Categories
Royal Canal

Cycling on the Old Rail Trail: Mullingar to Athlone

Given how intertwined the history is between the Royal Canal and the Midlands Great Western Railway (MGWR) I think it would be remiss of me not to put up a post about the old MGWR Mullingar to Athlone railway line which has been converted into an amazing 40km greenway called the Old Rail Trail which is entirely in Westmeath.

Image of the Midland Great Western Railway Company Crest from the Model Railway Museum in Malahide

I previously discussed running the Old Rail Trail from Athlone to Mullingar here but in the context of my series of guide posts of the Royal Canal I will revisit the topic here starting in Mullingar. A quick history lesson will tell you that the MGWR was incorporated in 1845 and at its peak was the third largest railway company in Ireland after Great Southern & Western Railway (GS&WR) and Great Northern Railway of Ireland (GNR). The MGWR bought the Royal Canal with the aim to build a railway to Mullingar and onward to Longford. Construction of the railway began in January 1846 and reached Mullingar in 1848.

Plaque marking the 150th Anniversary of the opening of Mullingar Railway Station

There was a rivalry between the MGWR and the GS&WR to reach Galway first and so it was that the MGWR extended their line from Mullingar to Athlone and onward to Galway, capable of running trains from Dublin to Galway from August 1851. It would be another 8 years before GS&WR reached Athlone and from that point on used the already laid MGWR line west.

Centre Platforms and shelters on the Sligo Line of Mullingar Train Station

Starting at Mullingar Railway Station, the platforms and shelters of the old Athlone line are no longer in use or accessible. They sit around the far side of the station building and can only be viewed from inside. Also visible from the station building is the Signal Box on the Dublin side which commands view of both the Athlone and Sligo lines as they part either side of the station. The Athlone line through the station is still in place as far out as the railway sheds and workers terrace passing over a bridge immediately after the station. These sheds were used by the Railway Preservation Society of Ireland in the restoration of Great Southern & Western Railway Locomotive No. 184. This locomotive went on to be used in the filming of The First Great Train Robbery starring Sean Connery and Donald Sunderland where many moving scenes were shot on the Mulligar to Athlone railway line. No. 184 is on display at Whitehead Railway Museum in Co. Antrim. There is also the remains of a turntable out by the railway sheds. The workers terrace was also the location of a true crime in 1869 when it was reported that the then Station Master Thomas Anketell was shot and murdered and a newspaper article about the incident can be found here.

Old Rail Trail map near Grange Bridge

Unfortunately while we can view the sheds from a distance or on Google Maps we are unable to go directly by them so to access the start of the Old Rail Trail it is best to exit the station onto the Royal Canal Greenway and head west as far as Grange Bridge which was described by the late Dick Warner as like having the legs of a Mullingar heifer. Alternatively there is an Old Rail Trail car park adjacent to Grange Bridge on the south side of the canal.

Grange Bridge looking east.

Just after passing Grange Bridge you will see that the Royal Canal Greenway splits in two. On the right you stay with the canal and the route as far as Coolnahay is described in my post here and on the left is the start of the Old Rail Trail. You will also see the start sign of Mullingar parkrun at the Y of the two greenways.

Mullingar parkun Start sign at the split between the Royal Canal Greenway and the Old Rail Trail

As you start moving west on the Old Rail Trail you will notice it is a smooth tarmac surface unlike the dust stone used on the Royal Canal Greenway. This tarmac surface is used the whole way to Athlone and as such makes it the perfect surface for a smooth cycle. Passing the industrial estate on the left you will notice the remains of a railway platform which was used to serve the Mullingar Racecourse at Newbrook. From what I can gather from Railscot’s record of Irish Stations the platforms operated from 1902 to 1962.

Signal Cable Pole along the trail

The Royal Canal Greenway and the Old Rail Trail run parallel to each other for roughly 3.5km from Grange Bridge out to Ballinea. The parkrun course is made up of an out on the canal and a return on the Old Rail Trail. Close to Kilpatrick Bridge over the canal there is also a squared off bridge over the trail.

The high wall at the road bridge over the trail at Kilpatrick

Not far beyond Kilpatrick Bridge we come to the last link to the Royal Canal Greenway where the parkrun turns to go back to its finish. Just beyond that is also the last MGWR bridge that is abutted to an older Royal Canal bridge at Belmont Bridge. There is a small shop in Ballinea which you can get to by taking the Royal Canal here. If you haven’t come with supplies I would suggest taking the time to stop here and get something as Moate is the next location where you really have an opportunity to get anything.

Looking towards Mullingar at Belmont Railway Bridge

As can be seen in the above photo, the Old Rail Trail only takes up about half the surface available to it as it was once a double line track and as a result there is the remains of one of the tracks for the majority of the distance to Athlone to remind us of the proud rail heritage that the trail is built on.

Old Railway Signal near Castletown

At Ballinea we pass a private residence that was most likely originally built as railway workers cottage. We have left the old world of the canal now, the familiar sights of Locks, Keeper’s Cottages and humpback bridges are replaced with the railways own take on engineering with workers cottages, stations, water towers and sheds all to come.

Short tunnel just west of Ballinea

Not far west of Ballinea we pass through the closest thing to a tunnel the Old Rail Trail has. As we move further west in what is nearly a straight line we both go over and under many bridges alternating between the roads going over and under the railway. Unless they have some key relevance though I will only mention the bridges we pass under as it is near impossible to take a worthwhile photo of a bridge when standing on top of it.

Wall and bridge alongside Barrettstown House

It is interesting as we move across the landscape how the railway would have cut through the land in places like at Barrettstown where high walls flank us on either side to soaring high above the farmland at other points affording us views as far as the eye can see, not to mention a wind that can cut you on a cold day so a reminder to always be prepared.

3.5km from Barrettstown we come to what was Castletown Station which was open from 1851 until 1987. The first thing to greet us is the magnificently restored signal box. Behind the signal box is Ard Na Greine, a Victorian house and former dispensary. Crossing over the road we come to the station and its platforms.

A dark eerie image of the remains of the Gate Keeper’s Cottage at Castletown.

The Castletown Station is now a private residence on the northern platform but the southern platform does offer picnic benches for those passing by. As mentioned previously it is important to bring your own supplies on this trip, however, Castletown Geoghegan has a shop in it 2km south along the road if you need it.

Castletown Station in the left with the Signal Box in the background.

Though boarded up the remains of a platform waiting room faces the station on the southern platform and to complete the station set there is the remains of a goods shed just west of the platforms as you are leaving.

Castletoewn Goods Shed

Leaving Castletown behind us we head towards an area known as Killeen and the area around Jamestown Court, with its Gate Lodge adjacent to the bridge over the railway which acts an entrance into the estate and its folly. Unfortunately the splendour of Jamestown Court cannot be seen from the Old Rail Trail as it is cut into the land below it.

Bridge at Killeen near Jamestown Court

Just short of 4km from Jamestown Court we come to Streamstown Junction and its old station which opened in 1851 and closed in 1963. MGWR had a railway from Streamstown linking to the GS&WR at Clara via Horseleap. Horseleap was open from 1876 to 1947 with the line permanently closing in 1965. The MGWR station in Clara operated from 1866 to 1925 but what was the GS&WR station is still open on the line between Tullamore and Athlone.

Streamstown Station (under renovation?)

Streamstown is located nearly half way along the Old Rail Trail, 17km from Mullingar and 23km to Athlone. The last time I passed (April 2019) there was an open air museum dedicated to old farm machinery on the northern platform.

Some of the farm machinery on the northern platform

The station building itself was also covered in scaffolding. I have heard rumours that it was being done with the intention of opening a cafe in it. This would be a fantastic point along the route for one but I have no definite source for such a comment so only time will tell. The work may just be preservation work. The station also has the remains of a few other buildings including a small goods shed and a waiting room.

Waiting Room at Streamstown Station.

Apart from the obvious railway and buildings along the route, many other things associated with the railway also remain. These include mile markers, signals and cable polls.

Mile Marker 65 3/4. The shape of the marker indicates if it was a full, 1/4, 1/2 or 3/4 mile. A square being a full mile, a square turned 45 degrees a 1/4 mile, triangle being a half mile and the above ‘V’ being 3/4 mile.

At certain points along the trail you cross over older bridges that once carried the railway over the road below but have not endured the test of time as well as others. Not far past Streamstown is one such example where the trail narrows slightly where the old bridge that once carried two lines has been fixed up just to safely carry the trail.

View of an old bridge that has been repaired and modified to carry the trail

Not all the bridges we come to are built of the familiar limestone that we are used to along the canal. The next bridge up at Derryhall has a heavy metal work span over the trail, crossing at an angle rather than straight on.

It is an 11km stretch of open countryside between Streamstown and Moate and while it would be wrong to say it is flat, saying it is made up of rolling hills would not be fair either. Exposed at times, this rural area is quite a pleasant place to transit through dotted with little more than farmhouses, sheds and bridges.

Not too far after passing under the bridge at Grange we come to the largest urban settlement along the Old Rail Trail, the town of Moate.

Plaque marking the opening of the Athlone to Mullingar Cycleway at Moate Station in 2015

Moate railway station opened in 1851 and closed in 1987. Like Castletown there are a large number of railway associated buildings and structures remaining as we pass through the station between the old platforms.

