‘Washing of the Waters’ is a new radio documentary which celebrates the rural river community of Golden Island, east of Athlone on St Patrick’s Day, Saturday March 17 at 7pm on Shannonside FM.
Inspired by Athlone native and agriculturalist, Francie Macken, the programme is presented and produced by Maud Hand. It features residents from the area, among them nonogenarian Jimmy Macken; members of the Doolin Family; local historian and author, Geoffrey Foy; and senior librarian Gearóid O’Brien, all of whom have been shaped and enriched by this country place, nestled quietly by the Shannon banks, east of Athlone.
Francie Macken, originally from Macken’s Shop in Mardyke Street and now living in Co
Wexford says, “The ebb and flow of the Shannon in Burgess Park dictated our lives. In February we’d fish for trout off the steps, then in March we’d snatch perch on the weir wall, and in April when the flood would go down, we’d head up over Mimi Martin’s meadow and in to the freedom of the Golden Island, leapin’ drains and generally messin’ about.”
Another townie and neighbour of Francie’s on Mardyke Street, Geoffrey Foy and his family were
equally obsessed by the river and the Golden Island Community. Author of the Folkloric paper,
‘The Salmon Draws near Athlone’, Geoffrey recalls: “It was my father - he was fascinated by the boat builders and all the activity on the water, particularly fishing and the techniques used by the people to set their nets or salmon draws.”
Tillage farming and salmon fishing were the primary ways of making an income on the Golden Island. Jimmy Macken, the oldest surviving member of the community, recalls the heady days of the 1930s when his family would get half a crown for a pound for salmon which they’d wrap in canvas and ship off by train to the Dublin Fish Markets.
Another elder, Mary Doolin, recounts how her grandmother was one of five sisters from Clonown on the Connacht side of the Shannon who crossed over to Leinster for love. Mary and her children, Mary Galvin and Michael Doolin reflect on how their rural community has changed. Michael is wistful for a lost comraderie: “It’s a way of life that’s gone, a pastoral life full of character. People were easy going and helped each other with the reeks of hay, they had time for chat and visited each other’s houses at night time instead of watching TV”.
Senior librarian Gearóid O’Brien adds to the insights and uncovers the rich archive that’s contained in Athlone Library on the area’s history.
Music for the programme comes from Tuam-based singer/songwriter Padraig Stevens whose songs aptly evoke the mood and spirit of the Golden Islanders’ country living ways.