Ballina: bridge over troubled waters

Welcome to my first Ballina blog………

Bridge over troubled waters…….

BALLINA’S new bridge, opened in 2009, is a wonderful pedestrian structure crossing the River Moy just above the salmon weirs and the world-famous Ridge Pool. Ballina, is, of course, the official Salmon Capital of Ireland.

Fishing is an important component of Ballina’s commerce, salmon angling estimated to bring upwards of 10 million euro a year into the local economy.  Its real value is much, much greater, of course.

The bridge links the town of Ballina and ancient Ardnaree, and is the third bridge (but first pedestrian crossing). It is the only bridge built under our own jurisdiction: the other two, the Ham (1836) and the Arran Bridge (1835) were built when England ruled this country.

The pedestrian bridge, appropriately designed to resemble a fishing rod, has its detractors…. and its supporters. The positioning of the structure, the role is fulfils, the money it cost (less than 2 million euro), were amongst the points at debate. Even the local Town Council was divided on the issue.

Those who support it see it for its powerful symbolism, for its use as a wonderful vantage point and walk route facility, and as phase one of the long-term development and utilisation of the many qualities such a fine river bestows on the town and its people. Another bridge further down river, linking The Quay area with Belleek should be an essential part of the vision, catering for the increase traffic needs of a growing town as well as pedestrian pursuits.

Naming public landmarks can often be a contentious matter, especially when done in the full glare of publicity, and the recent machinations of the Town Council in this regard are regrettable, if, to be fair, not uncommon of centres elsewhere. Regardless of the choice and undoubted qualities of the ‘floated nominees’, it must be said that the matter has been poorly managed by the Town Council.

The attendant – and continuing­ – unseemly political bluster serves neither town, its people or its elected council, well. Worse still, it does a grave disservice to the fine people whose names have been publicly associated with the naming.

On reflection, not a good way to do things, surely!


Flood plains and flood risks

STAYING with the River Moy in this first blog on Ballina,  I once knew a man who knew the Moy better than anyone else I knew. Every ripple. Every stone. Every weed. Every salmon path.  The otter. The lamper eel. The graceful swans. The scurrying water rat. The patient long-legged cormorant.  High tide and the seal that came with it.

He was a master fly fisherman. He tied his own flies. He watched for the salmon breaking water and flicked his bait in ever increasing arcs until it dropped tantalisingly close to his chosen fish.  Sometimes we dined on his success, salmon or trout, fresh and flaky.

In his 80-plus years he ventured no further than casting distance from the Moy on only a few occasions, and then only when hospital visits necessitated overnight stays. On his return he always made his way to his river walk and his minute observations of ebb and flow.

He had one observation, and he told all within listening that the day would come when the Moy would again burst its banks and threaten households. He had, of course, seen floods in his time, along Bachelors Walk, Dillon Terrace and Humbert Street, but worse was to come, he always adamantly maintained.

He looked back into history and drew attention to the straightening and tightening of the Moy ‘belly’ between the two bridges back in the 1840s, and further taming of the river along the New Line (Clare Street) and Bachelors Walk. The flood plains, the natural sumps, he called them, were being squeezed.  Now he pointed to the filling in of Grawn and the Town Dump (now the Tom Ruane Town Park, and the river green in front of Riverslade, and before he died he witnessed the raising and greening of the river bank on the  Belleek shoreline. Looking down now from his lofty perch, he will have seen that  that work has continued.

His words of warning are vivid: ‘See what happens when we get a combination of heavy rain, winds and a high tide…the water now will have no place to go so must back up and overflow. The consequences will not be nice.’

Happily, we have not had the conditions here that have flooded huge tracts of the country and forced thousands to flee their homes so far this winter.

But there is no escaping his logic.

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