THE campaign to save the unique Gearagh area of West Cork has gained the support of the European Parliament, according to one of the area’s strongest campaigners. Film director Declan O’Mahony said last week’s hearing before the European Council was a long time coming.
‘It has taken many years and hard campaigning against narrow-mindedness, lethargy and a total unwilling spirit by our local authorities,’ he said, ‘to re-visit this magical part of our dear county and river.’
O’Mahony’s film The River Runner was widely acclaimed and its subsequent campaign encouraged 3,500 people to sign a petition to ‘Free the Lee’.
‘We now have the support and scrutiny of the European Parliament,’ said the director.
He was speaking after Macroom native Kevin Corcoran of West Cork Ecology presented the plea to have Irish State authorities fully respect and obey the EU Habitats directive, relating to the most unique ecological area of the scenic river Lee, The Gearagh.
Declan says that thousands of age-old trees were chopped down in An Ghaoiradh (‘wooded river’) over a three-year period to safeguard the hydro turbines further downstream. ‘The greatest natural flood barrier on the river Lee was simply decimated and, in 1957, submerged under the still waters of a gigantic reservoir when 39 families were issued compulsory purchase orders and their homes and farmsteads were dynamited out of existence,’ he said.
‘Many of their children still mourn and feel the sadness and loss of their ancestral homes. The flourishing salmon, eel and trout runs that gave so many people in the upper Lee valley an income and annual injection of foreign tourists into this wonderful scenic river valley, was wiped out. Clear and simple, from 1957 the ancient salmon run on the lovely Lee was terminated.’
Declan says the campaign’s goal is straightforward. ‘We simply want to co-operate with the relevant authorities to tackle the obsolete barriers for migratory fish, evaluate the redundant hydro dam at Carrig an Droichead, put a proper professional management plan in place that enables, rather than hinders, wild fish migration and drop the water levels which is all it takes to allow the Gearagh to grow back to its natural state,’ he told The Southern Star.
‘With so many scientists studying environmental science in our universities there is no shortage of field study here on the Lee for many years to come. If you give nature half a chance she will come back in force. The wild atlantic salmon is no exception,’ he added.
Sinn Féin MEP Liadh Ní Riada said she welcomed the progress made in the European Parliament after its Petitions Committee gave the go-ahead for a petition seeking protection for The Gearagh.
’The Gearagh is a unique example of post-glacial, alluvial forests and is of international scientific and environmental importance,’ said Ms Ní Riada. ‘I look forward to meeting with all stakeholders in order to work out an implementation of a viable management plan for this special place. This is only the beginning. It is now time for all parties to come and agree on such a plan that will not have a negative effect on the Gearagh woodlands. This includes the ESB, the main land owner.’
She congratulated Kevin Corcoran on his ‘outstanding work defending this vital part of our natural heritage’. RTÉ’s Nationwide will feature the area on September 28th.