Heritage Week continues with Myles Courtney, and the Salmon Ponds of New Ross
The ebb and flow of a river, its rising and falling tides can instill a sense of ease and relaxation in an observer. Since my retirement, I have had time to be more observant and appreciative of the majestic Barrow as it passes through the town of New Ross. It brought back happy memories of my youth in Enniscorthy and fishing at my father’s side on the Slaney and Boro rivers. He passed on to me an appreciation of the lore and traditions of the angler and the “net men”.
Research for my local history hobby lead me, as it often does, off on various tangents. One tangent that immediately grabbed my attention was the salmon fishing on the Barrow . I discovered numerous sources online and reference sources in New Ross Library which painted a picture of what at one stage was a significant local industry but is alas no more.
The great 16th century poet Edmund Spenser mentioned the Barrow salmon in his epic The Faerie Queen when referring to The Three Sister Rivers.
The first, the gentle Shure that making way
By sweet Clonmell, adorns rich Waterford;
The next, the stubborne Newre, whose waters gray,
By faire Kilkenny and Rosseponte boord,
The third, the goodly Barow, which doth hoorde
Great heaps of Salmons in his deepe bosome:
All which long sundred, doe at last accord
To ioyne in one, ere to the sea they come,
So flowing all from one, all one at last become.
I went from keyboard to book to the horse’s mouth and was regaled with stories of fishing families of the fifties in New Ross. I met two local gents with first-hand experience and a treasure trove of knowledge of the skills and lore of the cot men.
Four men in 2 cots formed a crew. They fished every falling tide with snap nets, day and night, except for Saturdays & Sundays during the season. For reference and location purposes the river was divided into sections referred to as “ponds” by the cot men between the Pink Rock and Poulmounty.
My two friends recited the names of the ponds like memorised poetry to me and I was immediately struck by those whose origin went back to our Gaelic past. Names such as Conway’s Wood, Woodville Drift, and The Quay Pond offered no mystery but then I heard Tubbernacally, Cool na Stor, Leanacurragh, Lean Bheag, Touskeen, Cruptaun, and off I went on another tangent.
I wondered if these two repositories of local lore realised the value of their hereditary knowledge. It spurred me to convince them that it was indeed worthy of preservation. Much to my delight their experiences and knowledge can now be found in the County Wexford Oral History Project recordings of Wexford County Library.
This story is contributed as part of Heritage Week 2020