Free The Lee Plea



1. At present there are five community groups Shehy, Carrigarierk, Barnadivane, Derragh, Cleanrath, vehemently opposing the plans of private companies using multiple subsidiaries to construct 1000 wind turbines in the upper Lee Valley. All five cases have gone to review in the High Court.


The following live link is an essay giving a comprehensive account of what is at stake for a rural community opposing inappropriate and reckless development. Ultimately, their only recourse is to seek a judicial review in the high court, at their own expense!


Existing and ongoing wind farm developments will industrialise the entire uplands of the Lee and Bandon River basins. The ecological ramifications of what is effectively a continuous project, a Mega wind farm, clearly spell disaster.

The development is at variance with Article 6(2) of the Habitats Directive where planning authorities are obliged to ensure good water management in the catchment of rivers where Natura sites occur, as in the case of The Gearagh SAC, Bandon River SAC and Lough Allua SAC.


Natura 2000 is the key instrument to protect biodiversity in the European Union. It is an ecological network of protected areas, set up to ensure the survival of Europe's most valuable species and habitats.


SAC’s complement Special Protection Areas and together form a network of protected sites across the European Union called Natura 2000. This, in turn, is part of the Emerald network of Areas of Special Conservation Interest (ASCIs) under the Berne Convention.



2. At present the major stakeholders ESB / ESBI of the mid river Lee valley (Toons Bridge – Inniscarra Dam) are under order from the Chairperson of the European Commission since September 8th 2016 to submit a management plan for this area of ESB ownership.  Known as the Gearagh, a Special Area of Conservation and Natura Site 2000 this ecologically critical inland river forest delta is under severe threat. International established ecologists have confirmed that the upper section of this inland river forest, is the last remnant of ancient woodland in Ireland England, Scotland and Wales. It is clearly our duty as Irish citizens to protect and preserve it.


Kevin Corcoran of West Cork Ecology is well known as a leading specialist on the Gearagh. Over the past 30 years he has played a major role in its protection and in establishing its current SAC status. Please see the video of Kevin’s presentation at the European parliament, September 2016, here and further articles below.



3. At present from the mouth of the river Bride and  all the way to the  City Hall, the largest most expensive (140 million Euros & 10 year construction time) Flood Relief design plan is about to be rolled out by the Office of Public Works. Only a tiny percentage of Corkonians to date are aware of its magnitude and ramifications. Although serious research has been undertaken by the OPW over the past number of years, the plan presented as almost “complete” was exhibited in the City Hall during the Christmas period. Public attendance was unfortunately poor. Those that did attend (including several professional architects based in the city) were “baffled and unable to decipher the extent and detail” of the proposal. The concerted effort to make sense of it and put the plan into a form that would enable the ‘person on the street’ understand and visualize what lies ahead, took this independent body of architects several weeks. They have banded together out of a sense of civic duty to inform Cokonians and out of professional concern for what the authorities, if given free reign, have in store. This is an enormous undertaking. The project is overloaded with complexity and the citizens of Cork can only be grateful that this group of idealists have volunteered their time and expertise to decipher and interpret this undertaking. Several public events have been organized. The press are now highlighting the severity and long term implications for the city and citizens of Cork. Several councilors and politicians have engaged positively. Due to the enormity and severity of this flood plan, it is crystal clear that more time is needed for discussion and further professional input.


“I’ve looked at the plans and I’ve been briefed by City Hall and I still don’t fully understand what is being proposed – obviously the people who were flooded in 2009 are understandably looking for something to be done but I wonder are they going to be protected by this flood defence system?


“What I will be seeking is to push back the February 17th deadline for three months, have plenty of publicity and public meetings to get people to look at the plan with experts from both sides and at the end of that process we would have a clear mind and either move forward or redesign it.” Councillor Ted Tynan.



Please find clearly compiled, relevant information at the live links here.  SAVE CORK CITY group welcome one and all to engage with this important milestone for Cork.