Moate Station with Shelter on the right

Moate is a great little town to stop off in and get some lunch with plenty on offer to suit all tastes and budgets. Right beside the train station you will see signs pointing you to the Moate Golf Course Restaurant. If you rather venture into the town a little you will find the coffee shop at the Tuar Ard Arts Centre and of course you can never go wrong with at curry cheese chips at Supermacs. There is also a Centra and a SuperValu not far from the station for whatever supplies you may need.

Old Rail Trail Distance Signs at Moate

Leaving Moate behind us we only have another 12km to go to get us to Athlone. Not far from the station and still withing the town limits we come to Jones Crossing where the old Gate Keeper’s Cottage is now a private residence and the crossing gates are still in place.

Gates at Jone’s Crossing

Further west again we come to another level crossing at Magheramore where once again the Gate Keeper’s Cottage has been retained as a private residence.

Gate Keeper’s Cottage at Magheramore

The section between Moate and Athlone is very people with the residents of both towns to get out and get some exercise in both directions. There is a car park located for Greenway users at Tully Bridge about half way between the two towns.

Car park and access at Tully

You are met on the outskirts of Athlone by the bridge carrying the N6 over the Old Rail Trail on its way to Galway from Dublin, the modern passing over the old, the rushed passing over the leisurely.

N6 Bridge east of Athlone

Much more welcoming than the N6 Bridge is the bridge a little further up at Garrycastle near Athlone I.T. with its colourful murals.

The murals at Garrycastle

There is a large Spar with a car park just off the Old Rail Trail at Garrycastle offering another good place to fuel up and it includes a reasonable deli and a place to sit down to eat. The trail is has lighting from here the whole way into Athlone town and will probably be the busiest section you will come to. It is only 2km from here to our end point at the White Gates.

Old Garrycastle Bridge with the new one behind it.

We pass Athlone GAA Club as we reach our destination at the White Gates after travelling the 40km from Grange Bridge at Mullingar. For the runners among you, add in the distance to Mullingar railway station and you will be looking a a nice marathon distance.

White Gates Athlone

When I did this journey last the White Gates marked the start/end of the Old Rail Trail but the plan is that this will continue on from here the whole way to Galway to make up the Dublin – Galway Cycleway. Westmeath County Council are certainly to be commended for having their part already done.

Given I started at the MGWR railway station in Mullingar I think it is only right that I should mention the old MGWR railway station in Athlone. Only 600metres from the White Gates the old MGWR railway was joined by it the GS&WR railway coming from Hueston where crossed the Shannon together on the Shannon Railway Bridge before the MGWR Railway Station on the west bank of the river. The old station now serves as Irish Rail offices and stores while the GS&WR Railway Station on the east bank is the passenger station for Athlone. From there locomotives from both companies steamed west to Galway.

My posts about the Royal Canal Greenway can be linked to below:

Part 1: North Wall to Cross Guns Bridge

Part 2: Cross Guns Bridge to Castleknock

Part 3: Castleknock to Leixlip Confey

Part 4: Leixlip Confey to Maynooth

Part 5: Maynooth to Enfield

Part 6: Enfield to Thomastown

Part 7: Thomastown to Mullingar Harbour

Part 8: Mullingar to Coolnahay

Categories
Royal Canal

Cycling on the Royal Canal: Mullingar Harbour to Coolnahay

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.

Old waiting room at 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.

Greenway access at Mullingar Railway Station

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.

Approaching Kilpatrick 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.

Belmont 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.

Looking at the 26th Lock and the Lock Keepers Cottage at Coolnahay from Dolan’s Bridge

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.

Looking back at Coolnahay Harbour.

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.

Part 1: North Wall to Cross Guns Bridge

Part 2: Cross Guns Bridge to Castleknock

Part 3: Castleknock to Leixlip Confey

Part 4: Leixlip Confey to Maynooth

Part 5: Maynooth to Enfield

Part 6: Enfield to Thomastown

Part 7: Thomastown to Mullingar Harbour

Annex 1: The Old Rail Trail – Mullingar to Athlone

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Royal Canal

Cycling on the Royal Canal: Thomastown to Mullingar Harbour

Being honest, Thomastown is as close as you can get to being in the middle of nowhere, which is part of its charm. However unless you are able to drive here to start your day, it is an unlikely place for you to start. For me I think it is a good idea to start in Enfield and cycle to Thomastown like I discussed in Part 6, stop in Nanny Quinn’s for some lunch and then continue on towards Mullingar where you can catch a train back to Enfield. It is a distance of 42km from Enfield to Mullingar. That all said there is ample parking at Thomastown if you do have a car so for this post I am going to discuss cycling the relatively short 17 kilometres from Thomastown to Mullingar where you can stop for some food before cycling back to the start.

Ample parking at Thomastown Harbour

As mentioned in my last post Thomastown marks the end of the 32 kilometre Long Level and marks the start of a flight of 8 locks in just under 3 kilometres. It is a quick climb up to the Summit Level but means once you reach the top you have no more climbing to do and also means you have an nice descent at the end of your day if you choose to come back. We start by crossing Thomastown Bridge onto the south bank at the 18th Lock. The 18th Lock is the shortest lock on the Royal Canal at 22.9 metres long. Waterways Ireland have a depot on the north bank of the lock.

18th Lock at Thomastown looking west

It is only 500 metres to the 19th Lock.

400 metres after the that we come to the 20th Lock. The National Inventory of Architectural Heritage suggests that the 42 Mile Marker is at the 20th Lock but unfortunately the survey was taken some time ago and I have never seen an sign of it. All the same it is worth keeping an eye out for.

Continuing to climb quickly we come to the 21st Lock another 500 metres up the Greenway. It is worth noting that the section between the 18th Lock and the 22nd Lock is an open road and you should be mindful of traffic as you use the section.

At the 22nd Lock we come to Riverstown Bridge and the road towards Killucan. The 22nd Lock also has a Lock Keeper’s Cottage on the south bank. Now a single private residence, if you look closely you can see it would originally have been two semi-detached workers cottages which makes it stand out from most the other remaining cottages along the canal.

If you take a left at the 22nd Lock leaving the canal for a few moments you will find Cunningham’s Pub and shop just the canal side of the railway. Their facebook page can be found here.

Riverstown was also the site of Killucan Railway Station which closed in November 1947. A Victorian post box can still be found in the wall of the station painted An Post green.

The Railway Sheds in Riverstown played an important role in the restoration of the Royal Canal with a good number of new lock gates made there. You can read about this in Chapter 15: Under New Management of Ireland’s Royal Canal 1789-2009 where Dr. Ian Bath discusses the amount of work involved in restoring the waterway. If you are taking the train from Dublin to Sligo you often stop at the railway sheds as it one of the few points west of Maynooth where there are double tracks allowing two trains to pass each other.

Returning to the canal we must cross over Riverstown Bridge to the north bank to carry on to the 23rd Lock which greets us just around the corner.

A further 500 metres west we come to the 24th Lock

Then we have the shortest distance to travel between two locks on the Royal Canal as we travel 200 metres up to the 25th Lock and the start of the Summit Level. It is necessary to deviate slightly from the canal here heading right at the lock and up to Footy’s Bridge before continuing back on the north bank.

25th Lock with Footy’s Bridge in the distance

Back on the level with our climbing done we have 2 kilometres to the N4 Road Bridge which carries the main dual carriageway from Dublin to Sligo. We pass under the N4 and come up at McNead’s Bridge beside Mary Lynch’s Pub. The pub and B&B’s facebook page can be found here. We crss back over to the south bank for the rest of the way into Mullingar.

McNead’s Bridge at Mary Lynch’s.

The original McNead’s Bridge is gone and replaced with a rather boxy concrete structure. There is a car park for the Greenway and Blueway just across the road from the pub giving people a good place to start for a walk or paddle down the canal.

View from McNead’s Bridge looking west.

The N4 road keeps us company for a while as we head further west and is the first reminder we have had in quite a while of the bustling traffic of the normal world. A little distance from the pub we would hardly notice passing over a small aqueduct was it not for the pumps that are often in use here bringing up water from the small river below to supply the canal. Its not long before we come to an interesting counterweight lifting bridge at a farm a little further west.

We are now passing through an area known as The Downs and home to Mullingar Pewter who have visitors centre and shop just off the canal that can be reached from Downs Bridge.

Downs Bridge with stop gates visible on the other side.

We come right alongside the N4 for a short distance before meeting a small footbridge over the canal that now, with the dual carriageway present no longer seems to serve any purpose. From here we take a turn away from the road into open country once again. We head southwest towards Baltrasna Bridge and rejoin the railway which we left back at Mary Lynch’s.

Once again we enter a sinking as the canal was cut through the land just west of Mullingar. This sinking is nowhere near as steep though as the one we went through back in Castleknock.

We pass under Boardstown Bridge which carries the N52 road high over the canal before coming out of the sinking near Saunder’s Bridge on the outskirts of Mullingar town. We can feel the urban environment once again.

We come to a small harbour at Piper’s Boreen which the Royal Canal reached in 1806. If you remember it took six years to build the canal from Dublin to Kilcock, it took a further ten years to get it this far on the west side of Mullingar. There is a plaque at the harbour to mark the 200th anniversary of the canal getting here.

You may notice more pedestrian traffic as you approach Moran’s Bridge as this section is a popular walking and running route for the people of Mulligar. Like McNead’s Bridge, Moran’s Bridge as you come into Mullingar is a boxy concrete structure built to allow boats pass under it. When the canal closed in the 1960’s the original Moran’s Bridge was replaced with a culvert too small for most boats but thankfully this mistake was later rectified. We come up at the bridge and have to use a pedestrian crossing to cross the main road. There is a service station on the other side of the road which can be useful to stop for a quick snack.

