The Grand Canal Greenway is the Faithful County’s perfect getaway
From bakeries to bike trails, ‘smart’ towns to sculpture parks, Offaly has lots of attractions for visitors
It is hoped that the development of the Grand Canal Greenway will also help to promote Tullamore as a short-break destination for visitors looking to escape the city for the great outdoors.
“We’re working hard with local communities to ensure that the local ‘céad mile failte’ is matched by enhanced public realm development in the necklace of villages along the canal,” Delaney said.
One local business has already responded to Delaney’s call-to-action. Ballycommon Bake House is the latest addition to Ballycommon House Self-Catering Apartments and Irish Country Pub.
The third-generation family business is situated on the banks of the Grand Canal six miles east of Tullamore.
Ballycommon Bake House was opened last July by Aoife Pilkington in direct response to the development of the Grand Canal Greenway.
“We’re a family-run business now in our third generation. When the work started on the greenway in the Autumn of 2018, plans for the coffee shop began in earnest,” Pilkington said.
“We had to close the bar in March of this year, due to Covid-19, and that gave us the opportunity to re-decorate and fit out the coffee shop.”
Pilkington also sought the support of Offaly Local Enterprise Office to help get her new venture off the ground.
“The advice and mentoring they have given me has been invaluable. It has given me skills I need now and in my future business life,” Pilkington said.
“We did a Start Your Own Business course, developed a business plan and received mentoring support.
“Offaly Local Development Company also came on board and gave us assistance with our Covid-19 requirements.”
Slieve Bloom Mountain Bike Trails
The development of the Slieve Bloom Mountain Bike Trails is a joint initiative between Offaly and Laois County Councils, Coillte and Fáilte Ireland.
When complete, the purpose-built single-track trails will weave their way through more than 100km of mountain terrain, peatland and forestry.
There will be two separate trailheads, at Kinnitty in Co Offaly and Baunreagh in Co Laois. To date, 12.6km of “blue” or moderate grade and 10km of “red” or hard grade trail has been completed at Kinnitty, alongside a further 9km of red trail at Baunreagh.
Work is continuing and new stretches will be open when completed, but local businesses located along the completed sections of the trail are already feeling the benefits of the project.
“County Offaly is fast becoming a destination of choice for outdoor enthusiasts,” said Jonathan O’Meara, owner of Mid Ireland Adventure and its sister company, the Slieve Bloom Mountain Bike Centre (midirelandadventure.ie).
“The Slieve Bloom region, in particular, has seen a huge increase in visitors and this is mainly down to the development of the new mountain bike trails,” O’Meara said.
“There has been a massive shift in our lifestyle over the last number of years and I think the present pandemic has accelerated the growth and appetite for the Great Outdoors.”
The focus at both Mid Ireland Adventure and the Slieve Bloom Mountain Bike Centre is on the “natural and heritage landscapes of the Irish midlands,” O’Meara said.
“We identified a gap in the market for outdoor adventure activities in a countryside location. Part of the wider ethos of our business is to inform and inspire a greater appreciation of the wider environment in Offaly.
“Here, we’re surrounded by the River Shannon, Grand Canal, Offaly Way and Slieve Bloom Mountains. It is a setting that greatly enhances the adventure sport activities we offer our customers.”
Kinnitty is also experiencing the benefits of the investment in the Slieve loom Mountain Bike Trails, according to John Clendennen, the owner of Giltraps, a pub, townhouse and glamping business situated in the village. “As a publican during a pandemic, we have many challenges at the moment, but I am very optimistic about the future of tourism development here in Kinnitty and the wider south Offaly area,” Clendennon said.
“Offaly County Council, Coillte and Fáilte Ireland have made great strides in developing and promoting the area surrounding us here in recent years,” he said.
“The success of Kinnitty and the Slieve Bloom hinges greatly on the effectiveness of such agencies collaborating, working with local community groups and business owners over the longer terms and investing wisely.
“Alongside attractions, such as Birr Castle, Lough Boora Discovery Park and the River Shannon, investment of €10 million has gone into cycle trail greenways and blueways across the county.
“This compliments the Slieve Bloom offering and encourages visitors to opt for a multi-night stay, leading to more money being spent locally across a wide range of businesses.”
Edenderry smart town pilot
At the start of the year, Offaly County Council unveiled ambitious plans to transform Edenderry into a ‘Smart Town’.
Led by Ray Bell, the Edenderry project involved the installation of transmitters for free on-street wi-fi access, along with the installation of CCTV and state-of-the-art solar bins.
