The waterways of the city are of great engineering significance. Two major projects resulted in the waterways system which exists today. The first scheme was constructed between 1848 and 1858. Its primary purpose was to improve drainage thus reducing winter water levels and the areas of flooded land and also navigation, without any detrimental effect on the mills or fishery interests. So the Eglinton canal was built, the Claddagh Basin, the dredging of the Corrib, Gaol and Western rivers, tailraces, culverts, the weir and salmon pass and Steamer’s Quay at Woodquay
The second scheme was known as the Corrib-Clare Drainage Scheme and its main elements, with respect to the city waterways were: The excavation of the Galway River channel from the head of the Eglinton Canal to approximately midway between the O’Brien and Wolfe Tone bridges, and the construction of a new weir just north of the old weir. This would be the biggest drainage scheme to be undertaken in Europe at the time.
The survey of the Corrib drainage area was begun on June 14, 1948. The extent of the arterial drainage area is 780,000 acres so the survey had to be meticulous and took a long time.
The actual dredging started in the early 1950s and went on for most of that decade. Again they had to be careful not to infringe on the 15 mills with water rights in the city (there were 30 mills involved in the first scheme ) as any loss suffered by these mills had to be compensated. It was a huge operation which employed about 150 people. They had, as you can see from our 1957 photograph, to keep diverting the flow of the river (often with concrete barriers ) to allow cranes and diggers, etc, to work on the river bed. The buckets of the dredgers were subject to terrific wear and tear and the renewal of these buckets was very expensive.
Obviously the dredging process was very successful, you would not see a crane in the middle of the river for long today. Because it took so long, the number of salmon going upriver was greatly reduced, and so we lost one of the glories of Galway. Before the dredging, if you looked over the Salmon Weir Bridge, you were looking at water, then as your eyes got used to it, you suddenly saw a salmon and then realised you were looking at hundreds of fish, all waiting to go up through the weir. It was an extraordinary sight for tourist and local alike.
Finally, a request. Trisha Kessler is a UCD research student who is working on a PhD on Les Modes Modernes, otherwise known as the Hat Factory in Bohermore. It was opened in 1938 by businessmen from France, Austria and Czechoslovakia and was probably the biggest industry in Galway at the time. She will be in Galway from July 9-13 and would love to meet and speak to anyone who might have worked there, or whose relations worked there. She would especially welcome any photographs, press clippings or memorabilia relating to the factory. She can be reached at [email protected] or at 0044 7766 318 775, or through this column.