Corpus of Electronic Texts Edition
The Natural History of Ireland (Author: Gerard Boate)

chapter 8

Of the Rivers of Ireland.

Of the Shannon.

BESIDES the excessive number of brooks wherewith Ireland is water'd, it hath a good many rivers, the which being broader and deeper than the brooks, are consequently navigable, although the major part are not portable of any great ships nor barques, but only of small vessels and boats.

The principallest of all is the Shannon, who taking his original out of Lough Allen, and in his course dividing the province of Connaught from Leinster, and afterwards also from Munster, passeth through two other great loughs, to wit, Lough Ree, whereout she cometh just above Athlone (a mean market town, but adorned with a stately and strong castle, the ordinary residence of the presidents of Connaught) and Lough Dergh, about halfway betwixt Athlone and Limerick, and a little below the said town she dischargeth her self again into another lough, by far the biggest of all, the which extending it self from Limerick unto the sea, and above fifty miles long, it is held by the Irish as well as the English not for a lough, but for the Shannon it self, and consequently called with that name; whereof hath been spoken in the second chapter.


This river is wide and deep every where, so as she would be navigable in her whole length, not only with boats of all sorts, but with reasonable big ships, to the great commodity of them that inhabit near it, were it not for the impediment of a certain rock, some six miles above Limerick, the which standing across in the channel, and the river with great violence falling downwards over it, all communication of navigation betwixt the upper and the lower parts of it thereby absolutely hindred.

Sir Thomas Wentworth, lord Wentworth, and afterwards earl of Strafford, he that in the beginning of this present parliament was beheaded, having been governor of Ireland many years, first in the quality of lord deputy, and afterwards of lord lieutenant, had a design to take away that let, in causing of a new channel to be digged for a little way, whereby the river being made to alter her course, should have avoided that rock; and to that purpose sent certain skilful men thither to view those parts, and carefully to examine whether it were feasible, who made report that it might be done, and would not cost above seven or eight thousand pounds sterling, a sum not very considerable in comparison of the great profit which afterwards would have been reaped from that work; nevertheless it was never taken in hand, the intents of publick utility having been diverted and smothered by those of private profit, as commonly it falleth out.

The Rivers Suck, Sure, Oure, Broad-water, Barrow and Slane.

THERE are several other rivers in the province of Connaught, but none of them is any ways comparable with the Shannon for length, breadth, or depth, and little to be said of them, but that the Suck, the which falleth into the Shannon a little way below Athlone, is the principallest of all.

The two chief rivers of Munster are Sure and Broadwater, the city of Waterford being situated upon the first of those two, the which close by it dischargeth herself into that arm of the sea which is known by the name of Waterford haven. The other passeth by Lismore, and falleth into the sea by Youghal, where it maketh a tide haven. Next to those two is the river of Cork, and then that of Kinsale, the which is but of small moment, as also are the rest of the rivers of this province.

In Leinster is the Nure or Oure, the Barrow, the Slane, the Liffy, and the Boyn, besides some others of less moment. The Oure and Barrow mingle their waters at the town of Ross, from whence having past a little way together, they discharge themselves into the right arm of the haven of Waterford, and so in a manner do meet the Sure, who falleth into the other arm, for which consideration these three rivers were wont to be called the three sisters, as Giraldus witnesseth. Both the Oure and the Barrow are portable many miles into the country, the Oure only with little boats, and with cots (they call in Ireland cots things like boats, but very unshapely, being nothing but square pieces of timber made hollow) but the


Barrow with good big boats. The Slane falleth into the havens of Wexford, being like unto the Oure for length and bigness.

Of the Liffy and the Boyn.

