The maintenance of the town bridge which traverses the heart of Athlone was the topic of much discussion at the recent sitting of the Athlone Moate Municipal District.
Raising the motion, Athlone Deputy Mayor, Cllr Aengus O’Rourke, stated the need to write to the Heritage Office, the National Monuments Office, the OPW or those with ultimate responsibility for the maintenance of the town bridge of Athlone.
“Our town bridge has been poorly maintained over the years. Weeds, ivy, and invasive wild growth are all now visible from all vantage points and a comprehensive plan is needed to properly clean and enhance this national monument.
“In this regard, the Athlone Moate Municipal District must ‘up our game’ with regard to the presentation of the town bridge. It is the focal point of our town centre enabling provincial crossing.
“Our town bridge is in a very significant location and commands importance with its historical status.
“In such regard, our town bridge must be maintained to a much higher standard and there are many areas on which we must immediately improve to include the removal of overgrowth on the plinths and base of the structure.
“We have, in the past, called upon Iarnrod Eireann, to maintain and enhance the white bridge and to their credit they have done so.
“Approximately seven years ago, I recall requesting the illumination of our town bridge but as of yet this has not been realised. With the continuation of the greenway across the River Shannon to be realised in due course, I believe now is the time to ‘up the ante’ with regard to our town bridge maintenance,” Cllr O’Rourke stated.
Concurring, Green Party councillor, Louise Heavin, noted that it was the optimum time for the local authority to employ a biodiversity officer who would assess the town bridge structure on a regular basis.
“Our local authority should seek to hire skilled staff to assess such structures going forward,” Cllr Heavin asserted.
Cllr Frankie Keena stated that the prevalent overgrowth was detracting from the character of the town bridge.
“I do believe that our town bridge would be enhanced with environmentally friendly lighting and we should strive to appoint relevant consultants to assess illumination of this prominent structure,” Cllr Keena remarked.
Responding, director of services, Mr Barry Kehoe, noted that the town bridge was monitored on a regular basis from a vehicle movement perspective.
“From a health and safety viewpoint, it is difficult to access certain parts of the town bridge, but it is the responsibility of Westmeath County Council and is a protected structure and national monument.
“Given its configuration and location, it is difficult and expensive to maintain in terms of weed control and appearance from the river and river banks. It is structurally sound and the road and footpaths across the bridge are in very good condition.
“The council will develop an aesthetic maintenance plan for the bridge, commencing in 2022 for consideration in the context of the budget for that year,” Mr Kehoe concluded.