Railway line made famous in Connery film turned into cycleway for families
Galway-Dublin cycleway moves 40km closer as the Lake County's historic corridor opens
A two-wheel pilgrimage from the heart of the capital to the banks of the tranquil river Shannon - without competing with cars and lorries on busy roads - moves a step closer this week.
The next phase of the Dublin to Galway cycleway will be officially opened in the midlands next weekend on a disused railway line that last saw serious action as a location for a movie starring 007 legend Sean Connery - 1979's The Great Train Robbery.
Almost four decades after the collapse of rail services between Mullingar, Moate and Athlone, the historic corridor has been reconnected by a new bicycle track - 40km long and three metres wide.
The track cost a cool €7m to build.
Barry Kehoe, director of services for transport and economic development at Westmeath County Council, said the project has captured local imagination with some already sampling the route.
"People who haven't ridden a bike for 40 years are getting back on the saddle. They're using it all hours of the day, even into the darkness of the winter evenings we're seeing lights on it," he said.
"They are enjoying the peace and tranquillity but it's also allowing people to explore unfamiliar parts of Westmeath such as Streamstown and Dysart," he added.
With over 10 access points to villages, towns and scenic opportunities, such as a hidden tunnel and a secret garden, developers say the track is specifically tailored for relaxed cycling or walking trips.
"It's entirely for families and we have communicated with the various cycling clubs that it is not suitable for groups. They travel too fast and take up too much space and would be intimidating for family users," said Mr Kehoe.
The foundation for the railway line, which runs alongside the new greenway, was originally constructed in 1848 - a time when the country was ravaged by famine, disease and emigration.
Classic heist flick The Great Train Robbery, directed by Michael Crichton, tells the story of a master thief who makes an elaborate plan to steal a shipment of gold from a moving train.
The line ran continuously until its closure in 1987.
Since that time, it was disused and the corridor and buildings became overgrown and neglected.
Now, thanks to the vision of Westmeath County Council, these areas are united once again.
But it's just the beginning.
"Our main goal is the completion of the national cycleway. While this project is of immense local value, it is only when the entire project is finished that we will really reap the full benefits," said Mr Kehoe.
"For too long, the midlands have been a backwater for tourism as people speed from east to west and back again on our motorways and trains. This project has the potential to change that as it attracts international and domestic tourists who are happy to travel at a more sedate pace through the real Ireland," he said.
Longford-Westmeath Fine Gael TD Gabrielle McFadden is also "thrilled" with the new track that will be officially launched by Taoiseach Enda Kenny in Moate, Co Westmeath, next Sunday. "I've been pushing for this project for years, it will be fantastic for the county and it will give some of our less well-known rural areas the bounce they need," she said.