Fisheries from Slane to Dunmoe
In 1459 there was a lawsuit about the Manor of Slane which, we are informed, included a salmon weir. Apart from its existence no details of its construction or whereabouts are available. The Civil Survey of 1651, however, states that there was a salmon weir attached to the manor of Slane and that a fishing weir was also in existence in Fennor, on the south side of the Boyne. These two weirs may, of course, have been, in reality, parts of one and the same weir. Be that as it may one can realise that favourable conditions may have existed for the erection of a fishing weir at Slane where there is now a very large mill dam.
According to the Civil Survey there was also in the parish of Painestowne a fishing weir. Painestown is also upstream of Fennor on the south side of the river Boyne.
Several records about the manor of Ardmulchan (it is spelt a number of different ways) give information about fisheries in the adjacent Boyne. Conat or Donough, Earl of Thomond, obtained two grants of the manor with, inter alia, “a ruined weir for taking eels upon the Boyne”, on 28th March 1593, and 6th September, 1600 from Elizabeth, and one from James on 8th March 1610.
On the opposite side of the river to Ardmulchan is Dunmoe where, at the time of the Civil Survey was compiled, a fishing weir existed. The fishing of the Boyne at Dunmoe was included in a grant to George D’arcy on 21st October 1684.
Fisheries in the vicinity of Navan
Above Dunmoe we come to the famous Blackcastle fishery, now well known as a rod fishery. On 3rd August 1402, James le Botille, Earl of Ormond, granted his manor of Blackcastle to Katherine, his wife, daughter of Gerald, late Earl of Desmond together with fisheries, etc. By an indenture between James, Earl of Ormond, and John Tallon of Blackcastle, the earl granted, inter alia, the water of Boyne and the fishing thereof for 21 years on 30th April 1543 and in the next month (12th May 1543) the same earl leased a house “with appurtenances in Donamore”, a little upstream from Blackcastle, but the water of the Boyne and the fishery were excluded from the lease. The Civil Survey again gives us information that in Blackcastle there was a fishing weir and mill.
About 1189 John de Courcey made a grant to the Abbey of Navan which included fisheries on the Boyne and possibly on the Blackwater, a tributary of the Boyne. At the dissolution, the Abbey of B.V.M. Navan was in possession of a salmon weir and a fishery on the Boyne in Rathlogh. The salmon weir, obviously somewhere in the vicinity of the abbey, was farmed out at the dissolution to ‘John Donet and William Coen by indenture for a term of years from the late abbot for a rent of 30 salmon, or 2s. for each salmon short of that number’ and the fishery was leased for a term of years to Nicholas Wafre at a rent of 2 salmon or 4s.
On 4th February 1522, John Wakely of Navan obtained a lease of the site of the Abbey of Navan with three water mills and a salmon weir and lands in Rathlogh and a portion of a fishing weir in the possession of Laurence Dowdall and a third in the possession of Robert Cusack were situated in the townland of Athlumney, which is on the right bank of the Boyne where it makes almost a right angle turn at Navan.
The Bective Fisheries
Bective Abbey on the Boyne, between Navan and Trim, had valuable possessions and the last abbot surrendered, inter alia, a water mill and a fishing weir on the Boyne valued at 6s. 8d. Andrew Wyse was granted this fishing weir in 1552 and in the following year, on the 22nd February 1553 he was given licence to alienate the property to Richard Dillon, John Wycombe and Richard Cox. There is also on record an exemplification of the recovery of the same property between Patrick Barnwall, Lucan Dillon and Andrew Wyse.
Much earlier in its history the abbey of Bective may well have been on the site of the mill weir situated in the river and close to the site of the abbey itself.
Marks Plunkett in 1710 dealing with the river Blackwater re the proposed canal, points out that almost the only obstacle between Navan and Kells is the rock beyond the Navan paper mills which only needs the fitting of good flood gates to form a ready made sluice.
Just over 200 yards upstream on the Blackwater in Navan is the world famous Mollies. I’m sure I’m not wrong in saying it was the best Atlantic salmon fishery anywhere for its size, better than the Galway Weir fishery because of the size of the Boyne fish. It stretched from Spicers’ Flour Mill on the south bank to Elliot’s Saw Mill on the north bank a distance of only 180 yards, with an average width of 9 yards and at its narrowest point less than 7 yards and consisted of a series of pools.
