Great Southern Trail Greenway Limerick
The Great Southern Trail Greenway in Limerick is a 39 km off-road walking and cycling route along the old railway line that connects the three lovely market towns of Rathkeale, Newcastlewest and Abbeyfeale in west Limerick. The Great Southern Trail provides a journey through the wonderful built and natural heritage of countryside and villages along the route. Along the journey, you will encounter Norman castles, abbeys, medieval ruins, workhouses, famine graveyards, deserted railway stations, a viaduct and breath-taking scenery!
The Great Southern Trail was developed along a stretch of the 85km Limerick to Tralee railway line which operated for nearly one hundred years – opening in the late 1880s and closing in the 1970s. The route, which was also known as the North Kerry line also had branch lines to Foynes in County Limerick and Fenit in County Kerry.
By 1925 the line was owned by the Great Southern Railways (GSR) which operated all of the railways in the Irish Free State until 1945. After World War II, the GSR was dissolved and the railways came into the ownership of Córas Iompair Éireann (CIÉ). The line stayed in the ownership of CIÉ until the line was closed to passengers in 1963 and freight in the late 1970s.
Five Sections of the Great Southern Trail Limerick
There are five distinct sections to the Great Southern Trail All sections are waymarked using the Greenway symbol and a white directional travel arrow and suitable for people with moderate levels of fitness. Make sure to bring a helmet, bike, mobile phone, snacks, fluids and waterproofs for your journey!
Rathkeale to Ardagh (9km)
Start/ Trailhead: In Rathkeale the official access point is located to the left just off the N21 travelling to Killarney/ Tralee at the R518 exit and is next to the Palatine Museum. Follow the directional fingerpost signs on to the Greenway.
Estimated Time Cycling: 45 mins
Estimated Time Walking: 2.5 hours
Services: Services available at Rathkeale and Newcastle West.
What to Expect:
This is a level section which begins at the Irish Palatine Museum and crosses the River Deel. Five beautiful cut-stone overhead bridges are passed along the way. Just before the third one, you will see the ancient churchyard at Clounagh and the ruins of the 15th century Lisnacille Castle in the distance. On the approach to the fourth bridge, a local road to the right of the greenway leads to Cahermoyle House (now a private nursing home) which has associations with William Smith O’Brien, leader of the 1848 Young Ireland Rebellion. The fifth bridge is at Ardagh Station (now a private house) from where the village, St. Moula’s Well and the old fort where the Ardagh Chalice was found in 1868 can be visited.
Ardagh to Newcastle West (4km)
Start/ Trailhead: In Ardagh the entrance is at the railway bridge on the local L7001 road which links the N21 with the R523. Parking is available at the community Centre 200m from the railway bridge.
Estimated Time Cycling: 15 mins
Estimated Time Walking: 1 hour
Services: Services available at Ardagh and Newcastle West.
What to Expect:
This section is level at each end with a ‘dip’ in the middle in the form of a 1% gradient. The trail passes through pleasant farmland with views of the surrounding hills. You will cross the River Daar as you approach Newcastle West and then cross the R521 bringing you to Newcastle West station. The only surviving features of the railway age are the restored Station House (private) and the mature oak trees which lined the approach avenue from Bishop Street. Newcastle West is an ideal stopping point for rest and refreshments. Take time to visit the local shops and boutiques, view the Medieval Desmond Castle from the main Square and relax in the Castle Demesne which covers over 100 acres of parkland.
Newcastle West to Barnagh (10km)
Start/ Trailhead: There are two entrances at Newcastle West. One is at Bishop Court (off Bishop Street in the town centre) and the other is near Gaelscoil Ó Dóghair/ Recycling Centre on the R521.
Estimated Time Cycling: 45 mins
Estimated Time Walking: 2.5 hours
Services: Services available at Newcastle West.
What to Expect:
Gently uphill all the way, this section represented one of the most arduous challenges in the age of the steam train. The Greenway climbs into the Rooskagh Hills leading to boglands and providing wonderful views of the Limerick Plains and the Golden Vale. The route traverses Ferguson’s Viaduct before becoming a dedicated tarmacadam cycleway with excellent views which then rejoins the railway at Barnagh Station. The trains entered Barnagh Station through a tunnel which can be visited along a stand-alone 1km section of the old railway.
On this section of the route along the N21 road, there is a short section of trail (which does not make up part of the main trail) leading to an original railway tunnel which is now a haven for plant and animal life. To access this spur, you must cross the N21 road. Please note that there are no signs warning oncoming motorists of pedestrians/ cyclists crossing the road at this point.
