Wednesday, July 18, 2018


Rihla (The Journey) – was the short title of a 14th Century (1355 CE) book written in Fez by the Islamic legal scholar Ibn Jazayy al-Kalbi of Granada who recorded and then transcribed the dictated travelogue of the Tangerian, Ibn Battuta. The book’s full title was A Gift to Those who Contemplate the Wonders of Cities and the Marvels of Travelling and somehow the title of Ibn Jazayy's book captures the ethos of many of the city and country journeys I have been lucky to take in past years. 

Some of the best journeys you can take are those closest to you, and for the salmon perhaps one of their longest. This Rihla is about the fishing for Salmon, in particular about the origins and history of the "several" or exclusive fishing rights of the Galway weirs.

The Changes in location of the Corrib Regulation Weir 
(the modern Salmon Weir)
since 1850


The waves formed by the galleys and cogs of William the Bastard’s (William the Conqueror) fleet reaching across the English Channel and landing in Pevensey Bay in East Sussex on the 28thSeptember 1066 are still (metaphorically) flowing into the tidal estuaries of Ireland almost 1,000 years later. In taking the Crown of England William made sure that he took everything to the Crown.

Aside from William himself the Norman baron’s that landed with William were allocated huge tracts of land by conquest and were also armed with a legal play-book. Norman-French law was to hold primacy on the ‘legitimacy’ of this but it made sense to the barons that the day-to-day control of the lives and livelihoods of the local people, markets, villages and towns should incorporate the usage of pre-existing Saxon laws in the case of England and later the Brehon laws in the case of Ireland.

Felony for example originated in the word Saxon words fee for landholding and lon for price. When combined the meaning of felony came to be understood as an act or omission that could result in loss of property. Conquered peoples, if they resisted the Norman encroachment, were considered individually and collectively of being treasonous to the Crown. In addition any breach of the criminal law was deemed an offence against the King’s peace, a felony and thus along with treason subject upon conviction to forfeiture of their property both real, and incorporeal such as fishing rights. The justification for such forfeiture, could be minor especially if a Norman baron thought there was profit in it.
Where inland rivers and lakes were concerned the fishing rights were the property of the owner of that land and if two properties were separated by a river or a lake those rights extended half-way across that river or lake. A permanent right of piscary, from the medieval latin piscaria or fishing rights, in law the right to fish in another’s water for free, was rare and always depended on permission from the landowner (riparian), where a formal transfer of the river or lake rights was made into the commonweal and in the even rarer case of unclaimed water.
Rivers sections that were subject to tidal ebbs and flows were considered part of the sea and all rights and resources of the sea were initially considered Crown property. When the Norman baron’s revolted against King John’s determination to extract every possible tax from the resources of England one of their main concerns was his determination to keep the profits and ownership of all tidal estuaries and rivers in Crown hands. The barons were determined to wrest back control of their lucrative salmon fishing rights by inserting a clause that would dismantle the Crown ownership of tidal rivers and would prevent future ownership.

Looking north towards the Corrib Regulation (Salmon) Weir.

In June 1215 the Magna Carta Liberatum (the Great Charter) was first promulgated, as a treaty between the English crown (King John aka John Lackland) and the barons.

In Clause 33 of the 1215 Charter it stated, 

Omnes kydelli de cetero depopnantur penitus de Tamisia, et de Medewaye, et per totam Angliam, nisi per costeram maris

which when translated meant "All kydells  (fish weirs) shall be removed from the Thames, the Medway and throughout the whole of England, excepton the sea coast."
By specifically excluding kydells on the sea coast (and by extension the upper river limits of tidal flows) John actually gave those kydells a legal identity for the first time. They could now become a unit of exchange, or be inhertitable.

Shortly afterwards, in November 1216, the boy King Henry III, in the first year of his reign, signed the Magna Carta Hiberniae and this was transmitted to the Irish based barons in early 1217. It modified the original Charter by establishing a timeline as to when rights began or were lost.

