Dreaming big: two exciting tourism projects with significant potential

It’s been a very busy week in the pre-development stage of two major new proposed tourism projects for the eastern part of County Roscommon in the area along the River Shannon between Tarmonbarry and Ballyleague and the inland territory nearby. Two very significant public consultations with residents in these areas took place within 24 hours of each other on Thursday and Friday last to outline details of work already done on each of the developments. These projects are very much at feasibility stage but already some of the information that has emerged is, to be honest, really quite mind-blowing.

A few months ago I wrote in this column about the extraordinary scale of feasibility work and pre-development ‘scoping out’ research that was going on in this part of Roscommon. The much-maligned Government Just Transition Fund is payrolling 70 per cent of the work and handing out tens of thousands of euro to professional consultants and engineers to look in real depth at about five different tourism projects in this region – most of them in and around Ballyleague and Cloontuskert. On top of that there’s another state-sponsored project that is aiming to soon produce a preferred route for a greenway from Tarmonbarry all the way up to Athlone. That’s in the pipeline. As I said before, all of these projects have absolutely huge potential to transform tourism in this part of the county. If half of the plans being mooted can proceed, there will be significant economic benefit for the people who live in this region – maybe not this year or next year, but definitely in the next 10-20 years.

Location chosen

Roughan & O’Donovan were the first set of consultants which had their public consultation online with interested local groups on Friday. This firm has been appointed by Roscommon County Council to undertake a feasibility study for the development of a boardwalk on Lough Ree at Ballyleague. The site is located on the west bank of the River Shannon and comprises natural meadow and wetland areas tying in with the existing marina to the north of the lough at Ballyleague jetty.

The consultants say the proposed boardwalk presents an opportunity to provide a stunning and unique public amenity which would undoubtedly provide an added attraction to the area – and you have to agree with that claim. The structure would run for approximately 1.5-2km south from the area near the existing marina pier, giving access to a natural wetland area which is home to a wide variety of flora and fauna. There’s no doubting the natural beauty of the lake stretching southwards would make a stunning backdrop to the proposed boardwalk and would be a huge attraction for the local community and visitors alike.

Being a resident in the area, I can see the real potential for this project transforming the local economy over the next 10 to 20 years. Fáilte Ireland

personnel down through the years have been saying there’s a great opportunity to provide enhanced amenity infrastructure in this village which would support physical and mental wellbeing, leading to a more vibrant and attractive place to live, work, visit and invest in.

The boardwalk idea came directly from locals in the area who have been to Drumshanbo and seen the fantastic amenity provided there. The main focus of the work being done now in Ballyleague is on the engineering and environmental solutions. Several options in respect to the boardwalk alignment and its structural form have been considered and evaluated under a number of key headings, including: technical, environmental, aesthetic and economic merits. It’s a really comprehensive review. I read most of it at the weekend – and found my eyes opening even wider when I saw some of the costs being explored/projected!

The proposed boardwalk would extend from the Ballyleague marina at the north end to what’s been referred to as Ballyclare Island at the south end. The concept of linking up the walk with those already using pedestrian trails on the Longford shoreline has also been looked at in detail. Provision of a circulatory route around Lough Ree would require two new bridges to connect the island with the mainland on both banks of the River Shannon. Two loops would have to be provided at the southern end for convenience of users, one at the tip of the peninsula jutting out there with a scenic view overlooking Lough Ree, the other on ‘Ballyclare Island’ allowing cyclists to have a comfortable turnaround without a need to dismount. Putting these bridges in place could collectively cost over €10m – a fact that alarmed many people reading the report at the weekend. But remember, any project that proceeds would more than likely be looking to stage 2 and stage 3 of the Just Transition Fund coming down the line with over €200m in grant-aid from Europe heading to this region in the period 2024-2034.

Linking up

The proposed new boardwalk would of course tie in to the existing network of footways and cycleways extending along the bank of the River Shannon in Ballyleague. The tie-in point would be located at the western edge of the Ballyclare marina and would have to make direct contact with the other major tourism project that went to public consultation last week.

On Thursday, Roscommon County Council hosted an event at the community centre in Strokestown to offer information on a Mid-Shannon Greenway which would connect areas such as Tarmonbarry, Ballyleague, Rooskey and Sliabh Bawn. The consultants here were scoping out the route for that project – and will come back later in the year or early next year with an idea of how one might travel by bike or shank’s mare from the lock at Tarmon ‘cross-country’ to arrive at Ballyleague marina.

The end result of the two projects – if and when they go ahead – would in this writer’s opinion be absolutely huge for the twin towns of Ballyleague and Lanesborough. The town has a long, proud history that can be linked back to early monastic settlements on Inchcleraun from as early as 540AD, and several local groups have already worked hard to put in new tourism-friendly projects such as the new town promenade in Ballyleague, the new marinas, the Access for All boat, and the Lough Ree whiskey distillery just across the river.

Once the preferred option for any new boardwalk is chosen, an environmental impact assessment screening will of course have to be done on the design of the preferred option to determine if significant effects on the environment are likely to arise as a result of the proposed development. There’s little doubt in the local area that, based on previous developments of this nature, a study and a full EU Natura report on the project will be coming down the line.

New customers

Consultants Roughan & O’Donovan say the likely users of the new facility would include special interest visitors (anglers, walkers, cyclists, birdwatchers), residents exercising and relaxing on the new facility, and persons travelling through Ballyleague on the N63 who can be persuaded to stop and spend time and money while exploring the area. I know from previous experience that there will be lots of sceptics out there reading this column who say it will never happen – but I will return to an old argument to try and deal with that.

Here goes: Just take a look at the Center parcs development nearby in Ballymahon – another project they said would never happen, or work. Today it employs over 1000 people and they have plans for another 500 jobs and 200 more cabins there soon. So don’t rule this boardwalk idea out either. Watch this space.