There has been a weir on the River Blackwater in Fermoy for the past 800 years since the Cistercian monks built their abbey of Sancta Maria de Castro Dei, or Our Lady of the Camp of God, somewhere on what is now Ashe Quay. Before a bridge ever crossed the river, the monks ran a ferry. Thomas Cromwell mentioned the weir in 1540 in his inventory for Henry VIII prior to the dissolution of the monasteries. Centuries after the abbey was lost to history, the Scottish businessman John Anderson bought the old abbey lands in 1791, founded the modern town and built the weir that exists today.
The Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Deputy Ross, has stated that the expressed ambition of his Department is "to increase participation and interest in sport, to improve standards of performance and to develop sports facilities at national, regional and local level, thereby contributing to healthier lifestyles and an improved overall quality of life, through a Departmental policy and resource framework in partnership with its Agencies, other Government Departments and the National Governing Bodies of Sport." The reality, however, is that several events planned for 2019 have been cancelled and the very existence of several clubs is seriously threatened. The Fermoy regatta will likely be cancelled for the first time in 80 years. Two international triathlons face cancellation and Ireland's only Mark III wheelchair accessible boat cannot safely launch or dock, preventing people of varied levels of ability from appreciating our magnificent River Blackwater and its environs. This is a clear breach of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.
Two issues arise at Fermoy weir, which is a listed protected structure and the property and responsibility of Cork County Council. The first issue is the breach and collapse of the mill race weir wall in the past two years. We believe that it resulted from and was directly caused by the flood works carried out by Lagan Construction - agent and servant of the Office of Public Works, OPW - and the OPW. This work included an in-river road that was built abutting the weir and intensive pile-driving into the riverbed. The second issue is the damaged fish passes. No maintenance has been carried out on the weir or its fish passes since the 1960s. Due to this neglect, the passes have deteriorated and fallen into such significant disrepair that they do not work adequately for fish migration.
Two years ago, a tree became lodged on this section of weir. When it finally came loose, it took some of the weir cappings away with it. Thousands of trees have come down the river in the past 200 years, but this particular tree is being blamed solely for the recent unprecedented damage. During the flood works, the mill race weir wall was badly compromised as a result of intensive pile-driving and the building of an in-river road abutting the weir. The purpose of the in-river road was to facilitate the building of the new flood walls along O'Neill Crowley Quay. Thousands of tonnes of stone and rock were dumped into the river to create the road. Combined with the pile-driving, this would have had a major effect on the foundations and structure of the weir. On 22 or 23 of January 2019, 30 m of the mill race weir wall collapsed. That collapse occurred at the precise point where the in-river road was built and the pile-driving was carried out. We predicted this collapse when the fallen tree carried away some of the wall cappings. Last summer, our clubs offered to effect a temporary repair on the breach. We were told by Cork County Council, acting on the advice of Inland Fisheries Ireland, IFI, that if we did so, we would face arrest and court proceedings.
The problem of Fermoy weir's damaged fish passes was highlighted in October 2003. Since that year's summer was dry, the first rise in water levels only came in October, and when thousands of migrating salmon arrived at the weir, they could not migrate through the damaged fish passes. In a futile effort to aid salmon passage, officials from the then Southern Regional Fisheries Board breached the north-western corner of the weir. Local anglers and board officials netted salmon with landing nets and ferried some of these upriver. The Central Fisheries Board and South West Regional Fisheries Board were lobbied to fix the fish passes. An outlay of approximately €60,000 would have repaired them at the time.
In 2004, an anonymous complaint was made to the EU that fish migration was hampered at Fermoy weir because of the damaged fish passes. In 2008, what is now IFI proposed the building of a rock ramp pass structure to replace the weir, but the weir is a protected structure and locals protested that its removal could not be allowed. River users noted that the lower rock ramp pass structure would cause upstream water levels to drop to a point that would threaten the existence of some of our clubs. A fish bypass channel was then proposed, but we have never been given sight of any plan in that regard. A major concern with any proposed new structure would be to ensure that historic water levels upriver were maintained. During the flood works, Lagan Construction, under the instruction of IFI, drove piles into the side of the fish pass as a temporary repair measure to allow fish to get up the fish pass.
The Central Fisheries Board and IFI have failed to come up with a viable repair plan for the Fermoy weir over the past 20 years because the only real plan they had was to install a rock ramp pass. This would have necessitated the removal of a protected structure, which the people of Fermoy opposed outright.