Invest €13 million in converting an abandoned railway line stretching from the edge of Waterford city at Bilberry to the coastal town of Dungarvan and what is the result? A local and national treasure, the family-friendly, award-winning Waterford Greenway that has transformed the recreational habits of thousands of Waterford natives, stimulated the economy and created a new awareness of the county’s heritage and beauty, writes Tom Hunt.
The railway line in question – the Waterford-Dungarvan-Lismore – line was officially opened on Monday 19 August 1878 and carried its last passengers on 25 March 1967. The sense of excitement associated with the opening was remarkably similar to that which accompanied the Greenway’s launch.
The development of a rail infrastructure introduced a fast and cheap means of transport to the county and, according to the Munster Express, promised ‘to open up to tourists the lovely valley of the Blackwater, aptly named “the Rhine of Ireland”’.
A Mr. Hanrahan from Waterford city purchased ‘a lot of pigs at Lismore fair’ and had them delivered to Waterford city at 9.30 the same morning. Using the existing Fermoy-Mallow-Limerick Junction route the delivery would have taken twenty-four hours longer and cost three times more.
On its first Sunday in business, ‘a most delightful trip from Waterford to Lismore was enjoyed … by between 600 and 700 delighted excursionists from the city’. Demand was such that when the passenger carriages were filled ‘cattle trucks with goods waggons were brought into requisition, into which eager passengers gladly thronged …’
The line was provided with life support in 1972 when the Quigley Magnesite Plant was opened in Ballinacourty, just outside the town of Dungarvan. Dolomite, quarried in south Kilkenny, was transported to the brick manufacturing plant until 1982.
Commercial traffic on the railway ended but maintenance trains used the line until the late 1980s before it was officially closed in 1994 and the track dismantled.
The industrial development indirectly made the Greenway development possible as the line remained the property of CIE without reverting to private ownership. This enabled Waterford County Council to obtain a licence from CIE and the council converted the abandoned line to a greenway for recreational use.
The Waterford Greenway, at 46Km in length the longest in Ireland, crosses eleven bridges and three spectacular viaducts, two causeways and passes through a 400 metres long tunnel. It was officially opened with considerable fanfare on 25 March 2017, exactly 50 years to the date that the last passenger train served the line.