Major battle brewing over controversial plan for 115km cycle path on river
A major battle is brewing over a controversial plan by Waterways Ireland to replace the 115km grassy towpath along the River Barrow from Kildare to Carlow with hard surface to accommodate a cycleway.
Described by Irish environmentalist Dick Warner as "the most beautiful riverside walk in these islands", the Barrow Way stretches from Lowtown, Co Kildare, to St Mullins in Co Carlow, along over 100km of canal and river towpaths.
Planning permission to start the work is due to be lodged with Carlow County Council this week.
Once the work is complete, Waterways Ireland said it will liaise with local businesses and tourism providers to develop the route into a Blueway, a 'slow' tourism product focusing on leisure activities.
But the plan is dividing local communities along the Barrow, with concerns the proposed development will ruin the eco-system.
The Carlow Barrow Users Group, which is opposed to the Waterways Ireland plan, obtained an engineer's report under Freedom of Information which it says raises serious questions about its suitability.
It suggests that most of the towpath isn't wide enough to accommodate two-way cycling.
"At the moment the Barrow offers the most wonderful grassy service. It's absolutely unique - there's nothing like it," said journalist and broadcaster Olivia O'Leary, who is campaigning against the plan.
"We are very concerned that this development will greatly disrupt the wildlife living along the line. Who knows what long-term damage it will cause? When you put down a hard surface you're also going to have an issue with speed.
"Many people use this towpath are able to have peaceful strolls or relax in this peaceful environment.
"How can people possibly do this if cyclists are using the surface to speed up and down the line?"
However, one person who is very much in favour of the new development is Mullichain Café manager Mark O'Brien, of St Mullins. "The truth is that areas that run along the River Barrow don't benefit from tourism and are dying financially. This will benefit our local businesses. We need the line to be wheelchair accessible, and easier for people to walk and cycle on, if we expect to attract more footfall," he said.