The River Feale

The River Feale rises in the Mullaghareirk Mountains in Rockchapel, Co Cork, flows through Limerick into Kerry, finally emptying into the sea at the Cashen near Ballybunion.
It is a fast flowing spate river subject to flooding in persistent rainfall, large, deep fish holding pools dominate the river seabed. The final six miles is called the Cashen River.
The River Feale flowed past our land in Crough, the part of the river I knew best stretched from Finuge Bridge through Ballyhorgan, Ballintogher, Croughcroneen and Dysert. It separated us from the town land of Ennismore.
My first memory of the river was as a child in the 1940s. It had rained non-stop for two days and the water levels were rising dangerously, it was the spring tide. I awoke to great commotion, a houseful of neighbours, their bedding and clothing filed along the stairs. I was taken up to the gable window to Fairyland, all the houses below ours swimming in water, as was our river meadow. A weak sun had broken through a clear sky. The birds chirped noisily. Ten houses, families along with bedding, clothes, animals and fowl had been evacuated overnight, each to a different neighbour’s house. The
loss would have been greater if it had happened in the fall, but now the sheds were almost empty of hay, oats and barley and the cattle didn’t need to be housed apart from the pigs and fowl.
It was like carnival having all these people staying, the cooking and baking went on all day – two sittings for each meal. Then, at night-time, the kitchen filled up with ramblers, men telling stories or playing cards, women making tea. They counted their blessings and thanked God that no human or animal had been lost.
Soon the water subsided, the houses were whitewashed to remove the smell of stagnant water, cement floors scrubbed, windows opened and fires lit in all the rooms and the neighbours returned home.
From early March to the end of July the river was a very busy place, men tarring boats and fixing their nets for the salmon and trout season that started on March 1. They fished from both sides of the river. Most families had a share in a boat. My maternal grandfather built and repaired the boats. Depending on the tides the men could be out at 5am, or late at night. Fires were lit in shady spots; kettles were boiled amid much joking and hilarity, especially if there was a good haul.
My father didn’t fish, he gave over his fishing rights to another family in exchange for a couple of days saving the hay, or in the bog cutting turf and, of course, a few nice trout when they were plentiful. Other neighbours paid back in salmon and trout for other favours, like the service of the bull. I can still taste the freshness of those trout and salmon, fried on the pan in butter, with a drop of milk added to the juices to make a dip for the fresh bread and butter.
As teenagers we loved going for a walk along its banks on a Sunday afternoon, watching the young men mending their nets and repairing their boats. Sometimes they took us for a cruise down the river. It was a great place for budding romances as we sang songs like ‘Cruising down the River’on our illicit strolls.
The Cashen Drainage Scheme in the Fifties widened the river and drained the land. It also drained the social life from its banks. Progress is not a one-way street, you gain some, and you lose some.