An historic railway viaduct in Fermoy lies idle even though plans and funding exist to develop it as part of a walking route and amenity structure. Recently, what public access existed to the structure has been blocked by the landowner. Existing rights of way need to be respected and development of the area as amenity need to be accelerated, writes People Before Profit’s Eoghan Stakelum in Fermoy.
Background & History
The Fermoy Viaduct – or Red Bridge as it is known locally – was built in 1872 as part of the Mallow to Waterford railway line, bringing the railway across the River Blackwater.
As child growing up in Fermoy, the banks of the River Blackwater were our playground. And by far the most spectacular stretch of river was the bit that passed under that awesome structure we called the Red Bridge. The viaduct is situated slightly outside the town, a short walk from the centre of town.
Every child in the town could tell you that a movie was made at the Red Bridge where a plane flew under the bridge. The movie, ‘Blue Max’, was filmed in 1966, a year before the railway was closed down.
The viaduct has been idle and rusting since the railway closure in 1967.
The structure’s amenity value
To reach the Red Bridge, there were three routes. We could walk a short trail from the Fermoy hospital to the bridge. On the North bank you could access it from a gap in the ditch at the SCI premises. Or more commonly you could walk the trail from the mart in town along the river to the Red Bridge. A right of way has apparently existed for 200 years along the banks of the River Blackwater from Fermoy town to The Red Bridge.
Cork County Council’s Local Area Plan for Fermoy includes the route from the N72 and across the viaduct as a suggested pedestrian/cycle link.
There were a number of attempts to develop the Red Bridge into a walkway with proper access to the public. New plans for a walkway were proposed in 2013. Planning permission was granted in 2015.
A 2017 article in the local Avondhu newspaper stated that money for the project was originally expected to be released in July 2016.
Similarly in 2017 the Evening Echo noted that the project would receive funding of up to €250,000 to make it a spur route for the European E8 path, a 4,700km walk across Europe, from Cork to Turkey. The article in the Echo noted:
“It will be a fantastic amenity and tourist attraction that will bring more footfall to Fermoy and put Fermoy back on the map,” [Cllr Noel] McCarthy said.
The walk is expected to become one of the world’s most sought-after walking routes, attracting keen hikers and walkers from around the globe. It’s also tipped to be the nation’s inland answer to the hugely popular Wild Atlantic Way.
So it seems there were big plans and EU funding granted to develop the Red Bridge. But to date no work has commenced.
Public access blocked
This brings me to a sad turn in the story of The Red Bridge. Recently the access from the N72 to the bridge has been barricaded by the landowner. A number of signs have been erected warning trespassers that they will be prosecuted, declaring that the lands are private property and with CCTV in operation. This appears to have happened around the time of the start of the Pandemic. However access to the Red Bridge was being disputed by the landowners as early as 2019 in online Facebook discussion threads with some people insisting there was a right of way to the Red Bridge and the landowner insisting there wasn’t, and that due to antisocial behaviour they had taken a decision to prevent access to the public.
To date the barricades remain. I strongly believe that the public have a right to access the Red Bridge. If a right of way exists it must be respected. If it doesn’t one is needed and should be established by Cork County Council. And the EU funding available should be drawn down and used to develop what has so much potential to be such a fantastic resource for the town.
Public should have free and safe access
People Before Profit are calling for:
- Any existing right of way to be respected. If no right of way exists to the viaduct, one should be established by Cork County Council or the relevant public body to preserve access as per the Local Area Plan;
- Cork County Council to expedite the proposed works to the area, ensuring that the historical and amenity value of the railway structure is preserved to provide safe and unhindered access to the public.