Royal Canal Way
Work began on the construction of the 146 km long Royal Canal, to connect Ireland's capital city, Dublin, with the upper River Shannon in 1790, and the canal was completed in 1817. It operated in competition with the Grand Canal which ran an almost parallel route never more than 30 km to the south, and with the Grand, was made redundant by the advent of the railways in the mid-19th century. The canal was officially closed to all navigation in 1961, but like the Grand Canal, much of the Royal has been restored in recent decades, and the Royal Canal Way currently follows grassy towpaths, gravel and sometimes tarmac canal-side roads from the Dublin suburb of Ashtown 105 kilometres to the village of Abbeyshrule in County Longford. Some sections of tow path can be muddy. Further restoration will take the navigable canal and the walking route all the way to the Shannon. There is a good range of options for overnight accommodation along most of the route: it is, however, relatively easy to walk some sections and return to your starting point by public transport. Apart from the glorious, linear cordon of unspoilt countryside the route provides, there are a number of significant examples of late-eighteenth century industrial archaeology to admire along the way, including the Ryewater Aquaduct which takes the canal high over the Rye river, and which took six years to build.
Maps and other information
Floor 2 Block C,
At Start - none
At End - on Street in Cloondara
9 kms or 12% of the Way follows local roads. There may be some waymarking issues at some points along the trail.
***Dogs under effective control allowed. Please clean up after your dog***
Guide to the Royal Canal of Ireland - The Waterways Service & Inland Waterways Association of Ireland.
At Start: Rail Check with: Iarnrod Eireann.
Bus Check With: Dublin Bus.
At End: Good bus service; Check with Bus Eireann.
. Rail Check with: Iarnrod Eireann.
Dominic from Dublin
Dominic from Dublin
Dominic from Dublin
Conor from Dublin
Starting from my home in Fairview, on the edge of North inner city Dublin, yesterday I cycled from my house, joined the tow path beside the mighty Croke Park and ended my day 80Km away on the tow path in Mulligar. There was barely an encounter with a main road for the entire distance.
I was blessed with a cool but sunny day, and the prevaling westerly wind was but a welcome breeze.
For the majority of the trip, I passed along very scenic, very lush and very pleasant rural Ireland. The sun lit up the canal and, far away from towns or cities, the route was clean and quiet - so very, very quiet. If you want solitude and space, this is the place to be. Once the outer edges of the Dublin commuter town of Leixlip were passed, I encoutered hardly a dozen people on the entire route; some fishermen, dog-walkers and occasionally a couple of ramblers.
The Dublin city part of the route isn't exactly pretty, but its paved and quickly navigated on a bike. Most sections are standard city development, ordinary if somewhat ugly. You can see why the Ashtown start, on the very fringe of the city, is recommeded. Certain parts of the inner city canal before Ashtown attract groups of unpleasant youths. I'm not saying East Cabra is rough, but if you do cycle through it, I would strongly recommend checking every few minutes to ensure that both wheels are still on the bike. However, with an early morning start, one is highly unlikely to encouter any problems.
It's the possible combination of train and bike that opens up the possibilities for this route. The train line runs near to the canal for its entire length. As you can now take bikes free of charge on commuter trains during off-peak hours and weekends, a plethora of combinations opens up. Catching a train from Connolly, you could travel to any of the stops just outside the city; Leixlip, Maynooth, Enfield and cycle deep into the countryside. Or, if you prefer, take the hour long train to Mullingar and you could cycle back toward the city. This gives the all important advantage of having the wind at your back. Some of the stretches near the city are suitable for older children (confident riders, approx 9+, I would say), and so could offer a nice family day out.
In brief: from Dublin City Centre, the tow path is an easy cycle until past Maynooth. There is a section through Castleknock which is narrow and bumpy - my hybrid bike handled it, but a mountain bike would be better. As you go further into the country, the surface becomes grassy and soft. Slow going, and again, a mountain bike would be better. In the real heart of the country, you also encounter locked gates which your bike has to be lifted over. It all adds to the effort. Around the Kildare villages of Kilkock and Properous, the tow paths are cared for and are in good shape. As you approach bigger towns (usually signified by accumulating rubbish and litter) the paths can be pot-holed gravel - not exactly pleasant, but passable.
There are some streches which are simply lovely, if you like canals, trees and fields. There is an awful lot of canal, trees and fields.
The route could really do with some development by the Inland Waterways Association of Ireland (IWAI). It really appears that the cheapest possible batch job of signs with 'Royal Canal Route' on them. Whilst these do clearly mark the route itself, including the all-important changes between north and south banks, there is absolutely no indication of your present location, or of distances to the next lock, village or town. Nor is there any indication of local ammenities. Unless you go through one of the villages or towns actually on the route, you are clueless as to what places might be close to the canal that might offer refreshments, accommodation etc. The IWAI also provide very limited on-line information and of course, that is mainly focused on the canal, not what is in the area.
It is amazing to be able to travel so far without going on a road. The cycle was hard work, and Mulligar seemed to take a very, very long time to arrive (I am sure the canal was taking the longest possible route), but it was an achievement.
Only bit remaining is the stretch from Mullingar to the end of the canal - I can feel a day out coming on...
Killian from Dublin
The first section to Maynooth was interesting in that you get to walk through parts of the city that you may not normally see. There are a few points of historical and architectural interest. Croke Park, Binns and Cross Guns Bridges. Also Broom Bridge where William Hamilton first wrote down the formula for Quaternions. There was also the M50 and the Rye Water Aqueducts before arriving into Maynooth. This section is fairly popular.
Next section Maynooth to Enfield. I walked this with my brother. It was a nice trail into Kilcock we stopped for a coffee in a pub near the banks. After which we really had left the city behind, and for the most part we were on our own It was scenic but nearly a bit to quiet.
Enfield to Mullingar - I did this on my own. This was a long section and took me 7 hours or so. This too was a bit quiet and the scenery was getting a bit routine but the sound of wildlife kept me going.
This year I picked up where I left of in Mullingar and made for Ballymahon. Again I was on my own and in for a long walk. It was fairly busy with local people walking but soon I had left the town and I saw a few joggers and cyclists and one family who were cycling from Cloondra back to Dublin. After a while I was on my own again. The heat of the day was having an effect as I was slowing down. I came across the 34th lock (or was it the36th?) and saw it being used. This was the first lock I saw being used on the canal (considering that I had started at lock 1 at the north strand). I got to thinking that I had seen no barges or boats being used , I did see a few canoes. The boat I saw going through the lock was a dredger cleaning the canal bed. On I went over the River Inny aqueduct to Abbeyshrule where I had a beak at a well maintained park area. On to Ballyamhon where I stayed overnight
Next day was the last section to Cloondra. It too was a very hot day and I was even feeling the heat by 11 o’clock in the morning. I didn’t meet or see anyone for nearly 3 hours. The heat of the day was getting to me and my legs were a bit heavy. Then I say 2 boats coming down the canal then another dredger doing clearing duties and another lock being used. There were still long times where I saw no one and I was looking forward to the end. When I got to Cloondra I took a photo or 2 and went straight to Richmond Inn for a pint and a sandwich
When I get a chance I will write a proper blog with more detail