St Johnston and Carrigans Donegal

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Fishing in St Johnston and Carrigans

The River Foyle is twenty-five miles long and can be seen from the village of St Johnston. 

The river and its tributaries, the lesser rivers adjoining it, has from time immemorial been able to rival the best fishing regions in Europe with sea trout, grilse and especially salmon being in abundance.  We can almost visualize our Neolithic ancestors along the river banks in their crude boats catching fish.  Many parts of the area along the river, look as if they were untouched by humanity and can take us back to a day when the human presence was not as obvious as it is now.  But we can be sure that a good fishing area would have attracted people to live in the area in those days so they would have had many little villages close to the banks of the river.  Even during the Bronze Age which lasted from 2000 BC to 500 BC this would have been the case.  The people would not have gathered in this locality for bronze and metalworking industry but for the richness of the land which provided their food and the river which provided their fish.  The richness of the fishing season would have helped many survive the great famine of 1845 to 1849 that would have otherwise have died with the failure of the potatoes.  However, the Foyle and Bann Fisheries Companies were in charge of the fisheries and refused to contribute towards famine relief and some of their own fishermen broke ranks and fished in defiance of their restrictions to help the poor.

Despite the aeons old fishing history of the area there is no doubt that in the early 1840's housing and literacy levels in this area were poor.  However when the famine struck it was doubtlessly the River Foyle that kept the rationing comparatively easygoing for this part of Donegal from with about 15-30% of the people seeking famine relief.  This percentage got its increase from the higher number of people with difficulties outside the fishing season.

The St Johnston and Carrigans area contains many marks of the Three Main Scottish plantations both in names of areas in the place, Dundee which Ard Baithin used to be being named after the city of Dundee in Scotland so the Scottish simply often renamed the area after the place or town in Scotland that it sounded like or simply wanted to change the place name altogether. 

During the Plantation Times, between 1550 and 1610 most of Donegal was home to Scottish settlers.  Some of Donegal was home to mixed settlements of English and Scottish.  But the excellent fertility of the land and the rivers was an incentive to most of those people to come here.

Foyle Fisheries provided £2,800 worth of salmon in 1637.

The peak of the salmon fishing season on the River Foyle roughly corresponds to the summer and a special rule was brought in for a bar license for a premises along the river to cover 23 hours a day, just one hour of closing time!  The bar was Lynch's down the Shore Lane at Carrickmore which has recently been demolished and was used as a  house.  It was nicknamed "The Congo".

There was no fishing in 2007. 

The Salmon was always the most important thing in relation to fishing in the area.  The fishing season used to involve the whole family.  The wives had to prepare food for the fishermen coming home.  The money from selling the Salmon was generally used for home improvements such as lino and fixing the house and so on.  A lot of trout was caught too but usually trout was shared with the neighbours for free.  The fishing season was always looked forward to for there was plenty of fun to be had as well as the prospect of supplementing the income. 

The pubs during the fishing season legally had 24 hour licences and all pubs locally made full use of them!

In the 1950's the stretch of the Foyle near St Johnston produced the most fish in Europe.  Many men who had gone abroad returned to take part in the fishing season.

In 1952, both the Irish and British government enacted laws to protect fishing in the Foyle.  The Foyle Fisheries Commission was created in response to these laws to help implement them.

Fishing still happens today but sadly it hasn't the importance and the power of bringing everybody together that it used to happen.

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