Greenways are essentially off-road routes designed for cyclists and pedestrians and are probably best described as "Communication routes reserved exclusively for non-motorised journeys, developed in an integrated manner which enhances both the environment and quality of life of the surrounding area. These routes should meet satisfactory standards of width, gradient, and surface condition to ensure that they are both user-friendly and low -risk for users of all abilities. In this respect, canal towpaths and disused railway lines are a highly suitable resource for the development of greenways" (Declaration of Lille, 12th September 2000).
The Westmeath Greenways offer a safe and attractive off-road cycling and walking environment with the added benefit of a flat terrain together pleasant and attractive environs. A varied range of attractions along the routes will appeal to a broad spectrum of users and serve to encourage and promote increased cycling and walking activity in Westmeath.
Ireland’s first National Cycling Policy Framework was adopted in 2009, the stated vision of which is to “create a strong cycling culture in Ireland”. The development of a national network of both rural and urban cycle routes is a specific objective of the National Cycling Policy Framework. The policy framework identifies the need to deliver high quality cycle routes on a nationwide basis so as to encourage cycling for transport, leisure, recreation and tourism. The delivery of interurban routes, in the form of a National Cycle Network (NCN) would be in addition to the recognised need for the provision of safe cycling routes within urban settlements and the delivery of safe routes to schools.
The National Roads Authority (NRA) was tasked by the Minister of Transport and Sport to undertake a Scoping Study for a National Cycle Network, which was published in August 2010. An Advisory Group under the auspices of the National Trails Advisory Committee and with members such as Bord Fáilte Ireland, Waterways Ireland and Coillte was subsequently set up. The study identified thirteen potential route corridors between urban centres of a population of 10,000, which total 2,000km in length.
The Advisory group agreed that the next steps for the National Cycle Network project should be to carry out a detailed “Route Feasibility and Delivery” study on a selected corridor. (e.g. Athlone to Dublin as part of the Galway to Dublin corridor). In this regard, the vision for the Galway to Dublin National Cycle Network was established “To develop a world class traffic free trail from Galway to Dublin , which is of a scale and singularity that will allow Ireland to tap in to the growing tourism market for cycling which has been identified”.
In 2012 the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport further tasked the NRA to progress the design of a national greenway linking Dublin with Galway as part of this National Cycle Network (NCN). The NCN will extend between Mullingar and Athlone within the entirety of the disused Mullingar Athlone railway.
In September 2013, Westmeath County Council approved the Part 8 proposal to construct a 40km greenway facilitating a shared cycle and pedestrian route within the corridor of the disused railway between the towns of Athlone and Mullingar.
In May 2014 Westmeath County Council were awarded funding of €4million from the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport to complete the Westmeath section of the Galway to Dublin Cycleway. In making the funding announcement, Minister Alan Kelly stated that the Galway to Dublin Cycleway forms part of a €10 million national package for greenway development announced as part of a €200 million national infrastructure package. This funding will go towards other cycling developments linking Clonmel with Carrick-on-Suir, Glenbeigh to Reenard Point in Kerry and phase one of the West Clare Greenway going from Ennis to Ballymaquiggan. There will also be an allocation to develop a cycling link between the town of Boyle and Lough Key Forest Park in Roscommon.