Category Archives: Engineering and construction

WI and oral history

I learn from the Heritage Council that Waterways Ireland is seeking tenders for a pilot oral history project. The winner is to

  • Undertake a minimum of 3 interviews per waterway under our jurisdiction (see list above in Introduction). Any interviews relating to the Ulster Canal will be included as part of the Lough Erne Collection for the purposes of this pilot project. […] The interview questionnaire (to be agreed with Waterways Ireland) should endeavour to elicit material that adds to our existing archive, would be beneficial in our schools education programme and used in a broader promotion capacity.

  • Devise an oral history handbook for Waterways Ireland so staff members and community groups can advance this project in years to come.

  • Deliver training on best practices and guidelines in oral history interview skills and techniques. All training to be delivered in Waterways Ireland offices.

This is very interesting for several reasons. Let me get two quibbles out of the way first:

  • Why is the Clones Sheugh treated as part of the Erne? And why mention that specifically? What sensitivity is being addressed here?
  • Why is this tender not mentioned on WI’s Tenders page or the Current tenders page to which it links or anywhere else that the WI search engine can find?

I think there are four important points about this.

First, it is good that WI is devoting resources to the collection of oral history.

Second, it is good that it has applications in mind for the material: it may be used both in WI educational programmes and in marketing.

Third, the requirement for a training programme and a handbook is yet more evidence [on top of Éanna Rowe’s appointment to manage the Shannon] that the balance of skills required within Waterways Ireland nowadays is different from that of the past. While engineering will always be important, given the extent of the waterways infrastructure that has to be maintained, WI needs a higher proportion of people engaging with users, potential users and communities or devising product variants to attract such users. The marketing department can’t do all the work by itself.

Fourth, it is good that “community groups” as well as “staff members” will be able to use the oral history handbook. I hope that the term “community groups” won’t be interpreted too strictly — that individual amateur historians, for example, will be able to use the handbook — so that all waterways oral history can follow a common format, that the records are conserved properly and that the appropriate consents to the use of the material are collected at the time of the interview.

I should perhaps make a declaration of non-interest: I am much occupied with the waterways of the early nineteenth century but have not, so far, found any survivors from that time whom I could interview. But I might, perhaps, be allowed to express the hope that WI won’t altogether neglect such earlier history, about which there is much yet to be learned.

 

Shannon traffic figures to May 2015

I am grateful to Waterways Ireland for letting me have the Shannon traffic figures for the first five months of 2015. All the usual caveats apply:

  • the underlying figures do not record total waterways usage (even for the Shannon) as, for instance, sailing, fishing or waterskiing on lakes or river stretches, which did not involve a passage through a lock or Portumna Bridge, would not be recorded
  • the passage records would not show, for instance, a change in the balance of types of activities from those in larger cruising boats to those in smaller (sailing, fishing, waterskiing) boats
  • figures like these will not necessarily be representative of those for the year as a whole. The winter months, January to March, see little traffic in any year; for April, May and June, the weather can have a large influence on the amount of activity especially, I suspect, in private boats.

On the other hand, the figures do include the Shannon’s most significant tourism activity, the cruiser hire business. And they are our only consistent long-term indicator of usage of the inland waterways.

The big news is that there is an increase in the amount of hire-boat traffic and a decrease in the amount of private traffic. [Personal observation suggests very little activity on Lough Derg, apart from the sailing bods.]

Shannon traffic Jan to May 2015 all boats

All boats. Note the slight increase in total traffic — or is it a dead-cat bounce?

Shannon traffic Jan to May 2015 hire boats

The increase comes from hire-boat traffic …

Shannon traffic Jan to May 2015 private boats

… as private-boat traffic is down on last year

Shannon traffic Jan to May 2015 compared with 2003

Nonetheless, hire-boat traffic is still close to 40% of what it was in 2003, with no sign of a major recovery

Shannon traffic Jan to May 2015 private -v- hire

But, at least for April and May, hire boats are the major users of the Shannon

In January, 18 boat passages were recorded, 9 of them at Portumna Bridge. There were 20 passages in February and 362 in March. Is there any point in keeping the Shannon open throughout the winter?

