The Royal Canal Greenway has been officially launched today 24th March 2021, by Minister for Transport Eamon Ryan and Minister for State Malcolm Noonan.
Information, photos and guides for the entire length of the Royal Canal Greenway including the Longford Branch as well as information on the Lough Owel Feeder, the Old Rail Trail and the towpath from Spencer Dock to Maynooth can be found throughout this website. I hope you find it informative as you explore this amazing amenity. Take a look at the video here:
Probably the most frequent question I get asked by those wanting to walk, run or cycle the Royal Canal is which side of the canal should I be on? As a rule of thumb I would always advise people to follow the National Famine Way Signs along the route but below is a list of the 18 crossings and the distance between them from the Sea Lock at the Liffey to the 46th Lock near the Shannon to ensure you are on the correct side to avoid dead ends, backtracking and detours.
The route is certainly easier to navigate today, especially after the opening of the Royal Canal Greenway than it once was. As the route increase in popularity it is worth watching this short clip from the Hayden Collections about a group of Royal Canal Amenity Group (RCAG) members who took on to walk it in 1981.
As the canal mainly runs from east to west I will refer to being either being on the North Bank (the canal is on your left as you face west away from Dublin) and the South Bank (the canal is on your right as you face west away from Dublin). This is correct as of August 2020 when the Royal Canal Greenway has been completed from Maynooth to Cloondara and the connection from Sheriff Street to Newcomen Bridge has also opened.
Starting at the Lifting Bridges over the Sea Lock at the Convention Centre Dublin it is 2.25km to Binns Bridge and the 2nd Lock in Drumcondra on the South Bank.
Crossing Binns Bridge at the traffic lights it is then 5.25km to Longford Bridge and the 10th Lock at Ashtown along the North Bank.
Crossing the new suspension footbridge beside Longford Bridge it is 5.15km to Keenan Bridge at Porterstown on the South Bank. You will know Keenan Bridge from the Memorial Plaque for the sinking of the Longford Passenger Boat which is located on the bridge after you cross it.
From Keenan Bridge it is a long 32.5km stretch on the North Bank before you will need to cross again at Enfield Bridge. There are a set of pedestrian lights at Enfield Bridge to help cross the road also.
Leaving Enfield Bridge it is 6.25km to the Moyvalley Bridges on the South Bank. Here you will rise up the new long ramp and cross over the canal to Furey’s Pub.
From Furey’s it is 10km to Ballasport Bridge on the North Bank.. Ballasport Bridge is in a remote location so is best to remember to cross the next bridge after the village of Hill of Down.
Crossing Ballasport Bridge it is 5.85km on the South Bank to D’Arcy’s Bridge. This is a long section for there to be no other bridges between them so all you need to remember is to cross the next bridge.
After crossing D’Arcy’s Bridge it is a short 1.3km stretch to Thomastown Bridge and the 18th Lock on the North Bank. This is also the location of Nanny Quinn’s pub.
Crossing Thomastown Bridge to the South Bank we start up the flight of locks as far as Riverstown Bridge and the 22nd Lock, a distance of 1.85km. Cunningham’s Pub and shop will be signposted at Riverstown Bridge.
Crossing Riverstown Bridge at the 22nd Lock we continue on up to the Summit Level on the North Bank for a distance of 3.3km before reaching McNead’s Bridge at Mary Lynch’s pub, just after we pass under the N4.
Crossing McNead’s Bridge we have a long section of 17.2km on the South Bank, passing the whole way through Mullingar to Belmont Bridge where you will see a sharp rise up to the bridge level.
Crossing Belmont Bridge we have the shortest single section of .65km on the North Bank as we get to Ballinea Harbour and Bridge. Coming up from the harbour car park, you can cross the original canal bridge before dropping down on the other side before the new road bridge beside it.
Continuing on the South Bank from the Ballinea Bridges we travel a distance of 15.6km as far as Kelly’s Bridge at the 38th Lock, descending all the way down from the 26th Lock at Coolnahay.
