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Pat Murtagh, accompanied by members of the O’Briensbridge Community Group, cuts a ribbon to officially open the Old Barge Loop Walk along the River Shannon. From left to right: Jack Byrnes, Siobhan O’Reilly, Seamus Murrihy (both Clare County Council), Pat, Olivia and Margaret Murtagh, Arlene White, Maureen Parkes, Orlaith Murtagh, John Slattery, John Jones (Waterways Ireland) and Noel Enright. Photograph by Eugene McCafferty

Volunteers clear a path for all to enjoy Clare walkway

Champion Chatter

COMMUNITY workers in O’Briensbridge have held an official reopening of a popular National Looped Walk to showcase the hard work that has transformed the walkway.

A few months ago, the two kilometre walkway from the playground in O’Briensbridge had become so overgrown the gap between both sides had reduced down to about 12 inches in some places.

Scrub, briars and branches of trees were making it extremely difficult for two people to walk side by side, particularly any adult with a child buggy.

However, now the gap on this walkway is about five foot wide, which provides pedestrians with great comfort as they enjoy the splendid view of the River Shannon.

On Friday, the tape was cut by Pat Murtagh, a brother of the late community activist and former Community Group chairman, Mick Murtagh, who spearheaded the initial development work on the walkway.

Speaking to the Clare Champion, Pat said he is delighted to see this walkway has been made far more accessible for locals and visitors.

“Local people are after doing a mighty job on it. There is great credit due to them and it is a tribute to Mick, who was a great man.”

Mick’s daughter, Orla recalled there was a lot of sleepless nights in their home due to her late father’s community interests.

“It is great to see all the work that has been done by local people that is carrying on my father’s name. It is a great honour to be here today.”

The O’Briensbridge Montpelier Community Group has organised a fundraising walk on this looped route, which will be held on St Stephen’s Day.

Rural and community development officer, Seamus Murrihy and Arlene White from Clare Walks Limited helped members of the group to secure a €13,500 recreational grant.

Ms White recalled they provided assistance with the funding application and lessons they had learned from past experience.

“The reopened walkway is gorgeous and will be so easy to manage. Local people have done a great job to make sure there will be very little encroachment at the sides. A few people can easily walk on this route after it was widened.

“There are some amazing walks in Clare and all they need is some maintenance. Community groups just need some finance to help them. Why would you go providing something new when this walk is already in existence?

“The trail head is very close to the village, which is also a big advantage. People are getting more interested in walking since Covid-19. It is also a great attraction for national and international tourists,” she said.

She confirmed that Clare Walks would bring one of its Thursday walks to O’Briensbridge early in 2023.

The surface of the walkway will be substantially improved over the coming week with the addition of black rolled crushed stone, which is very similar to tarmacadam.

In September 2019, Waterways Ireland had to close a section of this walkway temporarily to repair two bridges that had fallen into bad disrepair.

When people stopped using the walkway for a period during the Covid-19 restrictions, it became overgrown and almost unusable.

John Slattery, who was the main organiser of the clearing work, recalled he got together with Jack Byrnes and Noel Enright to remove scrub from the first to the second arch.

An appeal on social media resulted in about six to eight people clearing overgrown grass and scrub for about two hours on six successive Tuesday nights.

Those who were actively involved on a regular basis included John Slattery, Paul Slattery, Noel Enright, Shane Kirwan, Jack Kirwan, T J Burns, Tommy O’Brien, Des Tobin, Paul Nolan, Jack Byrnes, Shane Byrnes and Joe McArthur.

With phase one now completed, this group have started clearing bushes from O’Briensbridge to Parteen Weir as part of their plan for the second phase.

The third phase involves clearing any overgrown sections from Clonlara as far as the Erinagh Lough with the help of the Clonlara Development Group next year.

Mr Slattery recalled when Mr Enright contacted Clare Walks, Ms White “steered the group in the right direction and completed the paperwork for us”.

“We are thrilled to bits with the final product. We hope to start work on the second section from the playground to Parteen Weir.

“If we get the grants early, hopefully we could have this section ready for the walking season before the summer.

“We will start cutting back the briars and grass from the stone wall back to the river. If Waterways Ireland comes on board with us, it would be brilliant,” he said.

Jack Byrnes described the walkway as a “class job” and much better than he had anticipated. He said the contractor, John Joe Fitzpatrick went way beyond what was agreed in terms of the work he completed.

Last month, Mr Fitzpatrick used a machine to widen the walkway and clear areas that residents couldn’t access during difficult weather conditions.

Mr Murrihy recalled the walkway was very overgrown when he first visited the site less than a year ago.

“What has been achieved in O’Briensbridge is a real testament to what volunteers can achieve when there is a community response.”

The group has gained new members as well.

“This project was completed in one of the shortest periods we have experienced.

“The rural development directorate was delighted to be able to assist the group when they were applying for funding from the Outdoor Recreation Scheme, which comes from the Department of Rural and Community Development.

“It is brilliant to have this walking route for the village and surrounding communities. It will also create a greater awareness of local history and biodiversity once new information signs are provided

“We hope this project will encourage other groups to carry out similar work.”

Council senior staff officer, Siobhán O’Reilly said it is important that walking routes are easily accessible for the elderly and people with buggies, particularly following the increase in pedestrian activities during Covid-19.

She acknowledged this project is a very good example of what can be achieved when community groups work together with the council and other state agencies.

“This walk is working driving out to because you can walk around in a loop.”

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