In the first five months, 11 boats used Sarsfield Lock, the sea-lock in Limerick. There were 88 passages through Pollboy Lock on the River Suck. On the Lough Allen Canal, 96 boats went through Battlebridge Lock, 95 through Drumleague and only 38 through Drumshanbo. These branches can’t be paying their way.

 

The ESB and eels

A minister speaks [or at least reads out a script prepared by other people].

I see that

The independent Standing Scientific Committee on Eels sets targets of quantities to be transported annually.

Which would be nice, if transporting eels were an end in itself. But the object is surely to increase the eel population, and I note that the minister had nothing to say on that subject. Nor did he tell John McGuinness what the stock of eels was. So we have no idea whether all this activity is achieving anything, and responsibility is diffused amongst the members of an Standing Scientific Committee on Eels, none of whom seem to have any stake in the matter.

This is a clear case for privatisation: sell the eels and the fishing rights to people [cooperatives, as on Lough Neagh?] who will have an interest in managing the populations of eels, rather than in managing the numbers trapped and transported.

The minister also introduced a red herring about compensation, which he wasn’t asked about. By my reckoning he answered only half the question, and even that credits him with answering the ritual invocation “if he will make a statement on the matter”.

ESB and the Shannon

I wrote here that I had written to the ESB, on 27 May 2015, to ask about navigation on the Shannon from Castleconnell downstream. One month later, I have not yet received a reply.

I did hear this weekend that ESB had contacted certain boat-owners to inform them that they were not to moor to the ESB embankments between Portumna and Meelick. As a riparian landowner, ESB is no doubt within its rights, but it would be interesting to know how much of the bed of the Shannon it claims to own in that area.

I have still not been able to find out, from the ESB, the clearance under its high-voltage lines crossing the Shannon (and other navigations). I gather that the ESB works on the principle that, if it provides no information, it can’t be blamed if owners of masted vessels electrocute themselves, whereas if it did provide information it might be sued. Strange that a public sector body should have such a blasé attitude to the prospect of the electrocution of the citizenry.

Perhaps if I asked questions under the Access to Information on the Environment Regulations 2007/2011 I might get replies.

 

On the Pill

Brian Simpson has kindly sent me photos of the small-boat rally on St John’s Pill (River) in Waterford at the end of May; I’ve put them on this page.

Mathew Bridge

In the news again.

Cots and canoes at Castleconnell

Castleconnell, in Co Limerick, is on the section of the River Shannon that includes the (broadly defined) Falls of Doonass. That section was bypassed by the Plassey–Errina Canal, one of the five parts of the Limerick Navigation, which navigation was largely abandoned after the construction of the Shannon hydroelectric power scheme in the 1920s. After that, vessels used the headrace, lock and tailrace of the Ardnacrusha power station to pass between Lough Derg and Limerick.

On 27 May 2015 I noted a statement by the Limerick and District Anglers Association about the Castleconnell section of the Shannon:

Therefore canoeists who enter this section of river without permission are trespassing.

Cots

That section of river was not, as far as I can tell, navigated by cargo-carrying vessels; it would be surprising had they been able to do so, even downstream. However, it was navigated by narrow cots. Lady Chatterton in her Rambles in the South of Ireland during the year 1838 [Vol II Saunders and Otley, London 1839], wrote

We have passed the last few days at Doonass, a beautiful place near the rapids of the Shannon. The sound of those rushing and falling waters was most soothing and melodious, as heard from the house, which is situated at some distance, in a beautiful park, sloping down to the river.

I walked several times on its banks to enjoy the splendid sight, and to watch some people who were fishing for salmon. It made me quite nervous to see the boats shoot some of the falls, knowing that unless they had kept exactly the right course, they would have been inevitably dashed to pieces.

In A Week at Killarney [Jeremiah How, London 1843] Mr & Mrs Samuel Carter Hall wrote

Castle Connell, a village about six miles from the city [of Limerick], is perhaps unrivalled in the kingdom for natural graces; and immediately below it are the Falls of Doonas, where the river rushes over huge mountain-rocks, affording a passage which the more daring only will make, for the current — narrowed to a boat’s breadth — rushes along with such frightful rapidity, that the deviation of a few inches would be inevitable destruction. [*]

This, although the most remarkable of the falls, is succeeded by several others, between Castle Connell and Limerick — the whole scene, however discouraging to the political economist, as presenting a picture of wasted strength, being delicious in the highest degree to the lover of natural beauty.

