A History of Fishing on the Erne
"The Kildoney Men's Case"
Thanks are due to Mr. Paddy Donagher, compiler of the "Donegal Bay
Angling Guide", for permission to reproduce the following excerpts titled
"A History of Fishing on the Erne":
The Gaelic Period - up to
The English or Private Ownership
The Public Period 1933
1. The Gaelic Period
The River Erne had a countrywide reputation for salmon. Internationally,
O'Donnell, Chieftain of Donegal, was known as the "King of the Fish".
This was because of the Erne salmon and the Killybegs fishery. When
Abbey Assaroe was set up between 1179 and 1184 the monks got important
fishing rights on the Erne which extended right up to Broad Lough on
Lower Lough Erne, and at Assaroe Falls, from O'Donnell, who was patron of
the Abbey. Fish were so plentiful at this time that they were exchanged
for wine from foreign merchants.
2. Private Ownership Period
After 1603 the fishery was divided up between a few people. Quite
quickly, Folliott of Ballyshannon bought out everyone so that he had
almost sole ownership. The Folliott estate was bought by Connolly in
1718. Connolly was a Ballyshannon man who made good. He was a famous
lawyer. His fame was so great that he was able to end a long dispute
with Caldwell of Belleek over eel weirs on the river. Caldwell was
afraid of Connolly's power as a lawyer and so he let Connolly have his
say on the river.
During this time there were cases of tenants being challenged about
taking or killing fish on the Abbey River. Many tenants had it written
into their leases that they would not interfere with the fish.
R. L. Moore and partners bought the fishery from the Connolly estate
about 1867. They developed angling on the river and worked the Falls
and the estuary. This system lasted right up to the construction of the
power stations, and from this project came the eventual destruction of
the river and its salmon population. So ended this period of of this
once proud "King of Rivers".
3. Public Period
Action instigated on or about 15th February 1928 against landlordism
control of the river was taken by the Attorney General and the following
named people. This action is still known as the " Kildoney Men's Case.
They were Francis Coughlin, Patrick Coughlin, John Clancy, John Daly,
Michael Daly, Alexander Duncan, Richard Davis Jnr., Charles Furey, James
Furey, Hugh Gavigan, John Gavigan Snr., John Goan, Patrick Goan, William
Goan, Gerald Gillespie, James Gillespie, John Gillespie, Patrick
Gillespie, Charles Gillogley, James Gillogley, Joe Grimes, Bernard
Holland, Patrick Haughey, William Hilly, James Keenan, Joseph Keenan,
Michael Kennedy, William Kennedy, Hugh Mooney, William Morrow (Legs),
William Morrow, John Mulhartagh, Michael Mulhartagh, Alex McCafferty,
John McCafferty, Red John McCafferty, Patrick McCafferty, Darby
McGroarty, Frank McNeely, Tom McNeely, Michael McPhelim, William
Phillips, James Scanlon.
Judgement was delivered in favour of the above named gentlemen and the
Irish Government on the 31st day of July 1933, thus opening the River
Erne to public use.
Mr. Donagher's narrative is particularly valuable in that it gives the
names of the 41 people who joined with the Attorney General in the legal
battle to restore ownership to the people of Ireland. If not already
done, their names are worthy of inscription on a heritage plaque to
remind present and future generations of the role they played in an
historic case that provides much material for future scholarly research.
The 75th anniversary of the launching of their legal proceedings will
take place in 2003.
All their names appear above. One name is missing, that of the Attorney
General, whose story may interest both Irish and Canadian readers.
John A. Costello was his name. He was Attorney General from 1926 to 1932.
In later years he was elected a member of Dáil Éireann, and served as
Taoiseach (Prime Minister) for two periods, 1948-1951 and 1954-1957.
Costello was a distinguished lawyer and forceful speaker. And he will
always be remembered for passage of the Republic of Ireland Act during
his first term as Taoiseach. That was in 1948, twenty years after
mounting the challenge to private ownership of the Erne fishery.
The Canadian Connection
Until 1948, under a piece of legislation known as the External
Relations Act, the King of England played a peculiar role in what,
seemingly, was an independent Ireland.
All ambassadors to Ireland were
accredited to the Court of St James's in London. Costello's inter-party
government decided to repeal the External Relations Act, and Mr.
Costello made the announcement in Canada.
The circumstances prompting the announcment to be made in Canada were
On September 1, 1948, the Taoiseach was a guest of the Canadian Bar
Association in Montreal. His speech that day talked of "the
inaccuracies and infirmities" attaching to the External Relations Act.
As Prime Minister he was hosted at official dinners over the next few
days, both in Monteal and Ottawa. By design, or unintentional oversight,
his hosts proposed only a toast to "The King". It was a diplomatic faux
pas not to follow with a toast to "The President of Ireland".
It has since been claimed that the Taoiseach took personal umbrage at
the slight. Be that as it may, it confirmed the need to free his country
from the embarrassment of the External Relations Act, and on
September 7, at a press conference held in Ottawa, Canada's capital,
Mr. Costello confirmed that the act would be repealed, and in
consequence thereof Ireland was dissassociating itself from what was
then the British Commonwealth of Nations.
Later that year, the Republic of Ireland Act was passed and Ireland left
the British Commonwealth.
The one-time Kildoney fishermen's friendly Attorney General had come a
long way in twenty years.
Copies of the Donegal Bay Angling Guide, a project supported by Area
Development Management Ltd. and the Combat Poverty Agency through the
European Union Special Support Programme for Peace and Reconciliation,
may be ordered online through the
Donegal Bay web site.
An aerial view of the Erne estuary appears on the cover.
Footnote: From my experience as newspaper reporter and later official
Dáil reporter I can confirm Mr. Costello's forthright manner of speech.
The causes he espoused could scarcely have had a more powerful advocate.
| Canadian Vindicator