I know I have tried to start or finish most my posts at a location with a train station however in my previous post I thought it made sense to stop a little short at Mullingar Harbour rather than going a little further around the bend to Mullingar Railway Station.
So for those of you joining me from the railway station for this cycle I would ask you to back track slightly for 1 kilometre to Mullingar Harbour where will start today for our short 10.5 kilometre journey as far as Coolnahay Harbour. As this is a short trip it is one I highly recommend taking a picnic with you as Coolnahay Harbour is a glorious place to sit out at on a warm sunny day and since it is at the end of the summit level, walkers, runners and cyclists alike can enjoy a nice flat out and back on the day.
Leaving Mullingar Harbour you pass under the Mullingar Railway Bridge which carries the Dublin – Sligo train west out of Mullingar and marks the end of the working railways trip with us. This is a fairly modern bridge but I cannot find an exact date for it. It is most notable for its large green tubular steel beams that carry the railway over the canal.
As you round the corner you also pass under a footbridge over the canal. As we approach Green Bridge which carries Dominic Street over the canal you are likely to see the Irish Tricolour flying in the 1916 Centenary Memorial Park on the opposite bank. The flagpole, seating and lighting is enclosed by a masonry wall with a plinth displaying the Proclamation of Independence around which seven native Irish trees are planted, each representing a signatory to the proclamation.
Going under Green Bridge we come out the other side with a clear view of Mulligar Railway Station. There is a large car park located at the station for those looking for an ideal place to leave a vehicle for a few hours and its rates are reasonable.
We now line up with what was the Mullingar to Athlone Railway line and the railway sheds and turntable west of the town. These sheds were used by the Railway Preservation Society of Ireland to restore their locomotive No. 184 (a former Great Southern and Western Railway locomotive) which was subsequently used in the filming of The Great Train Robbery starring Sean Connery and Donald Sutherland.
Once the main line used to get from Dublin to Galway, the Mullingar to Athlone line hasn’t been used since 1991 and has now become the Old Rail Trail, a 42 kilometre greenway passing through Moate on its way to Athlone and a pleasurable cycle in itself. The Old Rail Trail starts a little further west at Grange Bridge which is also the starting point for Mullingar parkrun. The parkrun route heads out west for just over 2 kilometres on the canal before crossing back onto the Old Rail Trail to finish back just short of Grange Bridge.
The first bridge you come to on leaving Mullingar is Kilpatrick Bridge. The Greenway passes under the bridge and carries on on the southern bank. Kilpatrick House is nearby on the other side of the old railway line. The canal meanders on towards Belmont Bridge which is the last Royal Canal bridge to be abutted by a railway bridge.
It is necessary to take the ramp up onto Belmont Bridge and cross over to the north bank to carry on to Ballinea. Belmont House lies just slightly south of the bridge as does its slightly later Gate Lodge.
Ballinea has a small harbour and picnic area just before the original Ballinea Bridge. You need to come up and cross over the bridge before descending back down on the south bank before the more modern road bridge and you carry on under it. If you are in need of supplies it is best to pick them up here in Ballinea as there is a small shop in the village and it will be your last opportunity to do so until you pass here again on your way back.
Leaving the last real urban environment we’ll encounter on the Royal Canal behind us we carry on towards the Shandonagh Bridges which like the Ballinea Bridges comprises of an original Canal Bridge and a more recently added road bridge adjacent to it. It was around this area that the Royal Canal was dammed in the late 1960’s and for the most part went dry until it’s restoration. This can be read about in chapter 13 on of Ireland’s Royal Canal 1789 – 2009.
From Shandonagh it is an idyllic 2 kilometre to Coolnahay Harbour and the 26th Lock which marks the end of the Summit Level and the beginning of the decent of locks down to the 46th Lock at Richmond Harbour. The 26th Lock also has a restored Lock Keepers Cottage and Dolan’s Bridge after which there is a small car park.
As mentioned at the start of this post it is only a short distance from Mullingar Harbour to Coolnahay but it is very enjoyable section of the canal that can be enjoyed by foot or by bike. From here we truly head for the wild west… and County Longford.