THE Liffy is the princess of the Irish rivers, not for her bigness (for not only the Shannon, but the Boyn, Barrow, and several others, do far surpass her therein) but because Dublin, the chief city of all Ireland, is seated upon her bank, a mile below which city, at a place called Rings-end, she loseth herself in a bay of the sea, which is called Dublin haven. With the help of the flood, ships of fifty and threescore tunns can make a shift to come up to the key of Dublin, but when the tide is out, and at the lowest, the smallest boats find hardly water enough to go between Dublin and Rings-end, because the channel being very broad there, the water spreadeth it self too much, and by reason thereof groweth very shallow. But in the city it self, where she is inclosed betwixt the keys on both sides, and from the bridge of Dublin until the bridge of Kilmainham, and a little further, being somewhat more than a mile (in which space she runneth between her own banks) great boats may go upon her at any time. She would be navigable with boats some three or four miles further, but the weres, made in her a little way above the bridge of Kilmainham, do hinder that. This river taketh her beginning in the mountains lying to the south of Dublin, not above ten miles from it, but fetcheth such a compass (bending her coast first to the west, afterwards to the north, and lastly, for seven or eight miles, eastward) that from her original to her mouth is the space of no less than forty or fifty miles.

The Boyn, the river whereon Tredagh is seated, hath her beginning in King's county, close by the original of the Barrow, although the place where the Barrow falleth into the haven of Waterford, is above fourscore miles distant from the mouth of the Boyn. This river is almost of an equal bigness in far the greatest part of her course, and would be portable of good big boats very many miles into the land, if that were not hindred by the weres.

Of the Bann and Blackwater.

THE principal river in Ulster of those that fall directly into the sea, is the Bann, the which as in her mouth, she is incumbred with several inconveniencies, as we have declared above in the third chapter, so she is portable but a few miles from the sea, because of a certain rock, the which running across the channel from the one bank to the other, stoppeth all manner of passage, not only of bigger vessels and barks, but of the smallest boats, which dare not come near the same rock, because it being somewhat high, and the water from it falling downwards with great violence, it goeth for some space with a mighty current. This rock or cataract, called vulgarly the salmon-leap (for a reason hereafter to be declared) and the fall, because of the falling down of the water, is not above


four miles from the sea, hindring all manner of communication between the same and Lough Neagh, from the which this cataract is distant about three miles: whereas otherwise, if the passage of this river from the sea to the lough were open, ships might by that means go a great way into the land, not only the whole length and breadth of Lough Neagh (which every where is very deep, and navigable even for great ships) but even a good many miles farther (with good big boats) by means of some rivers that fall into it, especially the Blackwater, which is the principallest of them all. For the Bann, although she giveth the name to the river going out of the lough, is not comparable to the Blackwater for breadth nor depth, being rather a brook than a river, the which being very shallow at other times, doth rise so excessively upon the falling of much rain, that it is one of the most dangerous and terrible brooks of all Ireland, in the which therefore from time to time many men and horses have been drowned at the passing of it.

Of the Lagon and Newry-water, Tide Rivers.

BESIDES the Bann and the Blackwater, there is scarce any other river in Ulster, but that which passing by Strabane and Londonderry, dischargeth itself into Lough Foyle. For the Lagon, heretofore mentioned by us, which by Belfast falleth into the sea, the Newry water, whereof we have spoken in the description of Carlingford haven; and some others of that nature, are properly brooks, and not portable by reason of their own water, but of that which out of the sea floweth into them; as appeareth clearly when the tide is out. For then they are as small, and as little portable in those places, where the boats and bigger vessels do pass at high water, as are they at all times in those places unto which the tide doth never reach which kind of tide rivers or brooks, which only by the coming in of the tide are made navigable for a little way, are to be found in all the provinces of Ireland.

Of the Cataracts in the Irish Rivers.

BESIDES that the navigable rivers are but rare in Ireland, and that the most part of them are only portable of very small vessels and boats, not of any bigger ships or barks, as appeareth by the former relation, there be very few rivers, who have not some impediment or other in them, whereby it cometh that they are not portable so far as otherwise they would be. These impediments are chiefly three in number, cataracts, weres, and fords; whereof the last two do only concern the lesser rivers. The first, to wit, the cataracts, are incident to the greatest rivers as well as to others, as may appear by what we have said concerning them in the description of the Shannon and the Bann; whereby also fully may be conceived the manner and nature of the said cataracts, so as it is needless here again to delineate them.

