Newcomers or indeed visitors to Castleconnell Village must sometimes ask the question why all the walls on the Shannon River in Castleconnell.

Well, the answer is in the river itself as these walls are very historic and are part of the river heritage of Castleconnell. Most of these walls were built in the aftermath of the Shannon Scheme when water levels dropped and indeed some are Pre-Shannon Scheme as the Castleconnell Fishery always had a problem with Shallows and because of this the river people of Castleconnell were already experts at wall building to increase river flow regimes and increase water levels.

hese people were born and reared on the banks of the River Shannon in Castleconnell village and were very much part of their river heritage and indeed in some cases went on to earn their livelihoods on the river itself becoming Boatmen, Ghillies and in some cases expert anglers themselves. To me they were river warriors of their time who made a major contribution in counteracting the adverse effects of the Shannon Scheme which resulted in reduced river levels and their work and contribution should be enshrined in the folklore and heritage of Castleconnell Fishery. It should also be remembered that this work was not easy as these men had to endure very harsh conditions of working in wet clothes in cold and damp conditions  

Most of their work was manual as these walls had to be built by hand using a flat bottom boat or pontoon and a timber made stretcher to carry the stones to advantage points all along the river. The stones had to be of a workable size and for that reason most of the spur walls of Castleconnell ran with the flow starting at a wide point and then narrowing towards the riverbank and as this manmade channel started to squeeze so did the water level rise and the flow regime increased. An example is squeezing a garden hose and a person would get the same result.

A very important aspect of their work was around giving salmon access upriver through the fishery to spawn, because anywhere there are shallows on Castleconnell one will find these walls and these men knew the importance of providing access for fish to reach their respective spawning grounds

Most of these walls on the fishery relate to spawning habitats but they can also be found built on natural river heights built to provide deeper water on salmon holding pools but in all situations these walls were built by river experts who knew the river and who were so much part of it and in some cases were actually protecting their own livelihoods.

After years of neglect in 1986 funding was finally made available by the ESB for the restoration of these heritage walls and as a fisheries development officer with the ESB I had the privilege of being involved and using the old partly collapsed walls as a template I set about this very important work, all the time marvelling at these people’s expertise as the new restored walls began to reappear.

My task was made so much easier by the use of a track machine which up to then could have been used for river drainage but in Castleconnell the ESB proved that these machines can be very valuable contributor to fisheries conservation and I was a witness to salmon abandoning older untreated spawning habitats for the newly machine treated ones.

For the first time it was possible to build weirs across the old river channel because with a machine larger rocks or stones could now be placed in these weirs. These machines also made it possible to import fresh gravel on to the spawning habitats of the fishery and this became a fishery revolution and was an outstanding success with spectacular results.

It’s important to note that the present salmon Redd count of Castleconnell Fishery has actually doubled and in some cases trebled to what it was in the sixties and seventies with a phenomenon spawning result in 2016 & 2017.

These walls that are such an important part of our river heritage will have to be protected preserved and maintained into the future.

Mick Murtagh