but there are lots of great new greenways happening right now around Ireland in what is becoming a highly competitive market, and competition for funding will be fierce. The development of greenways is also no easy process. The Boyne Greenway, in particular, passes through numerous ancient heritage sites, and the River Boyne itself is designated a Special Area of Conservation. No doubt it faces some tough challenges to get it over the line. And yet, as the Great Western Greenway showed us in the past, it can be done. Where there is a will, there is a way. But as it stands, the reality is we are years away from seeing the full Boyne Greenway route.
But it should have happened long before now. We are seeing the huge economic and tourism gains being had in Waterford, Mayo, and now Limerick – not just on the greenways, but for the entire counties themselves – and Meath County Council (MCC) and the people of Meath are once again missing out, and questions have to be asked why it hasn’t happened before.
We know that these things take time, but if you consider how other similar size greenways were delivered in a much shorter timeframe, it does make you wonder. We have consistently seen road projects being prioritised over other infrastructure such as greenways or sustainable transport. The existing Boyne Greenway – 4km in total, with 1.6km in Co Meath – was officially opened in 2014, yet it still has no proper greenway signage or branding (the signs still say ‘the Boyneside Trail’). It has no official website. It has no official social media presence. There has been no official task force or organisation set up to spearhead the project. And rather amazingly, it remains unclear to this day who exactly is responsible for looking after the greenway, between Meath County Council, Louth County Council, Fáilte Ireland and Discover Boyne Valley. When we pushed for answers to this question, they were not easily forthcoming, and yet it seems the primary responsibility falls back upon MCC (who don’t have an official page for it on their website). When we look at this from an overall perspective in delivering a project of this scale, this is simply not good enough. The people of Meath deserve more and deserve to see this greenway given the attention it deserves.
So, when all is said and done, how long can we realistically be expected to wait? Yes, it is a difficult project and there will be setbacks, but the easy thing to do is to not prioritise it and just keep pushing it down the line. We need our officials to really step up to help deliver this wonderful project. We need ambition. Back in 2013, when work was being done on the Drogheda to Oldbridge section, Peadar Tóibín was calling on the then Minister of Transport Micheal Ring to progress the rest of the Boyne Greenway. He jokingly said: ‘at this rate of development, the Boyne Valley project would take over 20 years to complete’. Now, eight years later, a target of 2033 for the full Boyne Greenway sadly seems quite realistic.
The question remains: how can we make this happen sooner?