Munster's Blackwater: A cruise on the ‘Irish Rhine’ an alternative to foreign travel

Munster's Blackwater: A cruise on the ‘Irish Rhine’ an alternative to foreign travel

Tony Gallagher, of Blackwater Cruises, on his 28ft half-decker, Maeve Óg. “We’re back on this majestic river,” he says.

TWO words are particularly important when preparing a radio programme of interviews.

One is ‘listen’ and the other is ‘silent’.

Interestingly, both of those words have the same letters and the same number of letters.

However, their meanings and intent are very different.

Nowadays, on radio, in contrast with how I was trained, there are broadcasters who prefer the sound of their own voices and to express their opinions, rather than listen to what their interviewees have to say.

I was taught that the most important part of an interview was what the interviewee said. So, ‘listen’ was the dominant instruction.

I learned the importance of listening, and of staying silent while doing so. The interviewee is the person the listener should want to hear most. So, compiling my maritime radio programme, This Island Nation, this week, I listened to Simon Berrow, chief executive of the Irish Whale and Dolphin Group.

Mr Berrow told not just me, but the listeners, that the National Biodiversity Centre has “seen a huge increase” in the number of reports to them by members of the public who have recorded/noted aspects of wildlife and nature.

This, he said, reflects people’s interest in nature, and their interest in noting changes and recording what they had seen of wildlife in their local areas, to which they were restricted during the Covid-19 lockdown.

“Very encouraging and positive” to have such an interest grow in nature,” Mr Berrow said.

Then, reflecting on the Government’s discouragement of foreign travel this summer, he said that Ireland has a lot of attractions along the coastline, which people might want to visit.

“So, why would people not explore their own coastlines in Ireland,” Mr Berrow asked?

That also goes for the rivers, which led me to recall the point made previously by a listener about the River Blackwater.

Just across the road from the studios of CRY104FM, the local station in Youghal from where my programme is broadcast, the Blackwater flows into Youghal Bay. The Blackwater, or Munster Blackwater, flows through Kerry, Waterford, and Cork, rising in the Mullaghareirk Mountains, flowing easterly through through Mallow, Fermoy, Lismore, Cappoquin, and into the Celtic Sea at Youghal, a journey of 169km.

“Did you know?” he asked me, “that the Blackwater, up towards Cappoquin, is known as the ‘Irish Rhine’ and is a wonderful place to observe the maritime delights Ireland has to offer?”

There is a lot of pride in Youghal about the Blackwater. It has inspired writers.

In 1901, Kate Douglas Wiggin, in a publication called Penelope’s Irish Experiences, wrote: “If you want to fall head over ears in love with Ireland, at the very first sight of her charms, take, as we did, the steamer from Cappoquin to Youghal and float down the Vale of the Blackwater.

“The shores of this Irish Rhine are so lovely that the sail on a sunny day is one of unequalled charm.

“Behind us, the mountains ranged themselves in a mysterious, melancholy background; ahead, the river wended its way southward in-and-out, in-and-out, through rocky cliffs and well-wooded shores.”

In the 19th century, small coasters used to get as far as Lismore by going up the Blackwater to Cappoquin, then using a canal for the last 3.2km.

According to local history, passenger services operated on the river. The Cork & Youghal Railway had a steamer named Star and another named Fairy. Other steamers on the river were Sibyl and Dartmouth Castle, the latter a paddle steamer.

The railway company offered “rail and river cruises” for six shillings and sixpence, which included a train to Youghal, joining a ‘steamer’ for the river cruise to Cappoquin, and returning by train via Mallow to Cork.

This week, I talked to Tony Gallagher, of Blackwater Cruises, who skippers his 28ft half-decker, Maeve Óg. “We’re back on this majestic river,” he said, “historic, tranquil, and unspoilt river beauty.”

Things might have changed in river transport along the Blackwater, but definitely not local enthusiasm for the ‘Irish Rhine’. There is a lot to be learned by listening!

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