Iris Galloway, in her guide to the The Great Western Greenway – ‘the longest off-road walking and cycling trail in Ireland’ – expresses the hope that her book will enhance the experience of this unique trail for walkers and cyclists. She succeeds admirably in her aim by welding together history, folklore, rich information on the biodiversity of the area, and practical advice for the visitor. All of this is capped off by the stunning visual production comprising archival photographs, vibrant maps and superb contemporary colour photography. The Greenway, of course, is situated on the tracks of the former Midland Great Western Railway line, the seven-decade history of which is book ended with tragedy. We get an overview of this history, alongside rich and sometimes humorous anecdotes about the railway, and vivid detail on the railway line infrastructure as well as the natural life along the trail. There is detailed information on each of the three section of the trail from Westport to Newport, to Mulranny, to Achill Island. Head for the Greenway with this wonderful book to hand.
They say it is now ‘the largest off-road walking and cycling trail in Ireland’. The 42km Great Western Greenway stretching from Westport through Newport and Mulranny to Achill Island is proving to be a wonderful draw for walkers and cyclists alike.
The trail follows the path of the disused line of the Midland Great Western Railway, a line that was extended to Achill in 1894/1895 and from where the last train departed in 1937. Strangely, these dates marked poignant island tragedies, when trains carried home the bodies of the island dead. In June 1894, thirty young people were drowned in Clew Bay when a boat capsized as they made their way to Westport to catch a steamer for Scotland where they would work as migrant harvesters.In 1937, one of the last trains to Achill before the railway was closed, carried home the bodies of ten young boys – again migrant harvesters – who died in a fire at Kirkintillloch, southwest Scotland.
If the railway line carried migrant and emigrant away from Achill, it also opened up the island to artists, writers, and visitors, such as Paul and Grace Henry who came in 1910 and stayed on and off for almost a decade, while the summer school Scoil Acla attracted artists, writers and intellectuals keen to immerse themselves in the Irish language and culture at the start of the twentieth century.
The Great Western Greenway is a place to immerse oneself not only in its dramatic scenery but also in the history of those bygone travellers who took the train to and from Achill Island.