Looking over the Salmon Weir Bridge
This charming drawing appeared in a London newspaper called The Illustrated Sporting and Dramatic News which was published on October 4, 1879. It shows a group of men and boys (no females) watching the salmon waiting to go upstream. On the right is a study of a water bailiff. The drawing was made by M.F., and his accompanying text is very flowery.
“The handsome stone bridge that spans the rushing Corrib, though at all times and seasons a loitering place for the idlers of the sleepy old Citie of the Tribes, is, at ‘salmon season’ the grand focus of superabundant lassitude. Young, old, and middle-aged, the grave and the gay, the jaunty shop clerk and the floss-choked bag weaver, the sleek smug merchant and the Spanish featured ‘Boccach’ or lame beggar, the priest and parson and matron and maid, all and everyone, be their hurry never so great, or their very idleness distressing, pause here to take a peep over the parapet at the glorious fish in the swift clear water beneath, lying thick as pebbles and quite as motionless save now and then when some salmon of business makes a rapid dart above his fellows through the limpid element.
“It is pleasant to stand among this heterogeneous throng and listen to the speculations concerning the weight of the fish below, or the exulting bold stories of the bamboozling of keepers, and the jovial defrauding of the fishery proprietors. ‘Yerra masther,’ said one Galwegian pointing to a silent old fellow sitting on the bridge and gazing in a sort of rapture at the scene below, ‘see ould Haivey there now, well he owns an otther sur, a lump ov an otther that he’s tamed an thrained to pooch fur him, and wid that divvle of a baist, he can ketch more fish nor all the rod an line min from here to Slyne Head.’ ‘An otter trained to poach,’ said I incredulously, ‘this is going a bit too far, what fish he takes he keeps for himself.’
“’Divvle a one sur, he just takes them out tindherly to his owner, without a scale turned on ‘em, an thin owld Haivey gives him a scrap o’ mate as kyind o’ reward like fur his thrubble. The keepers know all about it, but be me sowl Haivey’s too cute to be cotch.’”
A 1949 book entitled Ireland Revisited also describes the scene. “Galway Bridge was an unbelievable sight. Hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of salmon lay immediately below us. Some of them were weaving quietly to hold their position against the water. Others remained quite motionless behind the small rocks at the bottom of the perfectly clear river. The biggest ones, some of them 20 or 30 pounders had taken up their position farthest from the bank but all of them seemed to be drawn up like a battalion of infantry going into action. Some were in a sort of arrow formation, others were in serried lines. They were all waiting until a nice big flood came along before going upstream. The complete lack of rain the previous month made the river very low and the sight all the more impressive.
“I asked a keen fisherman, who was watching the salmon why they were not poached from the bridge. ‘Ach, there is only one man who can catch them from the bridge. Let me call him Snitcher Kelly. He has a lump of lead with hooks on it and a line. He slings it out, and in 3 minutes will be converting salmon into pints of stout.’ ‘But doesn’t the owner of the fishing rights know about it?’ ‘Of course, only the other day, Snitcher was down on his luck and tried to sell an otter skin to him for one pound. The other chap refused but said ‘I’ll give you five pounds for your own skin any day.’”
Sadly, the dredging of the river in the late 1950s put an end to the salmon congregating under the bridge but anyone who saw them is unlikely to forget the experience.