Here in Ireland’s Mid-West region we are privileged to have some of Ireland’s most beautiful unspoilt countryside. Not only that, we are doubly privileged to have a dedicated walking and cycling track right in the heart of that lush green landscape. This is the jewel of the South West, the Great Southern Trail Greenway.
The trail winds along the route of the now defunct Limerick to Tralee railway line that linked Limerick and Newcastle West in 1867 and then Newcastle West and Tralee in about 1880. The line finally fell into disuse in the 1970s and through the extraordinary efforts of a small group of local people down the decades, this has now become 40 kilometers of magnificent country walks.
This is Ardagh station, with the long platform gradually being claimed by vegetation. Station houses were traditionally made of beautifully hand cut limestone, such as can be seen here.
Deserted railway stations have a particular fascination for me, as I was born in one such beautiful building, the home of my grandparents, in Newtownforbes Co Longford seen below.
Station House, Newtownforbes, Co Longford where I was born and the track I walked with my grandfather.
I spent many an hour walking the railway line with my grandfather, jumping from sleeper to sleeper, trying to keep up with him,and helping him to pull the great big levers that changed the direction of the tracks, sending the engines to the store. Telegraph lines traditionally ran alongside the railway line and my grandfather would lift me up so I could press my ear to the pole and hear the lines ‘singing’.
It was not until several years after I came to live in this area that I discovered that my grandfather’s brother Alfie Clinton, had served as station master in Newcastle West in the early 1950s which made the opening up of the trail of extra special interest to me.
The beautifully restored and modernized Station House in Newcastle West, Co Limerick.
The beautiful cut limestone is also used in the bridges, platforms, and tunnels that lie along the trail. Apart from these lovely examples of our built heritage the trail offers a unique close encounter with nature in all her glory.
These photos are from a walk on the stretch between Ardagh and Newcastle West in the month of May, when Ireland is at her prettiest with the branches of the white Hawthorn weighed down by heavily scented white blossom.
Deliciously scented Hawthorn
The meadows at either side of the line are filled with Spring flowers and the occasional cow peacefully grazing.
The hedgerows along the line have their own microclimate and are populated with copious wildflowers.
Sometimes you have to look very closely to discover the tiniest of little flowers…
The Great Southern Greenway is one of many such trails being developed on disused railway lines in many parts of Ireland. Each is unique. The award-winning Great Western Greenway that runs along the Atlantic from Westport to Achill Island in County Mayo, with its stunning scenery; the Deise Greenway between Dungarvan and Waterford in Co Waterford with its spectacular arched viaducts; the recently begun Burtonport Old Railway Walk which traverses some wild Donegal scenery – to name but a few.
The tourist potential of these Greenways is enormous and it is to be hoped that they will continue to be funded – not just to attract tourists, but for the benefit of local communities that work so hard to get these recreational amenities up and running.
Some sites of interest with some stunning scenery!
Great Western Greenway in County Mayo
Deise Greenway in County Waterford
Burtonport Old Railway Walk in County Donegal
Great Southern Trail in Limerick/Kerry