Sunday Tribune report on
Claremorris and the WRC
Sunday Tribune - Sunday
Aug 22nd 2004
by David Boland
Once the forgotten man of Mayo, Claremorris has over
recent years blossomed into the jewel of the West, with a
renewal programme for the town which has seen formerly
derelict buildings being reborn as an attractive, modern
town centre. The town is helped by its pivotal location at
the crossroads of Connaught, but the rebuilding of the
fortunes of Claremorris has taken the sort of concerted
effort not seen in these parts since Monsignor Horan
spearheaded the campaign to develop Knock International
Airport in the early 1980s.
Still, while the creation of the Airport solved one
access issue for the area in the last century, another
pressing issue is coming under scrutiny in the new
millennium. This is the issue of a rail link. Claremorris is
served by the East/West train running from Dublin to
Connaught, but since the 1970s, there has been no passenger
service on the Northern part of the Western Rail Corridor,
which runs from Sligo in the north through Galway, and
eventually on to Cork in the south. Freight trains had run
on the line to South Claremorris as recently as three years
ago (although no passenger service was carried on the line),
but even these have dried up in recent times.
All this has to be viewed in the context of the
regeneration of the West, and in particular of Claremorris.
In an area where it would have been rare to find 50 houses
built in a single year, the town has seen a marked reversal
of the depopulation trend over recent times, and the last
five years have seen more than 500 new properties developed
(not necessarily remarkable, except for the fact that there
are currently an additional 500 houses being built at the
moment, with a further 500 at planning stage).
Colman Ó Raghallaigh has been among those at the
forefront of a campaign to restore the Western Rail
Corridor, thereby opening access further to Claremorris and
the rest of the west. Along with community representatives
from across the region, he set up an organisation called
West on Track, which has been very successful in bringing
the issue to national significance - indeed, thus far more
than 100,000 signatures have been collected, and a working
group has been set up by the Minister for Transport to
examine the feasibility issues regarding the rail link.
"Reopening the corridor would be extremely significant in
terms of infrastructure in the region," said Ó
Raghallaigh. "The current population of the West stands at
about 700,000 people, and reopening the line would
facilitate the extraordinary growth currently being
experienced in Claremorris at present."
A measure of the growth within Claremorris is the
enthusiasm evident for the proposed move of the OPW to the
town under the decentralisation programme, which has seen an
unprecedented 127 applications for a move out of a possible
142 places available (and the project is yet to be fully
"Claremorris is growing at a rapid pace," said Ó
Raghallaigh. "We have some of the most attractive facilities
in the west with a world class equestrian centre, a superb
golf course, an all-weather athletic track, a swimming pool
which is soon to be upgraded to championship standard, and
many other sports and leisure facilities. Housing is
affordable here, with a typical four bedroom house costing
just euro190,000, and we have access to excellent
educational and healthcare facilities."
Given that Claremorris is a gateway to the west, the rail
link is seen as critical from an access perspective,
especially since it would allow for a direct link between
the town and Knock Airport. The Airport has seen significant
growth over recent years, with 150,000 travellers through it
in 2001, 250,000 in 2003 and 450,000 predicted for this
year. It is expected that within five years, more than one
million passengers will pass through the airport per annum.
"Knock International Airport serves a huge and growing
catchment area," said Ó Raghallaigh. "It is yet
another argument for putting the Western Rail link back in
place. It is a question of looking forward, and putting the
infrastructure in place before the people arrive. Our slogan
is "Relieve the East, Revive the West," because the days of
the old sod of turf are gone."
With this sort of enthusiasm, it can't be long before the
West will rise again.