In Clause 16 of the 1216 Irish version of the Magna Carta it states,

“all weirs shall henceforth be put down through the whole of the Anna Liffey, and all Ireland, except by the sea coast ”

and in a further clause stated,

All forests which were afforested in the time of King John, our father; shall be immediately disafforested; and so let it be done in the case of rivers which were placed in defenceby the said John in his time."

This new clause was important as it suggested that in the future the Crown no longer could purloin forests and rivers from the Baron’s estates for its own use. In what is considered to be the definitive version of the Magna Carta, the version issued by Henry III in 1225, moved the timeline for the beginning of rights from the end of John’s reign in 1216 to the end of the reign of Henry II (d.1189). 

The 1225 edition of the Magna Carta takes pride of place at the beginning of England’s first Roll of Statutes in 1297.

The 1225 version states in Clause 16,

“No river bank shall henceforth be made a preserve, except those which were preserves in the time of king Henry, our grandfather, in the same places and for the same periods as they used be in his day.”

In 1297 King Edward I (Edward Longshanks) reissued without change, Henry III’s Magna Carta and Forest Charters of 1225 in the Confirmatio Cartarum, and confirmed that it was part of English and (by conquest) Irish Statute law. 

The old or Great Salmon Weir with the Queen's Gap

All of this exposition of the origin of the laws governing fishing weirs may seem a little detached (circa 720 years) from reality but it must be noted that specifically Clause 16 of Henry III’s 1225 version of Magna Carta is still operable in Irish statute law in addition to the generality of Henry III’s 1216 Magna Carta Hiberniae, both of which were retained by the Irish Statute Revision Act of 2007.

Even as late as 1962 in the Irish Short Titles Act 1962, an Act designed to make citation of still applicable Pre-Union and English Statutes more uniform, Part VI of Poyning’s Act of 1495, a statute provision relating to “several” fisheries in tidal waters, was modified. The title Restatement of Magna Carta (9 Henry 3) of 1225: Obstruction of Rivers was given the short title Magna Carta 1297.

Images of Galway River 1860s, Ashworth Collection, Chetham's Library, Manchester.

However fisheries and fishing weirs as controlled by the Normans still manage to create legal mayhem and in 2007 the Statute Revision Act had to re-substitute the title Magna Carta (Obstructing of Rivers) 1297 for Magna Carta 1297. Edward I's 1297 confirmation of the rights contained within Clause 16 of the Magna Carta (25 Edw. I, Magna Carta c.16was specifically retained by the Statute Revision Act of 2007 when the title Magna Carta in Irish Law was replaced by Magna Carta (Obstruction of Rivers)

In essence what the 1225 Magna Carta, and therefore the law, states is that no new private, or several fishery could be created by the Crown after 1189 on tidal portion of rivers. If, however, it could be proven that there was a private fishery in operation before that date then a claim by the Crown was possible, as indeed was the legal ability to pass on, sell or rent those rights, or part of them. The actual extent of a river that the Crown could lay claim to, if a privately exploited fishery existed before 1189, depended on to what distance they were navigable from the river mouth or not. 

Rebuilding the Salmon Weir and Queen's Gap 1856
From Chetham's Library, Ashworth Collection

The 1856 Ashworth rebuilding of Great Salmon Weir and Weir House
now home of the County Club. Present condition.

Salmon Weir 1651, 1818 and 1863
From Went Proceed Royal Irish Acad 1944
(Note the Free Queens Share or Gap)

Galway’s tidal salmon fishery is a several (exclusive) fishery,in the ownership of Inland Fisheries Ireland since the 1stJuly 2010, courtesy of being the present beneficiaries of a long line of title-holders emboldened by the Norman-French rule-of-law of William the Bastard.
The word “several” is derived from the Anglo-Norman French several and ultimately from the Latin separ, or separateWhen used as an adjective however, in legal usage, several means exclusive. Several rights are generally considered and defended as a form of transferable usage rights that are distinct from those commanded by tenancy-in-common rights.  Indeed in the common-law of Ireland and England, to be several is the absolute antithesis of to be in common.

