William R. Wilde's Loch Coirib - Its Shores and Islands

Chapter 2: Description of Loch Coirib


Chapter 2: Description of Loch Coirib

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I am indebted to S. U. Roberts, Esq., County Surveyor, Galway, for the following notes on the improvement of the drainage, navigation, and water power in connexion with Loch Corrib, by the Board of Public Works, between 1848 and 1857, under the provisions of the Drainage Acts: [1]

"The result obtained by these works has been, first, to relieve 13,685 statue acres of the low lands, on the margin of Loch Corrib, and along the various tributaries which flow into it, from flooding; secondly, the connexion of the Bay of Galway with Loch Corrib, by a navigable canal, and the opening up of the navigation of the Lake; and, thirdly, the improvement of the water power of the River Corrib at Galway. Some idea of the extent and magnitude of the works necessary to effect any omprovement in the drainage of Lich Corrib may be formed from the vast extent of the district which sheds its waters into the lake, and the volume of floods at its outfall, which sometimes reaches 800,000 cubic feet per minute.

The level of the lake has been lowered three feet, and the rise and fall between summer and winter level is limited to three feet, which has been found sufficient to relieve the low lands in the district from injurious flooding, except under some very extraordinary circumstances. The summer level of the lake is fourteen feet above that of the high water of ordinary tides in Galway Bay. The River Corrib, which connects the Lake with Galway Bay, is four miles in length, and the length of the Ship Canal is two thirds of a mile; at the entrance is a tidal basin, 470 feet long, and 170 feet wide, with 1,000 feet in length of quayage. The ascent from this basin to the level of the Loch accomplished by one lock, 130 feet long, and twenty-one wide, with a lift of fourteen feet. The depth of the navigation is six and a half feet. The water power of the River Corrib at Galway has been increated to an extent of about 1,200 horse power; it formerly did not exceed 400. The surface area of Loch Mask is 22,000 statute acres."

The water has also been kept at a proper level by lowering the river bar at Galway, and constructing a regulating weir there. At the same time the navigation channel in the narrw rocky portions of the lake was deepened, the rocks raised; and by buoying and marking with pillars, rocks, and irons, the steamer's track, it has been rendered navigable from Galway to Cong, and also to Oughterard, and to within a couple of miles of Mám hotel. All the marks on the eastern side of our upward course from Galway are coloured white, and those on the western side dark. It will help to give confidence to our lady friends, who can almost touch some of thse marks, triangles, and gridirons, from the Eglinton, to know that all these rocks where lifted by the present captain of the vessel, who was formerly employed here as a diver.

At the entrance of the Mám river a sandbank occurs, with only four or five feet of water over it in dry weather, which might easily have been removed, where it not considered that the floods of the Faill Mór and Béal na breac rivers carry down such large quantites of sand and gravel, that the maintenance of a deep channel through the bar would be attended with considerable expense. The trial, however, should, we think, be made; and if the extraordinary tortuous course of the latter river at least, was straightened, it would not only help to keep the bar channel free, but relieve the low lands along its banks of winter floods. [2]

A project was entertained of opening up a free communication through the great chain of lakes--Coirib, Measca, and Cearra--with the harbour of Gaillimh and much expense was incurred in constructing a canal, locks, and other works for that purpose. Before they were completed it turned out to be a failure--not, however, like the Shannon works, which is now said to retain and retard the flow of water; for it was discovered, that like many other undertakings, the great canal at Cong "would not hold water." There it remains among the ruins of Cong, so dry, that kittle boys may be seen playing marbles on the bottom. Even if it could be staunched, a fair excuse may now be offered for its imcompleteness by the fact that each end of this great water track, from Galway to Castlebar, there is sufficient railway accommodation to Dublin to warrant the abandonment of the original design.

The Eglinton Canal at Galway is, however, a work of great utility, both in draining and regulating the surplus waters of the lake, and permitting ingress from the sea. The lower lake empties its waters through a delta by three visible outlets into the Gaillimh; the natural and original shallow, tortuous, and rocky Coirib River, navigable only for very small craft and row-boats, on the west; the Mionloch Creek, a small stream, on the east now nearly filled up; and through the boggy island covered with sedge between these two, by means of the "Friars' Cut", a canal of about three-quarters of a mile in length, fifty feet wide, and twelve deep thorugh the main stream passes. The latter is generally held to be artificial, and tradition ascribes its formation to the Friars of Claregalway; but it is remarkable that neither by Roger O'Flaherty or Hardiman, nor in any of the local records, is allusion made to it; while certainly a work of such magnitude and importance, if formed by the industrious and enterprising Franciscans, would have been refered to. On the contrary, O'Flaherty, writing in 1684, says expressly in his Iar Connacht, that "the River of Galway, whose channel is the conveyance of Loch Coirib for four miles into the sea, slides with some meander windings in a slow and deep stream till it comes near the town of Galway;" and further adds, "there is an island, where the river issues from the lake now called Olen-na-mBrathar, or the Fryar's Isle, but anciently Olen-na-g-Clereach, ie the Clergy's Isle." This is still marked on the maps, although at present more of a peninsula. During the recent operations of the Board of Public Works, the Friars' Cut was cleared out by a steam dredge, and rendered navigable.

Besides these three streamways, there is a subterranean communication through the cavernous limestone, by means of "swallow holes" near Tír Oileáin, on the eastern shore, which formerly carried off a large portion of the surplus waters of the lake, and discharged them into the sea near Oranmore.

It is memorable that so early as 1498, about the time when the subject of the construction of canals occupied so much public attention in the Italian States, an attempt was made to unite the waters of Loch Corrib with the sea, through the Loch a' tSáile Estuary by a canal, taking the course of the Tír Oileáin river, a small stream which runs into the Gaillimh. See McMahon's "Report of the Drainage of Loch Corrib".

The steam navigation of Loch Coirib was commenced in 1852, when a dredge was employed to clear out the Friars' Cut, and to assist in the lifting the rocks that obstructed the shallow passes. About the same time, Mr. J. Stephens put another small steam boad, called The O'Connell, on the lake, which carried passengers; and the year after, Mr. Hodgson procured a steamer, The Enterprise, and afterwards The Lioness, for carrying down mine to Galway. The first effort, however, to establish a regular traffic and passenger boat on the lake, id due to the patriotic exertions of the Rev. Peter Daly, after whom it was called The Father Daly.

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