Peter Kavanagh rests his elbows on the rails of the Anna Livia bridge and looks down at the mill race, the channel that flows in and out of the River Liffey around an island in the centre of Chapelizod village.
On the leafy island, a heron is perched in the tall treetops. The lazy mill race swirls on one side, the Liffey hurries by on the other.
Further up the river, the red-grey rooftops of the Liffey Vale House, a protected Georgian building, are sheltered to passing rowing crews by trees.
“They have done spectacular drawings for it and everything,” says Kavanagh, who is chairperson of Chapelizod Tidy Towns. “The plans are in place.”
Dublin City Council has plans to restore the house, its gardens, orchard and riverbank wetlands, to open it to the public and create a biodiversity centre, gardens and walking trail, with a timeline starting in 2022.
The aim, says the 2021 draft proposal for the Cois Abhann Biodiversity Centre, is to draw the public into the natural environment of the riverside, and add a café, bus drop-off and bike and accessible parking.
“The gardens and grounds will become a living classroom punctuated with information about the natural surroundings,” said a spokesperson for Dublin City Council.
(Plans are nearing the end of a preliminary design and consultation stage, said the spokesperson.)
Kavanagh wants to talk not directly about that plan but about how he wants to piggyback on it.
It’s the perfect opportunity to resurrect an idea for a walking trail he once presented to Dublin City Council, he says, one that would curve from the Anna Livia bridge, and around to pass the banks of the Liffey, where it could eventually meet the trail to the new biodiversity centre.
“It makes sense to join it all up,” says Kavanagh. Leaning off the bridge’s wall, he points to draw an imaginary line from the bridge deep into the foliage, to trace where the path would go.
He’s not alone in thinking of a trail. Others, further up river, have too.
Part of the wider proposals for the biodiversity centre are for more infrastructure in the area, says the draft report. That includes linking up streets for pedestrians.
A pedestrian crossing across Chapelizod Road would connect the centre with a currently disused gateway into Phoenix Park, it says.
There are plans for a bridge to cross the river from the War Memorial Gardens on the north bank of the River Liffey, too.
A footpath through former Department of Defence lands, in the middle, would connect the Cois Abhann Biodiversity Centre with Liffey Valley Park.
Beside the park is Donore Harriers running track, and a growing patch. Which is where, Kavanagh says, his trail would begin.
The trail would be a floating walkway, he says, known as a cantilever, attached to the walls around the mill race, and around to the back of the Chapelizod industrial estate, at the riverbank.
Kavanagh says it would be a nicer walk to the Cois Abhann Centre from Chapelizod Village. “Can you imagine the views that you’d have of nature, walking along the inside of that wall there?”
In 2001, Kavanagh gave a presentation on the idea to Dublin City Council with other members of local groups.
One slide shows the red lines of a “proposed river walk”, which is still how Kavanagh imagines it now: from the north side of the Anna Livia bridge, all the way along the Liffey to the Longmeadows GAA pitches.
But there’s been no political will or money for the trail in the years since, he says. “It’s aspirational, it’s something that we want.”
Kavanagh does walking tours of Chapelizod so he can see the value of another route through the village. “That’s taking you into nature. Instead of just being a narrow road coming into the village.”
“I won’t give up!” he says. “You have all these plans by the Irish tourist industry to get visitors to come to places, and that’s an ideal thing for them to be working on.”
Chapelizod needs solutions to its traffic problems, too, Kavanagh says. “This bridge is killer for cyclists.”
Kavanagh says long-standing issues with the cramped Anna Livia bridge, with no space for a cycle lane, would be alleviated by a new cantilever walkway, extended outwards, making room for a wider footpath and a cycle lane.
Said Daithí Doolan, a Sinn Féin councillor: “Chapelizod has a very unique village feel, I think this’ll add to it. I think anything that promotes pedestrianisation and access to greenery is positive.”
Peter Marriott, a member of the Chapelizod Old Village Association, said he thinks it would be nice. “However I’d be dubious with how it would go down.”
Some with houses backing onto the Liffey might feel that they have less privacy with people walking along it, he says.
There could be engineering issues with the boardwalk idea too. “I don’t know how you’d do it,” he says. “The wall of the industrial site is now a crumbling wall.”
“You’d have to spend some proper dosh there to put in something like that,” he says. “I don’t think we’ll find a few pennies for this.”
Doolan, the councillor, says development levies from private development should be provided for local proposals such as this.
“This particular area of Dublin South Central is facing an unprecedented level of private development,” he says.
Kavanagh says that since Chapelizod is smaller than Ballyfermot and Cherry Orchard – which are also in Dublin South Central – a project like this may not be prioritised.
“One of the things that the council has always focused on, is that Chapelizod is very small,” he says, “and I get that.”
Traffic sometimes piles up in the village, Marriott says, so he sees merit in the solutions the idea supports.
“Come the weekend, it’d encourage people to walk up right into the village, you know, because there is a reputation for nice coffee shops, plus it’s a lovely little scenic walk,” he says.
A loop from Phoenix Park through Liffey Valley Park and into the village could encourage more, and safer, visits, he says.
And Down the River
It’s not just on Chapelizod that residents have pondered a trail along the Liffey. Those in Palmerstown have had similar ideas, says Marriott.
“I think the overall goal of putting a riverside walk all along the Liffey, and up to Liffey Valley, is a good idea,” he says. “Palmerstown Park is fantastic.”
Paul Gogarty, an independent councillor for the Lucan area, says the idea of a walkway along the Liffey has been floating around the area for about 20 years.
“There is a lot of goodwill in various communities, going from Chapelizod, Palmerstown to Lucan, to see something come to fruition,” he says.
A lot of the stretch is privately owned, he says. The South Dublin County Council development plan mentions developing a walkway along the river over both public and private land.
If private lands could be cordoned off safely, Gogarty says some landowners could be in favour of it.
The idea would have to be incremental, he says. “So any further addition is welcome, even if it’s not part of a complete plan, because eventually, they will all hopefully join up.”