Rediscovering the lost Green Tourism & Rural Trails of Galway city
What was promoted as a major tourist attraction for Galway city over 60 years ago and which campaigners hope could become a key legacy of Galway 2020 and a vital element in securing international ‘National City Park’ status, will be re-launched at 10am this Sunday (July 8th) when the public are asked to take part in a guided walk of a fascinating network of largely forgotten country lanes that stretches from Terryland via Coolough to Menlo. The starting point will be the “Plots” sports’ pitches at the Woodquay end of the Dyke Road.
What many people may not be aware of is that Galway has probably the most traditional rural landscape of any city in Europe. This is particularly true of the Dyke Road – Menlo catchment area that connects the wetlands of the River Corrib to the Terryland Forest Park as well as to the farmlands of Menlo and Castlegar by a way of a network of old rural tracks known as ‘boreens’ that formerly served as the transport arteries for the once largely farming population of the district up until the middle of the 20th century.
Living in such a large expanding urbanised built environment, Galwegians are extremely fortunate to still possess a wonderful diverse mix of natural landscapes with a mosaic of rural tracks and trails located within walking distance of the city centre.
“Modern medical science is increasingly showing the fundamental importance of wilderness to the physical and mental wellbeing of individuals and of societies. Urban planners across the world are now endeavouring to reconnect people with the rest of Nature by developing greenways, forests and waterways. Cities are also highlighting their ‘Green’ credentials in order to promote inward investment and tourism.
Yet promoting the ‘Green’ attractions of Galway to overseas visitors is not a new strategy. It was an approach that was there at the dawn of the city’s tourism sector. In 1952, capitalising on the worldwide success of the ‘Quiet Man’ film which provided opportunities for Connemara and the West of Ireland to become part of an international tourism market just recovering from the ravages of World War Two but which now offered cheap mass air travel for the American and European public, the city’s businesses mounted a very modern marketing drive. During this decade a regular newspaper called the ‘Western Tourist’, which was published by the Connacht Tribune, prominently featured the merits of walking from Terryland to Menlo. It stated “…The walk up by the Corrib through Terryland and onto the…Irish speaking village of Menlo is one of the loveliest and most interesting of all. Not only is the scenery most entrancing but every step of the road is paved with local history and folklore…” Sixty six years after it was first written this description is still valid. As well as castles, farms, religious sites, pre-famine settlements and other built heritage assets, its boreen, meadow, woodland and riverine habitats have an abundant biodiversity that comprises thousands of wildlife species from native wildflowers such as the marsh woundwort to raptor birds such as kestrel, mammals such as the red squirrel, fresh water creatures such as shrimps and to small pollinators such as the white-tailed bee.
Working with local residents and schools supported by environmental, heritage, community, health, scientific and educational organisations including NUI Galway, the HSE and the Galway City Partnership, we want to ensure that the rural landscape inherited from the past becomes a vibrant health and ecological resource for present and future generations. As well as the hub for this ambitious boreen trails network, the Dyke Road could become the starting point for the Connemara Greenway by rebuilding the bridge on top of the old railway pillars; the Corrib could become an ecological corridor of international importance for wildlife; the abandoned Waterworks could become a Forestry/Waterways interpretative centre complete with café, gallery, bike hire shop and Men’s Shed crafts workshop; and the Terryland Forest Park could be transformed into an Outdoor Classroom for schools of all levels. We are hoping that this becomes a legacy for City of Culture 2020.