Pádraig Ó Duinnín: River Lee

CFP_PH00637_ODuinnin 2.JPG


Pádraig Ó Duinnín: River Lee


Life History: Macroom, Childhood, Meitheal Mara


Pádraig is one of the founders of Meitheal Mara and the Ocean to City race

Pádraig says he grew up in Coolcower, Macroom on a peninsula between the rivers lee and Sullane. He says it had a formative influence on his life. His father was a bus driver and his mother was a housewife. They were both from Irish speaking families. He went to school in Macroom. School didn’t agree with him at times. He says he’s been in and out of education since then. He trained for a while as a craft potter, he also worked as a labourer. He says he has a diploma in civil engineering and worked in civil engineering for 12 years and then started building Currach.

Spending his holidays in his youth in the Gearagh and Inchigeelagh and other places. How his family didn’t have anything to do with fishing or the sea so he wasn’t handed down any knowledge about that.

Was inspired to set up Meitheal Mara by a New England project helping marginalised kids build boats.

Pádraig talks about his experiences with the River Lee and the wildlife who live on it. He discusses some of the placenames associated with the river. He compares the maritime culture in Ireland to that of other European countries.


27 September 2017




Cork; Ireland; Macroom; 1950s - 2000s


Other Interviews with Padraig in the Archive


Cork Folklore Project Audio Archive


Cork Folklore Project


English, Irish








74m 23s



Original Format


Bit Rate/Frequency

24bit / 48kHz


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

KM: What are your hopes for the Lee then, for the futre and what would you like to see happen?

POD: I think it really is worth focussing on. It can be like what Kevin Corcoran has done and it continues in Europe and that's all gaining a bit of traction. And you have to be quite full on really to shift a whole mindset around, like even for myself from a civil engineering point of view I can understand the difficulty of having to just accept something like the environment or having to do substantial enough engineering works to alter something that was built and was built in good faith I suppose or in ignorance probably is a better way of putting it. But from any point of view it's understandable why it happened in a country starved of electricity and minimum need for it in a way. It also has a function protecting the city so there's a lot of things. Anything that can be done to allow the fish to go up and down and to mitigate the effect of the dam will alter the whole river. I think the growth of use of the river, it's blueways and all of that stuff is gaining traction and that will continue to develop. And there's more of the wildlife on the river. There's projects that are documenting the wildlife, there are artists involved in the wildlife, there are people making films about wildlife in the city. That's all making all of that valuable. And it's cleaner than what it was. It needs more cleaning, people on the water, experiencing that. That's the wish.

KM: What are the Blueways?

POD: Well, it's like blueways aren't necessarily on the water. Often they're just pathways that run along the banks of a river or along. So they're being developed all over the place now. It's usually on land. It's like greenspace, town planning and all of that, greenspaces would have been the big thing. And now the whole process has come around to realising the bluespace is also a resource.

Time Summary

0.00.00 - 0.09.00

Background and early life

Pádraig says he grew up in Coolcower, Macroom on a peninsula between the rivers lee and Sullane. He says it had a formative influence on his life. His father was a bus driver and his mother was a housewife. They were both from Irish speaking families. He went to school in Macroom. School didn’t agree with him at times. He says he’s been in and out of education since then. He trained for a while as a craft potter, he also worked as a labourer. He says he has a diploma in civil engineering and worked in civil engineering for 12 years and then started building Currach’s from about 18 or 19 years. He recalls getting toys his father made for Christmas. He says he lived in Marion terrace in Coolcower until he was 8 and then he moved to a cottage on an acre where they had a small farm. The bottom of their field bordered onto the lee and the Sullane was very close as well. A neighbour used to let him and his brother borrow a boat and the used to explore the rivers and lakes (phone rings at 4.14). He says he used to swim in the Sullane by the new bridge near the town. He says he didn’t do much fishing but his brother did a lot of course fishing. He recalls spying on German tourists the used to come and fish illegally with lights at night. He says that his brother and he used to go out in storms. They used to take two boats for the excitement to be out in a storm. He says his brother Tadgh has a big interest in the water he dives and swims and lifesaves.

