DO all Corkonians understand, respect and value the idyllic River Lee which traverses our countryside and our city?
Or, is there now a love/hate relationship with the hallowed river on which ‘De Banks’ of our city stand?
The controversy over flood defences for the city still rages. That there is a need for defence against flooding is generally accepted, but is the river being perceived now as an enemy rather than a friend?
The current debate about the proposed engineering proposals, variously involving raised, demountable defences and so on, has not referred a lot to how previous engineering projects affecting the river, such as the reclamation of land at Tivoli, may have contributed to city flooding as the river’s area was reduced.
There are records of that area being called “na h-Uiscí Iomdha” – “the Great Waters” – from the time when high tides covered Tivoli, Páirc Uí Chaoimh and closer in towards the city.
There is a lovely vista of the Lee flowing towards the city which I paused to appreciate when walking from the UCC offices at the North Mall Enterprise Centre, having recorded an interview there, across in front of the Mercy Hospital. There it flows down past the Mardyke and at the bend of the river there has been heavy flooding.
I recalled, as a youngster, seeing salmon fishing boats moored at the river bend. Forbears of my family once painted the numbers on those boats. Salmon fishing was important on the Lee until the building of the hydro-electric scheme. The fish used to be found at all seasons, probably due to extensive gravel-beds in the upper reaches, Around this area, former fishermen used talk about a ‘whirlpool’ where the incoming tide from the sea met the freshwater current, close to St.Vincent’s pedestrian bridge.
The boats are not there now, but into my vision came a sight, at the edge of the nice walk and cycleway alongside the river wall. I wondered about the perspective that had been considered when a decision was made to erect this rather ugly-looking railing, taking from the pleasant view of the quay wall and the river which would be valued in other cities. Its purpose appears to be protective; it cannot do anything against flooding. Possibly therefore, it is intended to protect humans, lest they fall in, or children climbing onto the wall. Perhaps it was erected, with the best of health-and-safety intentions — those regulatory requirements which intrude on so many aspects of life — to remove individual responsibilities.
However, it seems to show a thought-process indicating a “barrier” against the river, hence I wondered about ‘hate’ or ‘fear’ of the river, than love of its beauty and what it offers to our city.
Is the Lee perceived now as the former or the latter?
Cork is said to have been built on a series of islands, maybe as many as 13. Those channels have been mostly covered or filled-in over the centuries. Only the North and South Channels of the river remain open.
Cork is no Amsterdam, but there is a lot of history to be remembered and appreciated.
The North Mall was a centre of learning, once called the ‘Mirror of Ireland’. Alongside the famous ‘CAT Club’ — as older members thereof will remember the Cork Arts and Theatre Club, is the covered tributary from Blackpool, once called the Kiln river, which feeds into the Lee.
Among these ‘ramblings’ around the Lee, I was told that, in times past, there used to be, near the Marina power station, a ’25-to-one’ gun which was fired off at noon for Ships’ Captains in port to set chronometers for navigation.
Of such aspects is Cork’s association with the Lee which, I wonder, if citizens fully realise how much marvellous history there is in this maritime confluence of river with shore?