Barnagh to Templeglantine Village (4km)
Start/ Trailhead: Off the N21at Glendarragh
Estimated Time Cycling: 15 mins
Estimated Time Walking: 1 hour
Services: Services available at Templeglantine Village.
What to Expect:
The N21 roadside cycleway continues into a short section of a cul-de-sac before the sight of old telegraph poles indicate that the railway has been joined again. This section passes through cuttings and embankments and under two stone bridges. The village of Templeglantine becomes visible on the left and is reached along the L21006. Templeglantine is a good starting point for a side trip to Glenquin Castle (restored), Killeedy Castle (ruin) and St Ita’s Churchyard. There are also great views of a modern windfarm.
Templeglantine Village to Abbeyfeale to Kerry border (9km to Abbeyfeale & 3km to Kerry border)
Start/ Trailhead: In Templeglantine the main official point is at the car-parking area behind Halla Inse Bán/Community Hall. It is on the local road L21006 (directly opposite the Church) and the Greenway is 1km north along this local road. Parking and services are also available from the Devon Inn Hotel just to the left of the N21. Please note care is required crossing the N21. Follow the directional fingerpost signs on to the Greenway.
Estimated Time Cycling: 1 hour
Estimated Time Walking: 2 hours
Services: Services available at Templeglantine and Abbeyfeale.
What to Expect:
Opposite the church the L21006 leads to the Greenway where a left turn is taken for Abbeyfeale. After 2km Tullig Wood is entered and its tranquil atmosphere is in sharp contrast to the noisy N21 located just a couple of fields away. A little further on the restored station (private) at Devon Road is passed, once serving a local creamery. The Greenway now levels out as it comes parallel to the River Allaghaun and accompanies it all the way to Abbeyfeale.
Pass under the stone bridge and travel a further 2km where you will pass Abbeyfeale Station. You can turn left here onto the R524 for the town centre, or continue on towards County Kerry. If you continue on you will cross the River Oolagh and pass the ruins of Purt Castle and the River Feale on your left.
Main Access Points to the Great Southern trail Greenway Limerick
The old railway station which is now the Irish Palatine Museum. It is accessed from the R518 roundabout, just south of the N21 and near the Catholic Church (look for the large spire!).
The entrance is at the railway bridge on the local L7001 road which links the N21 with the R523. Parking is available at the community Centre 200m from the railway bridge.
- Newcastle West
There are two entrances here. One is at Bishop Court (off Bishop Street in the town centre) and the other near Gaelscoil Ó Dóghair/ Recycling Centre on the R521.
This is the summit of the Greenway and parking is at the N21 westbound lay-by with three options for exploration:
- Main trail west towards Abbeyfeale
- Main trail east towards Newcastle West/ Rathkeale
- Barnagh railway tunnel 1km directly from the lay-by
Park the car at Halla Inse Bán which is on the local L21006 road directly opposite the church. The Greenway is accessed 1km north along this local road.
- Devon Road
At the Devon Road Cross turn north off the N21/R515 junction and travel along the L7059 where Tullig Wood is clearly visible to the right.
In the town centre turn right from the N21 onto the R524 Athea Road. You will see the old station on the right after 1km (adjacent to the Railway Bar).
Below you will find an excellent documentary of the line and its transforamation into a greenways today. The story continues to evolve to this day as Limerick County Council renames the project The Limerick Greenway.
The three lovely market towns along the Greenway – Abbeyfeale, Newcastle West and Rathkeale offer great, short looped cycling routes which highlight each towns’ distinctive heritage and history.
Abbeyfeale Town Loop (3.2KM)
- Railway Station
- Town Square
- Main Street
- Glórach Theatre
Newcastle West Town Loop (4.5KM)
- Famine Graveyard
- The Demesne
- The Square
- Desmond Hall
- Fullers Folly
- St. Ita’s Hospital
- Public Library
- Desmond Complex
Rathkeale Town Loop (3.2KM)
- Palatine Museum
- River Walk
- Carnegie Library
- Post Office
- Community Hall
- Augustinian Abbey
Great Southern Trail Attractions Nearby
Askeaton Castle, Askeaton
This site really is worth a visit – a fortress, a friary and a den of iniquity all in one place!Askeaton Castle dates from 1199, when William de Burgo built the medieval fortress on a rock in the River Deel. It was dismantled as a viable fortress by Cromwellian forces in 1652. The eery ruins of the castle remain today and there are fragments of a 13th century wall and a 15th century banqueting hall.
