Limerick Greenway – what’s it like to cycle the 40km trail from Rathkeale to Abbeyfeale?


I really feel like a time traveller, gliding by way of a golden age of Victorian rail on an electrical bike. Beside me, steep flanks of rock veer upwards, carpeted in electrical inexperienced ferns and moss. Forward of me is the doorway to a 115m tunnel, a surprising feat of Nineteenth-century engineering.

he portal comes up surprisingly shortly, sucking me from shiny daylight right into a cavern of darkness. Drips bop off my helmet. My voice turns echoey, bouncing off meticulous brickwork. It’s an exhilarating feeling.

That is Barnagh Tunnel, a spotlight of the rebooted Limerick Greenway — a 40km biking and strolling path linking the cities of Rathkeale, Newcastle West and Abbeyfeale alongside the previous Limerick-to-Tralee railway line. The unique tracks have been in-built levels from the 1850s onwards, and steam trains as soon as stopped at Barnagh to replenish coal and water provides. As we speak, we’re two cyclists tinkering with the help settings on our Twenty first-century e-bikes, stopping off to refuel on espresso and lemon drizzle cake.

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Barnagh Tunnel on the Limerick Greenway. Picture: Pól Ó Conghaile

“On a high-quality day, you’ll see a Thomond Park,” says Ben Noonan, peering out from Barnagh’s viewing level — although on our go to, the vista over Sliabh Luachra and west Limerick’s farmland dissolves into foggy oblivion.

Ben is without doubt one of the engineers that labored on the greenway revamp, a €10m effort that Limerick Metropolis and County Council says is the most important outside tourism amenity undertaking it has ever undertaken. He’s additionally biking with me for the day — the best companion to assist draw connections between the Nineteenth-century railways, trains and stations, and a contemporary path resurfaced with tarmac so silky-smooth it typically feels as if my bike is floating on air.

“For those who wrote to Santy, you couldn’t have requested for a greater place than this,” Ben says as we break for our pit cease at Platform 22, a café on the Barnagh Greenway Hub.

Much like trailblazers just like the Waterford and Great Western Greenways, Limerick’s off-road path is designed as a totally accessible useful resource for locals and guests. You are able to do the total factor, lamping into it in lycra, or chunk off chunks as you please. Ben and I deliberate to set out from Abbeyfeale, doing the 40km to Rathkeale, with a number of stops over the course of a number of hours. Alongside the best way, we cross walkers, joggers, cyclists, folks pushing buggies and main canine, and a person in an influence wheelchair.

Since July 1, counters alongside the route have clocked nearly 1 / 4 of 1,000,000 customers, the council says, and the sound of visitors is generally a distant muffle.

Nature feels shut. Inside just a few hundred metres of Abbeyfeale Station, a hen of prey swoops down and glides alongside a piece of the path in entrance of us. It’s small; probably a merlin or sparrowhawk. The 9km spin in the direction of Templeglantine takes us by way of a tunnel of bushes in Tullig Wooden, the place autumn runs by way of dying oak and elm leaves just like the blurring colors on an artist’s palette.

We’re quickly chatting freely about children, well being, meals and music; sharing learnings as we glide by way of a kind of stolen moments when telephones are stashed, wheels are whirring, and also you don’t have to fret about an articulated truck thumping you into the hedgerows.

Greenways are having a second, and it’s not exhausting to see why. Biking is affordable and wholesome. It chimes in instances of local weather change. Throughout lockdown, after we have been confined to 2km, 5km and 20km limits, new bikes couldn’t be had for love nor cash. Add a way of being safer open air through the pandemic, and electrical bikes that make longer distances or windy situations extra doable for infrequent cyclists, and off-road trails really feel like no-brainers.

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A photograph of the previous Ardagh Station is featured on one of many greenway’s heritage indicators

This 12 months noticed the official launch of the 130km Royal Canal Greenway. Waterford has plans to extend its route into town. Future trails are within the works for Kerry, Cork and Galway, amongst others.

And it’s not simply in Eire. Because the world appears for extra sustainable methods to journey, and for Insta-friendly outside sights to entice vacationers and serve native communities, new routes are popping like mushrooms. In Utah, the Aquarius Path is a collection of mountain bike routes with huts to remain in alongside the best way (and electrical bike chargers). New York State has invested $200m in an Empire State path linking the Large Apple to the Canadian border.

“Covid modified our perspective on the outside,” says Olive Sheehan of Leens Resort in Abbeyfeale, the place I keep earlier than my journey. She and husband Maurice additionally run Platform 22, the café Ben and I go to at Barnagh, the place a former backyard centre now homes a biking pit cease, bike rent enterprise and store. The greenway is “a recreation changer”, Olive tells me. “It’s woken up a number of sleepy little cities round right here.”

“Persons are coming from far and extensive,” agrees Mary Flynn, who I meet manning the counter at An Siopa Milseán again in Abbeyfeale.

It’s a retailer with a narrative. Mary labored at one other candy store on the town for 37 years, nevertheless it sadly closed following the loss of life of its proprietor in 2020. Decided to proceed its legacy, and to inject life right into a avenue that has suffered its share of decline, a gaggle of locals acquired collectively to open An Siopa Milseán, with Mary among the many shopkeepers at its helm.

Searching the old-school grocer-style house, I see native scones and sausages, litres of milk, packets of Madeira queens, hand-knitted child garments, and native and nationwide newspapers laid out on a desk. Cabinets additionally characteristic classic containers of biscuits, sweets and cereal — rescued from one other shuttered store.