The "modern" Eel weir on west side of Courthouse or Salmon Weir Bridge.
Disused since 2009 when a moratorium on Eel fishing, 
because of diminishing stocks, was imposed by EU. 
The ban was renewed in 2011 and to be reconsidered 2018

What is most interesting, however, about the legal notion of several, and say the usage of a fisheryis that the implied rights of exclusivity are derived by prescription and not by sequestration. In other words if I have a “several” right to the usage of “something”, for example a river bed, it is not because I own that “something” but because of long standing custom and without force, without secrecy and without mere permission the exclusive usage of that “something” falls to me and is protected by law because I have used that “something” and I or have managed, as I am entitled to do, to exclude others from that usage, unless of course I determine otherwise and allow access or usage for a price or profit.

To finish this section it is interesting to note that the title to a several fishery can still be established in law in modern Ireland. All that has changed is the dating of when the title has to be proved. No longer is establishing title or usage before 1189 required but in a clause introduced by the Fisheries Act (Tidal Waters) 1934, and subsequently retained by the Fisheries (Consolidation) Act 1959 the 1stJanuary 1913 – 20 years before the legal date for newly establishing a several fishery of 1stJanuary 1933 – becomes the date for determination of previous title and prior usage.
The 1651 Pictorial Map of Galway (author unknown)
The cartouches highlight the location of eel and salmon fishing weirs
as well as spear fishing.


The O’HALLORAN chief – the O’hAllmhurain (allumhaire: one who imports [from foreigners]), known as the Clan Firgail – the lost tribe of Galway, were the tribe that controlled a tuath or territory that stretched from Barna (where the main castle was) in the west, to Oranmore in east to Lough Corrib (Lough Orbsen) in the north to the sea in the south and which included all the land where Galway presently stands. (See: Rihla 61:

The O’Hallorans’ fortunes were linked to their overlords the O’Flaherty’s and ultimately to the O’Conor Kings of Connacht. The fact that they could do with the the land and resources as they chose could be seen in their gift of land and possibly some fishing rights in the Claddagh to the Premonstratensian Order to establish their church St Mary on the Hill in 1235.

The Normans landed in Ireland in 1171 and a William Fitz Andalam de Burgo was one of the officers. Despite an unbroken peace treaty allowing Roderic O’Connor to retain his Kingship and rights in Connaught, in 1218 Henry III gave Connaught to Richard de Burgo, William’s son. In 1232, 7 years after Henry IIIs definitive version of the Magna Carta, Richard de Burgo took Galway after a siege that was on and off for about two years. In 1233/34 de Burgo had to retake the town after it was captured by Fedhlim O’Connor the new King of Connaught and by 1235 had control of Connaught.

The Territory or tuáth of the O'Halloran (the Clan Fergail)


Whether there was already a well-established O’Halloran-controlled salmon fishery on the river in Galway is uncertain, but it is highly likely as in Rusheen Bay where their castle stood, and I live, in Barna they directly controlled an oyster-harvesting site.  In any event, because they were subjects of the O’Conor’s and almost certainly participated in the Feidhlim’s taking of a town where Norman law was in force, the O’Halloran lands and rights within the town and liberties of Galway would have been forfeited to the Crown. The Crown had granted these lands and traditional rights to the de Burgo’s as part of the grant of Connaught. This is the point at which the Galway Salmon fishery became a several fishery in the control of Richard de Burgo, as it satisfied the fact that as a privately controlled fishery by the O’Halloran’s it had existed before 1189 and therefore escaped the Magna Carta’s prevention of Crown control, and thus could be included in the grant of Connaught to the de Burgos.

1243: Fishing rights transfer to Crown until Richard and Walter de Burgo come of age. Walter became 1stEarl of Ulster and died 1271. 1283: By 1283 Avelina, the widow of Walter, the 1stEarl of Ulster was earning £11 pounds per annum (approx. €8,500 pa in todays money) “for the fishing of the salmon weirs” and about €8,000 from the eel weirs. Her son Richard (the Red Earl) had title to the fishing weirs.

