Waterford County Council had big plans for a walkway/cycleway after negotiating a licence from CIE to take over the Waterford-Dungarvan rail line.
It wasn’t long before a stretch near Dungarvan was completed – but not everyone was happy with plans for this Greenway.
A legal court injunction ensued in 2007/2008 and work stopped on the line which prevented Waterford County Council from doing any further work.
The project was left in limbo and the dream looked as though it was fading away.
However, in the Ballyvoile/Durrow area, a group of community minded people decided to take action.
Frustrated by inaction, these avid walkers set out on a massive publicity drive.
The ‘Déise Greenway’ group was established by Mick Kett and Garvan Cummins.
“People like Jim Bowdren in Kilmacthomas got a campaign going about a decade ago, and former Labour Councillor Ger Barron didn’t leave the dream die either, and then we saw our chance to take the baton and carry it on further,” explained Garvan.
Liam Connors, a local farmer who lives beside the line, also came on board as he could see the Greenway’s potential to revitalise rural Waterford.
“The railway line is one of the best engineering and historical assets in County Waterford,” he said.
“To the memory of those who constructed this masterpiece, it would be a fitting memorial that all would be able to enjoy it for years to come.”
Andrew Fleming came on board equipped with the skills of website design and social media.
Many more came on board including Ballyvoile resident Mary Lawless, photographer John Foley, Mary Crowley, Rose Smith from Kilmeaden, Brian Power from Carroll’s Cross, Eamonn and Kevin Gough, Emmet Cummins, Josh Dyson, Terri Foley to name just a few.
There were also many offers of voluntary help from photographers, drone helicopter operators, and legal help from solicitors.
Over twenty people regularly attended informal meetings on a Tuesday evening each week but there was an outer ring of over one hundred people who could be called on.
Additionally, thousands of signatures in support of the development of the Greenway were gathered at various events.
In 2013, in a symbolic event, these signatures were presented to then City and County Mayors under the Kilmacthomas viaduct.
The group printed thousands of flyers and leaflets, designed a logo, and printed t-shirts advocating the Greenway.
They also did a lot of legal groundwork which they felt would be useful to the Council.
Waterford’s politicians were approached and were also kept up to date on developments.
For the group, it is very fulfilling to now see some councillors supporting the Greenway who had previously spoken against the project and often highlighted the negatives in quite strong language and voted against it in 2009.
The group encouraged Waterford residents to send in a submission as part of the Part VIII process two years ago, with over 600 people making submissions and 94% in favour of the Greenway.
When this was to be ratified at the final meeting of Waterford County Council, 23 councillors voted in favour with no dissenters.
Michael Walsh’s strong statements in January 2014, when he stated that the Greenway would be going ahead, certainly persuaded any dissenting voices in the Council Chamber.
A huge communication network was developed with the many other Greenways and especially Greenway campaign groups throughout the country.
Throughout the past three years, the group has spent thousands of euros out of their own pockets to finance the campaign.
As the Council had no website or Facebook relating to the Greenway until very recently, the group have been answering queries through email, Facebook, face to face and by phone – all in a voluntary capacity.
Although the group has no commercial interest, they have also met many businesses, encouraging them to buy into the Greenway concept.
The group also took into account in their campaign the many views of landowners along the way.
They visited a lot of landowners initially to get an insight into the issues and concerns that landowners had.
“Certainly railway lodge householders were going to be affected. We always felt that they should be accommodated as best as possible,” said Garvan Cummins.
Liam Connors also felt that farmers along the line should be accommodated within reason if the Greenway was going to impinge on their daily farming.
According to the group, those who had been objecting initially to the Greenway were a very varied and diverse group: “Some just wanted basic crossings and fences while on the other end of the spectrum, we met people who wanted the line scrubbed away. Also we met people who had a fear of the unknown which was very understandable but they now know there was nothing to fear. The CEO’s negotiation skills really had to be utilised to their full limit and we hope all issues have now been resolved. While some people query some of the demands put on the Council and deem the accommodations given as excessive in nature, and sometimes it can be hard to argue this, we are where we are now and, at any rate, we will have a Greenway for all of our lives.”
They praised the drive and passion and negotiating skills of CEO Michael Walsh for getting the project to this stage.
“We actually have never met him as a group which probably seems very strange,” said Garvan.
“It would have been nice to have met him but I suppose we were set up to lobby for a Greenway and this man’s passion and drive is delivering it for our county, actions speak louder than words.”
He added: “The CEO wants this Greenway to be a Community Driven Greenway so it is important that all local accesses are kept open the whole way down.”
In relation to local access points, Liam Connors notes: “It would defeat the principles of a Community Driven Greenway for a family living only a hundred metres from the Greenway to have to put their children and bicycles in the car and drive a mile or two to the nearest carpark. There are a lot of local accesses the whole way down that we, our parents, our grandparents and great-grandparents have been using for generations.”
The group have reminded the public to be aware of these access points and ensure they are not closed.
The Greenway is now almost complete and all involved with the Déise Greenway group are certainly worthy of great praise for ensuring the dream of this wonderful amenity was never left die.
Judging by the amount of people already using the Greenway, it’s sure to be a success and will be enjoyed by tourists but also by all of us locals in Waterford for many years to come.