Ballyshannon at the Crossroads
It is not often that an entire community
has a chance to rectify the mistakes of preceding generations.
Ballyshannon, a town which did not have a choice in the planning of its
future before the construction of the Erne hydro-electric scheme in the 1940s, now
has the opportunity to demand that its inhabitants be consulted before another
major environmental disaster, almost seventy years later, becomes a fait accompli.
The destruction of a major salmon fishery, the loss of a scenic river, the
unnecessary demolition of a national heritage, namely the Falls of Assaroe, and
the decades-long adverse economic consequences, can be partially offset by the
present generation if it unites in support of a well prepared plan to create
what in effect will be a new River Erne tributary, designed to restore a natural
water course for the annual salmon migrations, and providing the means for a
totally new Falls of Assaroe, all of which are environmentally friendly and
To help achieve the purposes briefly outlined in the preceding paragraph, one
overriding factor will be the unity of the townspeople. And that unity is
beginning to emerge in the opposition being vociferously expressed to a highway
project that would hurt Ballyshannon for many more decades to come, if allowed
to be implemented.
Ballyshannon has suffered more than most towns of its size at the hands of
planners far removed from its daily life, its friendly culture, its historical
significance. Following the three-year prosperity during construction of the
Erne Scheme, it was allowed to sink slowly into economic decline, even to the
extent that it was labelled "the town that Ireland forgot".
Its two railway systems were abandoned, its fishery neglected, its young were
once more forced to emigrate. Its dried up river bed became an eyesore. Only
recently has the ESB begun a belated and inadequate attempt "to beautify" the
scars it itself created.
What is the remedy?
Planners in far away places propose a by-pass road. In actuality, what they
propose is a through-pass road, one that ignores the concerns of the townspeople
who point out that, instead of by-passing the town, it cuts right through
population centres, severing them in two.
What is required in similar instances is a feasible alternative. Saying no is
not enough. Dispute resolution requires the study of alternatives, and in this
case "Vindicator.ca" is privileged to place both plans
before a concerned public in graphic form as shown in the maps below.
The first was prepared by Donegal County Council and shows the route of the proposed by-pass/through-pass. This map shows the route of the proposed road.
Click for larger image
Click for larger image
The second map above captures the essence of the alternative proposal. There is one major
difference. Where the first map shows the proposed by-pass road being driven
over the bed of the Erne, the second shows a new tributary entering the tailrace
at the exact same spot, "which is the perfect site to reconstruct a natural
waterfall similar in height to the Falls of Assaroe."
Whence comes the sources of this new tributary? From the pent up waters of
the Erne itself, portion of which initially seeped into Lough Bracken even
during construction of the Erne Scheme, which Cementation endeavoured to plug by
pumping cement into numerous limestone fissures. There is a pump house presently
at the site.
From Lough Bracken a connecting channel will link with Sminver Stream and
thence into the tailrace. To those of us from an earlier generation of townsfolk
Sminver Stream was known as Neelys Brook.
The foregoing encapsulates in lay terms what is at stake. For Ballyshannon
the choice is cleara by-pass/through-pass road splitting the town, with social,
economic, health and environmental impacts, or the rehabilitation of the River
which the town once was famous, and from which it benefited not merely for
decades but for thousands of years.
The re-routing of the proposed by-pass/through-pass road is an imperative. So
too is unity of support for the new Erne and the new Assaroe. Ballyshannon is at
a crossroads in its history. Let its people be guided by that history and the
knowledge of what they have already lost.
"When one considers that half a century ago a 1,500 yard long tailrace was
blasted to 30 feet below bedrock, then to excavate a connecting channel to link
Lough Bracken with the natural drainage channel and continue the flow of water
downstream makes good ecological sense."
The above quotation is taken from a letter written by Paul M. Rohleder of The
Mall, Ballyshannon, in March of this year, outlining the alternative plan. That
plan needs the backing of environmentalists worldwide.
Click for larger image
The white X on this aerial view of Ballyshannon marks the spot where the Sminver Stream, otherwise known as Neely's Brook, emerges froma pair of culverts and falls into the tailrace.
The publication of this article happily coincides with the launch of a newly designed website linking Canada and Ireland. Mr. Rohleder has extensive knowledge of river rehabilitation in Canada,
particularly in British Columbia, one of its most beautiful provinces.
| Canadian Vindicator