1583 Barnaby Googe Map of Galway.
Weir, nets and spearing shown.

1343: Matilda de Burgo, the wife of Walter the great-great grand-son of William Fitz Andalem de Burgo, had a salmon fishery in Galway worth only 100 shillings and an el fishery worth 20s, down from the highs of 50 years previously. Her daughter Elizabeth and inheritor of the Galway fishery married the Duke of Clarence, the son of Edward III. The fishery known as the “Fourthe de Hayle” – Ford of the Haul (net)) . Between 1346 and 1374 a John McScyan owned or rented the title. 1374: Fishery rights passed by McScyan to Blake family. In 1386 the Crown rented the fishery to Richard Parrys of Bristol and inserted a specific clause telling the Blakes to stay off the river. There is a dispute as to whether the river was split into two portions, from the High Weir to where the West bridge is now, and from there to the sea entrance. In 1389 the deBermynghams of Athenry take control of one portion. Blakes have control throughout early 1400s. 1460: Edward IV inherits the Lordship of Connaught (and the deBurgo/O’Halloran) fisheries. By marriage to Elizabeth of York Henry VII took possession of the fisheries.

1500: The Lynch family begin to get their oar or spear into fishery control. Dominick Lynch by then owned part or all of the eel and salmon fisheries and bequeathed them to his sons. 1521 Henry VIII grants rights to Lynch family between West Bridge and sea at 6 shillings and 8 pence per annum. It is thought that the deBurgo family granted the two monasteries on St Stephen’s Island to rights on the upper part of the fishery until their suppression. 1546: The Blake family stated at court that they had controlled the fishery for 5 generations and objected to Roger Challoner who had been given a title or part-title in 1538 assigning that to the Kirwan family. 1570: Elizabeth I granted the fish from the fishery to the Mayor and Corporation of Galway and their successors. In 1578 she confirmed she was reverting this right from the Challoner family whose lease ran out in 1579.

1685 Thomas Phillips Map

In the 1580s a By-law issued by the Corporation stated, 

“That no free of fish, viz. of yles be taken by ne way whatsoever, begyn the 15thAprille to the springe following the same; also that no red salmon be taken, nor crue of salmon as in the statue in that behalf is provided, Aet-na-howly ( Ait na Howly aka Fourthe na howley aka Ford of the Haul) always excepted, for that we found by antiquitie” 

– A by-law that confirms the presence of a private fishery between the great weir and the bridge that had its own jurisdiction.

1613: Nicholas D’Arcy, Lynches and Kirwans all had the rights. D’arcys got theirs from Sir George Carew. 1657: Cromwellian settlers Reuben Estroph, Paul Dood and John Whaley took control of the fisheries. 1661: Preston family took control. Confirmed by Charles II at restoration in 1662. The Blake in person of Dame Elinor Blake family still claimed their ownership. 1710: Preston’s daughter and heiress married George Eyre of Eyrecourt. Their son sold the fishery to a relative Edward Eyre in Galway. Remained in possession of Eyre family until 1852 but was leased out in parts for £120 per year for 20 years.

1848: Corrib Regulating Weir not yet built


1st Corrib Regulation Weir in place.

1852: The several fishery of Galway from Lough Corrib to the sea, including buildings and fixed engine weirs and cribs sold to the Ashworth brothers, Quakers from Lanchashire, for £5,000. Built the Fishery Tower in 1853. Their title to a severalfishery was confirmed by the Court of the Queens Bench in 1855. 1922: Fisheries bought by Lieut Col EGK Cross of Weir House (Home of the County Club today).  1954: Bought by Barber brothers of London. 1979: The State (Central Fisheries Board) buys out the Barbers. 

2010: Control of the Galway Fishery vested in Inland Fisheries Ireland. A rod licence for the day costs about €120, and three salmon can be taken on the fly or one using worm. Spinning can only be used as a method in high water. There was a recent outcry when the Inland Fisheries considered leasing the fishery out.



The Corrib regulation Weir with 1850' s sluices on left and 1950s
on right. Only one sluice open as Ireland in drought conditions when photo taken.