Start of the ring around Mullingar at Moran’s Bridge

We now start the horse shoe shape trip the canal takes around Mullingar town. As we round the start of the curve we pass over a small aqueduct and mill race before we come to the bridge over the Lough Owel Feeder.

Bridge over the Lough Owel Feeder

With that we arrive in the historical site of Mullingar Harbour. Mullingar Harbour is split into two halves by Scanlon’s Bridge. The east side of the bridge was the commercial harbour where all trade goods were handled and several store houses were present. There is also a dry dock at the entrance to the harbour.

East side of Mullingar Harbour with gates into the dry dock on the other side

The harbour to the west of the bridge was the passanger harbour. There is now a park on the bank of the west side which retains the original harbour wall.

West side of Mullingar Harbour with Scanlon’s Bridge

Several of the Heritage Boat Association vessels wintered in Mullingar Harbour in 2019 into 2020. These include Horse Boats 4E, 92E and Walvis. Unfortunately I haven’t been down to the harbour since they arrived to get a picture but hopefully I will catch them before they leave.

It is only a short distance from Scanlon’s Bridge into the centre of Mullingar where there are plenty of options for food and if you head slightly west you will find the train station if you need it. I plan to continue the next post from Mullingar Harbour so for today I will leave it there and hope I can travel this section in the near future so I can add some more photos to this post.

Part 1: North Wall to Cross Guns Bridge

Part 2: Cross Guns Bridge to Castleknock

Part 3: Castleknock to Leixlip Confey

Part 4: Leixlip Confey to Maynooth

Part 5: Maynooth to Enfield

Part 6: Enfield to Thomastown

Part 8: Mullingar to Coolnahay

Annex 1: The Old Rail Trail – Mullingar to Athlone

Categories
Royal Canal

Cycling on the Royal Canal: Enfield to Thomastown

These are strange days, as I write this we are in the mist of Covid-19 crisis and while the weather is glorious and perfect for exploring the canal we are unfortunately all required to stay at home for the good of everybody.

That all said the section between Enfield and Thomastown is one I have traveled many times and I already have a good selection of photos to choose from so I thought I would carry on doing up another post in the hope some of you may find it useful when all the restrictions are lifted.

In the last post I left off as we reached Enfield Bridge by the railway station. In this post I will look at the 23.5 kilometre stretch from Enfield to Thomastown Harbour, all of which lies on the Long Level of the Royal Canal. This route offers a great chance to cycle a flat good surface out to Thomastown where you can get a good lunch and a pleasant return journey to Enfield to finish where you started, ideal to pick up you car or get a train back towards Dublin. Paid parking is generally available in the railway station car park in Enfield.

Signs pointing west on the south bank of the canal at Enfield

After spending a considerable amount of time on the north bank of the canal up to now, you now swap over to the south bank at Enfield as you head west. We see a good re-purposing of old railway tracks as they provide a barrier between the path and the incline down towards the canal until they level off with each other. On the other side of the bank you will see the stepped landscaping and tree planting that was done in the approach to Enfield Harbour. This work was undertaken by the Enfield Branch of the Royal Canal Amenity Group along with the Enfield Community Council.

Enfield Harbour as seen from the south bank.

The harbour area includes a car park, picnic area, mooring and slipway facilities as well as toilets and showers accessible by those with a Waterways Ireland access card. At the end of the harbour we pass under the R148 which was the old N4 ring road around Enfield before the M4 was built.

It is a 3.5 kilometre stretch from Enfield Bridge to the Blackwater Aqueduct. Just before we reach the aqueduct itself we can see the a solid stone chamber in the canal which can be used for stop gates to prevent the loss of water if there is ever a breach on the long level of the canal. The Blackwater Aqueduct carries the canal over the Enfield Blackwater which joins the River Boyne near Donore south of Trim and should not be confused with the Kells Blackwater which joins the River Boyne in Navan.

Blackwater Aqueduct looking east.

As previously mentioned it is hard to grasp the size of the aqueduct when you are crossing over it but unfortunately it is extremely difficult to get down to take a photo from the river. Considerable work was done to restore the aqueduct when the canal was being restored in the 1990’s and early 2000’s. The aqueduct had to be pinned together to keep it together and a good discussion about it can be seen on RTÉ’s TV series Waterways: The Royal Canal.

As we cross over the aqueduct we once again leave County Meath for County Kildare and soon we come to Kilmore Bridge. It used to be necessary to cross over the bridge and continue the journey on the north bank however recent work on the Greenway has meant that we can now pass under Kilmore Bridge and carry on west on the south bank.

Approaching Kilmore Bridge

A long fence has been put in between Kilmore Bridge and Moyvalley separating the Greenway from the railway which runs alongside it but this wide surface is a great relief from the old often overgrown trail path on the north bank.

Fence along the railway as you approach the ramp up to the old Moyvalley Bridge

As you approach Moyvalley you pass under the road bridge built in the 1970’s before rising up on a newly built ramp to the top of the original Moyvalley Bridge. Moyvalley had a train station from 1848 until 1963. When you cross over Moyvalley Bridge you are welcomed by one of my favourite watering holes on the Royal Canal, Furey’s Pub.

Furey’s Pub at Moyvalley

I find it hard to resist stopping off here any time I pass though it must be noted that they only do food Monday to Saturday so if you are passing on a Sunday, grab a pint but don’t be expecting any food. Furey’s facebook page can be found here.

Boats moored up by Furey’s at Moyvalley.

In 1807 a Canal Hotel was opened in Moyvalley and a brief description of it and it’s history as a hotel, a spa, a barracks and as an outhouse can be found here before the building was eventually demolished to make way for the new road and bridge in the 1970’s. Boats can regularly been seen tied up at Moyvalley. I noted that heritage Horse Boat 34B was tied up here the last time I passed in spring 2020.

Horse Boat 34B at RCAG Boathouse early in 2019

Carrying on west on the north bank and just before we leave County Kildare behind for the last time we come to the Ribbontail Footbridge. The bridge was built to for mass goers to cross the canal and take a mass path to the church in Longwood. The mass path has been recently resurfaced and gives the walker or cyclist the option of going into Longwood village to pick up a few supplies. There is also a set of stop gates located at the bridge which can be closed to help stem the loss of water should there be a breach on the Long Level.

Ribbontail Bridge and stop gates

Carrying on for another 2 kilometres we come to Longwood Harbour which is home to Ribbontail Paddler’s Club. The club have canoe polo goals erected over the canal much like we saw in Kilcock and they have restored the old canal workers cottage at the harbour to use as their clubhouse. It should be noted that the harbour is a good bit west of the village itself and so if you want to stop there it is best to take the mass path at Ribbontail Bridge.

Longwood Harbour with Ribbontail Paddlers Club House

Immediately after the harbour we come to two aqueducts. The first is a Road Aqueduct carrying the canal over the road below. You can also see the railway bridge just a few yards over from the aqueduct. Only a stones throw from there you then cross over the Boyne Aqueduct again with the later railway bridge just a little further south. The aqueduct has 3 arches with the river passing under the middle arch.

Boyne Aqueduct facing west.

You truly get a feeling of being out in the middle of nowhere here with just the canal and the railway to keep you company. It is 2 kilometres before we reach the next landmark, Blakeshade Bridge. It is necessary to come up to the road level at the bridge and may be worth dismounting to cross before carrying on down the other side.

Blackshade Bridge

Across the canal on the south bank after Blackshade Bridge is Molerick Bog which is a designated Natural Heritage Area. It is only one of four remaining raised bogs to be found in Ireland.

Looking west from Blackshade Bridge with Molerick Bog on the left

After another 2.5 kilometres we come to the small village of Hill of Down. The village once had a train station which opened in December 1847 and closed one month shy of it’s 100th anniversary in November 1947. The village has a post office, small shop and Moran’s Pub on the south bank which can be reached by crossing over Killyon Bridge. It is possible to carry on west under Killyon Bridge but on a bike it is best to come up onto the road and carry on down the other side, just be mindful that it is the main Trim to Kinnegad road.

Killyon Bridge, Hill of Down

Leaving Hill of Down we continue west on the north bank towards Ballasport Bridge. This section of the Greenway was built over the winter of 2016 into 2017. Ballasport Bridge carries a minor rural road over it but requires us to ascend up the bridge and cross it to the south bank to continue on our journey west. 2.5 kilometre west of Ballasport Bridge we leave County Meath behind us as we enter Westmeath.

The canal from here to D’Arcy’s Bridge can feel like a long stretch as you are out in open country side with only a few farmer’s houses and grazing animals along the way. Even the railway takes a leave of absence on this section as it takes a more direct route ignoring the twists and turns of the waterway. It is just under 6 kilometres between the two bridges.

D’Arcy’s Bridge is located just outside Hyde Park country house which was built not long before the canal came to this part of Westmeath. Hyde Park was the family home of the D’Arcy Family descended from Sir John D’Arcy and his second wife Joan de Burgh who was the widow of Thomas Fitzgerald, 2nd Earl of Kildare who’s descendants would go on to be the Duke’s of Leinster discussed previously.

We cross over D’Arcy’s Bridge to the north bank once again and if you look to the south bank you can see the remains of the last two trading boats of the Royal Canal, Floats No. 15 and 16. Both of these boats would have been horse drawn and last belonged to an independent trader by the name of James Leech. They are a good reminder of the commercial past of the Royal Canal.

