- Category: Claregalway Historical and Cultural Society
- Published on Wednesday, 08 August 2007 12:27
- Written by Joe O'Connell
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The River Clare rises in Ballyhaunis, Co. Mayo, and is roughly 85km in length. It passes through towns such as Dunmore and Milltown, through the neighbouring parish of Lackagh before entering Claregalway. The Clare River is used as a boundary mark for many of the townlands in the Claregalway parish. Kiniska is the first townland to the north of the river. To the south of the river is Gortatleva and next to this is one field in Lydacan. The townland of Lakeview runs along with the river, out on to the N17 (Galway to Tuam) road. On crossing the road it divides Cahergowan from the Claregalway townland. After this it forms the dividing line between Montiagh North and South. Curraghmore is located to the north. Finally the river pours into the Corrib.
Aerial view, taken in 1980's showing the River Clare passing under Claregalway bridge, near the Castle and Friary
The first mention of a bridge over the Clare River was in 1349 and was probably a wooden structure. The nine arched bridge, known locally as the Nine Arches, was erected in stone probably in the early 1700’s. This bridge is a very impressive sight and an attractive reminder of Claregalway’s past.
In 1765, shortly after the construction of the Nine Arches, John Borkin, a local landlord from nearby Lackagh, changed the course of the river. He diverted it away from under the Nine Arches to a deeper channel about 30 metres further north. He did this in order to improve the drainage in the area. Also he wanted to deepen it so as to make it navigable up to Tuam, however his plan was thwarted by rock in Lackagh that could not be broken.The present bridge was constructed in 1957 and replaced the previous narrow humpback bridge. The main road was also widened at that time. Up to then, the Galway to Tuam road passed over the Nine Arches.
Bursting its banks. Flooding of the Clare River, at the bridge.
Flooding and Drainage
Flooding has been a constant problem in the Claregalway area over the centuries, mainly because of the relatively flat and low-lying terrain and of course the West of Ireland rain. Numerous attempts were made at drainage, either through changing the course of the Clare River or deepening it.
In 1954 the largest arterial drainage scheme of its kind ever undertaken in this country commenced. This was known as the Corrib Drainage Scheme. It benefited farmers in Galway, Mayo and Roscommon and the Clare River and its tributaries came within the scheme. 400 miles of river and stream were widened and deepened to carry water off an area of 400 square miles of land.
River transport was mostly on the lower stretches of the Clare, from Claregalway to Lough Corrib. The transport of turf accounted for the major part of it, but the Claregalway boatmen also took part in the general trade on the lake. Many of them were from Montiagh with about 40 boats in all from that village. They used flat-bottomed boats called ‘flats’. These were about 17 feet long and were designed to carry a load on shallow water. The boat would be pushed along with an ash pole about 8 foot long called a ‘cliath’. They were very stable and safe although there was a story mentioned about one such boat that sprung a leak and the occupants had to save the turf by throwing it onto the bank, before saving themselves, which they did.
Boats returning home to Claregalway had difficulty in finding the mouth of the Clare, as the shore of Lough Corrib around that area was overgrown. A long pole was set up at the river mouth to help in guiding the boats in.
Salmon Fishing on the river.
Fishing and Poaching
Fishing has long been an important practice associated with the River Clare. However many people have not always been strictly within the law, regarding this. The fact that some people reverted to poaching may have been as a direct result of the fishing restrictions that existed. For the people of Montiagh, fishing and the sale of turf was their livelihood. The river was noted for salmon poaching, for the locals, knowing the pools where the fish rested at night, easily caught them with nets. The salmon were nearly always sold, much of it in Galway city.
The fishing rights from the Claregalway bridge to the lake belong to the castle owners, as do those on the castle side above the river. The rights on the opposite side of the river belong to the farmers. Some farmers bought fishing rights and later sold them or rented them to angling clubs.
According to local accounts, poachers would seek out deep areas, with few rocks, with one man going on each side of the river. They used nets like those used at sea. They would organise a lookout so that if the Gárdai or bailiffs arrived the nets would “disappear” to safety. In the 1940’s and 1950’s the walkie-talkies and speedboats changed the odds against the poachers, as did the introduction of heavy fines. Any fish that were caught were usually sold to hotels in Galway.
This apparently easy way of making some extra money did not always have a happy outcome. One man, Michael Murphy, was sent to jail even though he was innocent, and more tragically John Duggan, a young poacher, died at Curraghmore trying to evade the Gárdai.