With the confirmation that EU funding of one and a half million euros has been granted by the European Regional Development Fund, the redevelopment of Church Street in Athlone was able to go ahead.

The funding was matched by the local authority, Westmeath County Council.

One of the major stumbling blocks to this complicated and long-overdue project has been the controversial issue of traffic in the town centre.

The town’s Mayor, councillor Aengus O’Rourke, said that the investment was a statement of confidence in the future of the town.  It was intended that the street would become, rather than the over-crowded two-way traffic system that it has been for far too long, “an inviting and welcoming space for shoppers, tourists, pedestrians and the wider local community, allowing the area to flourish as a thriving shopping, business and social district.”

As well as Church Street, the project redeveloped the area between Custume Place to the junction with Griffith Street, as well as part of Civic Square.

It seems there is yet more to come, with further extensions along Mardyke Street to St Mary’s Place, as well as Pump Lane to the junction of Sean Costello and John Broderick Street.  There are derelict and vacant sites in that area that will have to be developed if the town is to realise its potential as a pedestrian friendly and attractive retail and tourist centre for the Midland area of Ireland.

But in the meantime, as Councillor Paul Hogan remarked in September 2018, “If you go down there on a weekend it looks tremendous, just like any European city you might go to.  It’s a great use of that space.”

He might well have noticed similarities with European cities had he looked at the paving upon which he was standing.  Irish Blue Limestone has been used in Amsterdam, in Brussels, London, Monaco and Ostend.  It is good to see this loveliest of natural stone finding its rightful place in Ireland itself, and in Athlone the kerbing and the paving is of Irish Blue Limestone, in the increasingly popular Flamed finish, which not only enhances the beauty of the stone but provides a safe, non-slip surface for pedestrians.  In Ireland, where it is said one can never become bored with the weather because it changes so frequently, this is an important consideration, and the safety factor of Irish Blue Limestone will certainly have played a part in the decision-making that led to its choice.