It is just over 1 kilometre from here to our destination at Thomastown Harbour. After the sad sight of Floats No. 15 and 16 it is great to be greeted by the sight of Float No. 3 better known as the Killucan Project Barge in the harbour.

A recently repainted Killucan Project Barge in Thomastown Harbour.

The harbour has a car park on the north bank and marks the end of the Long Level which we have been on since the 17th Lock before Enfield. If we cross over Thomastown Bridge we can go over to Nanny Quinn’s Pub on the south bank.

Coming into Thomastown with Nanny Quinn’s on the south bank.

Nanny Quinn’s a great spot for a bite to eat and a drink but is often busy so it is generally best to ring ahead and make a booking if you want to have a sit down here. Nanny Quinn’s facebook page can be found here.

From here you can either enjoy your lunch and cycle back to Enfield or if you are feeling brave you can start to climb the flight of locks towards Mullingar which is what I will do next time.

Part 1: North Wall to Cross Guns Bridge

Part 2: Cross Guns Bridge to Castleknock

Part 3: Castleknock to Leixlip Confey

Part 4: Leixlip Confey to Maynooth

Part 5: Maynooth to Enfield

Part 7: Thomastown to Mullingar Harbour

Part 8: Mullingar to Coolnahay

Annex 1: The Old Rail Trail – Mullingar to Athlone

Categories
Royal Canal

Walking on the Royal Canal: Confey to Maynooth

Today I am going to look at the 7.6 kilometre stretch from Cope Bridge at Leixlip Confey to the slipway at Maynooth Harbour which marks the start of the Royal Canal Greenway. Once again I am starting at a train station as I have done with each of the other walking segments I have done coming out of Dublin. With the railway line right by the canal there really is no excuse not to make the best of the towpath as once you have covered the distance you want there is always a train to take you back.

Towpath at Leixlip Confey

We join the canal at Cope Bridge which most people will know as Leixlip Confey. The good news is that unlike the multiple terrains we covered in the last section, most of the route from Leixlip Confey to Maynooth at least has a solid path, albeit it can be prone to puddles on really wet days.

Canal and path between Confey and Louisa Bridge

There is less than 2 kilometres between the two train stations in Leixlip along the canal, however there are quite a number of landmarks along this stretch that are worth looking out for and if you have the time, worth investigating. As you round the corner after the straight from Cope Bridge you will cross over a spillway where water flows down off the level of the canal. Just after the spillway you will see the remains of an old canals works building.

Old canal works building painted in 2018

Immediately after the small building there is an opening and a trail path with several sets of wooden steps down into Louisa Valley.

Steps down to Louisa Valley

If you follow the steps all the way down to the bottom you will be greeted with the sight of the Leixlip Waterfall. The water flows down from the level of the canal and a small stream that lies adjacent to the canal near the spillway we crossed over. From there it joins up with the Rye River.

Leixlip Waterfall

Once you come back up from the waterfall you come to the second large undertaking necessitated by the rerouting of the Royal Canal by the demands of the 2nd Duke of Leinster as we previously mentioned on our walk through the Deep Sinking. This is the Ryewater Aqueduct which was built to carry the canal over the Rye River and on towards Carton House. The descent down to see the waterfall which isn’t even at the level of the Rye River illustrates how big an undertaking this was.

Waterways Ireland Sign approaching the Aqueduct

Engineer Richard Evans who had previously worked on the Grand Canal and on the Boyne Navigation was appointed as the engineer for the Royal Canal in 1793 and remained in the post until his death in 1802. However his time in the role is not without controversy relating to financial mismanagement of the building of the canal. Richard Evans along with company surveyor John Brownrigg would have overseen the construction of the aqueduct which soars to a height of of 26 metres above the river below. The aqueduct was beset with problems and poor weather. The foundations of the aqueduct collapsed twice during construction as the mortar would not set. It ended up costing over £27,000 to finish. That all said it has now stood over the Rye River for over 200 years carrying not only the canal but a double-line railway. Unfortunately recent attempts to get a photograph of the aqueduct from the river basin have been thwarted by wet ground. Hopefully in the near future I will get down to take a decent photograph. Sadly the magnificence of many aqueducts are missed by those crossing over them.

Leixlip Spa

While I was unable to get down as far as the the river basin I did manage to get down to the Leixlip Spa which there are signs for after the aqueduct. Discovered in 1793 by navies doing ground works for the canal, the spa waters bubble at a constaant 23.8 degrees celsius. The mineral spring was diverted into a Romanesque hexagonal basin pictured above. While popular during the 19th Century the site fell into disrepair. Restoration work took place in 2010 reinstating some of the brick work and capping that had previously been worked on in the late 1970’s and early 1980’s.

Ducks at Louisa Bridge

Once we come back up from the Leixlip Spa we can see Louisa Bridge and the train station beside it. Louisa Bridge is named for Lady Louisa Connolly of Castletown House in Celbridge. Lady Louisa was the younger sister of Lady Emily Fitzgerald, Duchess of Leinster who was the mother of our much discussed 2nd Duke of Leinster. After the death of her husband, the 1st Duke of Leinster, the now Dowager Leinster moved to Frescati House in Blackrock where she lived in more comfort then the ever increasingly indebted son, the 2nd Duke who had to retain both nearby Carton House as well as Leinster House in Dublin.

Louisa Bridge looking west with the Train Station in the top left.

Passing under Louisa Bridge we emerge out alongside Le Chéile Athletics Club running track as we head towards the Leixlip Celbridge Interchange flyover at Collinstown known as Matt Goff Bridge. Matt Goff was a Kildare County footballer who won six Leinster medals as well as two All-Irelands during the 1920’s. He was part of the Kildare winning side that was the first team to raise the Sam Maguire Cup. He worked as a military police officer and later worked for CIÉ. The bridge, built in the early 2000’s links the west side of Leixlip and Intel to the M4 motorway and Celbridge on the far side of it.

Approaching Matt Goff Bridge from Louisa Bridge

With all the development work currently ongoing at the Intel Plant at Leixlip the road next to the canal was recently moved and the short section between Matt Goff Bridge and Deey Bridge and the 13th Lock was upgraded to the standard of Greenway we can expect when we travel further west.

Wide quality path after Matt Goff Bridge

Not long after passing the bridge we come across a Royal Canal mile marker. Not many of these still exist and the weather has worn this one down but I am fairly certain that this is the 12 mile marker, not from where we started at the Liffey though, but rather from Broadstone.

12 Mile Marker west of Leixlip

After quickly rising up the locks leaving Dublin, its been some 12.5 kilometre’s since we left the 12th Lock in Castleknock before we reach the haunted 13th Lock at Deey Bridge.

Barge at Deey Bridge and the 13th Lock

There seems to be some dispute over whether it was the 13th Lock of the Royal Canal or the Grand Canal that famous Irish writer and politician Arthur Griffith wrote his poem The Thirteenth Lock about. I was always told that it was the Royal Canal so I am sticking to that.* There is only 8 kilometres between the 13th Lock on the Royal and the 13th Lock on the Grand and both are the 1st locks outside of Dublin on both canals so quite likely it is associated with the unlucky number. All the same the boat mooring in the photos is taking more of a chance than I would in their place.

*Addendum: On reading Ruth Delany’s Ireland’s Inland Waterways: Celebrating 300 Years, it would appear that the haunted lock is in fact on the Grand Canal as it was said it goes through the site of a graveyard (pg. 144).

One of the name plaques on Deey Bridge

Deey Bridge is level with a little used level crossing on the railway. We remain on the north bank as we pass the lock and take to the last grass section we will encounter on the Royal Canal. This short section of grass only lasts for about 1 kilometre not even as far the next bridge.

Starting the last grass section at Deey Bridge

Just short of the harbour at Pike Bridge outside the gates of Carton House, the graveyard and remains of a church at Donaghmore can be seen on the other side of the canal.

Graveyard near Pike Bridge.

As we reach the gates of Carton House, the canal widens out for a small harbour, no doubt so the Duke of Leinster could bring his guests right to his domain. Of course Carton House is now the home of a hotel, two golf courses and an internationally renowned training camp for sports including rugby, soccer and GAA but it was ancestral seat of the Earls of Kildare and the Dukes of Leinster since the 1100’s. The main house that now stands as part of the hotel was designed by famed architect Richard Cassels (also known as Richard Castle) who also designed other famed Irish buildings such as Leinster House and Russborough House. If you are feeling flush, you could take the walk up through the golf courses to the house for some afternoon tea. Be mindful though that it is about 2 kilometres from the gates to the front door.

Carton House Gates at Pike Bridge

Just beyond the gates as we move towards Maynooth is Pike Bridge named for Mr. William Pike and not the fish that are commonly found around this part of the canal.

Pike Harbour and Pike Bridge with a Waterways Ireland maintenance boat

It is worth leaving the canal to summit the bridge as it gives a good view over the flat lands of Kildare. In the distance can be seen Connolly’s Folly. The obelisk set above a network of arches was designed by the previously mentioned Richard Cassels and was commissioned by Katherine Connolly, wife of William Connolly, speaker of the Irish Parliament who was a grand-uncle of Thomas Connolly, husband of Lady Louisa that I previously mentioned. Confused? I sure am. Every time I dig into the names of the people who originally contributed to the building of the Royal Canal I find more that links them to each other and to the elites of Irish society. The folly is now the logo for the Irish Georgian Society who worked to restore in the 1960’s. Buried beneath is a founding member of the society, Mariga Guinness, first wife of Desmond Guinness of Leixlip Castle.