Crossing Kelly’s Bridge at the 38th Lock we travel 5.65km as far as Webb Bridge in Abbeyshrule Village on the North Bank, crossing into Co. Longford along the way. The Rustic Inn pub is located on the South Bank just before Webb Bridge.
After crossing Webb Bridge we have another long stretch of 18.55km along the South Bank before reaching Island Bridge at Mosstown Harbour just outside Keenagh. Island Bridge is a relatively new bridge and requires caution crossing the main road as you cross the bridge to the other side.
From Island Bridge at Mosstown Harbour it is a short 1.45km section on the North Bank to Coolnahinch Bridge at the 41st Lock.
Crossing back to the South Bank at Coolnahinch Bridge at the 41st Lock it is 3.1km to the Ballinamore Bridges. The Ballinamore Bridges are made up of an original canal bridge and a modern road bridge. Again caution is needed crossing the main road here as you also cross the canal.
Bank on the North Bank after the Ballinamore Bridges it is 3.2km on the North Bank to Aghnaskea Bridge and the 43rd Lock, passing the Longford Branch Junction along the way.
Crossing Aghnaskea Bridge to the South Bank with the church it is then a final 6.5 km to the end of the Royal Canal at the 46th Lock after Richmond Harbour. Caution is needed crossing the main road at the Begnagh Lifting Bridge but you still remain on the South Bank of the canal.
After navigating all those bridges why not watch a take a minute to look a video of all the crossing points of the Royal Canal (there are about 120 in all).
After covering the last few sections on my feet, here I take to my bike to cover some more ground as we get further west into more rural landscape from Maynooth Harbour, through Kilcock and on to Enfield. Maynooth is the gateway for many to the Royal Canal Greenway, a perfect route for all adventures.
As Maynooth is often a starting or finishing point for many taking a day on the Royal Canal Greenway, it is worth noting Maynooth has a fantastic variety of places to eat and drink. Information on many of these places can be found on the Maynooth Town Website.
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.
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.
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.
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.
We emerge on the upper 14th level after passing through the pedestrian arch with the 14th Lock revealing itself fully to view.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 storehouse beside the lock, now a private residence.
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.
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.
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 Roadby 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.
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.
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.
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.
In the last post I left off as we reached Enfield Bridge by the railway station. In this post I will look at the 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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. A video about the canal and the cottage can be seen here:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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. Rope grooves can often be found on the corners of older canal bridges where they would have been carved in over time by the horses pulling the boats.
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.
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.
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 in Part 7 below..
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 from Thomastown to Mullingar where you can stop for some food before cycling back to the start.
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.
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. The shop is great for a fresh ice cream and has seating outside suitable for taking a break. 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. Below is also a short video from the Hayden Collection about the Lock Gates that were manufactured in Watling Street in the early days of the Royal Canal restoration.
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 and the remains of a Lock Keeper’s Cottage on the south bank.
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.
Back on the level with our climbing done we have 2 kilometres to the M4 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.
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.
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 where there was an interesting counterweight lifting bridge at a farm a little further west. This lifting bridge was replaced in the summer of 2020 with a platform that I can only guess needs to be craned out of the way of boats wanting to pass. There are 4 eyelets for hooks to lift the platform. All the more reason to plan boating journeys with Waterways Ireland in advance.
We are now passing through an area known as The Downs and home to Mullingar Pewter who have visitors centre and coffee shop just off the canal that can be reached from Downs Bridge.
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.
A little further on we pass under Boardstown Bridge which carries the N52 road high over the canal.
Not long after we start to come 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.
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.
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.
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. The train station is also a short distance beyond the harbour for those looking for a train back to Enfield, Maynooth or Dublin or on to Longford or Sligo.
I know I have tried to start or finish most my posts at a location with a train station however in my previous post I thought it made sense to stop a little short at Mullingar Harbour rather than going a little further around the bend to Mullingar Railway Station.
So for those of you joining me from the railway station for this cycle I would ask you to back track slightly for 1 kilometre to Mullingar Harbour where will start today for our 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.