Such a cataract or fall there is found in the Liffy, seven miles from Dublin, and about a quarter of a mile above the village and castle of Leslip, the description


of which as holding it not improper for this place, we shall here set down as it came to our hands from those who have observed it very exactly. The said river running thereabouts along a narrow and deep valley, being hemmed in at both sides with high hills of a long continuance, hath a very rocky channel, and besides that the bottom is overspread in several paints with great massy stones, there is in two or three places, at no great distance, a continual rocky bulk reaching from one side to the other, leaving but one or two narrow passages, through which the stream runneth with a very strong current, and a mighty noise, but the third and last bulk, like a cataract hath the channel close to it, a great deal lower (by far more than the other, at least by seven or eight feet) which is the cause that the stream doth not so much run swift here, or passeth with a current through narrow channels, as in the two first bulks, but as soon as it is got over the rock it falleth steep down with great violence, the space of three or four paces in breadth, whereas the remainder of the main channel is altogether stopp'd by the said rock. ln winter and other very rainy seasons, when the water doth increase much, it passeth overall the said rocks smoothly and without noise, where the same is exceeding great, those times, when the Liffy runneth with a small stream.

There is also a cataract in a small tide river in the county of Cork in Munster, the which falleth into the innermost corner of the great bay Bantry, and one in the haven of Ballyshannon, which haven being in effect nothing else but the mouth of Lough Earn, commonly is counted for a river, and called by the name of Trowis.

Of the Fords in the Rivers of Ireland a second Impediment of their Navigableness.

CONCERNING the fords; it is to be observed, that not every where, where the high-ways meet with great brooks or small rivers, bridges are found for to pass them, but that in very many places one is constrained to ride through the water it self, the which could not be done, if the rivers kept themselves every where inclosed between their banks; wherefore they are not only suffered in such places, to spread themselves abroad, but men help thereto as much as they can, to make the water so much the shallower and consequently the easier to be pass'd, whereby it cometh many times to pass, that a river which above and below the ford is deep enough to be portable of great boats, through the shallowness of the fords lying between, will bear none but of the very smallest; or where otherwise the same would carry small boats is not portable at all, this in most places might easily be remedied, in raising of dikes or artificial banks, where the natural ones failing do minister opportunity unto the rivers for to spread themselves; and making bridges to pass over. Some fords, do not greatly impair the channel of the rivers, but leave the same almost in her full depth, especially in the midst: but the same, as they are more incommodious for the traveller, so they are not very frequent, but in far less number than the others.


Of the Weres, a third Impediment of the Navigableness of the Rivers in Ireland.

THE weres, a third let of the navigation of the Irish rivers, are thus ordered: they set up very big stones in the river, close together from the one side of the river to the other, leaving only one hole, either in the midst, or near one of the sides, before which hole a basket being laid, they take therein a great quantity of fish, for coming to the weres, and finding their way stopt by the stones, they take their course to that place where they find an opening. These rows of stones do not directly cross the river from the one side to the other, but do go very much sloaping, that the stream with less force may beat against them and the same also do stand but very little above the water, to the end that when the floods come the water may find a ready passage over them, without which they would not be able to subsist against the force thereof, but easily be thrown down and scattered.

Some weres are set up, not so much for the taking of fish, as for mills, that the course of the water thereby being in part stopped in the main channel, may be made to go into some little by-channel, cut expresly for to conveigh the water to the mill; many weres serving for both these uses jointly.

Some rivers have only one of these impediments, as the Shannon and the Bann, each a fall or cataract: the Boyn, weres, having only fords many miles from the sea. The greatest number have weres and fords, and commonly each of them in several places. Some have all three, as the Liffy by name, which hath not only weres and fords in several places, but also a cataract or salmon-leap, as hath been mentioned above.