The top of the Obelisk of Connolly’s Folly.

As we emerge out on the other side of Pike’s Bridge we can see the spire of St. Patrick’s College in the distance as we make our way into Maynooth. The seminary is a contemporary of the canal both being built in the area around 1795. As we get closer to the town we can see the Straffan Road Bridge built alongside the original Mullen Bridge which leads us into Maynooth Harbour by the harbour field.

Mullen Bridge looking towards the harbour.

Maynooth is a historical town with a castle, a university and many great places for food. It is also my home town so it is far to easy for me to go into detail here so I would suggest if you have made it this far, you should take some time to explore the town.

Swan nesting on the island in Maynooth Harbour

We end our walk at the Maynooth Harbour slipway after travelling just under 8 kilometres from Cope Bridge at Leixlip Confey. Once again you just need to cross the footbridge to get to the train station to get back towards Dublin. Maynooth marks the end of the rail commuter zone. From here I will be hopping on my bike for the next section as we join the Royal Canal Greenway.

Part 1: North Wall to Cross Guns Bridge

Part 2: Cross Guns Bridge to Castleknock

Part 3: Castleknock to Leixlip Confey

Part 5: Maynooth to Enfield

Part 6: Enfield to Thomastown

Part 7: Thomastown to Mullingar Harbour

Part 8: Mullingar to Coolnahay

Annex 1: The Old Rail Trail – Mullingar to Athlone

Categories
Royal Canal

Walking on the Royal Canal: Castleknock to Leixlip Confey

Part 3 of our journey sees us start at Castleknock Train Station and the start of the stretch known as the Deep Sinking, on past Coolmine and Clonsilla before crossing the Dublin and Kildare county line and finishing at Cope Bridge at Leixlip Confey, a distance of 8.65 kilometres.

Turning to Trail as we enter the Deep Sinking

There are several reasons why I have chosen to do my first few posts as walks rather than runs or cycles. The first being that in the early stages leaving Dublin there are so many prominent landmarks, bridges and locks all worthy of mention that the posts would be extremely long if I was covering a greater distance. The second was for when I reached the Deep Sinking and what lies beyond it to Leixlip Confey and even on to Maynooth.

Narrowing of the Trail in the Deep Sinking

Many who know the area know that unlike from the city centre to Castleknock which has all paths or from west of Maynooth Harbour where the Royal Canal Greenway is complete all the way to Cloondara, the section between Castleknock and Maynooth is more trail like with a variety of surfaces which can be uneven, slippy, mucky and narrow.

One of several gulleys to watch out for leaving Castleknock

By no means should this put you off wandering along this stretch of the canal. Given it is surrounded by houses and railway it still has a rural and secluded feel. What follows here is just a matter of fact account of how the stretch is as of March 2020 and that the reality is it is best walked at a relaxed pace, ideally in hiking boots or trail runners and being honest it is not suitable for bikes. Fingal County Council and Waterways Ireland have plans to upgrade this section and some ground surveys are ongoing (which also leads to the occasional closing of the canal path) but it is unlikely that this work is going to be completed in the near future.

Tree roots on the trail of the Deep Sinking.

I would consider the trail beside the Deep Sinking in several parts. The first part is a very short wide space which is just grass as you leave Castleknock Train Station. Not long into this though the path narrows to reflect the images above. This narrow path starts to rise up above the canal and for the most part is soft and often muddy ground with gulleys slipping down the slope and tree roots to be mindful of. This section stretches for 1.5 kilometres as far as Kirkpatrick Bridge and Coolmine Train Station.

Pedestrian Bridge obscuring Kirkpatrick Bridge at Coolmine

While the building of the Royal Canal started in 1790, the original survey to find a suitable route across north Leinster was undertaken by Thomas Williams and John Cooley as early as 1755. Their suggested route would have utilised a series of lakes and rivers along the way to the Shannon in an effort to keep construction costs down.

Deep Sinking at Coolmine

However as the story goes, William Robert Fitzgerald, the 2nd Duke of Leinster, a subscriber of the Royal Canal Company wanted the canal to pass his country residence of Carton House outside Maynooth and this necessitated the routing of the canal through a limestone quarry. A sinking is where a canal is cut through the land to maintain the same level rather than using locks to go over it. The Deep Sinking itself is a cutting through the limestone quarry which was blasted and dug through at great expense. At certain points through the Deep Sinking the towpath can rise up between 8 and 9 metres above the canal. A perilous danger for the horses pulling the barges below.

Looking down the trail from Kirkpatrick Bridge

We are unable to go under Kirkpatrick Bridge and so must rise up and cross the main road and level crossing at Coolmine Train Station before proceeding on the second section of the Deep Sinking towards Keenan Bridge. The surface on this section is similar to the previous section though there are a few more stony out crops to be mindful not to trip on. A video by Ciaran Whyte showing what it is like from Coolmine to Deey Bridge at the 13th Lock can be viewed here.

Dr. Troy Bridge over the canal and railway

Like the previously discussed Reilly’s Bridge near Broombridge, Keenan Bridge at Porterstown was often the site of long tail backs with the level crossing beside it so before we reach the bridge we pass under Dr. Troy Bridge which rises high above both the canal and railway removing the need for the level crossing.

The muddy approach to Keenan Bridge
Abandoned Gate Keepers Cottage at Keenen Bridge

The area around Keenan’s Bridge in Porterstown could be considered one of sorrow. The first thing we see as we reach the bridge is the abandoned Gate Keepers Railway Cottage at the old level crossing. At this point we must cross over Keenan Bridge from back to the north bank of the canal to continue. As we descend back down to the canal path we see a memorial to the sinking of the Longford Passanger Boat on the other side of the bridge.

Memorial and wreath erected by the RCAG Keenan Bridge

As previously mentioned the massive drop between the towpath and the canal at the Deep Sinking was rather dangerous and 16 people lost their lives when the passenger boat Longford sank near here on the 25th of November 1845. An account of the sinking can be found on the Irish Waterways History website here.

The old Porterstown National School

Before carrying on our journey west on the north bank we can see the old Porterstown National School rise high above the canal bank. This abandoned school, closed in 1963, is known by many in the area as the School of Spite as the priest who sought to build it insisted it be built to such a height so as to annoy the local landowner Baron Annaly of Luttrellstown Castle who refused to contribute to the schools construction. In 2010 the building is sadly associated with the murder of a 12 year old girl who went missing in the area giving rise to the building being fenced and secured.

Waterpump near Keenan Bridge

Thankfully I do have some good news as we continue west, after leaving the trail path of the south bank from Castleknock we do get a compacted stone dust path from Keenan Bridge for 1.2 kilometre to Callaghan Bridge in Clonsilla.

Stone path from Keenan Bridge to Clonsilla

As we pass under Callaghan Bridge at Clonsilla we can see the Clonsilla Train Station Signal Box rising high above the canal. You must pass under the bridge and come up on the other side to actually get to the train station. There is also an Applegreen service station only a 2 minute walk from the station if you feel the need to top up supplies.

Clonsilla Train Station Signal Box

Back down on the canal you might be happy to find the next small second of path is actually tarmac. There has been a lot of discussion about whether or not we should try tarmac the entire route with many advocating that we should instead of the compacted stone dust we find for most of the route beyond Maynooth. While I agree that this would make cycling easier, especially as I own a road bike, it is not without problems.

Tarmac cracks easily from roots below it and weathers badly over time causing trip hazards and requires more frequent maintenance

After our short reprieve from the trails from Keenan Bridge to not long after Callaghan Bridge we return to brief stoney section before a grassy trail surface for most of the rest of our journey to Leixlip Confey.

Pipe over the canal and stoney path west of Clonsilla.

The railway splits just after Clonsilla Train Station with one line continuing west towards Sligo and the other being the reinstated line that crosses the canal and heads north through Dunboyne and on to the M3 Parkway park and ride station. We pass under the new railway bridge not far west of Clonsilla.

Bridge carrying railway over the canal to M3 Parkway

We are back on the grass once we reach the far side of the railway bridge as we proceed on towards Pakenham Bridge. The bridge is most likely named for Thomas Pakenham who became a Rear Admiral in the Royal Navy and later the Master General of Ordnance in Ireland. He was the youngest son of the 1st Baron of Longford.

Approaching Pakenham Bridge from the east. The building on the right is most likely a former gate keepers cottage for the railway.

After going under Pakenham Bridge we have a 1.8 kilometre stretch towards Collins Bridge with Westmanstown Golf Club and sports facilities on the opposite bank. Again this is a manageable soft grass surface which can be muddy when wet.

Collins Bridge from the east.

Passing under Collins Bridge the ground on the other side has a tendency to be very soft even when dry. This section had to be closed lately after some maintenance vehicles tore up the ground as they were working. Hopefully this should be reopened to pedestrians soon but for now or for those on a bike if you go north from the bridge and turn left you can follow the road down as far as the Royal Canal Amenity Group’s (RCAG) boathouse and rejoin the canal there.

Canal towpath west of Collins Bridge

1 kilometre from Collins Bridge we leave Fingal and County Dublin and enter County Kildare, welcomed by the sign of the RCAG Boathouse and Slipway. It is a most welcome sight to see a good number of boats currently tied up here as let us not forget that while we are enjoying our walk, cycle or run, the Royal Canal is first and foremost a navigation.