0.09.00 - 0.21.40

Experience of being on the water and recollections of Cork City

Pádraig says when you’re on the water you are in a totally different place even if you are in the middle of the city. You are completely independent and in your own space. He says you have command of that space and you’re not part of the madding crowd, you are an independent entity on the water and that is very important and you are seeing the city from a different perspective as well it’s just a completely different relationship with the city. In Cork on both channels of the Lee you move between cityscape with big buildings and people and cars to woodland and natural greens surroundings. Pádraig says even with other people on the water with you, you’re part of a unique group and you’re separate from everything that is going on and that is a pleasant feeling. He says not that long ago there was a tremendous amount of activity on the river. The fishermen on Crosse’s Green and French’s Quay used to bring the local children for a row down the river. Pádraig said he came to Cork city in 1975 and then there used to be loads of boats on the south channel of the Lee. The Flynn’s on French quay were still fishing and there were drift fishing down the Marinas and Blackrock. Paddy Flynn and his brother William used to fish from French’s quay. He recalls there was a rowing club on the cold Quay called riverside. He says each club used to have its own regatta and they would draw huge crowds. One in Tivoli, Blackrock, St Finbarr’s rowing club was in French’s quay. It faded away gradually. . He says the wildlife penetrate the city through the waterways with otters and kingfishers. He says a a friend f his say an otter on a flooded road near Douglas St. when asked about the boats the Flynn’s used Pádraig says the were called yawls, they were carvel built smooth hull wooden boats. He remembers Paddy Flynn’s boats were blue or green. He recalls pleasure boat racing was big in the 50’s and before. He recalls one story of a race in Cobh and they were very competitive and one boat was too long so the people in the boat basically made the boat smaller themselves by moving the transom and sawing off the excess planks to make the boat within the race rules.

CFP NOTE: a transom is the surface that forms the stern of a vessel

0.21.40 - 0.36.20

Reflections on the Lee

Pádraig says the building of the dams had a huge effect on the Lee especially the Inniscarra dam and the pattern of the way the water is released and it had a huge effect on diminishing the salmon in the river. He says the dam affected the river from the city to Gougane on the ecology, the salmon, and on pearl mussels. He says the Lee was huge salmon river. The lack of flow had an effect on the ecology he believes. He also says rivers with dams smell different because the water is impounded. He says that the decapitated tree remind him of a Christy Moore more song about the destruction of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Pádraig is asked if he knows any folklore about the Lee and he says because it’s a delta and a network of rivers that it reminds him of the everglades. The stories about it were that it was a place where you could live undetected and people couldn’t get at you and for also making Poitín recalls a story from the 1700 to 1800 about a man who came over the hill into Macroom, he was a crack shot who shot out the candle in Lord Massey’s house. His name had Gearagh init. He grabbed an old woman and put her on his back so they couldn’t shoot him and he ran into the Gearagh and he got away. There is also another story of the guards raiding the Gearagh looking for Poitín. They hired a boat man to take them around. Pádraig says if you approach a place in the Gearagh and then approach it from a different point you would not know it was the same place. So the boatman led the guards on a merry dance, the boatman was actually the Poitín maker. He says there was a long history of sport fishing on the Lee for salmon. He says he has more interest in fishermen who fished for a living because they have a deeper connection to the river. Paddy Flynn could see fish going up the river when Pádraig couldn’t see anything. Pádraig says Paddy Flynn used to wander the city going from one place along the river to another on both channels and he thinks he used to follow what were actually formerly waterways around the city. The fishermen had their own culture, they hated the corporation, the never took dole. They also fished bodies out of the river. He recalls a story he heard off Paddy he thinks, a sea captain was pulled from the river dead and sat in the stern of the boat and the misjudged the bridge and the bridge hit him and knocked him back into the river and they fished them out again. The captain had a lot of money on him and it was handed back. They were honest except when it came to bailiffs. They could also know where a body would end up if they knew the time the person fell in because they knew the tides. Pádraig recalls an incident on Lough Mahon in the 50’s maybe, the changed the relationship to the sea a number of people drowned fishing and a lot of people said I don’t want my children doing this and it changed a lot of people’s connection to the water.

CFP NOTE: Gougane refers to Gougane Barra where the river Lee rises

0.36.20 - 0.53.00

Further connections to the water and Meitheal Mara

When asked by the interviewer is there still people today who have the connection to the water Pádraig says there are. He talks about a youngster who had a speed boat when he was 13 or 14 and hung out on the water he was different to people his age and Pádraig says he was a throwback. Also some of the fishermen who had savings got sailing boats “they wouldn’t be Yachties as such” but they are people who find a new way to be on the water. They still retain their culture he says. Pádraig is reminded in a previous interview that he said he would like to recreate the Marsh. He says he had completely forgotten it. He says he has an idea of a location. A little microcosm of nature and human interaction like the Marsh Arabs in Iraq and other locations around the world. When asked where the river finishes in his opinion he replies at Blackrock castle even there is seaweed before then. Pádraig is asked about founding Meitheal Mara he says he discovered boat building when he was nearly 40 and he’s been involved with Currach’s for ten years before that. Pádraig say’s French appreciate the boating culture and once people are on the water they are all the same. He also built one in the US and was told it had no context there and he should be building it in Ireland by Brion, the grandson of James Connolly. He says he had missions presented to him and he said it was easier to deal with the sate through organisations like FAS and individuals like Eammon Young who liked the idea and minimised the bureaucracy. As they were developing it they used people from west Kerry so the people from the city could encounter the Language and the songs and all that. That vision didn’t materialise as much as he hoped. He says the most marginal should get a chance to experience it. But there was always a mix of people which was important, people from a prison background mixing with people from a high professional level. When asked what make everybody the same on water he says it the culture of it. When you are at sea you are always being watched by other people who know the sae and the get angry if you don’t do the right ting and don’t respect the sea and put yourself in danger you are calling on other people to rescue you. He says there is a connection between people who know the sae and they are always looking out for each other. If a fisherman drowns, other fishermen from all over the country will come and search and search. Pádraig says he was involved with a member of a crew he rowed with recently drowned in Portugal and they were looked after in every way by everybody. Pádraig goes on to say the rules of the sea how power has to yield to sail or oar but he wouldn’t be putting himself in danger or putting loads of people in danger so they have to learn to in the harbour to respect the ships and not do foolish things. When they are rowing they sometimes get invited onto fancy yachts for gin and tonic because they are all people of the sea

