Its iconic image may be the inspiration for a new play, but the Red Iron Bridge is set for a shakeup.
The derelict bridge, which is to be an integral part of the extension of the Greenway to New Ross, may be abandoned by the Irish Rail and taken over by Kilkenny County Council (KCC).
The Greenway route proposed to stretch across the bridge will be a link between the Waterford Greenway and the forthcoming Kilkenny Greenway which will stretch across disused rail line from Ferrybank to New Ross.
It received €2.65m funding from the Department of Transport, Sport and Tourism last month alongside €8m for the proposed 24km-long Kilkenny route. The Red Iron Bridge was erected in 1906 and measures 367m. Once Ireland’s longest bridge, it has been out of official use for years. It will also be immortalised in a new Jim Nolan play – The Red Iron – due for the stage at Garter Lane in November.
South Kilkenny councillors were presented with an option to urge Irish Rail to abandon the Bilberry to Ferrybank line and turn it over to KCC last week. Meetings Administrator Brian Tyrell told members at the Piltown Municipal District meeting that it has been suggested that the different municipal councils affected by the rail line would write to the company to request abandonment. The Piltown District would be joined by its neighbours in the municipal districts of the Waterford Metropolitan area, New Ross and Callan-Thomastown.
There is also an option for KCC to enter into a lease agreement for a period of up to and over 20 years.
A public notification process would have to be started by Irish Rail in the event of abandonment, Mr Tyrell said. This would take about six months to complete. Following questions from Cllr Fidelis Doherty (FG), the room heard that landowners in the vicinity of the bridge would be required to be included in the company’s abandonment order and compensation would be paid by the company to the Council as a liability.
Mr Tyrell requested the members to agree to writing a letter requesting the company at the meeting. “Time really is of the essence,” he said. However, a number of councillors were surprised to be presented with the option and requested more information before pressing ahead with a decision. Cllr Eamon Aylward (FF) said there was a “reluctance” in the room to agree to the abandonment letter immediately and was among those who requested more information.
His party colleague Ger Frisby differed, saying members should opt to “plough ahead” and make the approach to the company. Cllr Pat Dunphy (FG) wondered whether converting the line to a greenway route could prove short-sighted due to climate change and a potential future need for more public transport: “In 20 to 30 years time the rail could be of use again.” Kilmacow’s Cllr Tomás Breathnach suggested making a decision at the next meeting, to which Mr Tyrell put forward that members should meet before the end of July, which was agreed.
Brian Tyrell explained the reason for taking ownership of the route, is that it “removes uncertainty”.
If works have to carried out on the bridge in decades to come, he continued, “the Council would be in control of the process”. Otherwise amendments would have to be made to the lease.