The county quietly gained its latest tourist attraction this week with the news that the 34km walking route between Kilbeggan and Mullingar - the Westmeath Way - has been formally recognised by the National Trails Office, the trekking branch of the Irish Sports Council.
The Way was first started in 2000, but has taken until now to reach the standard of safety, signage and facilities required by the trails office to allow it be publicised as a national attraction, according to Maurice Stenson who made the presentation to the councillors on Monday.
The Way is divided into three distinct sections - Kilbeggan to Lilliput (15kms ), Lilliput to Ladestown (10.4kms ), and Ladestown to the Harbour Bridge (8.1kms ) - and has less than 40 per cent of its route along roads.
According to Mr Stenson, Caoillte and 18 private landowners have given their permission for walkers to traverse their land, and all will be indemnified from insurance claims by Westmeath County Council.
Since the development of the Wicklow Way in 1980 by mountaineer and Cospóir founder, Joss Lynam, a further 37 waymarked ways have been developed in 24 counties, providing over 3,500 kms of treks as tourist attractions in scenic, rural areas.
The National Trail Office was established in 2007, and began reviewing and auditing all waymarked ways in the country in 2009.
The Westmeath Way is further promoted by a highly informative accompanying brochure, available from the county council, covering the Brosna, the distillery millrace, Ballinagore, Dysart, Ballaghy bog, Keoltown woods, as well as the more well known highlights of Lilliput, Ladestown, and the Royal Canal.
Mr Stenson explained to Cllr Paddy Hill how extending this attraction into north Westmeath would be problematic.
“There would be some difficulty extending the Westmeath Way into the north of the county because of the distances it must travel on national roads,” he said.
Cllr Aidan Davitt welcomed this announcement, and suggested the council seek to promote this new attraction in The Irish Times Weekend section, which has a regular feature on hiking tours in Ireland.
Cllr Mick Dollard then suggested this could be furthered by approaching that paper’s feature writer - Ms Kathy Sheridan - who grew up on the banks of Lough Ennell in Castletown Geoghegan and may still have a positive, residual bias.