Emmett Corcoran, Independent candidate for the Roscommon South Leitrim By-election, said this week that Roscommon needs to be planning for a new National Park on Sliábh Ban and on the Mount Dillon group of bogs in Longford and Roscommon. He gave the following reasons why this idea was now a distinct possibility.
The Bord na Móna Mount Dillon group of bogs in Longford and Roscommon covers an area of approximately 18,000 acres, divided into almost equal parts by the Shannon, and contained within a rectangle measuring some 26 miles from north to south and eight miles from east to west. Situated on the periphery of this area are the towns and villages of Longford, Killashee, Kenagh, Newtowncashel, Ballymahon, Athlone, Roscommon, Strokestown, Rooskey, Tarmonbarry, Lanesboro and Ballyleague. The bogs in the group are interconnected by a narrow gauge railway and a network of excellent public roads.
The Shannon flows right through the area from Rooskey in the north, through BalIymahon, into Lough Ree and down to Athlone in the south. Apart from the Shannon, many trout streams flow through and along the perimeter of the bogs. The Royal Canal, now restored to its former glory, runs along the edge of the area and connects with Dublin and the Shannon. A new cycle route is being built along this canal going all the way to Dublin.
A study of the topography and the flora and fauna of the cutaway and the potential for the creation of a national park has been carried out by the department of environmental resource management at University College Dublin, under the direction of Dr. John Feehan. A report has been produced, which suggests that these bogs remain in State ownership once the bog has been cutaway and a national park be established on them. It has been estimated that the milling of the Mount Dillon group of Bogs is due to begin to be wound down in 2019.
Coillte is developing next year a wind farm on Sliabh Bán which is located right next to this bogland area. Coillte has already committed to building, along with their wind farm, tourist facilities on Sliabh Bán. They include a viewing tower, an outdoor exercise trail, and equestrian route, a picnic area and various walkways. Sliabh Bán is sited besides the National Famine Museum at Strokestown Park House and there have been plans drawn up for a walkway from the Park House to a potential famine memorial on Sliabh Bán.
Sections of Coillte and Bord na Mona are now joining into a new organisation. This includes the amenity and recreation parts of both organisations. The possibility of linking Bord na Mona’a bogland project with Coillte’s amenity development on Sliabh Ban provides an opportunity to create a flagship National park project.
The creation of a National Park brings huge potential for the social, economic, educational and environmental betterment of this area. Hotels B & B’s and new tourism operators could flourish if the development went ahead. All that is needed is drive from the people, imagination from our semi-state companies, and foresight from our County Councils and public representatives.
Bord na Mona has already shown their commitment to turning existing bogs which can no longer be milled into excellent recreational and amenity areas. Lough Boora Discovery Park in Co. Offaly is a very good example of this. There are walkways, cycleway and a Sculpture Park, and in the last few days a visitors centre and restaurant has opened on the site. I visited the park this summer and was impressed by the number of visitors who were flocking to it. It’s only drawback is that it is hard to find.
Likewise Coillte has developed the impressive Lough Key Amenity area. With its walking trails, boat hire, and activity centre with children’s playground, tunnels and puzzle activities, Lough key is now a destination in itself, inviting people to camp and to stay overnight in Boyle.
I have been in touch with both Coillte & Bord na Mona and they have explained that they would welcome public participation in planning the development of the sites. Talks are ongoing with a number of stakeholders at present.
The potential of a midlands national park combined with mountain activities on Sliabh Bán is huge. The extensive railway network on the bogs can be converted into a tourist railway and cycle way. Mountain bike trails and horse-riding routes can be developed within the area. Linking water activities, such as fishing and water-sports, on the Shannon with adventure experiences on land would provide a range of outdoor pursuit activities. Alongside this, the promotion of Flora and Fauna areas and the interpretation of our cultural history would create lots of areas of interest. And most of all, the region is easy to find and very accessible, with the N5 taking visitors directly to the area.
In Scotland the Whitelee wind farm has become a tourist attraction in itself by building up a range of walking and cycling routes as well as creating an interpretative centre explaining the history of renewable energy. In the midlands we also have the opportunity to create an interpretative centre explaining the history of energy resource management in Ireland from burning peat to building wind farms.
Co. Longford has already begun to plan for the winding down of peat production on their midland bogs. In their County Development Plan they have included a walkway/cycle path from Kenagh to Lanesboro along bog railway lines. Along the route they plan interpretive sites explaining ancient roadways and even their Viking history. At a recent conference at the Corlea Trackway Visitors Centre it was suggested that a replica Viking ship be built in Lanesboro.
James Morgan, Longford businessman & independent candidate at the recent Longford-Westmeath by election has welcomed the proposals, saying that the plans hold huge potential to make the west midland region a serious contender in terms of national tourism.
Morgan said that co-operation between Longford and Roscommon Co. Councils will be key to ensuring the project achieves its full potential. Mr. Morgan added that tourism will likely be the industry to lead rural Ireland out of the economic black-hole it is in and that the opportunity for a project of this calibre to be developed in this region should be treated very seriously.
James explains that he and Emmett will be working in their respective counties to develop public participation in the project and that they are calling on interested community groups, businesses and residents to get in touch with them.
Roscommon County Council needs to link with Bord na Mona, Coillte and Longford Co. Council to develop a comprehensive plan for a Midlands national park. The cost of this should be largely covered by our semi-state company’s commitments to amenity and tourism development. Both Bord na Mona and Coillte have promoted a community partnership approach to their business model.
Personally I would be very pleased to be part of a community group that helps to steer this development. I am very aware of the work done previously by Strokestown residents such as John Fallon and Seán Beirne in originally proposing a national midland wetlands park. It is now time to work together and make a comprehensive plan, concluded Mr. Corcoran.
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