The impressive ruins of the early Franciscan friary was also founded by the Earls of Desmond in the 15th century. The 18th century building nearby was used as a Hellfire Club. These clubs were rumoured to be dens of excess in which wealthy gentlemen indulged in drink, mock ritual and other nefarious activities!
Desmond Castle & Banqueting Hall, Newcastle West
If you are into castles – this one is also rally worth a visit! This impressive fortress was built by the Fitzgerald family, better known as the Earls of Desmond in the 12th century. The castle was lived in until the 1930s and withstood numerous sagas, sieges and bloody battles over the centuries. The castle’s beautifully conserved banqueting hall with its enormous medieval fireplace and oak musicians’ gallery was used by the Earls for feasting and entertaining their important guests.
Knockpatrick Gardens, Foynes
Knockpatrick Gardens is an award-winning 3-acre garden that enjoys a wonderful location overlooking the scenic Shannon Estuary in west Limerick. The dwelling house stands over 200 yards above road level, with the garden descending around this highest point. The gardens are a haven for enthusiasts and contain a variety of colour through the collections of rhododendrons, camellias, azaleas, bamboos, primulas, poppies and many varieties of tree ferns and grasses. There are also many large mature trees including maples, red horse chestnut, palm, oak, monkey puzzle, cedar and magnolia.
Boyce Gardens, Foynes
Also located in Foynes, this award winning garden, one acre in size, overlooks the River Shannon. Designed for year round colour, it is divided into a number of intimate garden rooms inter-linked by curved paths. There is a large collection of New Zealand, Australian and South African plants such as Sophora, Bottlebrush, Clianthus, Astelia, Corkoria, Watsonia, Bashorneria and Cannas. It contains rockeries, herbaceous borders, sunken garden, water garden and fountain, rose garden, vegetable garden, glasshouse and a conservatory.
The garden will stimulate interest and offer inspiration to the keen plants person or novice gardener.
The Irish Palatine Heritage Centre, Rathkeale
The Irish Palatine Heritage Centre houses presents the story of the Irish Palatine experience ranging from their German places of origin, to their settlement in Ireland, and their subsequent scattering all over the English speaking world. In 1709 several hundred families from the German Palatinate settled in Ireland. These Palatines established roots in counties Kerry, Limerick, Tipperary and Wexford, but mainly in the Rathkeale area of County Limerick.
The Centre features an extensive display of artefacts, photographs and graphics associated with the Palatine story. It is set in landscaped surroundings and includes an archive, tea-room, gift shop.
The name Glenn of the Quinn comes from the Irish, ‘Gleann an Choim’ meaning ‘Glen of the Shelter’. It is one of the finest tower houses surviving from the 16th century and is open to the public during the summer months. This fortified dwelling protected the inhabitants against raids and invaders. The square, crenelated, six storey limestone tower house was built over four floors and has been partly repaired and re-roofed.
Great Southern Trail Bikehire & Tours
Pedal Pursuits Bikehire, Newcastle West, Co. Limerick.
Instead of customers having to go to the bike hire outlet, Pedal Pursuits comes to them! They are a mobile bike hire business providing a collection and drop off service for both customer and bike. They collect customers at their accommodation, bring them to any of the Great Southern Trail access points and collect the customer from any access point when they’re finished!
Pedal Pursuits also provides guided tours of the area around the Greenway with their knowledgeable and friendly guides and prides themselves in having the best of bikes and accessories to cater for all ages and requirements.
How long will it take me to cycle the Great Southern Trail?
The Great Southern Trail is 42km, so the average cyclist would need to give themselves about 6 hours to do the complete trail. But there’s so much to see in the surrounding area, we suggest staying the night in Westmeath – do the Trail in sections and take in the great attractions along the way at your leisure!
Where can I rent a bike to do the Great Southern Trail?
There are numerous outlets renting bikes along the Great Southern Trail – See the Bikehire and Tours section above.
I haven’t cycled a bike in years, can I still do the trail?
Yes! The trail is mostly very flat and easy to cycle, so is manageable for anyone who is reasonably fit and healthy.
Can I do the trail with young kids?
Yes! Kids can do the Trail on their own bikes, in a child-seat, in a tow-along or on an adult/ child tandem which most bike rental outfits should be able to provide.
Should I use an electric bike?
Electric bikes will add about 30% extra power to your cycle so will certainly make the journey faster and more comfortable! Please note that the pedals on an electric bike still need to be peddled so is not suitable for users with problematic knees.
Can I rent an electric scooter for trail?
Electric scooters are not regulated in Ireland currently so they are not available to hire.
