The River Blackwater, at 120kms long, is the second longest river in Ireland after the Shannon. An extremely scenic river, it is often known as the ‘Irish Rhine’. The river rises in the Mullaghareirk Mountains which incorporate the area known as Sliabh Luachra – the traditional name for a mountainous region on the borders of North Cork and Kerry world famous for its unique traditional style of poetry, music, song and dance. The river has a humble and simple birthplace, but as it progresses to the sea, it becomes a majestic waterway famous for being one of the best salmon fishing rivers in the country.
After a short southerly course the river turns sharply towards Rathmore and then enters Co Cork near Millstreet, and passes close to Kanturk where it is joined by the river Allow. It continues to the town of Mallow where it is joined by the Clyda before flowing on to the villages of Killavullen, Ballyhooley, and then to Fermoy where the Blackwater has its first weir. Just below Fermoy, the Funchion and Araglen tributaries join the main channel and at this point the river has become slower flowing, wide and deep. Further down the river passes close to historic Lismore Castle and on to Cappoquin, where it turns due south and becomes tidal before joining the sea at Youghal.
The river Blackwater is a Salmonid area and is a special of conservation (SAC). It is world famous for its salmon angling and there are nine trout angling clubs spread along its length. Many of the salmon fisheries along the river are privately owned and are leased out to syndicates over the fishing season. The lower end of the river from Lismore to Youghal where it enters the sea is owned by the Duke of Devonshire who also owns Lismore Castle on its banks. Well known soccer legend Jack Charlton regularly visits Ballyhooley to do some angling on the Blackwater. The Blackwater is also a delight for coarse anglers, with good stocks of roach, dace, perch and pike especially around Fermoy and Mallow where international events are held.
Ancient oak forest on the banks of the tidal reaches between the confluence of the river Bride and Youghal provide a haven for wildlife and it was in these woods on the Blackwater estuary that the first Little Egrets bred in Ireland in 1997.
The river is only navigable in the tidal reaches from Youghal to Cappoquin and is not connected to any other inland waterway. Therefore boating and cruising activity on the river is minimal, especially above Cappoquin. It is well used by rowers and canoeists however. Fermoy has one of the oldest rowing clubs in the country, established in 1884, and had two members represented Ireland at the last Olympic Games.
During her historic visit to that club in June of this year, President Mary McAleese had these wise words to say in an interview with the local paper The Avondhu, about rowing on the Blackwater and the careful use of our waterways:
“Rowing is one of those wonderful sports that is very gentle on the water, it leaves no marks. Most people who use the inland waterways know how important this environment is but we must remember that we are only guests in the environment so we have to ensure that whatever we do, we must make sure it is done with a sense of care and a view to our children’s future. It is this sense of stewardship that the wonderful Fermoy Rowing Club has maintained over the last 126 years and I am sure that they and the other river users will ensure that the Blackwater will be safe for future generations.”
The Blackwater has had it problems over the years with pollution, and unfortunately this included several serious fish kills, including in Fermoy in May 1991 where a thousand fish were killed and Mallow where the ecology of 6 miles of river length was destroyed, which included a significant number of freshwater pearl mussel (Margaritifera margaritifera) the population of which has not recovered.
The Blackwater is under threat from a variety of sources, including run-off from intensive agriculture, especially in the well known agricultural area known as the Golden Vale. Nutrient run-off, sedimentation and acidification from forestry also put pressure on the river further up its reaches, where substantial areas of the catchment are under coniferous cover.
Up until recently, the level of treatment of sewage being discharged to the river Blackwater was low, leading to significant pollution. This is in the process of being addressed by Cork County Council, with the welcome upgrade of the sewage treatment plants in Fermoy, Mallow and Banteer in recent years.