Fishing rights from time immemorial – well from 1235 at least in Galway – have always exercised the minds of owners, legislators and lawyers not to mention poachers. There have been hundreds of law cases taken over the years in Ireland and England to question the validity and extent of fishing and shellfish farming rights on rivers, lakes, and tidal estuaries. The most recent Irish High Court case on record is that of Irish Water –v- Woodstown Bay Shellfish Ltd ( [2017] IEHC 223) where the State and the Duke of Devonshire locked horns over access across the mussel beds in Youghal’s Blackwater tidal beds.

No fishing rights case however, was so fundamental in its importance, beyond the catch of a spawning salmon, that its outcome was critical to the foundation and survival of an independent Irish nation, as the case of the several fishing rights on the Erne River in Co. Donegal ( Moore & others v. Attorney General & others [1929] IR 191 HC and [1934] IR 44 SC]).

In a case taken by the Erne Fishery Company a District Justice refused to proceed with an action for trespass against some local “poachers” claims that the Erne tidal fishing area was not a several fishery in the meaning of the Magna Carta, but had been sequestered by the illegal actions of the Stuart Kings. The company then tried a writ of mandamus, to try and force the District Justice to hear the case and when that failed they changed tack and applied to the High Court to establish that their title to the tidal fishery was sound and also to claim damages from the Attorney General for the costs in pursuing the District Court and High Court actions.

In the High Court hearing the Erne Fishery Company’s argument was that as long as anybody had established an exclusive fishery on the Erne tidal stretch then the several fishery remained legitimate. The interesting procedural issue was that the Company did not have to prove that these exclusive rights did exist before 1189 but that it was up to the State in the form of the Attorney General, as defendants to the action, to prove that the rights did not exist before 1189.

The case was unique in that two brehon law specialists Professors Eoin McNeill & D.A. Binchy gave evidence on behalf of the poachers (EMcN) and the State (DAB) that Brehon Law as they understood it had remained in force in Donegal until the early-17thC, did not allow, based on their interpretation of a brehon legal tract known as Do fastad chirt 7 dligid ( On the confirmation of right and law). The High Court judge Mr Justice Johnson in the end rejected the brehon evidence and held that it was not sufficient to displace the presumption of lawful origin and that there was no defect in the Erne Fishery Company’s title to the several fishery on the Erne.

The Attorney General after some hesitation appealed the decision to the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court came to an opposite conclusion on the matter of brehon law’s management of fishing rights as outlined by the scholarship of MacNeil and Binchy. The Court stated that “an effort was made (in brehon law) to secure equality for all by allowing each person to take one salmon” and in accepting this the presumption of legality of private fishing rights existing on the Erne before 1189 was defeated. The title and 300 years of ownership was destroyed.
The case did not end there however. The Erne Fishery Company decided to refer the decision to the English Privy Council, a decision that caused enormous controversy far from the tidal bores and spawning salmon of the Erne.
Citizen of Irish Free State and of
the British Commonwealth of Nations

The Irish Free State was established in 1922 when the Articles of Agreement for a Treaty between Great Britain and Ireland where given the force of law in 12 Geo.5 c.4 and the Constitution of the Irish Free State (Saorstát Eireann) Act given force in 13 Geo. 5 c.1. 

One of the Clauses in the Constitution that caused most distress was the insistence on the Privy Council being the Court of Appeal for the new Irish Free State Supreme Court.

The Erne Fishery Company obtained an Order from the Privy Council on the 24thNovember 1933, giving them special leave to appeal the Irish Supreme Court case. When that Order was presented to the Registrar of the Irish Free State Supreme Court he refused to accept the Order on the basis that the Irish Parliament had passed on the 16thNovember 1933 – a week before the Privy Council Order was issued – the Constitution (Amendment No. 22) Act, 1933 which provided, from the date of its passing, that no appeal from a decision of the Supreme Court was possible to “His Majesty in Council (the Privy Council). 

