Co hosted by the Inland Waterways Association of Ireland and Waterways Ireland with the support of Conference Partners, Athlone was the chosen destination for the 20th World Canals Conference.
Speaking during the Conference, Inland Waterways International President David Edwards-May referred to Athlone as the spine of Ireland’s Inland Waterways. Mr Edwards-May also commended the co-hosts, referring to the partnership between Waterways Ireland and the Inland Waterways Association of Ireland as a fine example of the state and voluntary sector working together.
The distinguished three day international event brought together more than 320 delegates from a variety of backgrounds to celebrate, collaborate, appreciate and deliberate on the future of inland navigations and the challenges that they face.
Up to fifty presentations were given over two days on themes including climate change, flood risk management, environmental sustainability, tourism development, restoration and canals heritage. In between papers, delegates enjoyed a day of technical tours that took in engineering, cultural and historical themes in the north, south and east of the country, with those in attendance also afforded the opportunity to sample the fine amenities on offer in Athlone as highlighted by Town Mayor, Cllr. Frankie Keena, during his welcoming address.
The Conference was opened by Minister for Culture Heritage and the Gaeltacht Josepha Madigan. Speaking at the opening ceremony the Minister stated that “the gathering provided a unique opportunity for participants from all over the world to network, share ideas and experiences.”
Waterways Ireland Chief Executive Dawn Livingstone welcomed the Conference saying, “the conference explores and celebrates the opportunities to reimagine our waterways in the 21st Century, to attract and sustain an ever expanding number of users, to share best practice on how to lever value, to communicate with our users in the digital age and to protect the heritage and water supplies which is the fabric of our waterways.’
IWAI President John Dolan spoke of the great opportunity the Conference presented with so many professionals, superb academics and canal enthusiasts from around the world, all ready to engage to learn and exchange experience and project information in relation to worldwide canal projects.
Speaking on the theme of the Conference ‘Restore-Regenerate–Re-imagine’, the President noted that while not losing sight of the opportunities canals present as wet linear parklands, they are in fact mostly navigable waterways and that perspective must be a priority in their future development.
The closing address for this year’s Conference was given by President of Ireland, Michael D. Higgins who attended the ceremony with his wife Sabena. Speaking at length about the cultural, heritage and recreational opportunities the waterways have provided to generations of citizen and visitors, President Higgins said ‘canals and waterways, if managed and re-imagined in a sustainable manner, can and will be at the centre of confronting the great challenges of our time’.
Commenting after President Higgins gave the closing address at the Conference, the IWAI President noted how successful the Conference had been citing the large amount of positive feedback from delegates. John also noted how appropriate it was that President Higgins had addressed the Conference given his passion for the canals and the inland waterways and all the support he demonstrated as Minister for Arts Heritage and the Gaeltacht in the 1990s.