It is only a short walk from the boathouse, past Confey GAA to Cope Bridge and Leixlip Confey Train Station and in total we have covered 8.65 kilometre through the Deep Sinking, past Coolmine and Clonsilla, leaving Dublin behind us and entering Kildare. Close to Cope Bridge there is a Supervalu at Riverforest the far side of the bridge as well as the River Forest Hotel with pub and grub.

Cope Bridge at Leixlip Confey

Part 1: North Wall to Cross Guns Bridge

Part 2: Cross Guns Bridge to Castleknock

Part 4: Leixlip Confey to Maynooth

Part 5: Maynooth to Enfield

Part 6: Enfield to Thomastown

Part 7: Thomastown to Mullingar Harbour

Part 8: Mullingar to Coolnahay

Categories
Royal Canal

Walking on the Royal Canal: Cross Guns Bridge to Castleknock Train Station

One of the great things about walking along the Royal Canal in the Dublin area is that you are never too far from a train station so its always easy to get a train to your starting point or get a train home.

In my last walking post which I have just updated with additional photographs, I left you having a pint and a burger at The Bernard Shaw by Cross Guns Bridge and the 5th Lock after the short walk from town. This morning I will have to catch back up with you as I got the train from Maynooth to Drumcondra and had to walk the short distance from the Brendan Behan Statue back up to Cross Guns Bridge.

Today I start at the 5th Lock. The 5th Lock has a small harbour above it and once even boasted a railway siding. On its south bank lies the former North City Flour Mills which has been renovated and turned into apartments. Built as an iron mill in 1840 it was converted into a flour mill in the 1860’s and provided considerable employment for many years. The building is an impressive towering presence over the canal and an important reminder of the canals industrial past.

5th Lock Gates with North City Flour Mill behind it.

Once up on the 5th Level we only need to see the other end of the harbour to see the double chambered 6th Lock along with it’s recently restored Lock Keeper’s Cottage. Like the Cottage at the 1st Lock, this cottage has found a new life as a club house for a water based sports club, this time the Cabra Kayak Club.

Looking up the 6th Lock with the Cabra Kayak Club Clubhouse on the left.

At the top of the 6th Lock we have risen up 5 double chambered locks in only 1200 metres which is quite a climb in a very short distance. As I looked back down into the upper chamber of the 6th Lock today I found a Waterways Ireland Maintenance Boat sitting in the chamber.

Waterways Ireland Maintenance Boat sitting in the 6th Lock with the Flour Mill in the background. The empty chamber gives a good view of the skilled masonry of the lock chamber as it approaches 230 years old.

We have a bit of time on the 6th Level as we walk along side the railway and the St. Paul’s Section of Prospect (Glasnevin) Cemetery. Not far in the distance we see O’Connell Round Tower on the main grounds of the cemetery.

O’Connell Tower viewed in the distance from the Royal Canal

As the canal turns slightly north you would hardly notice that we pass over an aqueduct carrying the Royal Canal over the railway line that connects Irish Rails western terminus of Heuston Station with the north south bound lines at Connolly Station. This line runs through a tunnel under the Phoenix Park which was closed for many years and only reopened to passenger trains in recent years.

Looking down at the Heuston Line from the aqueduct on the 6th Level. The double arch bridge carries the Dublin-Sligo line. O’Connell Tower also in the background.

Ahead of us we can see the 7th Lock and the water tower at what used to be known as Liffey Junction but is now better known for Broombridge Railway Station and LUAS depot. The Dublin-Sligo line leaves the canal here via a railway bridge over the canal.

Looking down the 7th Lock with the railway bridge crossing over the canal and the old Liffey Junction water tower on the right.

Currently the terminus of the LUAS Green Line, Broombridge was the location where the old Midlands Great Western Railway (MGWR) line used to go in to Broadstone Station. When the LUAS line was extended from St. Stephen’s Green it was decided that the tramline would follow the route of the old railway from Broadstone to Broombridge and the area now serves as a busy inter-connector between the railway and the tram.

LUAS Depot at Broombridge

After passing Broombridge Railway Station we pass under what is now known as Hamilton Bridge named after famed mathematician and astronomer Sir William Rowan Hamilton. The bridge was originally named for William Broome, a subscriber to the Royal Canal Company and a local landowner when the canal was being built. It is now more famous for being the location where Sir William Rowan Hamilton etched the fundamental formula for quaternions into the bridge while out for a walk along the canal on the 16th of October 1843. It is believed he did this in fear he may not remember it later but in doing so set a precedent for graffiti along the canal for many years to come.

Plaque unveiled by Éamon de Valera on the 13th of November 1958 on Hamilton Bridge

In recent years Irish Rail came in for some abuse when they translated the name of Broombridge Station as Droichead na Scuab (Bridge of the Brush) and had to change it when it was pointed out that the area was named after the Broome family. Most the bridges of the Royal Canal are named for subscribers to the Royal Canal Company who contributed to the early construction of the canal. Names of all these subscribers can be found on pages 34 and 35 of Ruth Delany and Ian Bath’s Ireland’s Royal Canal: 1789-2009 which is an amazing resource if not the bible for those with an interest in the history of the Royal Canal and also of its restoration as spear-headed by the Royal Canal Amenity Group.

We pass under the green Ratoath Road Overpass bridge which carries traffic over both the canal and the railway replacing the once very congested Reilly’s Bridge at the 8th Lock. Reilly’s bridge became a bottleneck for traffic as while the bridge crossed the canal, the 8th Lock lower the water lever so that only a level crossing was needed to cross the railway.

The now closed Reilly Bridge at the 8th Lock. Royal Canal Way sign can be seen on the right. A construction yard for the new Pelletstown Railway Station can be seen on the other side.

Irish Rail started clearance work in February 2020 for a new railway station to be built at Pelletstown on the 8th Level right before the 9th Lock. A considerable amount of new residential buildings have sprung up around here in the last 15 years including Royal Canal Avenue and Royal Canal Park and the Rathborne area. Nestled in among this area is also the Royal Canal Kayak Club just before Ashtown.

Looking up at the 9th Lock from where Pelletstown Railway Station will be built.

As we approach the Longford Bridge and the 10th Lock we have now travelled 4.35 kilometres from Cross Guns Bridge. This might be a good time to take a quick pit stop. There is a SuperValu just off the canal at Ashtown but The Canal Bar has always been a favourite place of mine to stop in for some pub grub and a pint. Unfortunately as of March 2020 it is currently closed for renovation and I have no date for it to reopen. Douglas and Kaldi is also another popular cafe right on the canal.

Statue of a Lock Keeper outside The Canal Bar

We have been on the north bank of the canal since we started at the 5th Lock today so now we must cross over the pedestrian bridge at Longford Bridge to carry on our journey west on the south bank. Several original canal bridges have seen recent additions of pedestrian bridges alongside them to allow the original bridge have more space for vehicular traffic. For those who want to finish up, Ashtown Train Station offers trains in both directions to Dublin and Maynooth pretty much every half hour.

10th Lock and railway gatekeeper cottage on the other side.

We are now in Fingal and if you look beyond the gatekeepers cottage you will see a 5 storey Water Mill dating from the 1820s just behind it. The 10th level has a lit smooth tarmac surfaced path the whole way to the M50 Aqueduct. A park and ride railway station now called Navan Road Parkway opened along this stretch in the late 2000’s. There is no access to this from the canal however. After the industrial feel around Tolka Valley and Broombridge and the residential feel around Rathborne the 1.5 kilometre stretch of the 10th level almost feels rural albeit with the railway running alongside us.

Lights and path of the 10th Level

We soon approach the double chambered 11th Lock with its two strange chimney like structures beside it. If anyone knows what they are I would be grateful to be informed but my best guess is that they were stopping posts for the barges from the canals trading days.

Chimney like structures at the 11th Lock

From here we can both hear and see the busy traffic of the M50 motorway and its junction with the N3. Several road bridges cross over the canal between here and the 12th Lock. In the middle of all this modern infrastructure lies Ranelagh Bridge dating from around 1810 and beyond it lies the impressive M50 Aqueduct which carries the canal over the busy motorway below. This a multi-tiered junction carrying roads, railways, canals and paths, many generations and forms of transport converging on the one spot.

M50 Aqueduct view from Ranelagh Bridge

After sailing over the M50 we emerge at Talbot Bridge (which was poorly modified for heavier traffic before becoming almost redundant with the building of the motorway) and the double chamboured 12th Lock. The 12th Lock marks the end of our 10 kilometre climb out of the city from the River Liffey and the last lock in County Dublin. In total we have climbed 65 metres and 8 double chambered locks, a feature that is a lot less prevalent as we head further west. It will be another 12.5 kilometre before we encounter the 13th Lock at Deey Bridge west of Leixlip.

Looking up the 12th Lock from Talbot Bridge with the 12th Lock Hotel on the left.

The 12th Lock and Castleknock has a small harbour which tends to have a good number of boats tied up all year round. There is nice small hotel and bar called The 12th Lock which is a nice place to stop in if you are waiting for a train at the nearby Castleknock Train Station. To get to the train station you can continue past the canal boats in the harbour towards Granard Bridge.

Looking back at barges by the 12th Lock from Granard Bridge.

Once the far side of Granard Bridge we have reached our end point for the day at Castleknock Train Station after travelling just over 7 kilometres from our start at Cross Guns Bridge or just over 10 kilometres if you started at the city centre.