The Privy Council decided, because of concerns that this action by the Irish Government was illegal, that before the appeal from the Erne Fishery Company on their title to the several fishery of the Erne could be proceeded with a preliminary Judicial Committee to examine the legality of the Irish Free State’ actions was warranted.
The hearing took place on December 3 & 4th 1933 and 9,10 & 11thApril 1935. The Irish Government and Irish Attorney General were not represented. Under the Treaty that established the Irish Free State Ireland’s relationship with Great Britain was determined to be similar to the Dominion status of Canada within a “Community of Nations known as the British Empire.” Prior to 11 Dec 1933 the Colonial Laws Validity Act 1865 forbade a Dominion Legislature from passing a Law repugnant to an Imperial Act, as the Irish Free State’s Constitution (Amendment No.22) Act was to the Imperial Acts that had established the articles and Constitution of the Irish Free State by removing the right of appeal to the Privy Council unilaterally.

However, on the 11thDecember 1931, the Statute of Westminster was enacted, as a result of the Imperial Conference of all Dominions including Ireland and this statute had specifically removed the Colonial Laws Validity Act 1865 as applying to any law made by a Dominion legislature, which Ireland at that stage was. As a consequence the Judicial Committee decided that although the Constitutional amendment No.22 blocked the Erne Fishery Company’s right of appeal to Privy Council, and that this action was repugnant to an Imperial Act (the Irish Free State Treaty and Constitution), the Irish Government’s action were entirely legal and as an independent legislature were entirely free going forward to pass any Act that might be repugnant to Great Britain. (Moore & others V Attorney General & others [1935] 1 IR (Privy Council) 487) As a consequence the original appeal did not proceed to the full Privy Council.

The several Erne Fishery was no more yet in later cases Professor D. A. Binchy revisited his opinion, and based on extensive study and analysis of more brehon law documents and glossaries, completely changed his mind and opinioned that there was private ownership of fishing rights in brehon law and practice. In the most famous of these the title of the Moy Fishery was up for litigation in Little v. Cooper[1937} IR 1, 6. Binchy‘s arguments against a public right to fishery included a detailed analysis of the grammar of Irish for a salmon (sing) eó and for salmon (plural) iich and a linguistic analysis of the brehon legal tract Coibnes uisce thairidne (The Relationship of Conducted Water) where fishing weirs are shown to be capable of being privately owned, and could be acquired by adverse prescription. The High Court judge, the same Justice Johnson who had conducted the Erne case, in an apparent complete reversal of the Erne Supreme Court decision, determined that it was entirely possible that a several fishery existed on the Moy before 1189 and the defendants had not proved it did not exist.

No other several fisheries have lost their title in cases since.


And if the angler take fyshe:
surley there is no man meryrer than he is in his spirit.
In years gone by I had established a small publishing company that produced literary fiction, which I called Wynkin de Worde Ltd after Wynkin de Worde, the man who had worked and then inherited the printing press of William Caxton (this blogsite still carries the name). In 1496 deWorde republished a book called the Book of St Albans, that included an essay on hunting and hawking and supposedly was by a Dame Juliana Berners (Barnes) an Abbey prioress. De Worde's edition included a Treatyse on Fysshynge with an Angle, that had been in the original book but who ever the author was is now considered the first known work on fly-fishing.
18th Century Eel Fishing
The nets at end of weir were known in Ireland as Coghills

In Berners' book in addition to showing how you make your own rods from oven-baked willow, hazel or aspen; your lines from white horsetail hair twisted in nine strands for salmon, tied in lengths with a water knot and dyed according to the season and colour of water; your hooks from shoemakers nails; your float of cork when using the worm the size of a walnut tells you how to make flys to suit the month.

The Great Salmon Weir with willow wattle traps depicted
on the 1651 Pictorial Map. Fisherman spearing
Salmon out of the traps.

In a more modern and very comprehensive treatise, that is well worth reading, the Irish fishing historian par excellence Arthur E. J. Went published in 1964 (1962-1964 Proceedings of RIA: Vol 63; 191-244) an account of the methods used “down the ages in Ireland to take salmon” that included Man-Powered Engines (spears,rods, strokehauls, gaffs and snares); Fixed Engines (tidal weirs, stake nets, bag nets; riverine weirs; cudjail nets; baskets for smolts); Nets (draft, drift, snap, pole. Loop and meshing); and other methods such as Poisoning and Explosives.

