A 50-mile cycle and walking path could be created between Monaghan and Armagh.
The first phase of Monaghan’s famed ‘greenway’ – which runs along the route of the Ulster Canal – opened in November 2013.
But now cross-border collaboration between local authorities could see the path being extended north as part of a major investment.
In addition, to cyclists and walkers, it will also be fully geared for disabled access and wheelchair users.
The EU’s Interreg funding programme has allocated up to €15 million to the expansion of greenway projects.
There currently is eight potential schemes which may be able to access the cash and the will and support is there to establish a direct greenway link between Monaghan and Armagh.
Monaghan County Council and Armagh City, Banbridge and Craigavon Borough Council are hoping to establish which route the greenway would take and start talking to landowners in the area to explain what is involved.
The Ulster Canal has lain derelict since it was abandoned in the 1930s by the Lagan Navigation Company.
It ran from Belturbet in County Cavan – where it linked via the Erne system and the Ballyconnell Canal to the Shannon – through Clones and Monaghan town and on to Lough Neagh at Blackwatertown, from where it was possible to journey onwards to Belfast via the Lagan Canal.
While the canal has been unnavigable by boat for many decades, the route of the canal is largely undisturbed and the tow paths and banks are intact.
A public right of way exists along the tow paths and it was this which afforded Monaghan County Council the opportunity to redevelop the canal corridor as a greenway.
In February, Minister for the Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, Heather Humphreys announced funding had been secured to allow the first section of the Ulster Canal project to proceed.
It will see a re-watered, navigable canal linking Lough Erne at Quivvy Lough to the scouting campus at Castlesaunderson.
The news gave the project a much-needed boost, as it had been effectively stalled due to lack of funding, despite planning permission having been granted at the end of 2013.
Monaghan County Council is now working with councils north of the border to extend the greenway – which currently runs for two miles through Monaghan town – from Castlesaunderson and on to Clones, Monaghan, over the border to Middletown and Blackwatertown and Charelmont.
From there it is hoped then to link via Loughgall to the Armagh-Portadown greenway.
Minister Humphreys has said Waterways Ireland is to lead the development of the greenway along the Ulster Canal.
The agreement was reached at a meeting of the North-South Ministerial Council.
She said: “I am delighted that work is progressing so well on the restoration of the Ulster Canal. As well as opening up the Canal from Upper Lough Erne to the International Scout Centre at Castle Saunderson, near Belturbet, we are also going to further develop the walking and cycling route along the canal route.
“The first phase of the greenway, which opened in November 2013, already attracts over 60,000 users per year.
“Monaghan County Council has been looking at developing the second phase of the greenway and I am delighted that Waterways Ireland has agreed to act as the lead partner for the project. They will be supported by the local authorities along the route.
“It is proposed to start the greenway at the point where Waterways Ireland will finish the watered section, so that people using the waterway can disembark and continue to enjoy the area on foot or bike. This will help to make the area as attractive as possible for visitors.
“It makes perfect sense to develop a greenway along the route of the canal.
“It will create a valuable transport, recreational and tourist product with a wide range of economic and social benefits.
“The greenway will be developed along the linear route of the Ulster Canal from Castle Saunderson to Charlemont, County Armagh, making it a fantastic cross border initiative.”
Picture: Children enjoying the greenway in Monaghan. (Picture courtesy of www.monaghantourism.com)
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