Liam Ó hUigín: The River Lee

Files

Title

Liam Ó hUigín: The River Lee

Subject

Liam OhUigín tells us about his childhood and how it relates to the River Lee. He tells us of all the areas he used to swim in along the river as well as events and some of the history of the river. Liam also discusses the potential future of the Lee including the proposed works [2017] to increase the height of the quay walls.

Description

Liam speaks of being born in Henry Street and that the River Lee flowed through his parish. He remembers learning how to swim just outside where the Mercy Hospital is. He says when they were a bit older they would go swimming a bit further away using their friend’s messenger bikes as transport. Inniscarra near a cemetery was one such place that was very popular to swim in. Another spot was called Hell Hole by the Angler’s Rest.
He recalls the water being green it was so dirty out by the Mercy and that they’d have competitions to see who could dive in and swim under the water the furthest. They’d also swim from the Mercy, down under Vincent’s bridge, down to the North Gate Bridge.
He tells us about the Lee Swim (or the Mile Swim) and how it was/is an annual event in June. The contestants would jump in by Wise’s bridge, just above Vincent’s bridge and swim down to below City Hall.
Liam remembers sewage coming out of the Mercy hospital into the Lee and that lots of mullet would gather at that pipe. He says they would fish there and it was very easy to catch them. He also remembers some more professional fishermen who would wait on Vincents bridge for the salmon to come and that they’d catch one and head off. Liam and his friends would sell the mullet to a local chipper for a tuppence each. They’d also catch the occasional eel.
He remembers going to Youghal on the Feast of Saints Peter and Paul (29th of June) when he was s boy and no matter what the weather they would have to go swimming.
Liam tells us about some of the history of Cork and how the old boundaries of the city were built by the Normans and that the areas outside those walls were referred to as the Western and Eastern Marshes. These were then claimed by the merchant princes though the areas were/are still colloquially known as The Marshes.

Liam recalls living in a tenement house with his whole family on Henry Street. He remembers a house, 25 Henry Street (now called Abbey House in 2017), and that 10 families lived in that house in his time. He was very close to the Lee. He remarks that the city only started expanding in a big way in the 40s and 50s and names a number of communities that weren’t really in existence before then.
Liam remembers Ford, Dunlop and Gouldings as businesses that employed thousands between them and laments that they are no longer in operation.
Liam speaks of the Innisfallen ship which sailed from Penrose Quay to Fishguard every Mon, Wed and Fri from 1948].
He speaks of many who would go and get work in the Dagenham Ford. Liam says they were called the “Dagenham Yanks” because of the finery they would arrive back to Cork wearing.
Liam tells us about the 3 dredgers that would come and clean the channel for the ships.
Liam recalls a regatta in Tivoli when he was younger. He also remembers a ferry down by Páirc Uí Chaoimh in the 50s.
Liam sings a few bars of “The Banks of my Own Lovely Lee”

Date

09 August 2017

Identifier

CFP_SR00630_ohuigin_2017

Coverage

Cork; River Lee; 1940s-2010s

Source

Cork Folklore Project Audio Archive

Rights

Cork Folklore Project

Language

English

Type

Sound

Format

.wav

Interviewee

Interviewer

Duration

80 minutes 39 seconds

Location

Cork Folklore Project Offices Farranferris.

Original Format

.wav

Bit Rate/Frequency

48kHz/24bit

Transcription

The following is a short extract from the interview transcript, copyright of the Cork Folklore Project. If you wish to access further archival material please contact CFP, folklorearchive@gmail.com

LOH: Most of the wide streets in Cork, the ships used to come up Patrick Street. And I mean they'd come up the North Channel, turn left now where the bridge is and come up Patrick Street and they'd come up then by where Argos is now. The Queens Old Castle there. But actually where the Queens Old Castle is was the Kings Castle and the Queens Castle was over by Castle Street. And the ships used to come up Patrick Street. There was a gateway there, that was another entrance into the city but it was through water let, the river. And the boats would go up Pana and up through the gate. And Castle Street was actually the Quay Side.

KM: And what period are we talking now?

LOH: Oh, the 1400s and 1500s

KM: But you have memories of ships and boats and things on the river from your own time?

LOH: I have. That used to come up. I mean, I can remember the Clontarf Bridge and the Brian Boru bridge going up and the ships actually coming up as far as Parliament Bridge. It used to open as well and the ships would come up onto Union Quay.

KM: So these were bridges that opened up to let ships go underneath them is it?

LOH: Exactly. Yeah. And just before, we'll go onto that, I just want to tell you that's where we got the Cork coat of arms from. The ship going through the two castles. That would be the ship coming up Patrick Street and going through the gateway by the Kings Castle and the Queens Castle.

KM: So the coat of arms then for Cork is based on the Lee?

