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.
Community volunteers out in force for planathons on banks of Lough Atalia
Student volunteers and community activists were out in force throughout the month of December to push back against the climate crisis – taking part in a series of ‘plantathons’ on the banks of Lough Atalia.
Planting bulbs and trees, the programme was led by Galway Community College which owns the lands involved – and aims to rewild another portion of the city, following in the footsteps of Terryland Forest Park.
While a much smaller area by size, those behind the initiative say it shows what’s possible when the community comes together.
Supported by the National Park City initiative, the creation of this woods and wildflower meadow on what were, until now pasture lands, also had the backing of several other voluntary organisation in the city as well as Scoil Chaitríona Senior, Dominican College Taylor’s Hill, Galway Education Centre and Galway Science and Technology Festival.
With the bulbs provided by the Newcastle-based multinational Aerogen, Convenor of the Galway National Park City Brendan Smith said the project epitomised how the initiative brings interested parties together to do good.
He said efforts such as those on Lough Atalia showed the determination of young people and locals to continue the great work of those who carried out the very first plantathon in Terryland almost 22 years ago.
Those efforts were required now more than ever as the impact of the climate emergency was being acutely felt.
“The frequency and severity of storms is becoming more characteristic of Ireland as a result of unstable destructive global warm weather caused by the burning of fossil fuels and the destruction of nature’s ‘carbon sinks’ such as forests and bogs.
“Storm Barra was the latest in a long list of storms to hit our shores over the last decade. But one key way to tackle the climate emergency is to plant trees – and lots of them. The Irish Government wants to have 22 million trees planted annually.
“This planting also happens to tackle the other great global crisis of our modern era, namely Biodiversity loss,” says Brendan.
“One million out of five million known species on the planet are threatened with extinction. Global populations of fauna have declined by nearly 70% since 1970.
“A forest is probably Earth’s most diverse biodiversity rich mix of ecosystems with an oak tree being able to be home to over 400 species of flora, fungi and fauna.
“Planting trees is a necessary action in helping to save the planet from humanity’s errors.”
City’s newest Salmon Weir crossing will be in place before end of year
Galway city’s newest pedestrian bridge – costing €5m – is expected to be installed before December of this year.
The new cycle and pedestrian bridge over the Lower River Corrib will be located 25 metres downstream of the existing Salmon Weir Bridge.
An Bórd Pleanála granted planning permission for the bridge last August, and work is expected to begin on the project in the coming months.
Galway City Council, in conjunction with the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF), North Western Regional Assembly and the National Transport Authority, has sought tenders from contractors to carry out the work.
The City Council is co-funding the project under ERDF with matched funding from the NTA.
The project must be completed by November 30, 2022, to comply with EU funding drawdown.
In the planning application, the City Council said 9,000 pedestrians and cyclists who currently use the Salmon Weir Bridge would use the new bridge once it’s opened.
The bridge will link Gaol Road to Newtownsmith. The scheme includes three span pedestrian and cycle bridge over the Lower River Corrib (main channel), Mill Race (Persse’s Distillery River) and Waterside Canal (Friar’s River).
The vision is that it would facilitate the BusConnects project, which will use the existing bridge, and also open up opportunities for a civic plaza at the Council owned car park at Galway Cathedral.
According to the tender documents, the “bridge substructure will be reinforced concrete construction, founded on sleeved reinforced concrete bored cast in place piles at the abutments and spread footings founded on and anchored to rock at the piers”.
Traffic management will need to be put in place during works and due to the environmentally sensitive site location “no temporary or permanent works will be permitted to be undertaken from the watercourses”.
Contractors have until January 21 to respond to the competition.
CPO could trigger major development of housing
Just one submission has been received in relation to a Compulsory Purchase Order on a section of a hugely busy rat run between the Tuam and Headford Roads that could open up a large tranche of land for development if approved.
Galway City Council has applied to An Bord Pleanála to compulsorily purchase over 500 metres of land along Bother an Chóiste in Castlegar adjacent to land it already owns where a previous application to build 48 homes failed due to the width of the road around 2007.
That land is on the same side of the road as the Cluain Riocaird estate. There is another privately-owned land bank of over six hectares on the other side of Bothar an Chóiste also zoned residential that could accommodate up on 400 units which would also benefit from the road widening.
No application has been lodged for that development, but any approval would be dependent on an upgrade of the road which is widely used by motorists to avoid tailbacks at the two busiest traffic junctions in the city.
A spokesman for the Council told the Galway City Tribune that the purpose of the CPO is not to upgrade the through road between the Headford Road and the Tuam Road but to facilitate access to a parcel of its own land for housing development.
“The land take is not designed to be a transport measure. Bothar an Chóiste is not intended to serve as anything other than an access and egress point for local residents. The extent that we’re upgrading is the extent of residentially zoned land,” he stated.
One valid submission was received by the end of December deadline and has been forwarded by the board to the Council for consideration.
If the CPO is approved by an Bord Pleanála, the Council would prepare a design for housing and the road widening and seek funding from the Department of Housing. It would also be obliged to seek approval from Galway City Councillors for a part 8 development.
An application to build 74 homes a short distance away on the school Road was turned down by An Bord Pleanála after being rejected by the Council which had asked the developer, Altitude Distribution, to increase the housing density. The appeals board found the development would constitute a traffic hazard due to the width of the road and shortcomings with the layout because of site constraints.
A Bothar an Chóiste resident told the Galway City Tribune there were no details of what measures would be implemented to improve pedestrian and cyclist safety on what was already a highly-trafficked road.
“From a road safety stand point, marginally widening the road will only add to the already endemic ‘rat run’ culture as cars will be have a straighter road on which they can travel faster, with more danger for pedestrians, cyclists, families with buggies and small children getting to and from housing units to local shops, the Ballinfoile Castlegar Neighbourhood Centre, schools and other amenities,” she predicted.
“Making this road easier for cars to travel by widening means that even bigger, heavier vehicles that currently avoid it as it is narrow and bendy will make it even more detrimental to vulnerable road users.
“Housing units are welcome, but these builds should have the essential services and safe interconnected infrastructure for most vulnerable road users at the heart of the road widening proposals. It’s counter-productive to propose road widening without thoughtful footpaths and cyclepaths that will further lock local residents into car culture.”
The Council spokesperson said the design would facilitate pedestrian movements and public lighting to encourage active travel.
An Bord Pleanála is scheduled to hand down its decision by May.