The River Ilen runs through the heart of West Cork like an artery. Coming down the slopes of Nowen Hill and Mullaghmesha Mountain, it flows from Castledonovan to Drimoleague and Skibbereen where it dissolves into the Atlantic at Baltimore.
The river has been providing clean water for people, animals and the land for many centuries, and still is today. This unspoiled river harbours a healthy habitat for a wide variety of wildlife, such as kingfishers, herons, otters, lamperns, fresh water mussels, sea trout and salmon. The Ilen has a reputation for being one of the best and most scenic salmon rivers in Ireland. For more than fifty years the River Ilen Angling Club has played a major role in the conservation of the river in conjunction with farmers and Inland Fisheries Ireland, which many will remember as the Central Fisheries Board. Over the years the Club has always been proactive in trying to improve and develop the river as a community asset. To that end, the Club commissioned a scientific survey of the river under the stewardship of Dr. Paddy Gargan of the Central Fisheries Board in 1992 to assess how it was performing and to help set out an enhancement programme for the future. A follow-up survey was done by Dr. Willie Roach, also of the CFB in 1997. As a result of the recommendations made in these two reports, several thousands of hours of voluntary work were carried out, mainly in clearing obstacles to the Salmons’ migration, improving spawning beds and nursery areas, as well as providing better access for angling with stiles and ladders. The River Ilen Angling Club also publishes maps and brochures for tourist promotion.
One of the recommendations of the surveys was to allow access to a potentially excellent stretch of spawning water that was upstream of an impassable falls on the Dromore River near Aughaville on the road to Bantry. This was a huge undertaking, as steps had to be cut out of the rock in the form of small pools to allow the salmon to move upstream. The Department Engineers with the help of the South Western Fishery Board were instrumental in ensuring its completion. Following the construction of the fish-pass, salmon fry were transplanted above it so as to get things started. In 1996-1997 the RIAC also facilitated a supply of River Ilen salmon to the RHINE 2000 project (the restocking of salmon into the River Rhine). This resulted in over 450 salmon returning to the Rhine for spawning in 2007 after having been declared extinct in the river since 1954.
Another important development by the Club came with the opening of the Disabled Anglers’ Stand at Ballyhilty Bridge. The stand was originally the idea of Mr. Derry O’Donovan of Castlehaven who, as the owner of the piece of land on which it was subsequently built, suggested to the Club that it would be ideal for such a worthy project. It took over twelve months to complete . Precise plans had to be drawn up so as to get the correct gradient for wheelchairs. Extensive rock breaking was necessary, as well as landscaping and the provision of safe parking. The cutting of the tape was very fittingly done by Mr. Brian Crowley, MEP. Access to the stand is free of charge to disabled anglers who are provided with a club ticket so as to comply with insurance requirements. This cover is provided through our national body – The Federation of Irish Sea-trout and Salmon Anglers (FISSTA) and is very comprehensive, as it includes personal accident, employers’ and public liability. However, it is essential to have a valid, completed and paid-for members’ card or period ticket to be covered before entering Club waters.
Over the years, the river has provided many pleasant days, both peaceful and exciting, not only to local anglers, but also visitors and tourists. Research has shown that every salmon caught by a tourist is worth between €1000 and €2000 to the local economy in terms of what an angler would spend whilst on holiday. This makes the River Ilen a very valuable asset in helping to encourage tourism to the region.
At the moment the River Ilen Anglers Club is replacing and building new stiles, ladders and handrails along the river to improve safe access for both young and old. Clearing work and sensitive tree pruning has also been carried out to improve access and promote enjoyment of time spent by the river. To get sufficient funding for this, the Club is organising a raffle in the coming months.
Thanks to the work done by many members, farmers and Inland Fisheries Ireland Officers, the Ilen stayed open for angling during the difficult years of the early part of the century (in contrast to many other rivers in the country), and the Angling Club has seen a steady increase in catches of salmon and sea trout since the ban of the drift nets in 2007. Indeed the government quota of these fish available for anglers to catch is higher than any other river in West Cork including the Bandon River. It is surely an indication of the health and quality of the Ilen.
The River Ilen Anglers Cub welcomes visitors but is keen to encourage local fishers to enjoy a valuable resource right on their doorstep. The club has experienced members who are happy to get beginners started and point those new to the river in the right direction.
For information on the River Ilen Angling Club visit www.riverilenanglersclub.ie or contact the secretary Steve Rourke on 087-3146077 or firstname.lastname@example.org