Once the main line used to get from Dublin to Galway, the Mullingar to Athlone line hasn’t been used since 1991 and has now become the Old Rail Trail, a 42 kilometre greenway passing through Moate on its way to Athlone and a pleasurable cycle in itself. The Old Rail Trail starts a little further west at Grange Bridge which is also the starting point for Mullingar parkrun.
The parkrun route heads out west for just over 2 kilometres on the canal before crossing back onto the Old Rail Trail to finish back just short of Grange Bridge.
The first bridge you come to on leaving Mullingar is Kilpatrick Bridge. The Greenway passes under the bridge and carries on on the southern bank. Kilpatrick House is nearby on the other side of the old railway line. The canal meanders on towards Belmont Bridge which is the last Royal Canal bridge to be abutted by a railway bridge.
It is necessary to take the ramp up onto Belmont Bridge and cross over to the north bank to carry on to Ballinea. Belmont House lies just slightly south of the bridge as does its slightly later Gate Lodge.
Ballinea has a small harbour and picnic area just before the original Ballinea Bridge, 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.
If you are in need of supplies it is best to pick them up here in Ballinea as there is a small shop in the village and it will be your last opportunity to do so until you pass here again on your way back.
Leaving the last real urban environment we’ll encounter on the Royal Canal behind us we carry on towards the Shandonagh Bridges which like the Ballinea Bridges comprises of an original Canal Bridge and a more recently added road bridge adjacent to it.
It was around this area that the Royal Canal was dammed in the late 1960’s and for the most part went dry until it’s restoration. This can be read about in chapter 13 on of Ireland’s Royal Canal 1789 – 2009.
From Shandonagh it is an idyllic 2 kilometre to Coolnahay Harbour and the 26th Lock which marks the end of the Summit Level and the beginning of the decent of locks down to the 46th Lock at Richmond Harbour. The 26th Lock also has a restored Lock Keepers Cottage and Dolan’s Bridge after which there is a small car park.
As mentioned at the start of this post it is only a short distance from Mullingar Harbour to Coolnahay but it is very enjoyable section of the canal that can be enjoyed by foot or by bike. From here we truly head for the wild west… and County Longford.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Each of these have been largely extended and modernised they make for appealing private residences on the bank of the canal.
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.
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.
With the passing of the 34th Lock we are now onto our final 2km stretch towards the 35th Lock and Ballynacargy.
As we pass the 35th Lock and its Lock Keeper’s Cottage the large and magnificent Ballynacargy Harbour opens out into our view.
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.
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.
Keeping the sections short as I travel further west towards the Shannon, todays post covers the stretch from Ballynacargy to Abbeyshrule, an easy place to start, enjoy some time on the canal before having a good lunch and returning back the way you came.
Leaving your vehicle in Ballynacargy village, much of which dates back to the time the canal was built, you will need to cross over Ballynacargy Bridge to join the greenway on the south bank of the canal. From here it is 1.5km to the 36th Lock and Bridge with adjacent former Lock Keeper’s Cottage which is now a private residence.
It is a little over 500m from the 36th Lock to Kiddy’s Bridge which you can pass under the arch if you want.
Staying on the south bank of the canal it is then 600m to the 37th Lock and Bridge.
Once down onto the 37th Level you will see the 38th Lock with it’s Lock Keeper’s Cottage and Kelly’s Bridge only a short distance ahead. It is more common to find this matching set of lock, cottage and bridge on the western end of the canal, though the condition of the cottages can vary from ruins, to restored and also extended private residences.
This whole section of the canal was dammed off west of Mullingar from the 1960’s until the 1990s’s with very little to water to speak of. As such some boats were abandoned where they lay. Once such boat is Heritage Boat4E which is well worth looking up on the link. The boat has had an interesting life with several designations but it was from here that the current owner salvaged her in 1980 by having her towed to the 38th Lock and craned out so it could be brought to the Grand Canal to be restored. 4E can often be sighted on both canals and wintered in Mullingar Harbour over 2019/2020.