0.53.00 - 1.14.23

Inspiration for Meitheal Mara

Pádraig. says there developed in New England a project helping marginalised kids build boats and it spread throughout the US. He also says you have to be impressed in the Basque country and Brittany in particular with how they value it. There is no real maritime history in Ireland the British took control of the seas very quickly. In Brittany every town had a boat building project going on building local community pride.

(55.45- 1.01.30 Discussions in Irish language)

Spent his holidays in his youth in the Gearagh, Inchigeelagh and another place [possibly sounds like Muncháin? Or Moncán?]. His family didn’t have anything to do with fishing or the sea so he wasn’t handed down any knowledge about that. Thinks that places names probably have some link with the river, but wasn’t able to think of any specific ones.

“An Capaillín Bán” was first song he was taught and it mentions the Gearagh but does not have much of a description of or references to the river. He quotes the lines:

“In Uíbh Laoghaire na nGaortha 'sea a chaith sise a saol, /

Níor fhás sí puinn riamh mar ba dhual di ó gach taobh dá gaol”

In Cúil Aodha/ Coolea there’s a strong connection connection with the River Sullane/ Abha an tSuláin [a tributary of the River Lee]. There’s an old idea that the River Sullane/ Abha an tSuláin takes a life (ie. kills someone/ someone drowns there) once every seven years and that it is the only male river in Ireland, the gender of the word in Irish is masculine.

Mentions that salmon is connected with poaching in the those areas around Cúil Aodha/ Coolea and Ballyvourney/ Baile Bhúirne.

Mentions a song which references the river. The song title is something like “Con Cronin's Boat” which was made out of the bonnet of a Beatle car. Say that they would write a song about anything at all like.


When asked what his hope for the Lee fro the future and what would he like to see happen he says if something could be done to let the fish go up and down the river to minimise the affect of the dam. The growth of blueways and the river is cleaner now and the return of wildlife is all good improvements. He explains that blue way are not always on water but are usually paths alongside the river and waterways. Pádraig recalls when a new bridge was being built at Lancaster Quay he says they say the plans for it and it was very flat and a barrier to navigation. There was a letter written to those in charge and a hump was put in it. Meitheal Mara has developed Corkum navigation and there is a map that tells you when the tides are right to circumnavigate the island of Cork (interruption for a phone call 1.06.46 - 1.07.25). Pádraig then goes talking about the lowest bridges in the city. He says Brian Boru and Clontarf bridges are the lowest, they used to be lifting bridges and on the south channel the bridge by the School of Comm [College of Commerce]. The older bridges with the arches are easier to navigate. He talks about Kevin Corcoran, he says a student of his won a young scientist award for a project on the Gearagh which is one of only 4 inland deltas in the world. Pádraig says Kevin Corcoran has been engaged with protection it both on a personal and scientific level for over 30 years. There has been a film made called River Run. He is also engaged with the EU in regards to protection of the Gearagh. He has a connection with it because his grandparents were moved from there to facilitate the flooding of the area. One of the things he regrets seeing is the shipping moving out of the city. He recalls that the south channel of the Lee was known as An Sabhrann Beag. Cían Ó Sé who cofounded Meitheal Mara thought that Bun an Tábhairne, the Irish for Crosshaven meant the end of the Sabhrann river, so so Crosshaven in Irish comes from something like Bun an tSabhrainne. And that this was related it to the River Severn and River Bride and other similar river names across Europe.

Pádraig says that the Sovereign Rocks off Cork’s coast are not related to the river but instead refer to the king and queen of Britain when Ireland was under their control.


Interview Format



Cork Folklore Project, “Pádraig Ó Duinnín: River Lee,” accessed February 28, 2024, https://corkfolklore.org/archivecatalolgue/document/82.