Some might consider this title a mite provocative. Indeed others might think on the date of publication and ponder a connection. However, although it is intended to be provocative, it is in no way a joke. The monuments I refer to are at least a millennium old and are quietly slipping into oblivion. They are the Head Weirs of Waterford harbour and, at this point, are very possibly unique in the world.
Firstly, let me define a monument. The concise Oxford dictionary states that "3. an ancient building or site etc that has survived or been preserved" The head weirs certainly fit this definition having been worked over the centuries and regularly maintained by their owners/leasers.
|via AJ WENT 1|
Depending on the direction they faced, weirs were known as Ebb or Flood weirs. An Ebb weir had its mouth facing upriver, and when the tide was leaving the harbour, it flowed through the mouth, towards the head and concentrated the flow of water into the fishing net, in much the same way a funnel would direct fluid into a bottle.
|an indication of the weirs 1950s|
via AJ WENT 1
As to the age of the weirs, well even locally there is confusion about this. Growing up in the harbour, there was uncertainty about the weirs, because a lot of newer weirs were constructed by the landlords in the early 19th C, a method known as the scotch weir, typified by the construction at Woodstown. Many of the older weirs were amended at this time.
However, the Head weirs were recorded in the monastic possessions of the Cistercians during their dissolution. The Cistercians started construction at Dunbrody in the harbour circa 1200. But it is interesting to note that when the Knights Templars were granted land and ferry rights at Passage and Templetown (1170's) and "they operated a salmon weir, or fish trap, a large edifice of strong wooden poles, built in the river, which channeled salmon through an ever narrowing chute towards an exit, where they swam into a net"2 What I can't answer, but suspect, is that they Templars took over an existing structure, rather than building their own,
|Buttermilk castle and weir 3|
Although I have no proof that the Waterford Harbour weirs are a continuation of use back to Early Christian times, I think they are nevertheless a spectacular connection to Ireland's ancient east. To allow such structures to simply disappear due to neglect and disinterest (principally due to official disinterest) is to my mind a disgrace, Hopefully, the heritage value of the weirs are realised soon. Otherwise we may have just memories, photographs and written words as a basis to our interpretation of them.
I publish a blog each Friday. If you like this piece or have an interest in the local history or maritime heritage of Waterford harbour and environs you can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org to receive the blog every week.
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1. via Arthur EJ Went. JRSAI LXXXVII Piece titled Sprat or white fish weirs in Waterford Harbour
2. Niall Byrne, The Irish Crusade. p107
3. Billy Colfer. The Hook peninsula