In November 2014, the first cinematic documentation of the river Lee from source to sea entitled, RIVER RUNNER,  premiered in the Gate Cinema. The film, which continues to screen around Ireland and Europe, inspired several individuals and community groups to actively campaign for the reversal of the unknown atrocities highlighted in the film. Over the past two years FREE THE LEE campaign has actively sought collaboration with politicians, MEPs and the major stakeholders. Our plea is twofold:

1.) Free passage for migratory fish on the Lee

2.) Professional management and preservation of the Gearagh.


Information can be found online at the following (Note is a brand new dedicated website to the film and campaign and will go live mid Feb 2017 replacing


As manager of the FREE THE LEE campaign and director/producer of the film RIVER RUNNER I wish to state the fact that the river Lee is a singular natural entity that has flowed uninterrupted from the Sheehy mountains to the mouth of Cork harbour for some 10,000 years. Since the early 1950’s our river has suffered enormous ecological degradation. Multiple miscalculations have caused untold damage to our natural heritage and have incurred huge losses for far too many citizens. When I consider the current undertakings and listen to experienced professionals who volunteer their time and advice for the sake of positive improvement, I cannot help thinking that history appears to be blindly repeating itself.


On behalf of the 3,644 people who are following and have signed our online petition and all those in the City and County of Cork who have a deep interest in the proper, professional management of our heritage I would ask those of you who have professional and political input to collaborate and listen to the people of Cork’s concerns. This is undoubtedly complex but it is not rocket science. This is a request to exercise intelligence and respect for our unique river, the lovely Lee valley and the inhabitants of Cork City and County.


Declan O’Mahony

February 11 2017







A brief update as the awareness grows and the sun begins to shine on a whole new era of positive undertakings that were long overdue here in the Lee valley.

Five years ago when I started out researching  the RIVER RUNNER , trying to extract concrete information out of people was like pulling old deeply rooted teeth.

Nobody really wanted to talk about water quality that Cork County Council siphon off the eutrophic, silted, dead lakes of Inniscarra , treat with chemicals and sell on to Corkonians. Nobody was terribly sure how wild our wild Atlantic salmon are and what kind of a life cycle  they really have. We now know most of them on the Lee are hand squeezed out of the belly of a lethargic spent female who gets chucked back into the wild after being man handled. Fin clipped and supposedly nose tagged our modern day methods are designed to monitor and presumably improve circumstances for these wild age old creatures, salmo salar, the kings and queens of fish?

The law of the land states one cannot impede the passage of our migratory fish ,eel and lamprey ? Five major Irish rivers are dammed for hydro electricity. Beyond a shadow of a doubt the so called Borland Fish Pass system on the Lee is an age old mechanism that defies all the natural laws of Nature and acts soley as a silly token gesture, pretending that we are fulfilling our legal obligations, just in case anybody asks?

The somewhat scenic stretch of water outside Macroom was for many years a mystery to me and despite 30 public screenings of the film over the last two years, over 100 articles in the local and national newspapers, a 10 minute national TV programme, there are still thousands of people who are unaware of the rarity and ecological importance of the Gearagh inland forest delta. Once again for the record, scientifically proven this is the very last remaining tract  of ANCIENT WOODLAND in Ireland, that is untouched since the ice retreated 10,000 years ago. It should be a celebrated national treasure.

The good news is that long weary campaigns fought around the country by a handful of concerned ecolgists , who have felt for many years that their work was in vain, are beginning to see that a new era for our river systems is positively dawning.

The internets double edged sword is most definitely the turbo trigger for this new chapter. It is my firm belief that once one gets the information across the overloaded information divide, to reach peoples front of mind, the tide starts turning. Persistence is the key to this.

During the past week alone the first week of October 2016 the following developments have occurred.

*Liadh Ni Riada MEP confirmed that an application for a development plan in the upper Lee valley, namely The Gearagh SAC, has been submitted by her to the European Commission. She has also announced the first of a series of public meetings for the Macroom area regarding The Gearagh in the Town Hall, Macroom on November 17th at 8 pm.

