National Trails Network

A proposal to create a 600 mile integrated network of walk/cycleways in Ireland

Proposal: To create a network of dedicated cycling and walking routes that will turn Ireland into a Mecca for tourists and for lovers of outdoor pursuits, increasing tourist numbers and providing business opportunities in all the small towns served by the network. These trails will follow disused branch railway lines, canal banks and minor roads and laneways to create a safe and practically traffic-free network that will bring tourists to lesser-known towns as well as larger urban centres. The network will serve to link existing routes where they exist.

A number of proposals already exist to convert the western rail corridor from Claremorris in County Mayo to Collooney in County Sligo into a "Greenway", with the intention of mirroring the success of the existing Greenway trail at Newport in County Mayo. However, while taking any one of these proposals in isolation may increase overall user numbers in the region to some extent, it will also serve to compete with the existing successful Greenway and may reduce numbers using that particular trail. In order to be successful and to be a driver of increased tourist numbers, the new route needs to be developed as part of an overall strategy to create a combination of long distance and short distance cycling and walking options, linked to public transport hubs and larger urban centres. In short, we need a strategy to turn Ireland in general  into a destination of choice for significant numbers of cycling and walking enthusiasts, as well as providing added interest for existing tourists and for the local population.

Project summary: Link Dublin, Galway, Sligo, Derry, Tullamore, Limerick, Killarney, Carlow, Wexford, Drogheda and Navan to provide up to 800 miles of walk/cycleway.

 Keys to the success of the project:

  • Fast roll-out to deliver as many miles of trail as possible in early phases at lowest possible cost.
  • Easy access to trail from large urban centres and public transport hubs, without the need to drive.
  • Routes should not be isolated in the 'middle of nowhere' but should start and finish at recognisable population centres.
  • Safe traffic-free sections of reasonable length to attract cyclists and walkers.
  • Major tourist infrastructure delivered at very low cost.
  • Long enough to be attractive to cyclists and walkers at every level and to provide cycling and walking holidays of one/two-week duration as well as short breaks and local day-trips.


Phasing of project:

Phase 1. Link the existing Great Western Greenway around Clew Bay to Dublin and the midlands via Castlebar and Kiltimagh, running alongside the disused railway from Kiltimagh to Charlestown, and then east along the "Four Flannerys route" to the end of the Royal Canal at Clondara in County Longford. Install a trail on the banks of the Royal Canal to link the entire route to Dublin. Cost estimate is around €5.5 million, assuming €30/sq.m for pathway and 500,000 euro for signage and engineered safety solutions. This small investment will create a continuous trail more than 270 Km long, rivalling internationally famous trails like the New Zealand rail Trail (150Km). More importantly, it links the scenic midlands and west with the densely populated Dublin region, as well as providing access to ferryports and to airports at Dublin and Knock.

Phase 2. Install a trail on the bank of the Grand Canal to link Dublin to Shannon Harbour in County Offaly, and continue south along minor roads through Bannagher to link with the existing cycle trail to Nenagh. Install cycle lanes on the old Dublin/Limerick road to connect this trail with the disused Limerick/Tralee railway line (30 Km of this route has already been completed by a local voluntary group). This will create a second "spine" route across Ireland, linking Dublin to Tralee. Cost is estimated at between 6 and 7 million euro.

Phase 3.  Link the Grand Canal and Royal Canal along the old Kilbeggan Branch and the Brosna Way to create a triangular route linking Dublin, Tullamore and Mullingar. This would make an ideal weekend loop for Dublin based cyclists or for walking and cycling tourists visiting the country for short stays. Cost of this is estimated at less than 500,000 euro; much of the work has alredy been done by voluntary groups

Phase 4. Join the Grand Canal Way to Carlow and to St. Mullin in Wexford via the Athy branch of the canal and the Barrow Navigation. The routes exist and are open; hard surfacing is all that is required, and around 25% of this route is already surfaced on canal-bank minor roads. This phase would link Dublin and the trails network to the South East.

 Phase 5. Continue the trail north from Charlestown alongside the disused ralway line to Collooney, and then through Union Wood to Sligo, linking to the North-west (road-based) trail to Donegal and Derry. Move the north-west trail gradually on to the route of the old Donegal railway, initially as a walking route, and then as a hard trail for cyclists as funds allow.

 Phase 6. Open up the old Sligo, Leitrim and Northern Counties Railway (SL&NCR) railway route from Collooney via Manorhamilton to join with the Kingfisher trail in Northern Ireland. As with phase 5, this can be done by initially creating a walking route in parallel to a road-based cycle trail and adding tarmac as funds become available.

 Phase 7. Open up a further 70 miles of disused railway along the Letterkenny and Burtonport Extension Railway (L&BER), linking Lifford with Letterkenny, Creeslough, Gweedore and Burtonport. This section to be developed as soon as traffic on the Mayo/Derry route has reached adequate levels. In the interim, Donegal County Council to be tasked with securing the route and preventing any further inroads on the way.

Additional future enhancements could be added at little cost. For example, the Boyne Canal is due for restoration; the development of a trail along the canal and River Boyne from Drogheda to Navan could easily be incorporated into this project, and linked via minor roads to the Royal Canal at Killucan. This route passes by the door of the Battle of the Boyne site and the Newgrange visitor centre, adding an interesting diversion to the Royal Canal route. The old Kilfree Junction railway line to Ballaghaderreen could be developed to link Ballaghaderreen and Boyle to the main east-west trail where it routes through Monasteraden. Other old rail routes around the country could also be added to the route once the main lines have been installed and marketed internationally.

Once the concept of joining up all the possible trails is adopted as a general policy, there are endless possibilities for enhancements such as this.



Towns & villages served by the network 

A total of 45 towns and villages will benefit directly from being located along western route; a similar number can achieve connectvity in the south west and south east