We cross over the bridge at the 38th Lock to the north bank before proceeding on 500m to Ledwith’s Bridge. From here the countryside opens up as we pass through Ballymaglavy Bog. The wide expanse of the bog offers no protection so always be prepared for Irish weather, sunscreen and a rain jacket.
As we move through the last stretch out of Westmeath before we enter our final county of Longford we come to a landmark that catches the attention of all those who pass, that of Bog Bridge. This stunning bridge lies in the middle of nowhere, spanning the canal, linking one side of the bog to the other but in our modern times looks like it serves no purpose other than to provide us a view of the bog and act as a perfect example of the fine workmanship of the contractors that built this section of the canal.
With Bog Bridge behind us we now enter County Longford as we approach Quinn’s Bridge.
To the right of Quinn’s Bridge we can also see Abbeyshrule Aerodrome which is mainly used for leisure flights and parachute clubs.
About 600m past Quinn’s Bridge we come to the Whitworth Aqueduct which carries the canal over the River Inny and is one of the most impressive structures on the canal.
The 5 arch aqueduct was most likely named for Lord Charles Whitworth, who was Lord Lieutenant of Ireland between 1813 and 1817 when this section of the canal was being built.
The canal takes a sharp left once you cross the aqueduct as you line up to come into Abbeyshrule itself. If you keep and eye out just as you round the corner you can see an original overflow before you get to Scally’s Bridge.
The Greenway section on the north bank from Scally’s Bridge into Abbeyshrule recently opened and is safer than crossing the narrow bridge to bring you into the village. When you reach the village though you will need to cross Webb Bridge to either stop in the town or to carry on.
Abbeyshrule is the site of of a Cistercian Abbey dating back to the 1200’s and poet Oliver Goldsmith is believed to have been born nearby.
The village also boasts a very active Tidy Towns group.
At the heart of the village you will find the Rustic Inn where I would highly recommend you stop in for a drink and a feed. The pub also has a guest house for those looking to rest their tired legs after a long walk, run or cycle.
Once refueled you are all set to make the return journey to Ballynacargy to to push on further west to Ballybrannigan and Ballymahon where I will pick up in my next post.
The section between Abbeyshrule and Ballybrannigan Harbour just outside of Ballymahon is one of the quietest and most picturesque sections of the Royal Canal and well worth the visit to meander around the many bends of the canal here. Leaving Abbeyshrule we first cross over Webb Bridge to the southern bank of the canal which we will stay on for this entire stretch.
Descending down on the other side of Webb Bridge there is a playground and some picnic benches. As previously mentioned, Abbesyshrule has a very active and proud Tidy Towns group and this can be seen by all the effort gone into with planting, sculptures and public areas around the harbour both sides of the bridge. If you look to the left beyond the River Inny you can see the ruins of the Abbey and its bell tower in the distance by the graveyard.
Rounding the corner leaving Abbeyshrule it is 1.5km to the 39th Lock at Draper’s Bridge. The 39th Lock is the only lock we will encounter today and the 39th Level is the longest level on the western side of the Summit Level being a little over 11km long before reaching the 40th Lock.
Almost hidden behind the overgrowth beside the 39th Lock is the remains of the Lock Keeper’s Cottage. Behind a house on the main road the walls remain intact of this two room cottage, same in design as many of the previous ones we’ve seen but sadly the roof has come in and not much else remains except for the two fireplaces.
A little over 1.5km on from the 39th Lock with come to Allard’s Bridge which is an accommodation bridge allowing farmers access to both sides of the canal. It is possible to pass under the bridge and if you do you can see a cut into the stone on both sides that allows wooden boards to be places to stop the water. These slots can be found at several bridges and are useful when you need to stem the water when carrying out maintenance or fixing a breach.
As I was passing Allard’s Bridge on my most recent trip I came across Riversdale Holidays The Sub barge passing under the Bridge as it was heading west. The Sub is available for hire by holiday makers for those looking to take a leisurely break on the Royal Canal.
