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Loughrea's Walks rising from the sycamore ashes!

When the team working on a five-year plan to restore Loughrea’s historic Walks encountered dead trees in the course of their work, they didn’t just want to chop them down…they turned one of them into a magnificent sculpture.

It’s not the first time that the team behind The Walks responded to adversity with creativity – and the end result now adds another rich layer to a walkway that can trace its history back to the end of the 18th century.

Project Co-ordinator Ursula Marmion is delighted with how the tree sculpture has turned out.

“There are a number of dead trees in The Walks, and we decided to get one of them carved. This particular tree was a dead sycamore,” she said.

The carving was done by Para Havatitye, a woodwork teacher and artist, who is originally from Zimbabwe, but who living in Ireland for some 26 years.

The finished sculpture depicting two wild brown trout, two mallard ducks and a heron – all with connections to The Walks.

“The carving depicts two wild brown trout, representing the trout that swim up from the lake to spawn in The Walks’ River; as well as two mallard ducks and a heron who also reside in The Walks,” explained Ursula.

The work was sponsored by Loughrea Tidy Towns Committee, and it marks another stage in this multifaceted repair/conservation project which began in 2019 and still has another three years to go.

The first two years involved conservation and repair to all bridges and a large section of The Walks Wall, but the third year then involved structural remedial work to a large section of wall, which is previously unstable, due to soft ground conditions.

By now well over half of The Walks’ wall, all of the bridges and a number of sections of stone lining have been repaired, thanks to contractors with specific   experience in heritage work, working under archaeological supervision.

The Walks is a t-shaped pedestrianised, tree lined walkway situated to the north of the Main Street in Loughrea. The walkway itself was in place by the 1791 and is shown as the ‘Clanricarde Walk & River’ on a town map of this date.

The then-landlord Clanricarde would have been influenced by the trend of the time to develop a natural setting where one could ‘take the air’.

The river that flows the length of The Walks is the only still functioning medieval moat in Ireland, albeit reduced in size from medieval times.

This river is of vital importance to the Loughrea Lake Fishery, as it serves as a spawning ground for the brown trout that inhabit the lake.

The moat was put in place as a town defence sometime after Loughrea was founded in 1236 by the Anglo Norman Knight, Richard de Burgo.

Over time, all the masonry elements in The Walks had fallen into a serious state of disrepair.

Following the commissioning of a Conservation Plan by Galway County Council, a local group formed with the intention of sourcing funding to carry out this large-scale conservation project.

Most of the work must be carried out from the river. Consequently, work can only be carried out during the months of July, August, September and October, as permitted by legislation to protect fish life.

Work has been funded by contributions for the local community and the Outdoor Recreation Infrastructure Scheme (ORIS), which in turn is funded by the Department of Rural and Community Development and administered by Galway County Council.

(Photo: Artist Para Havatitye (centre) beside his tree sculpture with members of The Walks Project Team and Loughrea Tidy Towns (from left) Pat Scully, Shane Donnellan, Ursula Marmion, Mary Nix, Para Havatitye, Cllr. Moegie Maher, Cathriona McLoughlin, Cllr. Shane Curley and Eithne Mahoney).

For more, read this week’s Connacht Tribune:

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