South Kerry Greenway: ‘This was a lifeline. I still believe it will happen’

When the news emerged this week that two legal challenges have been brought to the High Court in relation to the South Kerry Greenway, there were mixed reactions and emotions.

For a local representative, his was “disappointment and sadness” for those that had “big plans” as a result of An Bord Pleanála’s November decision to approve the controversial project, a 32km greenway stretching from Cahersiveen to Glenbeigh.

The greenway project was first proposed in 2011 and after failing to reach agreement with landowners, the local authority decided to acquire 115ac of land by compulsory purchase order (CPO). An Bord Pleanála confirmed the CPO with some modifications.

However, it was predicted that there would be further delays to what has already been a lengthy 10-year saga.

These predictions were proven to be right yesterday (Wednesday, January 13) with two challenges mentioned in the High Court, one brought by farmer James Clifford alongside environmentalist Peter Sweetman, the other brought by the Greenway Information Group. These have both been adjourned until later in the month.

“It’s very disappointing news for the entire region,” Fianna Fáil Councillor Michael Cahill, who has long supported the construction, told AgriLand.

“I have said a thousand times that Cahersiveen is a town that requires assistance and help, it needs this big injection – this was the lifeline, this was going to be a game-changer, and I have supported the concept of the greenway since the very first day…which is over 10 years ago now.”

‘People said the region would never recover’

However, the councillor said he understands that “people have a right to protect their lands – this is part of the process and I respect that”.

The greenway is proposed to mainly be constructed along the route of the Southern and Western Railway, which has not been in use for decades.

“It makes me wonder how were the people long ago able to develop a railway along this route – how did they get it through?” the councillor said.

“That was the greatest injection here at the time and when it closed, people said the region would never recover, and they were very right.

The area we’re talking about is a part of not just Kerry, but Ireland, that has suffered most in the context of forced immigration, and there was huge excitement and hope after the decision to grant it in November.

The councillor said that since then, he has been contacted by three different parties who are interested in developing hotels in the area.

“The idea of 20 permanent jobs in Glenbeigh is like 1,000 jobs in Tralee or Killarney. There were others interested in cafes and the likes. This is the type of interest we had,” he continued.

“I just wonder do people understand the benefits that this would bring to our region and that it would, I have no doubt, enhance the value of land all along the route – it would have to.

“I have been told by people in Waterford that when Waterford Crystal base closed, there was doom and gloom and despair. But now, because of the greenway, there’s life, there’s footfall, there’s excitement, there’s development, there’s jobs, new businesses, the list goes on.

While all this is happening, there are people losing their jobs, and we’re in a very difficult climate in the midst of a pandemic and this greenway was never more wanted, and this is the reality.

Cllr Cahill said that the greenway is “the only hope” left.

“This was a lifeline. I still believe it will happen, but it is going to take longer,” he continued.

“I know that land is valuable, and there’s this exceptionally close association with land here in this country, but there were a lot of people that had big plans and were prepared to invest and borrow and employ people.

“I was contacted by people who had emigrated and when permission was granted, they said they now had something to come home to. This is the scale of it.

“We’re not going to get a big industry down this neck of the woods, so this would have suited the region big-time and it would be all year-round.”

‘We have bent over backwards’

The councillor said he remembers it was said to him that if the council could introduce an annual maintenance payment for the landowners it “could be a big help in bringing them with us”.

“The council agreed to it, and it’s the only greenway in Ireland that the adjoining landowners were going to be paid an annual maintenance payment so, in many ways, we have bent over backwards to accommodate them,” he continued.

We see the signs that say ‘yes to greenway, no to CPO’ – but this never would have happened without the CPO because you would never get the agreement amongst 200 landowners.

“It’s very difficult at times to get two or three people to agree to anything, nor mind 200. The council had no choice but to go down the CPO road.

“I have to look at this as a project that would stop and reverse emigration and that’s an absolute fact. People had something to come home to. You won’t survive here on a small farm holding alone, people need another job with it and this was an opportunity.

“When we’re all dead and gone, this was going to serve generations to come.

“For any business to survive, you need people, you need footfall. We have seen the opposite of that in Cahersiveen town, where numerous businesses have closed over the years.

“This was an opportunity to bring that life back and get rid of this dereliction, bring people back and keep them home.”