Heritage Minister Josepha Madigan has championed plans to upgrade the Barrow Canal towpath as a 46km blueway as a major economic boon for the communities it connects in counties Laois and Kildare.
The upgrade scheme between Lowtown and Athy in Co Kildare is expected to contribute €2.5 million annually to the local economy, as well as create 90 jobs in the construction phase with around 130 direct and indirect roles in tourism, recreation and hospitality.
Kildare South TD Martin Heydon said it was “a brave decision and the right decision” to go ahead with the 46km section of the 115km proposed Barrow Blueway, suggesting that those who lodged planning objections to the section that was to run through Co Carlow “will, in time, look at us with great envy and wish they had this”.
This past spring, planners blocked proposals for a hard surface path extending to St Mullins in Co Carlow, though the matter divided opinion among locals and users of the waterway.
Asked to comment on the matter by Mr Heydon in recent Dáil questions, the minister said the Barrow Blueway plan as a whole “is about much more than the water and water-based pursuits”.
She continued: “It offers opportunities for walkers and cyclists on the adjacent paths, connecting communities and enhancing the tourism potential of an area by showing off some of its incredible natural amenities.
“It is also about preserving and protecting an artificial ecosystem with diverse species and an important water supply. It is, and will be, a hook … to get people to stay an extra night in the area.”
Asked to confirm whether Waterways Ireland or the relevant local authority has “lead responsibility” for maintenance of the route, Minister Madigan said: “There would be a collaborative approach on the canals.”
She added: “There is no point in having a canal unless it is properly maintained and looked after. Waterways Ireland does as much as it can.
“We want to be able to ensure that people can canoe and kayak, and enjoy a quality experience on our canals. Waterways Ireland is always conscious of that with all its canals.
“There will be challenges in ensuring any kind of quality experience. Waterways Ireland has worked in partnership with Sport Ireland, Fáilte Ireland and other bodies to ensure that.”
The minister also suggested that exploring the possibility of funding from Fáilte Ireland for the project “is certainly something that should be investigated”.
Waterways Ireland recently partnered with Get Ireland Walking to launch the Barrow Way Walk later this month, to help encourage the use of Ireland’s green and blue spaces.
Backed by Sport Ireland, the walking event place next Sunday 29 September in Carlow, Laois and Kildare with routes for different levels of mobility between 5km and 18km.
For further details and how to register to take part, see barrowwaywalk.ie