The first documented reference to the Galway Fishery is found in the Pipe Rolls, a collection of financial records maintained by the British Treasury. The Rolls of 1283 AD refer to the fishery at the time being part of the property of Walter De Burgo. The fishery passed through several ownerships until 1521 when Henry VIII granted a licence to Janet and Anthony Lynch to have three nets upon the river of Galway between the bridge and the sea and to build one water mill upon the river wherever they thought proper. In 1570 Elizabeth I granted the mayor, bailiffs, and commonality of the town and their successors “The customs of one salmon every Wednesday out of the Great Weir, a salmon every Saturday out of the High Weir, a salmon every Friday out of the ‘hale’ (haul ) net and as many eels as shall be taken in one day out of twenty eel weirs.”
There were a number of court proceedings over the years over the fishery, so in order to clarify the position, a new patent was passed on May 29 1669 which stated that the owner “Shall have as our gift all the salmon fishing, pike and eel and other fish of and in the river of Galway”. The fishery was held under this patent until it was purchased by the Irish State in 1978.
In the year 1852, it was conveyed in its entirety by the Commissioners of Encumbered Estates to Edmond and Thomas Ashworth of England for £5,000. They were keen to invest in and improve the fishery and they initiated a major building and improvement programme. The following year, the Fishery Tower was completed. The Ashworths found that numerous Galway people were angling in the river without permission and so they went to court and after a series of lengthy trials the title of Edmond and Thomas Ashworth to a “Several” Fishery was upheld.
In 1922 Col Cross bought the fishery, and in 1954 he sold it to John and Douglas Barber from London.
The Fishery Tower (also known as the Salmon House or the Tower Station ) is the only building of its kind in Ireland. It was built as a draft netting station and served for many years as a lookout tower for fishery personnel to monitor fish stocks coming up the river, and also to monitor illegal fishing. After the State bought the fishery, ownership of this building was transferred to the Central Fisheries Board and the board eventually leased it to the Galway Civic Trust which, after a lot of problems with renovations, has now opened it as a museum of the Galway Fishery. It is open on Monday and Saturday from 11am to 3pm and from Tuesday to Friday from 10am to 5pm. This museum is well worth a visit for Galwegian and visitor alike, illustrating as it does, a particular aspect of Galway history over several centuries through story boards, old maps and photographs, and an extraordinary variety of implements with which to catch fish.
Our 1962 photograph shows the last of the draft netters working near the tower. They are Paddy Moore, Tommy Finnerty, Tom O’Brien, with John Joe Hession at the back. Tom Shaughnessy is the man in the boat. Draft netting ceased in 1978.