FISH - by Fintan Ryan
The king of fishes and there were great runs on the Barrow in my youth. Still there now but protected as anglers must return them unharmed to the river if caught.
An incredible sight in Autumn was the weir at the sawmill with the salmon leaping the fall to head up the Mountain and Dinin rivers to spawn in the same river where they were born.
Photograph 19 was taken by me at the weir in October 2002.
PHOTOGRAPH 19: SALMON LEAPING, SAWMILL WEIR, 2002
The Barrow and tributaries once teemed with trout. In my day the banks were cleared by locals for firewood and access for water and fishing. I never had a bad day fishing in my teens, often getting up to seven fine trout. The Mountain and Dinin are now completely overgrown, and there are far fewer trout as very little sunlight gets through the foliage.
On a number of occasions, rainbow trout escaped from the fish farm at the sawmill and there was great fishing for just a few days. It seems that rainbow trout species stay local and do not travel in the river and neither do they reproduce.
PHOTOGRAPH 20: BROWN TROUT, BARROW 2017
Significant fishing events regularly happened in Borris during floods on the Mountain and Dinin. After a day of Summer rain the rivers flooded and were coloured brown. The trout moved to quiet waters such as drinking areas for livestock to avoid the raging currents in the main flow. Everybody who had a fishing rod was out in force with worms to catch the blinded trout. You could see the Mountain flood in the evening as the brimming river course on Mount Leinster glistened like a silver streak reflecting the sunlight from the southwest.
Contrary to popular belief the frequency of occurrence and severity of floods in the Borris area is decreasing, as can be determined from the rainfall data at Oak Park in Carlow and the flow rate on the Barrow gauges at RoyaL Oak.
There are new efforts to get our environment and water quality right once again; I want to see the youth, and future generations of Borris, experience and enjoy the wonder that I had access to when I was young.
Eels, once the bane of fishermen because they took the baits meant for salmon and trout. We called the smaller ones bootlaces locally, a name probably stemming from the traditional use of dried eel skins for that very purpose. During floods in Autumn lock keepers set traps on the lock gates for the eel migration and it was a great source of extra income for them . Locals also "bobbed" for eels. A large number of worms were sewn together with thread and dropped into the water, no hooks. On pulling out the bob, the eels remained attached and were shaken off into a bucket. Being an oily fish, they are considered fine eating and are the favourite food of herons and cormorants. Eels are now scarce but seem to be returning. I remember the weirs at the Kilnyard being coated completely with elvers, the young eels returning to the rivers of their fore-parents before again heading for the Saragossa Sea where they spawn. The heron in Photograph 21 was enjoying a meal of eel on the Dinin back in April 2011.
PHOTOGRAPH 21: EELS ARE THE FAVOURITE FOOD OF HERONS AND CORMORANTS
The perch is a beautiful fish and are an excellent quarry for young anglers. The population increases and drops and at the moment is lowish. Usually confined to the Barrow but I have seen them as far up the Mountain River as Rosdelig. They are mostly carnivorous and feed on minnows and other small fish.
PHOTOGRAPH 22: PERCH FROM BARROW BEFORE RETURNING, AUG 2003
PHOTOGRAPH 23: A SMALL PIKE PRIOR TO RETURN, BALLINAGRANE, SEPT 2003
The pike is the largest native fish species, and the record river pike was caught in the Barrow in 1964 and weighed 42 lbs. They are still relatively common in the Barrow and anglers now always return them to the river unharmed. The smaller pike are usually males and locally called jacks while the females grow much bigger.
Roach and Rudd
Roach and Rudd abound in the canals and seem to avoid the main flow of the Barrow. Originally the Barrow had only Rudd and later Roach appeared. They are very similar fish in appearance, and there are hybrids.
Bream is another coarse fish popular with anglers growing to as much as 12lbs. Great fishing below Clashganny weir some years ago but now scarce, most likely a water quality issue.
The most common fish in the Barrow now is dace, competing with trout for insect feeding. They are an invasive species introduced unintentionally by anglers from the UK who tipped surplus dace used for live baiting into the river. Recently the confluence of the Mountain River and the Barrow has been carpeted with them at certain times of the year.
PHOTOGRAPH 25: EMPTY FRESHWATER MUSSEL SHELL, MOUNTAIN RIVER NEAR VIADUCTS, JULY 2013
PHOTOGRAPH 24: DACE FROM BUNNAHOWEN, JULY 2011
The Mountain River (Hagerty's Pool) was once full of freshwater mussels, but they now seem absent. Probably a consequence of human pearl hunters in the early days and latterly water quality issues. I still see the occasional empty shells and saw a duck mussel on the Barrow bank recently.
Rarely see crayfish now but used to be a lot of them below the sawmill on the Mountain River. Again, most likely a water quality issue. I saw crayfish's shell remains by the Barrow a few times recently, leftover from otter of perhaps mink.
The white-clawed crayfish is considered a globally threatened species and Ireland holds one of the largest surviving populations.
It is the only freshwater crayfish species found in Ireland and is protected under both Irish law and the EU Habitats Directive. However, crayfish plague has now reached five rivers in Ireland, including the Barrow, possibly by spores carried on fishing equipment. The threat from introduced crayfish remains very high.
PHOTOGRAPH 26: WHITE CLAWED CRAYFISH - JOURNAL.IE
Pinkeens and Cailleachs
During the Summers in Borris we all flocked to the rivers to paddle and swim armed with empty jam jars to catch pinkeens and cailleachs, English names stickleback and stone loach. The prize was to catch a male redbreast pinkeen with iridescent blue colouring.
PHOTOGRAPH 27: THREE SPINED STICKLEBACKS - IWT