0125 The Falls of Doonass_resize

The river at Castleconnell by night in the floods of 2009

[*] We cannot easily forget our sensations of mingled alarm and enjoyment, while rushing along this course — at night, but by the light of a brilliant moon; it was exciting to the highest degree. We had confidence in our helmsman (if so we must term the man with the paddle-rudder he held in his hand); yet every now and then the voyage was a startling one, and the danger quite sufficient to shake stronger nerves than ours. He had nothing to do but to keep a keen eye upon the rocks at either side, and guide his “cot” by pushing aside a wave with a strong arm, so as to keep in the centre of the current; and he did so with wonderful accuracy.

Copy of 0107 Mr & Mrs S C Hall at Doonass (1843)

The Halls’ sketch of a cot

We were afterwards convinced that there was in reality no more peril than there would have been upon the Thames; for the boatmen are so skilful and so well-practised, that they govern their boats with absolute certainty.

The boats are flat-bottomed (for often the stream is not above a few inches deep), narrowed, and squared at the stem and stern. The paddle is a piece of flat wood, about three feet long, increasing from the handle to the breadth of about ten inches; only one is used, which the man changes from side to side according to the direction in which he desires to proceed — using it alternately to advance the boat, and as a helm to steer its course. We refer more especially to the boats used by the fishermen, in which the oars are seldom resorted to; for they are pushed up the stream by a long pole, and the current takes them down it without an effort.

And who can forget the stirring scene in L A Hall’s short story “Which was the bravest?” [in The Magnet Stories for Summer Days and Winter Nights Groombridge and Sons, London, no date, but my copy was a Christmas present in 1862, albeit not to me] in which Herbert, the English youth, falls over when attempting to pole a cot up the river at Castleconnell? The boatman, Lawlor, speaks:

“Sure the young gintleman wanted to try what stuff the Irish poles were made of, and small blame to him if the Irish rock and the Irish ash were too hard for him.”

This was all the work of a moment, during which Lucius [Herbert’s cousin, who lives near Doonass], well accustomed to the Shannon navigation, manfully stemmed the torrent with his single pole.

Not many Etonians could manage that nowadays, I imagine. But then there may not be as many Etonians around Doonass.

The Shannon Navigation

Note that L A Hall [of whom both Google and I are largely ignorant] used the term “Shannon navigation”. I had initially assumed that the Limerick Navigation Company, in its several manifestations, would have had no interest in this stretch of river and that therefore the Shannon Commissioners, and their successors the Board of [Public] Works and, now, Waterways Ireland would not have acquired any interest in its navigation.

I thought that there might have been a public right of navigation, as outlined by Douglas Caffyn, but that in any case such a right had been protected by the beneficence of Her late Majesty Victoria, by the Grace of God of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland Queen, who caused Her ministers to insert this provision in the Shannon Navigation Act 1839 [CAP LXI An Act for the Improvement of the Navigation of the River Shannon 17th August 1839]

XXXVI. And be it enacted and declared, That the said River Shannon is and for ever hereafter shall be, to all Intents and Purposes a public navigable River; and that all the Queen’s liege Subjects may have and lawfully enjoy their free Passage in, along, through, and upon the said River Shannon, with Boats, Barges, Lighters, and other Vessels, and also all necessary and convenient Liberties for navigating the same, without Let, Hindrance, or Obstruction whatever, on paying such Rates, Tolls, and Duties as are by this Act appointed to be paid, and complying with such Rules, Orders, Regulations, and Bye Laws as shall be made by the said Commissioners under the Provisions of this Act: Provided always, that nothing herein contained shall be construed to exempt any Person or Thing from the Payment of any Tonnage, Quayage, Rateage, or other Dues payable under an Act passed in the Fourth Year of the Reign of His late Majesty King George the Fourth, intituled An Act for the Erection of a Bridge across the River Shannon, and of a Floating Dock to accommodate sharp Vessels frequenting the Port of Limerick, and of an Act passed in the Fourth and Fifth Years of the Reign of His late Majesty King William the Fourth, intituled An Act to amend an Act passed in the Fourth Year of the Reign of His late Majesty King George the Fourth, intituled “An Act for the Erection of a Bridge across the River Shannon, and of a Floating Dock to accommodate sharp Vessels frequenting the Port of Limerick”, or from Compliance with any Rules or Regulations imposed or to be imposed by the Commissioners appointed under the said Two last-mentioned Acts.