A little over 1km from Allard’s Bridge is Guy’s Bridge. This is another accommodation bridge though it is my understanding that from here it is now possible to cross down to the bank of the Inny and onto Newcastle Woods before crossing the restored White’s Bridge which will bring you into the new Longford Centre Parcs. I seem to have missed this new path completely so I will need to go back and confirm and will update this post accordingly when I have.
After passing Guy’s Bridge there is a sharp right hand bend to bring you up the straight towards Molly Ward’s Bridge which lies just 500m beyond. Molly Ward’s Bridge is also an accommodation bridge and seeing these three almost uniform bridges in a row shows the great skill of the workmen who built them. All built to the same design they stand proud in their surroundings over 200 years later, surviving the downturn of the canal, its closing and then its restoration.
1km further on we come to Fowlard’s or Cloonard Bridge which carries the N55 road from Edgeworthstown to Ballymahon. Unfortunately being such an important road, the original narrow humpback bridge is gone, only the limestone retaining walls remaining. When passing under the concrete structure you can see marks of where the modified bridge passed at a much lower level as clearance for boats was no longer necessary when then canal was closed. Thankfully Longford County Council altered, raised or rebuilt several bridges that they had only made culverts for when the Royal Canal closed to trade to once again allow for navigation.
1.5km from on from Fowlard’s Bridge we come to Toome Bridge. It was from here that passengers on the Royal Canal boats could catch a Bianconi Coach to Athlone up until the Midland Great Western Railway opened their station in Athlone around 1850.
A little over 1km from Toome Bridge we cross over one of the several spillways on the canal extension built between Coolnahay and Cloondara. This one is similar to the one previously mentioned near the Whitworth Aqueduct but retains its original arch without a plinth blocking it. Theses spillways had a raised shelf where excess water would spill over down under the arch and to a water source below.
It is slightly short of 1km to Chaigneau Bridge and Ballybrannigan Harbour from the overflow. The bridge still retains a turnstile type gate underneath it which used to be found at several of these bridges so it is easier to go up and over this bridge to enter the harbour area.
Over the bridge the canal opens up to one of its more substantial harbours with boats often found mooring here. Standing prominently over the harbour is also the remains of an old canal storehouse which is increasinly being consumed by ivy.
At the end of the harbour is the restored ticket house which to the best of my knowledge is used by the Royal Canal Amenity Group.
Not far from the ticket office at the wall of the harbour you can still make out the engraving marking the restoration of the harbour and this part of the canal by the Royal Canal Amenity Group and the Office for Public Works in 1995. The O.P.W. had responsibility for the canal before the establishment of Waterways Ireland.
It is about a 2km walk from the harbour into the small town of Ballymahon where there are several pubs and shops to eat or get supplies. However the town is best reached from Longford Bridge which I will cover in the next section.
Ballybrannigan as previously mentioned is a harbour just to the north of Ballymahon. Before taking to the Greenway to the 41st Lock, I decided to call into the town for some lunch to fuel for my walk. Ballymahon has a very wide main street with plenty of parking and local pubs, garages and shops to make it worth the 2km diversion off the canal. This time around I had a fantastic meal at Cooney’s Hotel on the main street.
Once I had my fill I was back to Ballybrannigan Harbour where there is some limited parking beside the old canal storehouse. Heading west on the south bank of the canal it is 1.5km from the harbour to Longford Bridge. This bridge is a relatively new addition to the canal carrying the R392 from Lanesborough to Ballymahon. The bridge replaced a culvert that previously blocked the navigation of the canal. Some limited parking is also available on the east side of the bridge and is a popular spot with locals taking short walks on the Greenway.
Truth be told Longford Bridge is more ideally suited to come on and get off the canal for Ballymahon as it leads straight down to the main street albeit a similar distance as Ballybrannigan. On the left of the gates the wall of the car park area has several paintings of the canal done by local artists.
