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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.

Flowers and Trees and Coolnahay Harbour

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.

Mullingar Railway Bridge

As you round the corner you also pass under a footbridge over the canal.

Footbridge after Railway Bridge

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.

Green Bridge with adjacent Railway Bridge

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.

Grange Bridge where Mullingar parkrun (and Old Rail Trail) starts

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 with Old Rail Trail on the left

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 Harbour and skew bridge

Ballinea has a small harbour and picnic area just before the original Ballinea Bridge, one of only two skew bridges on the Royal Canal. 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.

New Ballinea Bridge from the Old. Note the path down from the old that goes under the new. There is a shop in the distance on the left.

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.

Approaching Shandonagh Bridges from Mullingar

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.

Older Shandonagh Bridge from the west

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 from Dolan’s Bridge.

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

Part 9: Coolnahay to Ballynacargy Bridge

Part 10: Ballynacargy to Abbeyshrule

Part 11: Abbeyshrule to Ballybrannigan

Part 12: Ballybrannigan to the 41st Lock

Part 13: 41st Lock to Richmond Harbour

Part 14: The Lough Owel Feeder

Part 15: The Longford Branch

Annex 1: The Old Rail Trail – Mullingar to Athlone

Categories
Royal Canal

Walking on the Royal Canal: Coolnahay to Ballynacargy Bridge

Coolnahay and the 26th Lock mark the western end of the Summit Level of the Royal Canal and it is the perfect place to slow things down again and walk the 8km stretch to Ballynacargy. The advantage of leaving the Summit Level is this walk is all down hill from the 26th Lock to the 35th Lock and all of it is covered on the southern bank.

View from Coolnahay Bridge (Dolan Bridge) of Coolnahay Harbour, 26th Lock and Lock Keeper’s Cottage on the right.

There is a small car park on the west side of Coolnahay Bridge (Dolan Bridge) across the road from the Lock Keeper’s Cottage that is fine to leave a car for several hours.

Looking west from Coolnahay Car Park

For those interested in the history of the building of the Royal Canal, Coolnahay also marks a very important point in the construction of the canal. The canal reached Coolnahay in 1809, some 19 years after construction first began in Dublin and by this stage the company was heavily in debt and unable to cover the construction costs to complete the canal. It was decided that the Royal Canal Company would be dissolved and the canal completed to the Shannon using public funds. In 1813 the Directors General of Inland Navigation took on to complete the canal under engineer John Killaly and contractors Henry, Mullins and McMahon. You may remember we previously came across the formation of this firm when they tendered for the restoration and extension of the Naas Branch of the Grand Canal as to Corbally Harbour.

Information sign at Whitworth Aqueduct about the construction of the Royal Canal from Coolnahay to Clondra.

As previously mentioned, one of the advantages of this section is a continuous drop down through 10 locks to Ballynacargy. The other big advantage of this area is the pure scenic nature of the remainder of the canal. Mullingar is the last large urban centre we pass through on our way west and from Coolnahay we are truly out in the remote country side only passing through the odd small village or skirting around a small town. 400m from Dolan Bridge we come to the 27th Lock.

27th Lock Gates

Another 500m on from the 27th Lock we come to the 28th Lock which lies slightly around the next bend. Another feature of the Royal Canal as we move further west is that it begins to meander more through the landscape. For those of you who may have seen RTÉ’s Waterways: The Royal Canal series with Dick Warner, you may recall an interview with the daughter of the last lock keeper of the 26th Lock who discusses how her father, Michael Christie, would also look after the 27th and 28th Locks, cycling down to them from the cottage on the 26th Lock. As such it is no surprise that we do not find any cottages at these locks.

Looking up the 28th Lock Chamber

500m on from the 28th Lock we come to Walsh’s Bridge, an accommodation bridge over the canal. It is possible to walk under the bridge or to rise up over the road allowing for a good view down the canal.

Walsh’s Bridge on a soft day.

It is a 1.5km walk on from Walsh’s Bridge to Kildallan Bridge and the start of the quick descent down the 29th, 30th and 31st Locks.

29th Lock and Kildallan Bridge in the background

The three locks are in a linear stretch not long after the bridge. Each lock also has a restored Lock Keeper’s Cottage beside them.

Restored front of the 30th Lock Keepers Cottage

Each of these have been largely extended and modernised they make for appealing private residences on the bank of the canal.

31st Lock Keeper’s Cottage

The canal path takes a sharp left after the 31st Lock before taking a sharp right to be greeted by Kill Bridge and the 32nd Lock.

32nd Lock and Kill Bridge

Kill Bridge is another accommodation bridge, something more common the further west you go as farmers needed access both sides of the canal as it cut through the land.

Looking down the 33rd Lock

It is a little over 500m down to the 33rd Lock before a 1.2km straight on to Balroe Bridge and the 34th Lock.

34th Lock and Balroe Bridge

With the passing of the 34th Lock we are now onto our final 2km stretch towards the 35th Lock and Ballynacargy.

Ballynacargy Harbour looking towards the 35th Lock

As we pass the 35th Lock and its Lock Keeper’s Cottage the large and magnificent Ballynacargy Harbour opens out into our view.

35th Lock Keepers Cottage

On the south bank we see the remains of the old Hotel and Store House while the majority of the small village sits on the opposite bank. There are also a few picnic benches out around the harbour which makes it a pleasant place to stop.

Remains of Ballynacargy Hotel and Store

At the end of the harbour is Ballynacargy Bridge which will give you access to the village itself. The village has a few small pubs, newsagents, garage and a chipper so its possible to grab a snack or a drink before making the trip back to Coolnahay or onwards to Abbeyshrule where I will pick up in part 10 below.

Ballynacargy Bridge and Harbour

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 Harbour to Coolnahay

Part 10: Ballynacargy to Abbeyshrule

Part 11: Abbeyshrule to Ballybrannigan

Part 12: Ballybrannigan to the 41st Lock

Part 13: 41st Lock to Richmond Harbour

Part 14: The Lough Owel Feeder

Part 15: The Longford Branch

Annex 1: The Old Rail Trail – Mullingar to Athlone