Lough Ree ‘Access for All Boat’ hailed as life changing for wheelchair users

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Lough Ree Access For All

Samantha Thomsen enjoying her trip across Lough Ree on the recently launched Lough Ree Access for All specialised passenger boat which was made in Tallinn Picture: Mick McCormack

Lough Ree Access for All has officially welcomed the arrival of a specialised passenger boat to their Ballyleague-Lanesboro shores.

The boat is designed to allow easy access for wheelchair users, people with disability and special needs to access the waterways of Ireland, but the service is open to all visitors to the area. There will be three boat trips daily, adding a welcomed boost to local tourism.

The custom built boat was made in Tallinn, and is the first licensed passenger boat of its kind in Britain and Ireland. It can carry up to eight wheelchair users plus crew per sailing, which last two hours twenty minutes.

The boat was the brainchild of long term volunteer Alan Broderick, who witnessed the continuous struggle that wheelchair users encountered.

Alan said, “This was born out of wanting people with disabilities to feel included, equal and independent and to focus on their abilities and not their disabilities. There are 31,000 wheelchair users in Ireland and we hope that each person will visit and experience what we have to offer over the coming years.”

The accessible vessel operates similar to a small car ferry, the bow lowering to facilitate wheelchair users to independently roll onto and off the vessel, eliminating the need to lift or hoist wheelchair users anymore. While it is primarily for those with disabilities, the boat is accessible to all.

The project received significant backing in January with financial and business advisory support from DPD Ireland. In line with their ‘investment in people”, the company was delighted to get involved in the project.

Des Travers, Chief Executive of DPD Ireland said, “We are very proud to be involved with this venture. This is a very special project and is the start of change for wheelchair users. We have a growing in-house team getting involved and feedback is heart-warming. We’re committed to helping further this project wherever we can.”

The project design, which took six years to complete, involved consultation with wheelchair users and the disabled community, including Irish Wheelchair Association and Independent Living Movement, who advised on key aspects such as design features and boat journey times.

Wheelchair user James Cawley of Independent Living Movement Ireland said, “It is a trail blazing project designed universally which enables disabled people the opportunity to participate in a recreational activity like no other. The experience was inclusive and very positive for me and my Personal Assistant, one I would like to use regularly.”

The Access All Areas boat service is located within 20 minutes of Roscommon town, Longford town and Strokestown. Lanesboro is 35 minutes from Athlone and 45 minutes from Carrick-on-Shannon and Galway.

The boat has a capacity of 10 people plus crew in normal sailing seasons. However, due to social distancing this capacity is limited in 2021.

The boat is available, by prior booking, for special one day excursions to the islands of Lough Ree where experienced guides will bring you on a tour of the ruins of 7 churches of Inchcleraun or visit the medieval village of Rindoon on the Roscommon shoreline.

It is a fully licensed vessel operating a 7 day service in high summer and all year around service, with trained staff accredited by Bord Iascaigh Mhara and the Department of Transport Marine Survey Office.

The project for people with disability is supported by Pobal, the department of Rural & Community Affairs, Roscommon Integrated Development Company under the EU Leader programme, Waterways Ireland, the Sliabh Bawn community funds and Inland Fisheries Ireland

Enquiries can be made to 043 33 21734 or email: loughreeaccessforall2020 @gmail.com

Bookings can be made through the website www.loughreeboattrips.com