Making a living on the river from Innishannon to Kinsale

Posted on: 11th December, 2017

Category: Features

Contributor: West Cork People

Above: Local fishermen pulling in a haul at Collier’s Quay

Mary Nolan O’Brien and her brother Bill arrive on a sultry July afternoon at the local beautiful little port of Kilmacsimon, only a short distance down river from where they live.  The purpose of their journey is to encompass the memories of Neilus Keohane, former fisherman and boat owner, and now captain of the local Keohane’s Bar.  As they wait for a torrential July thunder shower to abate, the siblings agree, as they have often done before, on how lucky they are to live near this little haven – an under-discovered gem, on the River Bandon, between the neighbouring villages of  Ballinadee and Innishannon. When the rain eventually stops, Mary and Bill take the short hop through Keohane’s open, inviting doorway.

Neilus, as always, calm and serene, obliges with his memories of fishing the river writes Mary Nolan O’Brien.

This article also features in the Innishannon Candlelight.


Neilus fished the river in the late forties, on a boat owned by his father, Denis. He reminisces that there were 58 boats fishing from Innishannon to Kinsale at that time. The licence fee per boat was £4.00 Of the 58 boats, eight fished at Colliers Quay. There were twelve from the Old Gully Bridge to Kinsale. He recalls crew members Dan Joe Kelleher, Jim Murray, Dave McCarthy (Jack McCarthy’s uncle) and Mike Walsh, Shipool, as well as his father Denis and himself. Mike Walsh lived in Dr. Whelpy’s Lodge. This is now the property of Mrs. Elizabeth Murphy. Neilus jokingly says that Dave McCarthy was well known for his wit, and claimed he could see a salmon coming around the Old Head, such was his knowledge of the river.

At that time there were boatloads of fish being caught in the river.  Neilus recalls the Coughlan family in Kilmacsimon. He points out the third house where they lived. There was Tim, Danny and Kate Coughlan in Kilmacsimon. The rest of the family immigrated to the US. The last of those in Kilmacsimon died in 1963. Neilus remembers that “they had so much money from fish, they drank brandy for sport”.

He goes on to describe the many moods and the people of the river. He recalls Keohanes, Horgans, Galvins, Dick Sweetnam and Murphys fishing the same stretch of river. He recalls Joe Deasy’s father (Shipool) saying one haul at Codhole would pay for the farm they had in Knockroe. That farm was later purchased by Batty Lynch’s father. It is now owned by John and Joanne Lynch.

He describes the various areas of the river from Colliers Quay to Kilmacsimon, different stretches of the river were known to the fishermen as The Polcum, The Castle, The Loop, Pewter Hole, the Lyng  and Kilmacsimon Quay. Further down there was The Cortha, Kilgobbin Castle and the Gulley Bridge.    

The conversation moves down river to the area known as the Cortha; just outside Ballinadee near Peafield. There were four boats fishing at the Cortha. Two at the Corrigeen near Kilgobbin Castle.

Neilus also remembers a number of times when the river gave up the bodies of people who chose a “watery grave”. He can recall being part of the search for missing people and he recalls one occasion when the sheave and candle came down with the river and stopped over the spot where a body lay.  He also recalls the fishermen collecting a missing body in a haul at Colliers Quay.

Billy Nolan and Neilus reminisce about a week in 1963 when Keogh’s boat, with a crew made up of Jim Murray, Jerh Kearney, Billy Nolan, and Dan Keohane, (Keogh) got 57 salmon for the week, 26 of which were caught in one day. That week brought in the grand total of £28.10, which was one eight share. This was considered serious money in the early 60s. To put it in perspective, a day’s labouring on a farm would bring in £1.00

Neilus talks about the people who maintained the industry locally. Jack Deasy, Postmaster Kilmacsimon Quay, would make the nets. Jack was a larger than life character. His opinion of high office is as valid today as it was fifty years ago. He would regale that “It’s up there (Dublin) all the mistakes are made”. Some things do not change with time!

Mikie Nagle would mount the net, which means putting the net on the rope. Neilus has a needle on a shelf, a simple timber implement, 100-years-old, which was so essential to keeping the fishing industry working efficiently on this river. Corks were attached to the rope with hemp, and lead pipe put on the footrope to keep the net weighed down. The lead was set six foot apart.

The conversations shifts to Cargo Ships that came to Kilmacsimon. The names and dates of their arrival are hanging framed in the bar. The unloading of these ships was work, which often dovetailed with the fishing. Neilus recalls the visit of the Tyronnel, the boat that took pit props to Wales. He says the crew of the Tyronnel drank the most porter of any crew ever. He laments the way of life that worked hand in hand, the fishing and the cargo boats, both gone forever. Net fishing on the River Bandon is now but a memory.

The last year that Keohane’s boat operated on the river was 2005. There was less than a dozen fish caught for the season. The licence fee for the season that year was €186.

There used to be a living here from this river that runs deep and wide. Industry, factory ships, questionable decisions in high office, the change in living patterns, pollution by way of plastics being deposited to the river and rivers all over Ireland, collectively they have contributed to the end of salmon fishing as a way of life in this beautiful place

Life and times move on, but not always for the better. The rivers and oceans of the world have become a graveyard for the used plastic of this generation. It is now at last becoming the focus of those concerned about the earth and the oceans. But is it too little too late? We now realize that plastic has become the biggest killer of mammals of all sizes. Neilus with the wisdom of a lifetime living on the river expresses a wish to see plastic banned during his lifetime. Neilus is ahead of his time.

Over eight million tons of plastic are dumped in our oceans every year. Earlier it was assumed that the oceans so vast and deep would consume the effect of trash and litter, and only have minimal consequences. However, now oil spills, toxic waste, floating plastic and various other factors have contaminated our seas. 1.4 billion pounds of trash per year enters the ocean. Plastic does not breakdown. Over one million seabirds are killed by pollution each year. Three hundred thousand dolphins die as a result of getting entangled in discarded fishing nets.  One hundred thousand small mammals are killed from ocean pollution each year.  Only recently with the discovery of micro beads in dead mammals has the world sat up and taken notice of the harm plastic waste is causing.

Neilus and Billy have put on record a way of life that existed in their lifetime, but regretfully will not be part of life for future generations.

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