Great Southern Trail Playgrounds Nearby
Set on the banks of the Deel River, this playground is a lovely setting for a picnic, and is within walking distance of the historic Askeaton town centre. This large playground has several state of the art play facilities for children of all ages including children with disabilities. The play equipment includes flat swings, cradle swings, basket swing, carousel, low level panels, spinning top, rockers, toddler multi play unit, senior multi play unit and roundabout. The playground is open during daylight hours. There is seating and ample car parking available.
Newcastle West Playground
Newcastle West playground at Castle Demesne Park has a wide range of play facilities suitable for children of all ages including children with disabilities. The play equipment includes roundabouts, toddler multi play unit, junior multi play unit, butterfly springer, car springer, spring seesaw, activity trail, flat seat swings, basket swing and cradle swings. There is seating and ample car parking available. This is a nice spot for picnics and it is not close to road traffic.
Rules of the Greenway
- The greenway is strictly for walkers and pedal cyclists only.
- Cyclists please wear a helmet and yield to pedestrians.
- Do not enter adjoining farmland.
- Respect the natural habitat that is the Greenway as well as its flora and fauna.
- Leave No Trace – Please do not litter the Greenway.
- Keep dogs on leads and scoop the poop.
Situated on the banks of the River Feale in the foothills of the Mullaghareirk Mountains, Abbeyfeale is the westernmost town in County Limerick and is around 900 years old. This lovely market town’s name comes from the fact that an abbey once stood here beside the River Feale. The town has a great heritage trail which highlights the town’s most interesting spots.
The Town Park is the jewel in Abbeyfeale’s crown. An award-winning 29 acre recreational space on the banks of the River Feale. The park has meandering woodland walkways providing idyllic views of the surrounding countryside, a pond area, children’s playground, an all-weather mini-pitch, a picnic area and public facilities. There are lots of great B&Bs in Abbeyfeale’s surrounding countryside and hotels such as the Devon Inn Hotel or the family-run Leen’s Hotel in the heart of the town. The restaurants and cafés offer something for every taste, fish and chips, Asian street food, tapas evenings, and the best in local produce. You’ll get a quality dining experience at Leen’s Hotel and the local pubs blend old and new, with warm open fires and live music events most weekends.
Located on the banks of the Arra River, Newcastle West lies at the heart of Munster’s great Golden Vale. It is a town with a history – a Desmond stronghold which has seen wars and conquest, harmony and development, a town which has adapted and changed to become a thriving centre with a wide range of facilities. The imposing Desmond Castle and Banqueting Hall in the centre of Newcastle West is the town’s well-known historical landmark and a must-see for any visitor but there are also many other wonderful places of historical significance worth checking out. Over the past 20 years, Newcastle West has steadily built a reputation for fashion and style and is now a destination town for fashionistas.
The newly developed, 4-star Longcourt House Hotel located on the main N21 Limerick – Tralee road is only a 5-minute walk to the town centre. Newcastle West is also well served by a number of long-established and popular family-run B&Bs who promise a warm Irish welcome in comfortable surroundings. Surrounding towns and villages such as Templeglantine, Rathkeale, Croagh and Adare also have great options for accommodation including hotels and B&Bs.
From innovative dishes with locally sourced ingredients to restaurants focusing on a wide range of international cuisine everyones tastes and budgets are catered for in Newcastle West. There’s also no shortage of cosy spots for that post dinner tipple. From public houses that have been a feature of the town for a century or more to bars featuring live music or late bars to dance the night away!
The name Rathkeale comes from the Irish ‘Ráth Caola’, believed to be derived from Ráth gCaeli, ‘the fort of the Caeli’. The origins of Rathkeale can be traced back to the foundation of an Augustinian priory in the town in 1289. Its location on the river Deel added to the town’s influence in the area. The arrival of the Palatines also contributed to the development of Rathkeale. The Palatines were Lutheran refugees who fled Germany due to an invasion by the French. Approximately twelve hundred Palatines came to settle in the area and brought with them new ideas in farming. Rathkeale was also a major market town for the area.
There are lots of great walking trails in and around Rathleale – the Slí na Sláinte Walking Route takes you past some of the town’s most interesting heritage sites. The Aughinish Nature Trail is 20 miles west of Limerick City, a self-guided nature trail through wild countryside along the south bank of the Shannon Estuary which has a bird hide, Ireland’s first designated sanctuary for butterflies, meadlowland and a rare heath habitat. In nearby Ballingarry, steeped in local history and folklore, Knockfierna Moutnain can be accessed by a number of tracks and pathways which start in Ballingarry. As you ascend the mountain, you will pass a number of reconstructed cottages which were abandoned during the Great Famine. The top provides spectacular views of County Limerick and the Shannon Estuary. Located at Kilcornan, Curraghchase comprises 313 hectares of woodland, park land and lakes with a number of marked looped trails suitable for a range of fitness levels and also wheelchair users.