Waiting for the train home at Castleknock Train Station

Part 1: North Wall to Cross Guns Bridge

Part 3: Castleknock to Leixlip Confey

Part 4: Leixlip Confey to Maynooth

Part 5: Maynooth to Enfield

Part 6: Enfield to Thomastown

Part 7: Thomastown to Mullingar Harbour

Part 8: Mullingar to Coolnahay

Annex 1: The Old Rail Trail – Mullingar to Athlone

Categories
Royal Canal

The Runners Auld Triangle

The night before I did my Royal Canal Run in 2019 a good Running Buddy of mine sent me this “little ditty” to be sung to the tune of The Auld Triangle. It’s too good not to share.

A nervous feeling, was with I was dealing
with my stomach reeling, I did not feel well
and the boys had fun, as they did run
all along the banks of the Royal Canal

It was early mornin, and i should be snoring
but the miles were soarin, and now i did feel well
and the boys had fun, as they did run
all along the banks of the Royal Canal

Up, the miles were creepin, and my feet were weepin
and my heart was leapin, i was nearly there
and the boys had fun, as they did run
all along the banks of the Royal Canal

Oh the sun was settin, but we were not frettin
a day for not forgettin, and I wish you well
and the boys had fun, as they did run
all along the banks of the Royal Canal

The Auld Triangle in Mountjoy Prison

Categories
Royal Canal

Walking on the Royal Canal: North Wall to Cross Guns Bridge

I started my cycling blog posts from Maynooth heading west as it is the easiest place to start on two wheels to head west but in an attempt to stay true to my running roots and so as to not forget about the canal east of Maynooth I thought I’d put up a few posts focused on running and walking. The first section I will look at here is from the Sea Lock on North Wall Quay at the River Liffey to the 5th Lock at Cross Guns Bridge, a distance of just over 3 kilometers. I know this is a very short distance compared to my post from Maynooth to Enfield but there is a plenty of things to discuss.

While traditionally some could argue that the Royal Canal truly starts at Broadstone or what is now the 5th Lock at Cross Guns Bridge in Phibsborough, the first to be built, let us start where the Royal Canal meets the River Liffey on North Wall Quay.

Entrance to the Royal Canal under the Scherzer Lifting Bridges beside Convention Centre Dublin

With our backs to the Liffey we start on the newly completed cycle-way bridge the river side of the Scherzer Lifting Bridges. These lifting bridges, erected in the mid 1930’s were modeled on the slightly older pair at George’s Dock a little further towards the Customs House which where were installed around 1911.

Lifting Bridges alongside the newly complete footpath and cycle-way.

For those seeking to navigate the Royal Canal, the first sight they will see after going under these bridges is the mighty Sea Lock Gates which were installed in 2008. These new gates were designed to reduce the possibility of flooding along the canal banks between the tidal River Liffey and the 1st Lock at Newcomen Bridge.

Sea Lock Gates taken from the Lifting Bridges with Sheriff Street Lifting Bridge visible in the distance.

The first part of our walk takes us up along Guild Street on the Linear Park towards Sheriff Street. We pass over the relatively new Spencer Dock Bridge which carries the Red Line Luas to the Point Village and we soon come to the Luke Kelly Head Sculpture. Luke Kelly was a renowned Irish folk musician and member of the Dubliners. He grew up in the Sheriff Street area and is famed for singing The Auld Triangle, a song strongly associated with the Royal Canal. This sculpture and a statue of him on South King Street were both unveiled in early 2019 on the 35th anniversary of his death.

Luke Kelly Head Statue with the Sheriff Street Lifting Bridge behind

Behind the Luke Kelly statue we come the the Sheriff Street Lifting Bridge which is a reminder of the industrial and commercial past of the Royal Canal in this area around Spencer Dock. Of note on the now inoperable bridge are two commemorative plaques on the east side of the bridge. These plaques have the company crest of the Midlands Great Western Railway (MGWR) Company. The MGWR bought the canal in 1845 and built its railway west along the banks of the canal as far as Ballinea some 90 kilometres west of the Liffey. Both plaques predate the bridge however and were unveiled by John Poyntz Spencer, 5th Earl Spencer, Lord Lieutenant of Ireland for whom the Dock area is named.

Plaque of the MGWR Company at Sheriff Street Lifting Bridge

Work is nearly finished on continuing the linear park and a cycle-way from Sheriff Street to the North Strand Road and hopefully should be open around May 2020. However for now it is necessary to divert away from the canal and head north up Seville Place as far as the Five Lamps on the North Strand Road. From here we take a right and head back up to join the Royal Canal at Newcomen Bridge and the 1st Lock.

Looking down at the 1st Lock from Newcomen Bridge with the renovated Lock Keepers Cottage on the right now home to The Adventure Project

As much as an inconvenience as it is for us to have to currently divert down Seville place, those using the canal navigation have to put with a different type on inconvenience just before the 1st Lock with the infamous Effin Bridge. The lifting bridge which carries a railway line over the canal sits on the level of the canal and is only raised several times a year to allow boats to pass. Scheduled lift dates for 2020 can be found on the Waterways Ireland page here.

We rejoin the canal at the 1st lock on the south bank as we head towards Clarke Bridge. Like with most of the bridges we will encounter as we head west, the original canal bridge would have been built between 1790 and 1810 with an abutted railway bridge added from the 1840’s as the MGWR started laying their tracks. It is also the first bridge we encounter that we can pass under with a towpath accommodated under the bridge.

Clarke Bridge heading towards the 1st Lock

As we come out the west side of Clarke Bridge we are met with the impressive sight of Croke Park, Ireland’s biggest stadium and home of the GAA. The canal passes under what was once known as the Canal End but since 2007 has been known as the Davin Stand, named for the GAA’s first President Maurice Davin.

Croke Park and Davin Stand rising above Clonliffe Bridge looking east.

After passing under Croke Park we come to Clonliffe Bridge which carries Russel Street over the canal and the railway. It should be noted that Croke Park has a railway running either side of it. On the Canal End is the railway line to the Docklands Train Station at Sheriff Street and on the Railway End better known as Hill 16 is the railway line into Connolly Train Station.

Only 400 metres from Clonliffe Bridge we come to Binns Bridge and the 2nd Lock, a double chambered lock at Drumcondra and the first of several double chambered locks we will meet. While a large pipe attached to the bridge takes away from its original aesthetic, the double arches of the Railway Bridge make it more appeasing. As we enter the 2nd Lock we now begin a quick ascent up out of the city to the 12th Lock in Castleknock. The canal rises 12 locks in the space of 9 kilometres from the 1st Lock and of these 7 have double chambers.

Binns Bridge entering the 2nd Lock and the double arches of the Railway Bridge

It us not possible to go under Binns Bridge as so we must rise up to the road level and cross busy Dorset Street while also crossing over to the North Bank of the canal to carry on. As we reach the other side we are greeted by the statue of Brendan Behan who wrote the play The Quare Fellow which opens with a rendition of the previously mentioned The Auld Triangle. It is open to debate as to whether Brendan or his musically talented brother Dominic actually wrote the song itself.

Brendan Behan Statue with Triangles and Pigeon

The Quare Fellow is set in Mountjoy Prison which has stood beside the Royal Canal since it opened in 1850 and where Behan himself was incarcerated as an inmate. The sits beside the 2nd Lock it is not long before we reach the 3rd Lock.

Looking up the 3rd Lock

The 3rd Lock, 4th Lock and 5th Lock, all double chambered locks come in quick succession and while a person walking or running alongside the canal can make quick progress up this stretch, it takes considerably longer to navigate.

Below the 4th Lock

The 4th level of the canal is also the location where the original Broadstone Branch of the Royal Canal came out but has long since been filled in with a linear park running down alongside the prison wall.

Where the Broadstone Branch would have joined the Main Line

The Broadstone Branch is a topic I intend to return to in a different post and will link here when I do. Where the prison car park now stands was once a dry dock for the maintenance and repair of boats.

Cross Guns Bridge originally known as Westmoreland Bridge, the location of the first bridge to be built on the Royal Canal

Before we reach the 5th Lock we must rise up again to meet the Phibsborough Road at Cross Guns Bridge. Originally known as Westmoreland Bridge after the 10th Earl of Westmoreland, Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, who laid the first stone of the original bridge in 1790. The bridge was replaced in the 1860s to help facilitate the building of the short railway tunnel beside it.

In total we have traveled a little over 3 kilometres from the Liffey so far not including our diversion down Seville Place but here is a good place to stop for a drink or a bit of food at the recently relocated Bernard Shaw pub and EatYard.

Part 2: Cross Guns Bridge to Castleknock

Part 3: Castleknock to Leixlip Confey

Part 4: Leixlip Confey to Maynooth

Part 5: Maynooth to Enfield

Part 6: Enfield to Thomastown

Part 7: Thomastown to Mullingar Harbour

Part 8: Mullingar to Coolnahay

Annex 1: The Old Rail Trail – Mullingar to Athlone

Categories
Royal Canal

Cycling on the Royal Canal: Maynooth to Enfield

Over the next few weeks I hope to do a collection of blog posts for those interested in taking on cycling along the soon to be officially opened Royal Canal Greenway.

Bike at Maynooth Harbour

This week I am going to take a look at cycling from what is currently the start of the Royal Canal Greenway at Maynooth Harbour and heading west as far as Enfield Bridge, a distance of 18.7 kilometres.