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Mary Flynn (proper) and buddy at An Siopa Milseán. Picture: Pól Ó Conghaile

On the counter, an vintage weighing scales sits close to a espresso machine grinding Badger & Dodo beans. A hand-painted signal catches my eye: “In a world the place you possibly can store wherever, store native.”

“After I went to the store with my mam, she at all times stopped and had a chat,” Mary tells me after an area girl drops in for a field of Barry’s tea. “We now have all types. Somebody would possibly are available in wellies from the farm, or all dressed up from head to toe on the lookout for a thin latte… I prefer to really feel that you just depart somewhat higher than you got here in.”

I’ve pushed by way of Abbeyfeale and different cities numerous instances on the N21, however biking the Limerick Greenway gives a brand new excuse to decelerate and discover. Within the 1800s, I study, Abbeyfeale was house to one of many space’s largest Bianconi stage coach depots. I additionally see the stunning plasterwork of stucco artist Pat McAuliffe. “Vita Brevis, Ars Longa” (“Life Is Quick, Artwork Is Lengthy”) reads one of many inscriptions on a constructing he embellished on Essential Road — although its crumbling situation checks the idea.

The greenway is dotted with useful heritage indicators. On Barnagh’s, I examine a “runaway practice”. In 1923, anti-government forces made passengers disembark, set the practice on fireplace, disengaged the brakes and despatched it downhill towards Newcastle West. Fortunately, no person was killed.

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Pól at Abbeyfeale Station on the Limerick Greenway

From there, Ben and I observe the identical path towards Newcastle West, a 10km stretch taking us over the cast-iron Ferguson’s Viaduct. The greenway is pristine and flat for probably the most half, with occasional gates for nation roads or crossing cows. You’ll additionally see ‘code of conduct’ indicators noting fundamental etiquette — cycle on the left, cross on the proper, ring your bell to alert pedestrians, maintain canine on the leash and so forth. Most walkers we cross are grateful to listen to our bells, shifting over and thanking us as we whizz by.

Ardagh is one other village I’ve by no means been to. It took a step into the long run when the railway arrived, and a step into the previous in 1868 when two boys found a hoard of eighth and Ninth-century treasure whereas they have been digging potatoes. It included the Ardagh Chalice (the unique is in Dublin’s Nationwide Museum; a duplicate is in Limerick’s Hunt Museum). As we speak, the village’s essential avenue feels somewhat misplaced, or in limbo. We discover it nearly empty, aside from a teen who cycles by us with a hurley in his backpack.

I see big potential within the tidy, mini-park-like grounds round its restored station, nevertheless. As extra walkers and cyclists take to the greenway, you possibly can think about espresso huts, playgrounds, seasonal pop-ups, public artwork, and different sights alongside the route, just like the developments alongside extra mature greenways in Waterford and Mayo.

Newcastle West is buzzing. Leaving the greenway and heading into city, streets are thick with consumers and schoolkids.

“Again within the Eighties, there have been bushes rising on this place; it was completely overgrown,” says Dr Pádraig Óg Ó Ruairc, taking us on a tour of the Desmond Banqueting Corridor, an OPW heritage web site on the coronary heart of city. It was begun within the thirteenth century by Thomas ‘the Ape’ FitzGerald (in keeping with legend, an ape took him as a babe from his cradle to the highest of Tralee Citadel and again once more), and right now gives an immersive perception into the life and instances of Desmond earls who would have feasted right here, whereas musicians performed in an oak gallery overhead.

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The Desmond Banqueting Corridor

“I’m blown away by how into the greenways persons are,” says Ann Madigan of Rathkeale Home Resort, our last cease. Like many, she was not sure whether or not the path would take off, however loves seeing the “greenway followers”, as she calls them, drawn to west Limerick. Most of the cyclists desire a evening away “and an honest chunk to eat”, she provides.

Earlier than returning the rent bikes, we take a fast spin round Rathkeale, studying in regards to the Palatine households who settled right here after fleeing persecution in Rhineland-Pfalz within the 18th century (the previous station home is now house to the Irish Palatine Heritage Centre), and their legacy in surnames like Teskey, Sparling and Ruttle.

I additionally spend a couple of minutes photographing an Artwork-Deco-style cinema with two fin-like options on the facade. It dates from 1945, although sadly appears fairly forlorn right now.

It could not have to remain that method. The Limerick-to-Tralee railway closed within the late Seventies. Virtually half-a-century later, the Limerick Greenway is giving it new life, opening up tantalising alternatives for cities alongside the route. Within the close to future, there are plans for an onwards hyperlink to Listowel. Eire’s time-travel adventures proceed.

Take 3: Limerick Greenway pit-stops

Platform 22

The Barnagh Greenway Hub features a backyard centre reborn as a café, store and bike rent enterprise. Platform 22 has treats baked on web site and barista espresso (see Fb)

The Silver Room

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The Silver Room in Newcastle West, Co Limerick. Picture: Pól Ó Conghaile

The tasting board at this polished Newcastle West restaurant consists of native treats like Tournafulla black pudding, Cahill’s cheese and, after all, Limerick ham. silverroom.ie

Rathkeale Home Resort

A helpful staging submit only a few hundred metres from the greenway, this newly refurbished lodge additionally does bar and bistro meals. rathkealehousehotel.ie

Do it

Parking amenities and entry factors are at Abbeyfeale, Ardagh, Newcastle West, Rathkeale and Templeglantine. See limerick.ie/greenway for more information and bike rent choices.

Pól was a visitor of Limerick Metropolis and County Council and native companies.



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