Monday 20 May 2019

Fighting for the greenway cause

As the greenway co-op group vow to step up their campaign, Jessica Farry speaks to Martin Brennan about the potential it holds

When Tubbercurry native Martin Brennan learned about the campaign to construct a greenway from Bellaghy to Collooney, his head was turned.

Then living in the United States, Martin was anxious to get involved in the project.

He had seen the success of a similar project called 'Katy Trail' in Dallas.

This trail, similar to a greenway, was constructed along an abandoned rail line and is now a walking, running and cycling path.

Knowing that he was moving back to Tubbercurry, Martin was keen to get involved in the project.

"When I saw what a positive impact it had on its community, I followed it and when I saw the greenway concept being suggested in Sligo I thought 'what a great idea' and I was anxious to get involved," he told The Sligo Champion.

Martin, born in London, returned to Tubber in the 1960s where he attended national and secondary school before going on to study in Galway.

He then moved to the United States, where he had lived for over 30 years before he moved back home in recent weeks.

"I went to the States for a year or two and forgot to come back! When I was there I was involved in the hospitality industry. I went from hotels to resort hotels to food and beverage. While I was there, it was amazing the number of times I met people who had been both to Ireland and the North West and so many times they had such a positive report about visiting Sligo.

"It's only when you're away that you come to realise how much your home turf has to offer. I was a very frequent visitor. I always said I lived in Sligo but worked in America. Any opportunity I had I came back to Tubbercurry.

He added: "I liked to hike and I liked to cycle so anything involving the outdoors caught my eye. This is a win-win concept. Under the auspices of the committee, local politicians and local council officials, we will put together a greenway from Bellaghy to Collooney that's going to be a model for greenways throughout the country. We're not simply looking at a bicycle path, we're looking at an entity that's going to be a living, breathing part of our community, that people will see an opportunity on that path to highlight cultural, historical, artistic traditional aspects of life in Sligo."

Martin has brought new ideas to the committee, and he has his own vision for what the greenway could offer, not just for south Sligo but for the county as a whole, should this project get the go ahead.

"It's going to be a path dedicated to socialising, physical wellness, mental wellness. Everybody is on board to promote it as such. It's not strictly because of the economic viability of it, which the potential is huge, it's not just because of the economic attractiveness for businesses, the potential for new businesses, some of them full-time, some seasonal, all of them holistic, all of them long term beneficial for the locality, the environment and all of them on the cusp of a new up and coming industry, which is eco-tourism.

"With the market that we have for that, and with the undersold facilities that we have in Sligo we can be on the cutting edge. These businesses can enhance the hotel industry, the culinary industry. I'd like to see if the IT, for instance, could in conjunction with St. Angela's have an organic farming department."

Part of Martin's vision for the greenway is for it to become a hub for a number of communities, incorporating towns and villages that are within close proximity to the greenway, not just the areas the greenway would run through.

"I've been invited to come and join the committee and I'm glad to be given any opportunity to try and promote this. This is good for everybody.

"It's not just a greenway that's running through South Sligo. We envisage that at every intersection on every road and lane, we'll be able to invite people and show them where they can go off the greenway to see different things. For instance if you go to the intersection on the N17 where the road leads to Moylough, you've got the Moylough Belt which is presently in the national museum and you could go beyond that to Gurteen to the Coleman Centre, the musicians and composers that have come out of there are legendary. We want to include that community.

"We want to bring it further north. We'd like to have an intersection for people who are interested in the facilities at Lough Easkey, there's a marvellous amount of adventure in the Ox Mountains. You come to Knocknashee and Court Abbey, there's so much history and mythology there.

"Then you come to the intersection where we would be able to direct you to Temple House. We've got Eagles Flying there. Everyone within 15-20 miles on the greenway stands to benefit from this.

"People who live next or near to it can benefit from the physical benefits of it. It would be great if we have vegetation along the greenway that would start with cherry blossoms in the spring, tree-lined where practical and you could see the change in the leaves in Autumn, we'd like to see the type of foliage, shrubbery, foliage that would enhance the birdwatching experience."

He also feels that the 'Woodlands for Health' programme from County Wicklow is a model that could be followed here in Sligo.

Woodlands For Health is an innovative Eco Therapy programme developed by Coillte and prescribed by HSE medical professionals for adult mental health patients to engage them in forest activities to enhance their quality of life.

Woodlands For Health is a great example of how the environmental and health sector can work together to benefit participants mental and physical health.

"This has contributed to a major decline in the incidents and the well-being of these people. The sky is the limit. A lot of our history can be projected on murals. A lot of the artistic work will be done, if not by people who reside in the community, maybe their sons and daughters or grandsons and granddaughters or people who do reside here. There's so much for so many. That's why this is a very positive project."

The group will be asking for ideas and such from members of the public as they continue to push for the project to go ahead.

"We're looking forward to devising a programme whereby, there's a lot of people in Sligo who like their history, we'd like to see articles written in relation to the history of this county, things varying from the armada through to the famine. There's still a lot of information that needs to be uncovered. A lot of people have that but they're just looking for a forum in which they can put it out there. We could celebrate along the route at different times of the year, the 4th of July, Bastille Day, German Unity Day."

Martin may only be new to the committee, but he wants this project to take off as much as any of those who have been there since the start.

He is confident that it will go ahead, and he is willing to do whatever it takes in order to get the Bellaghy - Collooney Greenway up and running.

"I'm pretty much working any which way. If I can help with publicising it, good and well. If I can help with the co-ordination of the attractions that would make it more viable, I'm happy to do that. I'm very anxious for this to take out, I'm confident it will work. I'm passionate about the concept. It's all volunteer-ism."

Of course, with any project there will be opposition, and Martin says he is willing to hear the concerns of anyone who is against the proposed greenway.

"Very often opposition to these kind of projects is wedded in fear, fear of the unknown. People who are concerned simply have to ask questions. I certainly would entertain anybody's concerns because more often than not people's concerns are well grounded, they need to be respected. They can come away reassured, however, that there is much less nothing to fear about the creation of this greenway, but there is a lot to respect about it. For them to see misinformation that appears in some of these projects, that's where opposition can stem from. I don't see how anybody can look at this project rationally and not think that it is attainable."

Sligo Champion