There is one possible complication in the same act:

XXXIX. And be it enacted, That the said Commissioners shall, within Six Months from the passing of this Act, or at such other Time or Times as shall seem to them most expedient, fix and determine the Limits of the said River Shannon, and such of the Rivers aforesaid, or Parts thereof, as shall be improved under this Act, as to them shall seem expedient, within which all the Powers and Authorities by this Act given to the said Commissioners for the Care and Conservancy of the said Rivers respectively shall and may be exercised; and a printed Notice giving such Description of the Limits so fixed, with such Map or Plan thereof as to the said Commissioners shall seem expedient, shall be posted on each Toll House on or near the said River Shannon, and such of the Rivers aforesaid as to them shall seem expedient, and at every Place where a Table of the Tolls or Rates to be taken on the said River respectively shall be posted, and at such other Places as to the said Commissioners shall seem expedient.

The limits were set out in maps and minute books, which are listed in Schedule E of the Third Report of the Commissioners for the Improvement of the Navigation of the River Shannon published in 1842 [I don’t think that report is available online]. I’ve never seen the maps and minute books and so I don’t know whether they say anything about navigation on the relevant stretch of river, but the list includes:

Map 2 Map of part of the Shannon and the Canal, from Arthur’s Ferry to Castleconnel and World’s End (County of the City of Limerick, Counties of Limerick and Clare); Minute Book pages 7 to 11 inclusive; also 14 to 21 inclusive […]

Map 2B Plan and Sections of Clareville, or Prospect Mill-dam (County of the City of Limerick, County of Clare); Minute Book pages 9, 10, and 11

Map 2C Plan and Sections of Doonass Salmon-cribs, and of Water Park Bleach Mill-dam (Counties of Limerick and Clare); Minute Book pages 9, 10, 11, and 12

Map 3 Map from World’s End to Killaloe (Counties of Clare, Limerick, and Tipperary); Minute Book pages 11 & 12; also 21 to 26 inclusive; also 30 to 32 inclusive.

Apart from Map 2, those seem to be about water (mill) rights and salmon rather than about navigation, but I hope to check that with Waterways Ireland. The Commissioners may have decided that the Castleconnell stretch of the river lay outside the limits of the Shannon, and that navigation thereon was not therefore protected by the provisions of Section XXXVI. Even then, though, a public right to navigate may have continued to exist. On the other hand, the Commissioners’ limits may not have affected navigation on this stretch of river.

It is also possible that some later enactment affected navigation.

the ESB

An entire series of enactments, from the Shannon Electricity Act 1925 onwards, empowered either the Minister for Industry and Commerce or the Electricity Supply Board [ESB] to do various things connected, more or less, to the construction and operation of the hydroelectric power station at Ardnacrusha. Under the 1925 act, for instance, the minister was empowered [inter alia] to

3. […] (b) impound, hold up, divert, take, and use the waters of the River Shannon and any river or stream tributary thereto and any lake, pond, or canal thereon or connected thereto;

(c) embank, dam, dredge, deepen, widen, straighten, divert, and otherwise alter the River Shannon or any river or stream tributary thereto;

(d) embank, dam, dredge, alter the level of, and otherwise affect any lake, pond, or other water on or connected directly or indirectly with the River Shannon;

(e) remove, or alter, repair, construct, and maintain such sluices, weirs, dams, embankments, and other works as may be necessary for or incidental to the doing of any of the things mentioned in the foregoing paragraphs […].

