It has been dubbed ‘the Venice of Ireland’, boasting the most intricate waterway system in the country.
Before human intervention, Galway was a city of seven rivers and seven islands. At one point, there were 29 waterwheels drawing their power from the waterways of Galway to provide energy for the city’s various industries.
But today it is far from the shining jewel in the crown that it could be.
Many of Galway’s waterways are in a poor state of repair and cleanliness and appear badly neglected. Unpruned trees overhang the water, roots grow out of the walls, silt builds up because there is not an adequate flow and objects thrown into the water are not removed quickly enough.
But a community group calling itself the Galway Waterways Initiative aims to change all that, using the European Capital of Culture 2020 as a catalyst.
Its vision is to create an intertwined network of canal and riverside walks with signage and heritage markers throughout the city. It wants to plant the banks with flowers, shrubs, and trees that are kept pruned and healthy.
The group plans to re-establish navigation along the Eglinton Canal so that journeys from Lough Corrib to Galway Bay are again made possible. The project would licence glass-topped tourist boats to tell a different side to Galway’s history, taking in the Fisheries buildings, the Poor Clare Convent, and water wheel sites which powered flour mills, distilleries, and woollen factories, the regulating weir that protects the City, the Parkavera Lock and the Claddagh Basin.
It hopes to create a clear path for kayaks, canoes, and other small craft to wind their way through the interconnected water courses.
“Cities all over the world have restored waterways that had become filthy, urban sewers to objects of civic pride. A multi-year canal restoration programme that is an integral part of Galway Capital of Culture 2020, beginning in 2017 and leading up to and beyond 2020 has the potential for a rare achievement,” explains Phil James, who is spearheading the campaign.
Already, the group has the backing of 14 groups and institutions which have vested interests in the waterways, including NUIG, residents’ associations and diving and rowing clubs.
American-born Phil, who came to Galway to work with Digital, has a long experience in management in the not-for-profit sector, heading up Pro-Activate, which has secured substantial European Union funding to carry out projects with partner organisations from all corners of Europe.
They have submitted a proposal to the 2020 committee with an outline of what the project would entail and a detailed calendar of events leading up to the influx of visitors. This was drawn up after a public workshop about the waterways last May.
Highlights include water and light displays, a hydro-energy conference and the first hydro-energy installation, kayaking, canoeing, diving regattas, a design competition for a walkway over the old railroad pillars connecting the city to the Connemara greenway and the production of a plan for a ‘blueway’ connecting the Galway canals to the Ballyquirke canal network in Moycullen.
They envisage setting up a virtual “museum of the waterways”, with a plan for an actual museum. The project would involve a re-naming competition for the rivers and canals and a gala event in 2020 including a concert from a floating stage in the Claddagh Basin.
During Cultural Night last Friday, they put up eight signs around the city advocating that canal restoration should be part of 2020 in a bid to raise awareness about their proposal to the event committee.
The only feedback they got on the signs from Galway City Council was a warning that fines would issue unless they were removed.
A copy of the submission has been sent to City CEO Brendan McGrath and all local politicians in a bid to drum up support for the plan.
The group plans to launch of the Capital of Culture initiative on October 13, with a host of influential guest speakers.