LOH: Statio Bene Fide Carinis, a safe harbour for ships. That's the translation of it

Time Summary

0.00.00 - 0.04.02

Liam speaks of being born in Henry Street and that the River Lee flowed through his parish. He remembers learning how to swim just outside where the Mercy Hospital is when he was from 9-14 years old. He recalls the waste coming from the hospital would be in the water and that they would just push it to the side and swim on.

He says when they were a bit older they would go swimming a bit further away using their friend’s messenger bikes as transport. Inniscarra near a cemetery was one such place that was very popular to swim in. Another spot was called Hell Hole by the Angler’s Rest (in Carrigrohane), infamous for how dangerous it was with currents. Liam recalls hearing that a number of people drowning at that spot.

Liam describes again how they’d go swimming at the Mercy Hopsital.

0.04.02 - 0.09.04

The Lee Baths, the Pipe and the Weir

He remembers going the Lee Baths when he was about 11. There was one place where it was 4.5 ft deep which was deep for them at the time. The Lee baths according to Liam were open air baths made of concrete with separate baths of different depths, with a diving board at one. These were built on the banks of the Lee to the rear of where the Kingsly Hotel is now (2017). They had different days for girls and boys to attend the baths when he was a child.

They used to swim in ‘The Pipe’ (an area beside the Kinsgly where an underground pipe was just below the water) and in the weir just above the Kingsly which was very deep and you had to be a good swimmer for it. He says water comes over the weir continuously now. Just below the weir is where the Lee separates into the North and South channels according to Liam.

He tells a story of how he was in an open air hot bath with a friend in the Kingsly Leisure Centre and looking out into the pipe and remarking if anyone had told him when he was a child that he’d be sitting in a hot bath looking into the Lee he would have laughed.

[I’ve enclosed a picture in this file of the hot bath on top of the Kingsly Hotel and the view it provides for context]

0.09.04- 0.15.48

Lee Fields, Games and the Lee Swim

Liam recalls swimming in a place they called the sandy beach out by the Lee Fields on the side of the Corrighane (Straight) Road. He says that his parents wouldn’t have known where they were going most of the time. He remarks that in all the time he was swimming in the Lee in the 40s and 50s he never saw a girl swimming as well.

He recalls the water being green it was so dirty out by the Mercy and that they’d have competitions to see who could dive in and swim under the water the furthest. They’d also swim from the Mercy, down under Vincent’s bridge, down to the North Gate Bridge [note: this bridge was replaced by the Griffith Bridge in 1961 but still referred to by many as the North Gate Bridge in 2017], climb up the steps on the North Mall side and run down the whole way to do it again.

He tells us about the Lee Swim (or the Mile Swim) and how it was/is an annual event in June. The contestants would jump in by Wise’s bridge, just above Vincent’s bridge and swim down to below City Hall. Liam remembers various people who did the swim. He also recalls saying to his wife 7 or 8 years that he would try it himself as an adult but decided not to after hearing what was involved in applying

0.15.48 - 0.23.43

Liam remembers sewage coming out of the Mercy hospital into the Lee and that lots of mullet would gather at that pipe. He says they would fish there and it was very easy to catch them. He also remembers some more professional fishermen who would wait on Vincents bridge for the salmon to come and that they’d catch one and head off. Liam and his friends would sell the mullet to a local chipper for a tuppence each. They’d also catch the occasional eel.

He tells how they would catch the fish with no bait; by lowering a three pronged hook under the fish and yanking the line up. He speaks of the last time he swam in the Lee, 25 years ago down by Blackrock Castle but since the dam was built he reckons it would be too dangerous. Even still he sees youngsters swimming out there on a nice day.

He remembers going to Youghal on the Feast of Saints Peter and Paul (29th of June) when he was s boy and no matter what the weather they would have to go swimming.

0.23.43 - 0.31.01

The Marshes

Liam tells us about some of the history of Cork and how the old boundaries of the city were built by the Normans and that the areas outside those walls were referred to as the Western and Eastern Marshes. These were then claimed by the merchant princes though the areas were/are still colloquially known as The Marshes.

Liam recalls living in a tenement house with his whole family on Henry Street. He remembers a house, 25 Henry Street (now called Abbey House in 2017), and that 10 families lived in that house in his time. He was very close to the Lee. He remarks that the city only started expanding in a big way in the 40s and 50s and names a number of communities that weren’t really in existence before then.

0.31.01 - 0.42.32

Nature, Industry + Ships

Liam says that he used to have secret spots they called “planks” for the different things they’d pick up outside of the city i.e frogs, blackberries, holly. He remembers being told at school not to touch bird’s nests. He collected holly and ivy for Christmas and logs for bonfire night.

Liam tells us that when he got married in 1961 he remembers a big flood in Henry Street but he doesn’t remember there being one in that area before that, although the city centre did flood frequently. He tells us about the many streets that are just rivers covered over and that ships used to come up many of those streets including Patrick’s Street in the 1400s.