“This is progressing well, with the recent installation of the first LoRa [Low Range radio] gateways in the country, and air quality monitors provided by Cellnex, our technical partners on this project, in late September,” Delaney said.
“By the end of October, designated car-parking space sensors had been installed in electric vehicle parking bays. Wheelchair spaces, loading bays and bin sensors are now also being installed.
“All of these systems are being piloted as IT comms opportunities to help test the Cellnex SmartBrain data management interface and the systems will be evaluated for their benefits to town management.”
Other sensor systems are also being considered for wider projects in the town using IoT, LoRa and Smartbrain.
“This project will be launched formally at the Edenderry Municipal District meeting on December 9. The partnership will help position Edenderry as an innovative and forward-thinking location at national level,” Delaney said. “Other similar projects are ongoing in SmartSandyford, Digital Limerick and SmartDublin. Offaly wishes to position itself at that level and Edenderry has been an ideal location in which to develop the project to date due to staff buy-in and support and other factors including the major support from Cellnex on this project to date.”
Investment in the arts is another key focus for Offaly County Council, according to Anna Marie Delaney.
Delaney said the council was collaborating with the artistic community in Offaly on new plans for Lough Boora Discovery Park.
Offaly County Council partnered with Bord na Móna six years ago to open a new visitor centre in the 2,000-hectare park at a cost of €1.5 million.
Established in 1994 on a former cutaway bog in Leabeg outside Tullamore, Boora is home to a sculpture park, walking and cycling trails, bike hire, angling, and a mesolithic site.
“We are now looking at reimagining the sculpture park there in conjunction with local artists, which is really critical given the impact Covid has had on artists in the county and elsewhere in the country,” Delaney said.
Offaly County Council and LEO Offaly are also collaborating with The Trench Trust on the OFFline Film Festival Animation Residency, which gives Irish animators the opportunity to create and showcase their work to an audience of filmmakers and film fans.
Aimed at solo animation graduates and teams, the “Hot Seat” prize allows winning entrants to avail of accommodation, a stipend, and studio space in Birr, with access to industry-standard software, mentoring support, and access to audio and post-production facilities.
“Jack O’Shea, one of the talented animators who got one of these residencies, won an IFTA this year for Best Animation Short,” Delaney said.
FilmOffaly, another artistic initiative of Offaly County Council, has been up and running since 2008. It is aimed at promoting the county as a location for filming.
“Offaly is situated right in the heart of Ireland, but it is also close to Dublin. It has a beautiful landscape, good road and rail infrastructure and has just over 20 monastic sites and about 90 castles,” Delaney said.
“Our focus right now is on developing Offaly as a location for pre- and post-production. We’re looking at developing a hub in Birr that would create employment.”
For more information on Offaly County Council, visit offaly.ie; for more on Local Enterprise Office Offaly, see localenterprise.ie/Offaly
Getting into the beet in a big way
Anne Marie Feighery is one of the many home-grown entrepreneurs in Co Offaly that has benefited from the valuable early support offered by the Local Enterprise Office (LEO).
Feighery launched Feighery’s Farm Beetroot Juice in February 2019 after participating in the Food Academy programme funded by the LEO in association with SuperValu.
The beetroot used in Feighery’s award-winning juice is grown on her family’s pesticide-free tillage farm in Kilcormac.
The home-grown beetroot juice is blended with Tipperary apples and made with no added sugar.
Feighery is continuing to develop her business through the Midland Food & Drink Programme, a unique programme funded by LEOs based in the midlands.
Her beetroot juice has earned her a slew of awards, including the top prize in the Innovation in Agriculture and Food Category at the Women and Ag Awards held earlier this month in association with FBD Insurance.
“I always enjoyed the outdoors and I loved to get involved, helping my dad and brothers in the fields, planting and harvesting the vegetables and working the weekly farmers’ market each Saturday,” Feighery said.
“One summer, chatting with my dad on the farm on a sunny evening, we started discussing the beetroot growing in the field. I remarked how this ‘Irish superfood’ had enjoyed a fascinating resurgence in popularity.
“Fast forward 12 months and, with the help of Moorepark Teagasc Food Research Centre in Cork, I had a new Irish Beetroot juice on the market.
“It’s a very natural, but surprisingly sweet, energising and healthy drink, offering all the super benefits of beetroot in a convenient grab-and-go format.”
For more info, log on to feigherysfarm.ie