Under the Electricity (Supply) Act 1927 the minister was empowered to prohibit navigation during construction; blocking off the river with Parteen Villa Weir probably made that easy to enforce. The Board was also empowered to prohibit navigation after taking over the works:

(3) When the handing over of the Shannon works to the Board under this Act is completed the Board, notwithstanding any such enactment as aforesaid, may by order, for the purposes of the operation of the Shannon works or of the exercise of any of the powers or the performance of any of the duties or functions conferred and imposed on the Board by or under this Act prohibit navigation in or upon the River Shannon or any particular part thereof specified in such order for such limited period of time specified in that behalf in such order as may be required by the Board for the purposes aforesaid.

That came before the ESB got the fisheries rights, so I can’t see that it’s relevant to any restriction of navigation in the interests of fisheries.

I searched the splendid Irish Statute Book for both Acts and Statutory Instruments with combinations of terms like Shannon, electricity, navigation, salmon and fishery. I then read — well, searched and skimmed — every relevant enactment I could find. I am not a lawyer, but it seemed to me that the only enactment under which the ESB might restrict, or have restricted, navigation, by kayaks or canoes or anything else, on the Shannon through Castleconnell, is the Shannon Fisheries Act 1935, of which more below.

Just for completeness, I should say that the Shannon Fisheries Act 1938 includes this section:

3.—Nothing in this Act shall operate to prejudice or affect any right of the Commissioners of Public Works in Ireland in relation to the navigation of the waters of the River Shannon.

That’s a useless provision, I think, because if the Commissioners of Public Works lost anything it was under the 1935 Act; the 1938 Act did nothing to restore any rights lost under the 1935.

Finally, the Electricity (Supply) (Amendment) Act 1945 allows the ESB to prohibit navigation but it doesn’t seem to apply to the Shannon: only to rivers on which power stations were to be built after 1945.

The Shannon Fisheries Act 1935

The most important part of the act is Section 9 (1) (d) but 9 (2) (a) may also be of interest:

(1) It shall be lawful for the Board to do all such things, carry out all such transactions, and fulfil all such functions as shall be necessary or proper for or incidental or ancillary to the due performance of the duties in relation to the Shannon fisheries imposed on the Board by this Part of this Act, and in particular and without prejudice to the generality of the foregoing powers, it shall be lawful for the Board to do all or any of the following things, that is to say:—

[…]

(d) terminate, restrict, or otherwise interfere with, either permanently or temporarily and either compulsorily or by agreement, any easement, way-leave, water-right, fishing right, or other right over or in respect of any land or water;

[…]

(2) Nothing in this section shall operate to authorise the Board—

(a) to do anything compulsorily without paying compensation therefor […].

Implementation

In order to check my conclusion, I emailed the ESB fisheries department on 26 May 2015:

I note that you say that canoeists and kayakers must seek your permission to use the Shannon at Castleconnell. I would be grateful if you could tell me:

(a) the legislation (Acts or Statutory Instruments) empowering you to make that stipulation

(b) the details of the Board decisions making it and

(c) the details of the stipulation itself. Does it, for instance, apply only to kayaks and canoes or are other vessels, and non-vessels such as jetskis or hovercraft, covered too?

The fisheries department very kindly replied on the same day:

Please note that ESB is not seeking to prevent kayakers or canoeists from using the river but as we operate the stretch of the Shannon River in Castleconnell as a private salmon fishery we are obliged to consider the interests of the anglers who use the fishery and pay to do so.

Since we introduced the requirement for kayakers to contact ESB Fisheries when intending to use the river at Castleconnell, no kayaker has been refused permission.

The legislation empowering ESB to regulate activity on the Shannon is contained in the Shannon Fisheries Act 1935 – Section 9.1 (D).

If you wish to discuss the matter please contact [name and telephone number redacted].

I prefer to have records of such discussions so I replied by email on 27 May 2015:

[…] I should say that I have no interest or stake in either angling or canoeing/kayaking per se. My interest is in the management of the Shannon, and in particular in navigation thereon, past and present.

[…] my interest in the navigation of the Shannon from Castleconnell downstream was excited recently by some comments by anglers on what kayakers might or might not do. Accordingly, I searched the Irish Statute Book database for all Acts and Statutory Instruments dealing with the ESB, the Shannon and salmon fisheries. I read every Act or SI I found on those subjects.

