I thought I might make some rude remarks about Longford — the town rather than the county — but I felt I should investigate the case for the defence first. I decided to see what tourist attractions it had to offer, so I looked at the Longford page on the Discover Ireland website. It’s about the county, but that includes the town, whose many attractions will no doubt be listed. Clicking on the Highlights tab gave me a page listing three places for sightseeing:
- Belvedere House and Gardens, which are in Co Westmeath
- Strokestown Park House, Gardens and Famine Museum, which are in Co Roscommon
- Corlea Trackway Visitor Centre, which is in a bog, although it is at least in a County Longford bog.
The Longford Tourism website is slightly more cheerful, mentioning walks by the Camlin on the north side of the town and along the line of the abandoned Longford Branch of the Royal Canal on the south. And the county council (I think) runs the Longford.ie website here.
Longford also has a place that fixes alternators and some nice bypasses, which is just as well as it also has the most infuriating one-way system in Christendom, allied with an almost complete lack of comprehensible signposts, especially if you want to go to Athlone, and a non-industrial wasteland to the south that adds nothing to the town’s charms.
What Longford doesn’t have is any particular reason for tourists to want to go there. So restoring the Royal Canal branch to Longford would not attract more people to the canal as a whole; it would simply displace them from elsewhere. For a boat entering the canal from the west, a night spent in Longford means a night not spent in Killashee or Keenagh or one day less to travel eastward.
The invaluable KildareStreet.com tells me that this point was not considered in a written question and answer in the Dáil on 11 June 2013.
James Bannon [FG Longford-Westmeath]: To ask the Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht if he will provide an update on the restoration plan for the section of the Royal Canal from Killashee, County Longford to Longford Town, in view of the fact that this has been characterised as the missing link on the Royal Canal system; and if he will make a statement on the matter.
Jimmy Deenihan [FG, Kerry North/West Limerick]: I can confirm to the Deputy that the Waterways Ireland Corporate Plan for 2011-2013, which has been approved by the North South Ministerial Council, plans for the completion of the feasibility study on the extension of the Longford Branch of the Royal Canal in December 2013, I am informed by Waterways Ireland that this study is presently on target.
I presume that, on the principle of a canal for everybody in the audience, an Inter-Agency Group will be set up shortly to find the money for the Longford Sheugh. But it makes no sense for the state to spend a penny on such a canal, although it might make sense for Longford Town Council (if it continues to exist) to spend its own money on the job of attracting visitors away from villages in County Longford.