Spearing Salmon from West Bridge in 1651 Pictorial Map

Went considered the salmon casting spears used in Galway were the best. The West Bridge in Galway was built in 1442 and in 1538 Roger Challoner was given a specific licence to use casting spears. Although prohibited in 1716 (2 Geo c.21) spearing from the bridge in Galway continued until 1844.

Of note angling as a sport definitely existed in the Galway fishery as early as the 1640s. In 1662 in a description of the property owned by the Blake family in a “Decree of Innocency” they were noted to own,

“a salmon fishery called Fowerty [Forthe-of the-Haule], which runs between the West Bridge and the Great Weir opposite to St Francis Abbey, near the town of Galway”

and an entitlement to a 1/4 of every salmon or trout,

“taken by angling betwixt the bridge and the wood-quay".

The Wood Quay is opposite where the present Corrib regulating weir is and once was called the High Weir. It is where the fresh water fish were landed before being transported to the Fresh Water Fish Shambles near Little Gate.

Eel Weir from 1651 Pictorial Map


THE Queen's Share or Gap looking towards the Salmon Weir Bridge

The early semi-permanent great salmon weir in Galway is depicted a wicker or hazel picket that directed fish into three central square traps. Of note there was a gap at either side of the trap to allow fish bypass the weir and continue upriver to spawn, thus managing a return in years to come. By the early 1800s salmon weirs and traps had become much more permanent and generally extended right across tidal rivers therefore trapping all fish during the fishing season and as a consequence rapidly diminishing the numbers being able to return to spawn and by extension the numbers of mature salmon coming back to the system.

A.E.J Went's depiction of the Salmon Pass that used exist on
1850s Regulation Weir in Galway.

The importance of allowing a gap or passage for salmon through weirs as part of the management of the resource was recognised as early as 1175 in Scotland when King William the Lion (Uilliam Mac Eanric – or Uilliam Garbh), whose great-great-uncle was Wiliam the Conqueror, issued a law stating that,

“The midstream is always to be free to the extent that a swine of three years old, well fed, (and) cannot touch either side with his head or tail”!

The Modern Salmon Pass on the Corrib Regulation Weir.

An Act of 1783 required that a free gap or passage should be provided in any obstruction across great rivers but an exception was made for “patent” or “charter” rivers, which we would understand to be the severaltidal rivers. It was not until the Fisheries (Ireland) Act 1842 (5&6 Vict c.106) that gaps or salmon passes were legislated for and owners of several fisheries were to be compensated. That did not happen and it was not until a further Act in 1863 (26&27 Vict. C.114), which in Section 9 prescribed a gap in all river weirs at least one-tenth the width of the river, that these provisions were enforced. Because the legislation was passed in Queen Victoria’s time, and the prescribed gaps were called the “Queen’s Share” the weir in Galway began to be called the “Queens Gap”.


To finish I like to think of William of Scotland's  well-fed pig swimming/ waddling out at low tide to become a measuring tool for the passage of salmon. Over the years there were many silk purses created from the sow's ear that is the several Galway Salmon Fishery.

Moore and Others v. Attorney General and Others [1935] 1.I.R. 472 Johnson V.R., The Ancient Magna Carta and the Modern Rule of Law.: 1215 to 2015. St Mary’s Law Journal. (2015) 47:1
Law Reform Commission, Report on Acquisition of Easements and Profits Á Prendre by Prescription. (LRC 66 -2002) 
Mohr T., Salmon of Knowledge (2002) Peritia 16: 360-95
Went A.E.J, The Galway Fishery, An Account of the Ownership of the fishery. (1943) Proceed R. Irish Acad: Arch,Cult,Hist, Lit, 48; 233-253
Went A.E. J. The Galway Fishery: An Account of the Modes of Fishing with notes on other matters connected with the Fishery. (1944) Proceed R. Irish Acad: 49; 187-219

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