I found nothing to indicate that the right to navigate the Shannon, from Castleconnell downstream, had been extinguished or that the ESB had been appointed as a navigation authority with the right to control navigation; I note that the ESB makes charges for boats on some other fisheries but not on the Shannon.

I acknowledge of course that there may be documents I have not seen and that I may have missed or misinterpreted something in those I did read.

ESB> Shannon Fisheries Act 1935 – Section 9.1 (D)

That was the only enactment I found under which I thought the ESB could take any action that affected navigation. Indeed the section appears to allow the ESB to use helicopter gunships to deter poachers if it so desires.

However, that is an extremely broad enactment, and I have not found, in the Irish Statute Book or anywhere else, any information about these matters:

  • what strategic decisions the Board has made on this subject, or what decision-making powers it has conferred on its fisheries staff
  • in the implementation of that Section, what decision-making process the ESB followed and how it consulted citizens (other than anglers)
  • whether the Board has actually decided to “terminate, restrict, or otherwise interfere with, either permanently or temporarily and either compulsorily or by agreement, any easement, way- leave, water-right, fishing right, or other right over or in respect of any land or water”
  • if it has so decided, what the details of the decision are: details both of its making and of its application
  • how such decision is consonant with other legislation
  • how the decision was promulgated and where the details can now be found
  • what appeal and compensation mechanisms have been set up to enable the Board to meet the provisions of Section 9.2 (a)
  • what case law exists on the subject.

I have also been unable to find any enactment providing that citizens are obliged to obey any such decision or that any action can be taken against them if they decide to ignore it.

Let me say again that I acknowledge that my inability to find information doesn’t mean that it does not exist. However, I would have expected that, in any case where my [presumed] rights [eg to navigate] were affected, the relevant regulations would be readily available and the authority under which they were made would be clear. I would therefore be grateful if you would let me have the details, which I would like to publish on my website.

I sent that two weeks ago today; I have not yet had a response.

My current understanding

I acknowledge that the ESB has the right to ban navigation on the Shannon through Castleconnell if it wants to do so. I also acknowledge that it is possible that it has done so and even that it may have taken its decision validly and in accordance with the principles of natural or constitutional justice.

However, the ESB has not yet shown that it has taken that decision and done so validly and in accordance with the principles of natural or constitutional justice. I have found no evidence that it has and, in two weeks, the ESB has not provided any. All we have to go on is a pair of unsupported assertions, one by the  Limerick and District Anglers Association [whose concept of trespass I do not understand] and the other by the ESB fisheries department, saying that would-be navigators must contact them, but without citing any authority for that demand.

As matters stand, I see no reason why that demand should be complied with. But, again, I acknowledge that I do not have full information.

Photographing the invisible

Waterways Ireland is having a photographic competition for which it is

seeking contributions from the public on what they think best fulfils the theme “Waterways Heritage”.

Details here. You can win an iPad Air, which I think is a sort of pocket calculator for chaps with ponytails.

I was in two minds about whether to publicise this competition. You see, many of the bits of “heritage” I’m interested in are invisible, having vanished since the late nineteenth century. So maybe they’re not heritage at all?

But I decided that it would probably be difficult for Waterways Ireland to judge a competition in which all the photographs were of invisible objects, so I should encourage the photographing of the visible.

I was asked recently by another respectable public sector body to say, for publication, why industrial heritage was important to me. Unfortunately my response was deemed to be unusable, because it was too controversial. I’ll write more about that soon.

Hard sums on Lough Derg

According to the Clare Champion, a Clare county councillor called Pat Hayes, who is a member of Fianna Fáil [an excitable lot, Fianna Fáil], is boycotting something or other for some reason that is not clear to me [and, to be honest, is probably entirely unimportant]. Mr Hayes thinks that water from Lough Derg should be sent to the Atlantic, where it is wasted, rather than to Dublin, where it might be used, and the newspaper cites the River Shannon Protection Alliance as estimating that

… up to 350 million litres of water could be taken from Lough Derg by 2030.

