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Lavally footbridge on the Gort River walk

Community spirit creates new amenity and revives Gort’s relationship with its river

THE community spirit and endeavour that has powered the opening development of Gort River Walk has “blown us all away”, according to one community activist.
A wave of volunteers, supported by Galway County Council and other agencies has helped complete the first three kilometre section of the Gort River Walk from trail head to the railway bridge and back.
The second phase of this exciting community project is a bridge that will create a 3.5 kilometre loop.
Community activist, David Murray said locals and visitors can scarcely believe the dramatic transformation of what was previously a “repulsive field”.
“People just couldn’t get their heads around that such a beautiful, vibrant amenity was possible with a few steps from the town. As a community, Gort had lost its connection to the river for decades.
“A town dump created close to the river in the 1980s, the destruction of Gort Mill and installation of Gort Mart, severed that connection and created a repulsion to the area.
“Within this repulsive field, it became vulnerable to unsavoury elements of illegal dumping and drinking and evolved into an Armageddon-like war-zone.
“Some people became emotional as they recalled the time they had spend in this lovely area as a youth. Some ventured further back in time as they remember collecting water from St Manchan’s well for their family in Lavally.”
Paying tribute to everyone who has helped out in any way, Mr Murray described the walk as a “momentum, fuelled by community and positivity that has just blown us all away”.
While Covid-19 halted progress during the spring of 2020, work kicked off “with a bang” in the summer according to David Murray, thanks to the assistance of Sylvie Linnane at the helm, and great support from Galway County Council’s Feidhim MacGillicuddy and FAS’s Pat Finn.
“The main paths were formed over a few weeks and then came the volunteer wave. On Wednesday evenings for two hours at a pop, eight to ten volunteers would gather in a few bubbles and firm up the trail – gathering rubbish, cutting back the invasive ‘Old-mans Beard’, lining the path with stone, raking, raking and more raking.
“It was tough work but more importantly, it was in some ways the only social outlet for many people. It allowed people to work in a beautiful environment and do something positive for their community.”
Many people along the route have highlighted the importance and the beneficial effects of having such a lovely amenity in town. Others have stated that the ‘sound of the water’ gives them a lift and refreshment.
Annette Kelly said volunteering and helping out with the Gort River Walk Project was an immense help to her personally.
“It was so great to have an enjoyable focus to distract from the realities of pandemic life. Working outdoors and next to a fast-flowing river is a tonic for the soul.
“It is especially nice to work with such a wonderful committed bunch of people. It makes me proud to be in this community.”
Pat Fitzgibbons stated the walk is “better than a prescription any day”.
Mr Murray acknowledged the group received numerous donations and sponsorship from local businesses and stressed this support was “given freely and never asked for”.
He said Galway County Council bent over backwards to help make their funds go further. A Go-Fund-Me page raised €4,700 very quickly. The group needed 300 hours of volunteer time for their grant and got 500 hours. The landowner behind Aldi, Eamonn O’ Hara gave volunteers free rein and great advice.
By the end of August, the paths had developed nicely and it was taking real shape.
“Sylvie Linnane was a legend and his positivity toward the project, advice and flexibility were exceptional. We wouldn’t have a trail without Sylvie’s can-do attitude,” said Mr Murray.
Uncovered from within scrub in 2019, St Manchen’s well was in very bad condition.
The original brickwork was first reinstated by Sean O’ Neill and John Gardnier and then to literally top it off, stonemason, Stephen Quinn and his team encased the structuring in limestone recycled from the old Gort Mill.
Stephen noted that he when he was working on the well, he never talked to so many people in Gort in his life who were all so enthusiastic for the trail.
With the support of former ministers of state, Seán Canney and Ciarán Cannon as well as Councillor Joe Byrne and Geraldine O’Donohue, grant aid of €60,000 was approved last September.
Earlier this year additional funds were made available to fully cover the bridge upgrading.

by Dan Danaher

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