A River’s journey
The headwaters of the River Barrow are high in the Slieve Bloom Mountains in County Laois from where it tumbles down Glenbarrow to be joined by the Glenlahan River. It then flows eastwards towards the Quaker town of Mountmellick, once renowned for its linen industry, and is joined by the Owenass River. The Barrow next visits Portarlington, a former Hugenot settlement and continues east to meet its next tributary, the Figile River and then turns southwards to flow through Monasterevin, a town of many bridges. From here the river travels parallel to the Barrow Line of the Grand Canal to Athy, where it joins the Barrow Navigation. The Barrow Navigation permits boats, of relatively shallow draught, to navigate the river from Athy to Waterford Harbour, or indeed to go to sea. The River Barrow was made navigable by dredging a boat channel, or ‘boatstream’, out from the bank which carries a towpath, also known as the ‘trackline’. The navigation has 22 lateral canals or ‘cuts’, to carry boating past the shallows, and 23 locks between Athy and St. Mullins. Granite milestones once marked the distances from Athy on the downstream face and St. Mullins on the upstream face of each stone, many of which have disappeared, along the trackline that ends at the ‘Steamer Hole’, a former berth for steamer traffic that once plied upstream to St. Mullins. Downstream from Athy, the River Barrow passes through prosperous Carlow Town, historical Leighlinbridge and the Dinn Riogh where the Kings of Leinster were once crowned. On to Bagenalstown (Muinebheag) that had Versailles pretensions, industrious Goresbridge, the McMorrough Kavanagh stronghold of Borris, then to Tinnehinch/Graignamanagh and the beautiful Duiske Abbey, to St. Mullins and here the Abbey of Saint Moling and the burial place of the Kings of Leinster. Below the sea-lock at St. Mullins the River Barrow is tidal and flows between beautiful wooded banks to the confluence with the River Nore. Now a mighty river, it serves the inland port of New Ross then on to meet with the third of the Three Sisters rivers, the River Suir and into Waterford Harbour Estuary. From Cheekpoint to Passage East on the right bank, and Ballyhack and Duncannon on the left, by Creadan Head and out to sea between Dunmore East and Hook Head.
Pressures on the Barrow
The River Barrow is Ireland’s second longest river and flows through some of the most beautiful natural scenery Ireland has to offer. Too often this river has been viewed in terms of its industrial potential or for commercial exploitation with little consideration for the environmental impact on the whole river catchment. As with many of our rivers, it has a history of providing ‘drainage’ to many enterprises such as peat harvesting, agricultural wastes, industrial wastes and waste-water treatment plants. While in recent years some of the bigger industrial threats have lessened due to tighter regulation, municipal waste treatment, agricultural discharges and further reclamation of floodplains and wetlands are still ongoing and impacting on the ecology of the river. The built environment has impacted particularly on the river in recent years. Bad planning and developer exploitation of the river environment has led to encroachment onto the natural floodplains. This has led to serious changes in the river hydrology and morphology, the results of which have been experienced in recent flooding events and may further deteriorate with climate change.
Surface water drainage from housing developments poses an additional threat. Hard surfaces associated with these developments and road developments (M9) produce much run-off that previously would have been adsorbed by the soil in the area and this is drained to watercourses carrying nutrients, particulate matter and chemicals from gardening activity to enter the river system.
The River Barrow is a Special Area of Conservation (SAC) and relevant nature protection legislation must be complied with. Planning and Development controls must be applied by Local Authorities. Conditions attaching to developments must have regard to the biodiversity and the environment of the river. Local Authorities should establish rainwater harvesting and the retention of surface water runoff for domestic/gardening uses as community projects. Sustainable Drainage Systems (SuDS) policies should be developed and implemented by each Local Authority in the river catchment. Local Authorities and the Environmental Protection Agency regulate discharges to waterways and must assess each existing and subsequent discharges for impact on the river system. It is vital that the cumulative impacts of such discharges on the Barrow are taken into account when issuing discharge licenses and that the conditions of these licenses are revised as soon as possible to incorporate the more holistic requirements of the Water Framework Directive.
Waterways Ireland presently controls the Barrow Navigation and regulates boat traffic on that part of the river system. Boating management, type of boat, speeds, tie-ups, berthing, toilet pump-out and boating services must have regard for the river environment. River works to maintain the Navigation must do likewise. Inland Fisheries Ireland has statutory powers for the management of the River Barrow fisheries and is empowered to regulate fishing and angling activities on those fisheries. Maintaining the good health of the river, control of the invasion of alien fish species (dace, mitten crab and crayfish species), together with alien plant species, comes within this authority’s remit. Integrated planning and development and these considerations must be addressed in an integrated way as part of South East River Basin Management Plan. The existing River Barrow Drainage Board is a statutory body established under the Drainage Act and would be redundant within the RBD Management Plan. The Act establishing this body should be repealed as it has the potential to disrupt the implementation of the RBD Management Plan.