For accommodation, the Rathkeale House Hotel – nestled within a quiet old orchard, is a purpose-built, family run hotel that oozes the charm and character of an old world hotel. For dinner, Foley’s Traditional Bar & Restaurant is renowned for it’s hospitality and excellent food. Owner and head chef Darragh Ronan at Foley’s Pub knows that creating good food requires good ingredients produced locally and prepared with respect and care, thus creating meals that linger long in the memory. A warm and friendly welcome awaits everyone in O’Dea’s Bar and Bistro. Well known throughout the region for its famous daily carvery, O’Dea’s takes great pride in ensuring only the finest ingredients are served on a daily basis. Rathkeale has a number of cosy pubs to choose from for an evening’s entertainment and there’s [plenty of live Irish music to found in the pubs at the weekend.
West Limerick Food
West Limerick is home to a host of award-winning producers, growers, chefs, cafés and restaurants that are fiercely proud of their food heritage and the natural bounty of West Limerick. There’s a huge range of spots in the are to taste, buy, learn and enjoy, check out the West Limerick Food Directory map at https://www.limerick.ie/sites/default/files/media/documents/2019-11/West-Limerick-Food-Directory-Map-2019.pdf
What to Wear
As all Irish people or anyone who’s been here knows, the weather in Ireland is changeable! It often feels like we have had four full seasons in one day! Winter can be cold, with average temperatures at 4°C, summers are usually mild, with average temperatures at 18°C but can often reach highs of 25°C.
One thing which remains constant throughout the year though is the rain! It rains a lot in Ireland so please make sure to bring a raincoat. We suggest wearing layers when walking or cycling the greenway as you’ll be able to peel-off or pile them on, depending on which seasons you encounter during the day!
Also, please remember it’s a good idea to wear brightly coloured clothes or high-vis-vests when on the greenway. Although there are no cars allowed, there may be some serious cyclists who can pick up quite a speed along with electric bikes also so it’s a good idea to make yourself seen.
It's also a good idea to wear a helmet, especially if you're planning on picking up some speed on the Greenway (bike-hire companies offer helmets with every bike). And don't forget to wear some comfortable, breathable footwear, especially on a warm day when you'll notice your body temperature rising quite quickly as make progress along the Greenway.
Best Bike for the Greenway?
The Greenway is easy to cycle, even for those who haven't cycled in years (or decades!) or those who might be a bit out of shape. The paths are generally on the flat and there's lots of places to stop along the way to catch your breath if you need to. The bikes that are generally offered for rent are 'comfort bikes' which have an upright riding position and are designed for casual cycling on pavement. They are heavier than road bikes, come with wider tires, and often feature a shock-absorbing, suspension seat post. These bikes are great for trips into town and leisurely outings on the Greenway.
Electric bikes will help you on your way if you're not sure about doing the entire 46km unassisted! Please note though that the electric bikes do need to be cycled, they'll provide about an extra 30% boost to your cycling effort but you do need to push the pedals around yourself! So unfortunately an electric bike would not be suitable for someone with a problematic knee for example.
Options for Kids?
Of course it will depend on what stage your child is at with cycling. Some 5 year olds may be well-able for a 5km solo cycle, while some parents may think it wise not to attempt that with their own 5 year old! But most rental outlets provide a range of options for travelling with kids:
Up to c. 3.5 years/ 15 kilos: Baby seat attached to adult bike.
Up to c. 9 months- 4 years: trailer attached to adult bike (can take two passengers).
5-6 years: tag along bike attached to adult bike (works like a tandem bike).
6 years+: range of children's bikes sizes.
What about Older Cyclists?
Again, it totally depends on each person. The Greenway has a host of regular older cyclists who are out on the Greenway every day. However if a person hasn't been on a bike in many years, it's worth having a go on a borrowed bike in advance of a trip to the Greenway just to ensure that you feel comfortable and safe on a bike before you head off. Having difficulty keeping your balance on a bike is a common experience of older people who first take to a bike after many years.
Clearly if a person has mobility or joint issues in their legs, cycling will be a problem. An electric bike will only provide marginal support in this case as the pedals of an electric bike still need to be pushed around.
But certainly, for any older person that doesn't have any mobility issues, an electric bike is a good option as it provides an extra boost of energy to keep you going on your way.