The River Shannon Protection Alliance itself doesn’t agree with those figures. It says:

The central principal and immediate purpose of the organisation is to prevent the proposal of Dublin City Council to abstract in excess of 350 million litres of water on a daily basis from Lough Ree on the river Shannon, and to oppose any action that may be harmful to the well being of the river Shannon system. Since then, the abstraction options have been considered and the current recommended proposal is to abstract upwards 500 million litres of water from Lough Derg and store it in a depleted bog hole to be developed by Bord na Móna at Garryhinch bog, (near Portarlington) where the water will then be treated and pumped on to Dublin.

Eek. That’s a bignum: a lot of litres. Let’s all panic.

On the other hand, 500 000 000 litres is 500 000 cubic metres. Each of Ardnacrusha’s four turbines uses 100 cubic metres per second. So the amount of water to be sent to Dublin every day is less than Ardnacrusha uses in 21 minutes.

If the Alliance wants to save the Shannon, shouldn’t it be trying to get Ardnacrusha closed down first?

Piscator, Navita and Shannon navigation rights

I was never any good at fishing. The only time I ever caught anything was when fishing for mackerel with feathers from a boat, which is [I gather] the equivalent of shooting fish in a barrel [surely a pointless exercise: if you wanted to catch or kill them you could just let the water out of the barrel].

My knowledge of angling comes, therefore, almost entirely from two sources. The first is observation: from the comfort of a boat, I’ve seen anglers along riverbanks, huddled under umbrellas in the rain, miles from any amenities. They don’t seem to be having a lot of fun, but that is no doubt because they “affect a holy melancholy”, as explained in my second source.

Izaak Walton begins his The Compleat Angler or the Contemplative Man’s Recreation, being a Discourse of Rivers, Fishponds, Fish, and Fishing [a 1904 edition available here] with a friendly argument between Piscator, Venator and Auceps, each lauding his own pastime. They cite learned authorities, refer to scripture and quote poets at length before refreshing themselves at the Thatched House.

Then Venator, having become an apprentice angler, learns “How to Fish for, and to Dress, the Chavender or Chub” and many another fish, pausing to hear Maudlin, the milkmaid, sing her song and her mother sing a response. After a supper of barley-wine and trout, Piscator, Venator and two more anglers, Peter and Coridon, sing more songs, including The Angler’s Song, which includes this stanza:

Of recreation there is none
So free as fishing is alone;
All other pastimes do no less
Than mind and body both possess;
My hand alone my work can do,
So I can fish and study too.

Towards the end of the book’s first part [the second being written by Charles Cotton], Piscator recites a poem attributed to Sir Harry Wotton, this being the last stanza:

Welcome, pure thoughts, welcome, ye silent groves,
These guests, these courts, my soul most dearly loves;
Now the wing’d people of the sky shall sing
My cheerful anthems to the gladsome spring;
A prayer-book, now, shall be my looking-glass,
In which I shall adore sweet virtue’s face,
Here dwell no hateful looks, no palace cares,
No broken vows dwell here, nor pale-faced fears; Then here I’ll sit, and sigh my hot love’s folly,
And learn t’affect a holy melancholy;
And if contentment be a stranger, then
I’ll ne’er look for it, but in heaven, again.

They don’t write ’em like that any more.

Piscator iratus

I had assumed that this blend of contentment and holy melancholy characterised the anglers of today. But when, having visited the excellent website of the Limerick and District Anglers Association, I moved instead to their FaceTweet page, I found that the modern angler’s lot is not a happy one. The angler has to contend with the iniquities of the Electricity Supply Board [which owns fishing rights on the Shannon], Inland Fisheries Ireland  [whose role on the Shannon I know not] and, now, kayakers.

In discussion of another post on the subject, the Association said:

Therefore canoeists who enter this section of river without permission are trespassing.

That interested me, and I thought I should look further into navigation rights on the Shannon. [Update 10 June 2015] I have posted my interim conclusions here.

There is a second point. The Old River Shannon Research Group repeated the kayaking topic on its FaceTweet page with this comment:

This is a commercial company trying to turn the Castleconnell beats into something like Lahinch has become with surfers. See their website here. This type of “development” requires Appropriate Assessment.

I am most reluctant to disagree with the learned Dr William O’Connor on anything, as he knows far more than I do about environmental matters, but his comment raised a second topic of interest and I thought I might look into that too. Again, I’ll post separately on that.