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Minister Humphreys and company take shelter from a shower at the opening of the River Fergus Cycle and Walkway.

Flood relief works opened door to Ennis/Clarecastle amenity

LOCALS and visitors to Ennis and Clarecastle can enjoy walking and cycling on a new riverside route thanks to the collaborative approach taken by Clare County Council and community groups.

Last week Community Development Minister Heather Humphreys officially opened the River Fergus Walk and Cycleway, which came about after it was necessary to build an access road for a flood relief scheme.

This new route runs from the R469 Quin Road in Ennis to the N85 Roundabout at Clareabbey along an area of significant recreational and visual amenity value.

The paved walkway along the river is approximately 1.5km and provides a link between the two roads, resulting in a looped walk of 5.5km. The area is rich in heritage and biodiversity and the project is expected to generate significant tourism and educational benefits.

Minister Humphreys also met representatives of Clarecastle Tidy Towns where she reviewed the streetscape enhancements that was funded by the Town and Villages Renewal funding from the Department of Rural and Community Development.

The River Fergus Walk and Cycleway was funded under the ORIS along with match funding from Clare County Council.

Support was provided by the Clarecastle Development Association, Ennis Chamber of Commerce and the Promote Ennis tourism umbrella group.

In her address, Minister Humphreys welcomed Council chairman, P J Ryan, and joked “the woman with the quare accent” was back to meet him.

She described the River Fergus Walk and Cycleway as a wonderful achievement for connecting local communities

“Through our outdoor recreation funding, we want to enhance our natural amenities and make sure that people have good quality amenities in their area.

“We want to make rural Ireland a better place to live, work, raise a family and do business. I want to commend the council for working with the OPW on the flood relief scheme. When everyone works together we get the right results.”

Councillor PJ Ryan, Cathaoirleach of Clare County Council, thanked the minister for her support for the broad spectrum of rural and community-based projects and initiatives, which have been funded in County Clare under the Minister’s Department of Rural and Community Development.

They had, he said, provided much needed infrastructure to support the ongoing development of our rural communities.

“I look forward to the Minister’s continued support, under the government’s Rural Development Strategy, ‘Our Rural Future’, towards the revitalisation, repopulation and development of our rural towns and villages, to deliver new opportunities for people living in rural Clare.”

Deputy Mayor of Ennis Municipal District, Councillor Paul Murphy, recalled developing a riverside walk along the Fergus has been a long-standing objective of the council and various community and business groups for many years now.

“The recently completed Ennis South Flood Relief Scheme presented us with a unique opportunity to provide a universally accessible walkway and cycleway along this particular section of the route which is a beautifully scenic, ecologically rich and historically important area connecting the outskirts of Ennis to the outskirts of the adjoining village of Clarecastle.”

Senior engineer, Seán Lenihan said he was delighted to be involved in this project with a number of local groups and praised the work of all his council colleagues in Ennis Municipal District and the rural development directorate including project management, design, building and engineering.

Mr Lenihan said this project was a great example of what can be achieved by “piggybacking” on the Ennis Flood Relief Scheme through creative thinking and solutions.

He confirmed the council would add some benches and some biodiversity interpretative boards for pedestrians.

Leonard Cleary, Director of Rural Development at Clare County Council, said the River Fergus Walk and Cycleway will contribute greatly to community wellbeing and tourism, which is particularly welcome as we continue to deal with the ongoing challenges from the Covid-19 pandemic.

The Clarecastle to Ennis River Walk has always been a major objective for Clarecastle Community Development CLG/Clarecastle Tidy Towns and Clarecastle and Ballyea Heritage Group.

While the current greenway is not on top of the river bank as originally hoped, Clarecastle Tidy Towns chairman, Christy Leyden said it is a very nice and pleasant walk on a new tarmac surface from Clareabbey Ruins to Doora Bridge along the Clareabbey wetlands/floodplain with access to the River Fergus protected by the flood relief barrier and access to drains on the Clareabbey side also fenced off.

He acknowledged the outdoor recreation grant funding of €200,000 from the Department of Rural and Community Development.

The Flood scheme project was put in place to include the flood overflow culvert from St. Flannan’s Stream and the flood overflow culvert from Ballybeg Stream and both now flow into the Clareabbey Flood plain.

“It is important to remember that the walk is on the Clareabbey Floodplain and in extreme wet conditions may flood in some sections but despite being well tested a few weeks ago only one or two areas were flooded and the water receded quite quickly,” said Mr Leyden.

“Great credit to the Projects Team in the council who took advantage of the change of plans to the flood relief scheme that necessitated a new barrier and associated service road.
The surfacing of this service road has provided a much wider path than the path originally envisaged on the bank and this will allow for much greater use.”

“Coming from the Ennis side in particular the beautiful Ruins of Clareabbey dominate the view – This historic Augustinian Abbey has occupied that site since 1189 and one hopes now that this new walk will provide the impetus to address the ongoing issues at Clareabbey and repair the damaged graves and address the lack of signage and access issues and greatly enhance the profile of this valuable heritage site.

“Clarecastle Tidy Towns are also making a special appeal to all visitors to please treat the area as a “Leave no trace area” the area along the Fergus is designated as a special Area of conservation (SAC) and really important that it is kept litter free.

“All our focus now is on getting the section from Clareabbey to Clarecastle completed as quickly as possible. Clarecastle Tidy Towns have long stated that the former port of Clare – Clarecastle Quay, would be the ideal Mid-Clare trailhead for the West Clare Greenway.”

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