Maynooth Harbour just before dawn

Maynooth Harbour, located on the 13th level of the Royal Canal, is a great place to start. It is easily accessible from Dublin, with Maynooth Train Station lying on the south bank of the canal. A footbridge gives access to the north bank and the Royal Canal Greenway. Maynooth Harbour is a triangle shaped harbour with a slipway on the town side. It has an island with nesting swans in the centre. It would have been built between 1790 and 1796 making it a contemporary of the near by St. Patrick’s University which opened in 1795.

Maynooth Swans with their cygnets and the island in the background – Summer 2019

We depart Maynooth heading west on a tarmac path heading a short distance of 500 metres before we encounter Bond Bridge which was originally built in 1795. In 2005 Jons Engineering were contracted to widen and realign the bridge to make it safer for the traffic it carries over the canal. The new bridge opened in 2007 and also has cycle lanes over it with steps accessing the Royal Canal Greenway on the east side and a ramp down the west side.

Approaching Bond Bridge from Maynooth Harbour

After passing under Bond Bridge we transition from tarmac onto a smooth, light stone dust surface which will be the norm for most the way to Enfield. The South Campus wall of the university keeps us company for 750 metres as we leave Maynooth behind us. This old stone wall separates the canal bank from the playing fields and grounds of the old campus.

Pacman Graffiti on College Wall

As we reach the end of the college wall we pass the old college farmhouse and sheds. It is nearly 1 kilometre from the end of the college wall to the next landmark of Jackson’s Bridge and the 14th Lock. Jackson’s Bridge is made up of 5 spanning arches including a narrow pedestrian arch (for which cyclists should dismount), the canal, the railway and two arches for farm animals on the south bank. The original canal span was built in 1793 while the railway span was abutted in the late 1840’s.

The 5 arches of Jackson’s Bridge with 14th Lock

We emerge on the upper 14th level after passing through the pedestrian arch with the 14th Lock revealing itself fully to view.

Water Cascading down into the 14th Lock

Leaving Jackson’s Bridge behind we proceed for 1.7 kilometres before we reach the next landmark of Bailey’s Bridge, an accommodation bridge giving the local farmer access to both sides of the canal. As part of the work to create the Royal Canal Greenway the bridge was extended to give users safe passage under the bridge rather than force them through the narrow passage that still exists.

Bailey’s Bridge with new Greenway passage

Moving on past North Kildare Club with its rugby, cricket and hockey pitches it is another 750 metres to Chamber’s Bridge and the 15th Lock. It is common to find several barges and Waterways Ireland work boats moored up at the bridge. One such barge is Anam Cara (previously Maeve) which was once used by actors Timothy West and Prunella Scales in their Channel 4 series Great Canal Journeys as they explored the Shannon-Erne Waterway. The barge was also used for the TV3 series Jingle Jangle which featured a large array of prominent Irish musicians as the barge made its way west from Dublin to Cloondara on the Royal Canal.

15th Lock from Chamber’s Bridge with Anam Cara and other barges in the background on a rather wet day.

There is another 500 metres of the light stone dust after Chamber’s Bridge before we reach another stretch of tarmac on the approach to Kilcock. As we meet the tarmac, the Royal Canal Greenway lines up and runs parallel with a road, a railway, the canal, the greenway itself, another road and the Rye River. It is 1 kilometre from the start of the tarmac surface to Kilcock Harbour.

Approaching Kilcock

Kilcock Harbour has been wonderfully restored and is home to Kilcock Canoe Polo Club. The Royal Canal opened to commercial traffic in December 1796, six years after construction started. Barges initially started operating between Broadstone and Kilcock. At the end of Kilcock Harbour is the upgraded Shaw’s Bridge and the double-chambered 16th Lock.

Shaw’s Bridge with the 16th Lock behind it and goals from the Canoe Polo Club in the foreground.

In total it is just under 6 kilometres from Maynooth Harbour to Kilcock Harbour. As we must dismount to cross the road at Shaw’s Bridge, you may wish to stop for some refreshments before continuing on. Just across the road from the canal is the very popular Black Forest Cafe and Cakery while just a little further into the town there is a Costa Coffee as well as a large Supervalu for supplies. The Rye River Cafe is also another popular spot for breakfast or lunch not far off the canal.

Upper chamber of the 16th Lock

After coming up onto the 16th level there is a small blue container. This marks the start of the Royal Canal parkrun, Kilcock which is a weekly, free 5k run that goes out west and comes back on the banks of the canal.

The tarmac continues from the 16th Lock for just over 1 kilometre as far as Allen Bridge which is known locally as Spins Bridge. Allen Bridge was originally built in 1796 but like Bond Bridge and Shaw’s Bridge, it was later modified for modern traffic. However when you pass under the bridge you can still see the original arch.

Original arch visible under Allen (Spins) Bridge

On coming out on the other side of Allen Bridge we return to the light stone dust surface. A new spillway has been completed not far west of the bridge which replaced a narrow wooden bridge over a dip of the old slipway.

The original spillway with wooden bridge before being replaced

As we continue west for 2.75 kilometres towards McLoughlin’s Bridge and the 17th Lock (which is locally known as Ferns Lock) we cross the county border from Kildare to Meath. The Royal Canal crosses back and forth across this county line several times as the canal makes its way west.

Looking up the double-chambered 17th (Ferns) Lock from McLoughlin’s Bridge

Ferns Lock has several features around it. The bridge coming into the lock no longer has an arch and now has a low concrete plinth which has been known to catch the top of wheelhouses of boats passing under it. This happened the Heritage Boat Rambler during filming of the late Dick Warner’s Waterways – The Royal Canal series for RTÉ. It is a rare complaint on the Royal Canal that the water level is too high for such problems to happen. Unlike all the bridges we have met so far, McLoughlin’s Bridge has no abutment to a railway bridge and instead is level with a level crossing at the bridge. The 17th Lock is the last double-chambered lock on the Royal Canal coming from Dublin and marks the start of The Long Level which is a 32 kilometer stretch before the 18th Lock at Thomastown. There is also a restored Lock Keepers cottage and store beside the lock, now a private residence.

Restored Lock Keepers cottage and store at Ferns Lock

Leaving Ferns Lock we remain on the north bank on one of the most recently completed sections of the Royal Canal Greenway. Until late in the summer of 2019 it was necessary to travel the 5.9 kilometre section from Ferns Lock to Cloncurry Bridge on the south bank. This is a grassy and often muddy trail generally unsuitable for cycling. Thankfully the north bank is now complete and is a pleasurable cycle. The new section does veer a little away from the canal at a few points but never too far to see and it includes a section where the path winds through a forest.

Royal Canal Greenway going through the forest as seen from the south bank

One of the few disadvantages of travelling on the smooth north bank now is that you miss the original 22 and 23 Mile Markers for the canal, 2 of the very few ones left standing. These measure the distance not from the River Liffey but rather from Broadstone.

The 23rd Mile Marker on the south bank near Cloncurry

Not long after the forest, we pass a farm house which leads us back onto a tarmac surface for the last 2 kilometers to Cloncurry Bridge. The area around Cloncurry is probably best known from the poem The Old Bog Road by Teresa Brayton, an Irish Nationalist from Kilcock who emigrated to America in 1895. She wrote widely on the themes of exile, nostalgic loss of homeland, nationalism and religion. She returned to Ireland in 1932 where she lived in nearby Kilbrook until her death in 1943. The Old Bog Road was put to music by Madeline King O’Farrelly from Rochfortbridge in Westmeath and has been recorded by many artists.

Cloncurry Bridge looking east

Remaining on the north bank we must cross over the road at Cloncurry Bridge to continue on our way to our destination in Enfield, a distance of 3 kilometres. Some caution is needed for the first kilometer of this as it is on a public road by the canal until you pass through a pair of wooden gates back onto the dust surface of the Royal Canal Greenway.

Enfield Train Station on the south bank.

Coming into Enfield, the railway station and a variety of connected buildings originally opened by the Midlands Great Western Railway company in the late 1840’s can be seen on the opposite bank. Buildings include the Railway Station, the Station Masters House, Warehouses, a Signal Box and Water Towers. Finally we approach our destination of Enfield Bridge, 18.7 kilometres from where we started at Maynooth Harbour.

Sunrise on the Royal Canal from Enfield Bridge.

On reaching Enfield there are a variety of places to take a break. Closest to the bridge itself is the Bridgehouse pub which does pub grub. There is an Applegreen with a Subway just a little further into town for those only looking for light refreshments. A favourite of mine would be the Street Side Cafe. Like Maynooth and Kilcock, Enfield also has a Supervalu close to the canal for those looking for a supermarket.

Once you are fueled again you’ll be ready for the cycle back to Maynooth or, if you are taking it easy, the intercity from Sligo stops in Enfield roughly every 2 hours and will see you back to Maynooth or Dublin Connolly. Booking with Irish Rail is advised with bike as the trains can only facilitate 2 bikes per train.

Route of the Royal Canal Greenway from Maynooth to Enfield in Red (M4 Motorway in Blue)

Part 1: North Wall to Cross Guns Bridge

Part 2: Cross Guns Bridge to Castleknock

Part 3: Castleknock to Leixlip Confey

Part 4: Leixlip Confey to Maynooth

Part 6: Enfield to Thomastown

Part 7: Thomastown to Mullingar Harbour

Part 8: Mullingar to Coolnahay

Annex 1: The Old Rail Trail – Mullingar to Athlone