During the past year we brought you word that things were beginning to stir finally with regard to the much promised development of the Riverside Walk from town to the estuary lands below Blenheim. Alongside the proposals for other riverside walks this one in particular has featured prominently in all recent City Development Plans including the current one.

Alas the proposals remained largely aspirational, but meetings did take place this summer between a local action group who are specifically concerned with the promotion/achievement of this project and the city planners. So we look forward to early implementation.

The various plans have all stressed the importance of the River Suir as a central landscape element within the city. The plans spell out clearly that it is policy to protect the essential character and settings of the river corridors, through the control of the location, layout and design of new developments, including the material change of land use, so as to ensure that there are no adverse effects on the character and amenities of the area.

Furthermore to protect views to and from the River Suir deemed to be of special amenity value from obstruction and or inappropriate intrusion by new buildings, structures, plant and equipment, signs and other devices. And once again it states – to provide for public access to the riverbanks and to reserve lands free from development to facilitate such access. The Brasscock on his perch daily surveys the aforementioned river and has a keen interest in keeping on eye on matters fluvial residing as he does in the appropriately named Riverview!

Flow on lovely river

“Flow on lovely river as it flows down by …Knockboy”, as the old song might say!

So let’s first talk about our sources as we trace the Suir back up stream and follow it down river. Then we will talk briefly about its Special Area of Conservation status and some of the key habitats contained therein with a special focus on our own local stretch of river in the King’s Channel area – it’s saltmarsh in particular.

My guide in all these matters is that wonderful book I referred to previously by Declan McGrath – The Wildlife in Waterford. I can only skim the surface here, perhaps whet your appetite to acquire and delve into this amazing body of work, representing painstakingly researched detail of the wealth of our flora and fauna literally at our feet. This book should be in every library be it public, home or schools throughout Waterford – a natural treasure itself!

The Suir is one of the three contiguous rivers in the southeast along with the Nore and the Barrow, collectively known as the Three Sister, all of which drain into Waterford Harbour. The Suir itself drains an area of approximately 3,500 sq kms. It rises high in the Galtee Mountains (in the Devil’s Bit mountain) in North Tipperary and passes through Thurles, Holycross, west of Cashel and southwards to Cahir and Ardfinan.

The Knockmealdowns form a natural barrier and forces the river northwards and then eastwards near Clonmel. The river then skirts around the Comeragh Mountains, flows through Clonmel and Carrick-on-Suir (its tidal limit, by the way) and then on through Waterford before being joined by the other two rivers opposite Cheekpoint, from whence all three rivers flow seaward at Waterford Harbour. Overall the estuary is relatively shallow (3-20 metres below OD) though there are deep sections in King’s Channel and in the city itself (up to 33metres below OD).

The Suir is tidal within the city and there are strong tidal flows there, especially during spring tides. There is approximately a half hour time difference between high/low tides at Dunmore East and Rice Bridge.

King’s Channel is special

The River Suir is a candidate Special Area of Conservation. The site encompasses the entire estuary from the confluence of the Suir with the Barrow and the Nore and includes the many tributaries that flow into it. The river is of conservation importance not only for a range of habitats listed on Annex 1 of the EU Habitats Directive (Atlantic and Mediterranean salt meadows, floating river vegetation, eutrophic tall herbs, old oak wood and alluvial forests – now you know), but also species listed on Annex II of the same directive (sea and river lamprey, twaite shad, freshwater cray fish and pearl mussel, and birds).

Of the habitats only the salt meadows occur within the city (around King’s Channel and the Island) though of wet and dry grassland, marsh and reed swamp, scrub, tidal river and mudflats adjoin the river in places.

Otter and kingfisher (Annex 1 species) are active within the city, salmon and shad pass by while some of the wintering waders and wildfowl, for which parts of the SAC have also been identified as of ornithological importance, occur mostly down river of Waterford City. We will have a closer look at this area next week – some of our local waterside natural wonders.

A blast from the past

Or should that read a belt from the crozier? Reeling in the Years is a popular series on RTE, so in the spirit of that I would like to change pace and mood at this stage and look back at an incident that became known as the Bishop and the Nightie, where a lot of people ‘got their knickers in a twist’ so to speak, over what was intended to be a frivolous fun item on the Late Late Show. It happened all the way back in 1966 – all of 42 years ago, so one would need to be in one’s mid-to-late 50’s to remember the events of the night(ie) in question. I retell it now in the context of how Ireland has changed for the better – or worse – but certainly changed.

Some commentators looking back saw it as a clash between the Catholic hierarchy and the forces of modernisation in what ensued from an incident on the Late Late of February 12th 1966. (Remember this was only the 5th year of a national television service).

It all started harmlessly enough when compere Gay Byrne held a spoof couples’ quiz in which a wife (Eileen) was asked questions about her husband Patrick, while he was out of earshot and he in turn was to be asked questions about wife Eileen. When he was asked if he could remember what colour nightie his wife had worn on their honeymoon wedding night, he confessed that he could not remember but then the wife revealed that this was because she had not worn any!!

Stop The Lights- it was as if the WWII (or was that the Emergency) had broken out all over again. But it didn’t end there that night. The then bishop of Clonfert, Thomas Ryan, was outraged and had his secretary protest to RTE and telephone the Sunday Press newspaper with a statement. He planned to deliver a sermon the following morning (the Late Late then went out on Friday nights) condemning the show. The Episcopal ire made front-page Sunday news and among the bodies that joined with the bishop in denouncing the broadcasting of such lewdness were Loughrea Town Council, Mayo GAA County Board and Meath Vocational Committee.

I recall the controversy raging the length and breadth of the country – it ranged from high hilarity in some quarters to outrageous indignation in others.

We were witnessing (even though we did not analyse it in these terms at the time) a clash of cultural values in a different, modernising Ireland. However, the Late Late Show and Gay Byrne were the winners in the war for the liberalisation against the forces of reaction as some would have perceived it. And of course it drove the ratings of the show sky high as well as giving added credence to their newly- found slogan that ‘it started on the Late Late Show’!

Oliver J Flanagan famously claimed around that time that there had been no sex in Ireland before RTE and the Late Late. The show became compulsive viewing as we all awaited the next revelation or even expose. Wow! Even though that show is heading for its 50th anniversary we will not witness the likes of those days again. Remember there was only the one channel and we all tuned in together – now we are all tuned out, perhaps!

Go seachtain eile, slan.