Passing under the bridge and staying on the south bank as we do the whole way to Mosstown Harbour, it is less than 1km before we reach Archie’s Bridge along with its canal storehouse and another building which may have once served as a ticket office. If you look closely you will also see evidence of the quay wall at the bridge.
It is possible to pass under Archie’s Bridge or to come up to the main road level before descending down on the other side. As there is a main road going over the bridge it is advisable to dismount your bike before crossing over and to be aware of traffic.
Along the 1.5km from Archie’s Bridge to the 40th Lock with its accommodation bridge and lock keeper’s cottage at Mullawornia the canal takes a definitive turn towards the north.
Consideration had been made to carry on west when building the canal straight to Lough Ree from this point in order to save costs however the Grand Canal Company opposed this and insisted that the Royal Canal be completed to it’s original planned terminus at Cloondara some 19km’s further on. As you round the corner after the lock you can see the bedrock of Mullawornia Hill as the canal skirts around it and a steep drop off the Greenway on the other side.
It is just under 1km from the 40th Lock to the Pake Bridges where we again cross under the R392. We come to the original Pake Bridge first passing under it before we pass under the abutted new bridge which was rebuilt from a culvert to allow for full navigation of the canal. There is a sharp turn to the left as you come out from the new bridge. Unlike the long stretches of many of the previous sections the canal twists and turns more and more as we near its end.
1.5km from the Pake Bridges we come to Foigha Harbour and Bridge. I think calling this a harbour is a little generous but there is a jetty with room to tie up a few small boats the east side of the bridge.
If at this point you are looking to take a small break, Leavy’s of Foigha is only 300m from the bridge and while the grocery shop has closed the pub is still up and running.
Back on the south bank of the canal it is just under 2km to the next landmark of Cloonbreany Bridge. Leaving Foigha it does feel like the Greenway passes right through the front of a private garden but rest assured you are on the right side as you pass through the familiar wooden gates. I once led a group down the other bank to find us having to climb gates and hop over cow pats before correcting ourselves at the next bridge.
Between Cloonbreany and Mosstown Harbour we pass alongside Corlea Bog which includes a visitor centre for the Corlea Trackway, an old trackway that dates back to 148-147BC. A walk has been built around the bog much like the surface of the Greenway and links the canal directly to the visitor’s centre for those who have the time and interest to take the small diversion off the canal.
Not far from where we meet the Corlea Bog Amenity Walk we come to Island Bridge which lies on the outskirts of the village of Keenagh. A new path links the canal to the village and is only a short distance for those looking for a shop.
Island Bridge is another location that had been culverted when the canal had closed and has since been been replaced with a higher bridge to allow for navigation of the canal once again. It is necessary to come up onto the bridge to cross the canal before coming down into Mosstown Harbour on the other side.
Mosstown Harbour has a small car park and several picnic benches beside it and is probably a more suitable spot for starting or stopping along this section however for this post I will be pushing on just a little further. A gathering of boats celebrating the 200th Anniversary of the opening of the Royal Canal was filmed at Mosstown Harbour in 2017:
A little beyond the car park on the road that leaves the canal path is a gate house for Mosstown House which was demolished in the early 1960’s.
Mosstown House is of note to us canal enthusiasts as the home of Newcomen family. Sir William Gleadowe-Newcomen was a banker and politician who was also an early subscriber of the Royal Canal Company, the bridge at the 1st Lock on North Strand Road being named for him. While the house is lost and is now the site of a modern farm, the remains of the Mosstown pigeon house can be found not far from the canal. A small cottage can also be found on the opposite bank.
Not far from the harbour is another one of the overflows we previosuly encountered around Abbeyshrule. There is a former mill close to the spillway which dates from around the same time as the canal and some associated works where the canal may have even supplied water can be spotted along this stretch.
There is no suitable parking here so if stopping for collection Mosstown Harbour does make more sense. For me though I will be walking back to pick up my car at Ballybrannigan Harbour and grabbing a bite to eat in Cooney’s Hotel before the drive home. For those pushing on it is only 13km to the end of the canal at Richmond Harbour.