Liam tells us he remembers the Clontarf, Parliament and Brian Buru Bridges opening up and the ships going up onto Union Quay.

Liam remembers Ford, Dunlop and Gouldings as businesses that employed thousands between them and laments that they are no longer in operation. He remembers that the river down by the old docks wasn’t as wide as it is now and being brought down to watch the ships with his father.

He recalls going with his mother to the docks where his father worked and bringing stew or soup down to him. This is something many of the wives and daughters did according to Liam. Liam goes into some more history of the ships and bridges in Cork.

Liam speaks of the Innisfallen ship where he went to a soccer match in Swansea. [This was likely the 3rd ship bearing this name which sailed from Penrose Quay to Fishguard every Mon, Wed and Fri from 1948]. He speaks of many who would go and get work in the Dagenham Ford. Liam says they were called the “Dagenham Yanks” because of the finery they would arrive back to Cork wearing.

0.42.32 - 0.50.45

Lee Wall, Liam’s Youth and Ideas for Today

Liam tells us about the 3 dredgers that would come and clean the channel for the ships. He only recently (2017) submitted a suggestion to the “water crowd” [this is likely the Office of Public Works (OPW) in relation to the Lower Lee Floor Relief Scheme (FRS)]. He suggested dredging the riverbed so the water level would go down instead of building a wall which would obscure the river [the wall is part of a current plan to prevent flooding in the city area which there has been much controversy about].

He says he spent his whole youth between the Mardyke where they would play sports and the Lee Fields where they would swim. He speaks of Orchard Road and Jenning’s Wood (where in 2017 there is a car dealership) and how they would play various games in the wood.

Liam says that he thinks there could be pleasure boats on the Lee and that they should open a maritime centre to take tourists out onto the river. Another idea he had which he told to a councillor was the cover over a part of the river opposite City Hall and have a big plaza there with seats and flowers etc.

Liam recalls a regatta in Tivoli when he was younger. He also remembers a ferry down by Páirc Uí Chaoimh in the 50s.

0.50.45 - 1.00.57

Fishing + More Swimming Locations + The Dam

Liam recalls a number of fishing families that fished from the Lee and remembers one incident where 3 people died in an accident while fishing. People used to fish for salmon about as far as Blackrock Castle. He remembers the fishermen having a system for avoiding the bailiffs. He doesn’t remember any of them ever being arrested.

Liam says that some of those fisherman served a dual purpose as they would know the currents in the river and be able to help find bodies if someone fell in and drowned.

Liam lists off all the places he would go swimming including some he mentioned earlier in the interview. He recalls damming certain streams to make them deeper. He remembers that there were different gangs of boys from different areas. His gang was known as the 90s, but he remembers others like Broada (after Broad Street) and Grattana (presumably from Grattan Street). He recalls them all playing game against eachother.

Liam remembers the dam coming in and gradually people stopping swimming in the Lee as much because of how dangerous it is. He remembers a life guard in the Baths (known as the Brown Bomber) but no such life guards anywhere else; this would have made swimming quite dangerous.

He recalls that the dam also interfered with the fishing somehow and that lots of places flooded as well. He says the Gearagh in Macroom is one such place. Liam says that for him the Lee ended at Blackrock Castle.

1.00.57 - 1.13.38

Memories + Hopes for the Future + The Maltings

Liam says when he hears the song “The Banks of my Own Lovely Lee” that he gets very emotional because it references many things he would have done in his childhood. He says he would have heard it for the first time when he was 15 at a Munster final match. He says he doesn’t think that the youngsters nowadays would relate to it at all.

Liam says he thinks the Lee should be more utilised. He recalls reading in the paper that someone was planning to have a boat moored on the Lee that people could rent rooms in to stay the night.

Liam says that barges would go up the Lee at high tide and stop above these wooden planks (which are still visible) so that when the tide went out they would be resting on those planks. He remembers seeing barley and the like being unloaded for the maltings.

He remembers walking to St. Josephs’s school when he was younger and on the way looking into the maltings watching the men turning the barley with shovels.

Liam remarks at how the current generation have everything at their fingertips in terms of information.

Restricted content: 1.12.55 - 1.13.38

1.13.38 - 1.20.39

Liam speaks of various photographs he’s received over the years in relation to the Lee. He says that we have a lot to be thankful for from the British i.e the quay walls, although some are in a “bad state”.

He remarks at how difficult it must have been to construct things like that in those times. He also says that it’s impressive that people got on so well in those days with so little.

He remembers the floods in 2009 down by the Mercy Hospital and says something has to be done to prevent further damage. Liam’s only problem with the proposed walls is the height of them. He remembers the Mardyke and its beauty before there was traffic and before the elm trees had been cut down.

Liam sings a few bars of “The Banks of my Own Lovely Lee”. Interview ends.