Three rods on each bank (6 in all) could fish it comfortably in high water. In low water two rods a bank were enough. Every inch of it was fishable at some water and every inch of it held a fish. A total of 23 big springers were taken here on the opening day (12th February) in the good old days.
Down a few yards from Spicers’ Weir the water slowed a little, and fishing commenced, then the river widened and at the bend was Lady’s Pool where the current slowed. At the outflow of this pool the banks narrowed and the current gathered pace and poured in the ‘Gut’. Below the ‘Gut’ was a stretch of fifty yards of quiet water which was the only water fishable in high floods. At the tail of this was a long sunken wall beneath the surface, running diagonally down and across the stream carrying the water to the saw mill sluice. This wall was a famous lie for fish and equally famous for losing baits. Below the wall was ‘The Pool’ where the river broadened and slowed down before gaining momentum to pour over the weir there the Mollies ends.
On the north bank of this stretch Mr. T. Lynch, fishing on February 16th 1929, caught five salmon weighing a total of 106 lbs in one hour.
Mr. Jim Murphy of Blackcastle landed three salmon here in one hour’s fishing in 1953 with a total weight of 93 lbs.
The Mollies was a hard place to kill a fish especially the Pool. The river being so narrow, there was no slack or ‘belly’ on the line and when a salmon hit, usually very near you, it was with a jolt, enough to lose your grip on the handle of the reel and rap your knuckles painfully as the handles spun around on the screeching reel.
The first mad rush of a big mad spring fish was always to ‘The Gut’. A hooked fish is liable to run ashore here (and many did) and the danger of fouling your line on a rock here was great,, especially on the big cone shaped one that was right in the middle of the river. If a fish was hooked in the lower end of The Pool the weir was a danger. It was liable to go over the top either in its first alarm or in its last despairing effort. Very few salmon that went over the weir were landed. The tales of woe were heartbreaking but with so many fish showing and so many being caught it helped to kill the pain.
Living in Robinstown in 1949 I drove Tommy Brad, the Water Bailiff for that area, on several occasions lying in the back of my van to hide from the scouts of the poachers who were taking a lot of the salmon from the Mollies at that time. Some time after Tommy had an enforced stay in the hospital due to a blow on the head, from a starting handle of a motor car by one of those snatchers.
There was a big run on fish early that year. No matter where one looked there were fish showing all over the pool. 1949 was an exceptionally dry summer. We had no rain for eleven weeks. Everywhere was parched, lots of small streams, ditches and water holes dried up, farmers who never before ran short of water had to drive their cattle to the Boyne or nearest stream for a drink. Every evening the river between the 2 bridges in Trim had a lot of cattle drinking and soaking for a couple of hours, while their owners did the same in either of the 2 pubs close at hand.
The Mollies was over crowded with salmon. The water got lower, slower and staler and furunclosis appeared. In the confined space it spread like wildfire. It was a dreadful sight to see those noble fish all blotched, gasping, dying and dead, by the score. On one night eighty infected fish were removed from The Pool.
The first Sunday morning in June 1969 was my last time to fish Kennedy’s Weir. It was a wonderful place with all its little islands, the runs between them, all the waterfalls and deep holes with sandy bottoms the four hundred yards of broken water from the head of the weir to the remains of Kennedy’s Mill. All our weirs were just as fantastic as this one. I caught 22 trout that morning, kept 12 of them averaging about three quarters of a pound each. This was the type of fishing we had then when conditions were right. One of those dreadful draglines (I shudder when I think of them or mention their name) had completed a few days work starting at Watergate Bridge (New Bridge) and was on its merry way to destruction and devastation.
From then on the water, or shall I say the mud, was coming down thicker than oxtail soup. One could not put ones hand in the water to the knuckles and not see the tops of ones fingers. The machines stopped working on Friday evenings and the mud was so dense that it did not settle over the weekend. It’s an extraordinary state of affairs that no one, the Department of Fisheries, the Board of Conservators, or the fishing clubs, were heard to open their mouths in protest.
Crossing the river to and from work each day I tried not to look in knowing I’d be watching the death throes of our river. It would never be the same again, not in a thousand years.
A Life by the Boyne by Jim Reynolds