*ESB International and the NPWS have confirmed that “initial scoping” work by ecologists is underway regarding the upper Lee valley, as requested by the EU Environmental Commission. This will be the one to watch closely as it involves the decision makers of our land.

*Dr. Simon Harrison , Ecologist at UCC has confirmed that a cross departmental workshop focusing on the Upper catchment of the River Lee, has been initiated in conjunction with the Environmental Research Institute in UCC. He has also confirmed the publication of a very important doctoral thesis on the Ancient Woodland of the Gearagh by a former student Aileen Cudmore. This scientific undertaking should be the foundation on which we redefine the River Lee into the future.

* A new Community Water Officer , Kieran Murphy has been appointed whose primary role will be to provide on the ground support to communities in the delivery of Water Framework Directive objectives (i.e. good water ecological status). Therefore, projects ranging from pollution mitigation and control, habitat improvement, biodiversity conservation, invasive species control and public awareness will be developed and supported where possible with local communities. This comes with full internet platform support :


*A new project part of a PhD program undertaken by Siobhan Atkinson called 'Reconnect' has been launched, and the overall goal of the project is to develop a validated methodology for prioritising a selection of barriers for modification or removal to improve hydro-morphology and connectivity in Irish rivers. As you can imagine, locating and mapping river barriers is a big job. To help map barriers and to help create awareness of their impact we've introduced an app from the UK called 'River Obstacles' that can be used to record barriers. This project is of course live on the net and awaits your support.

A new FaceBook page was launched by mp2films entitled IRISH RIVERS RUN FREE . A website will follow soon which will be an information source from around Ireland highlighting the factual damage to our river systems and platforming the solutions . The online campaign to FREE THE LEE continues to gain momentum and support. Information on the campaign and future screenings of RIVER RUNNER can be followed at

It has been a busy , beautiful week in the mp2films camp but progress is progress. Thank you for sharing. Sharing is caring. BEIR BUA.

Fate of Ireland’s last Rainforest To be decided

On May 16th. next a crucial meeting between the ESB, Cork County Council, Inland Fisheries Ireland and the National Parks and Wildlife Service will decide the future of the Gearagh, Western Europe’s last stand of post-glacial, alluvial Temperate Rainforest.  Hidden away in the inaccessible reaches of the ESB’s, Carrigadrohidhydro-electric reservoir on the River Lee in County Cork, its name is derived from ‘an Ghaoireadh’ ,which literally means ‘River Forest’. A National Nature Reserve, Special Area of Conservation, Special Protection Area and a World Ramsar Site, it was first brought to scientific prominence in 1907 by our most eminent naturalist Robert Lloyd Praeger, when he described it thus –



Above Macroom, where the stream runs through flat meadows, it spreads out, dividing and rejoining again and again, among trees and bushes, forming a delightful combination of wood and clear swift water – a very curious feature and unique in  Ireland. The place is suitably called the Gearagh (Gaertha, a woodland along a river) and is well worth exploring in one of the flat-bottomed boats which are in use for this purpose’.

Incredibly scarce at a global level ‘an Ghaoireadh’ is the very last, reasonably intact river forest left in Western Europe. Sitting on an immense inland delta, both river and forest combine to create a treacherous and inaccessible swamp forest ecosystem where the most fascinating biodiversity survives. Lying adjacent to the mighty Atlantic Ocean and its moderating Gulf Stream the areas climate is Hyper-oceanic in nature. Therefore it is ever perpetually mild and moist and so in part semi-tropical in nature, conditions that allow impressive and unique amounts of delicate, moisture loving species to thrive. Its interior is smothered in a magical blanket of rare oceanic mosses, liverworts and ferns, its upper canopy sports extraordinary sky gardens of equally uncommon lichens, while its streams are a fragile word of diminishing freshwater pearl mussels and sponges. Similar in its rarity to the Cloud Forests of the high Andes and the Mist Forests of the Canaries, it is a priceless and irreplaceable remnant of the Temperate Rain Forest that once covered much of the Eurasian land mass.


Although much of the forest was submerged beneath the flood waters of the Lee Hydro-electric scheme in the 1950’s, it has made a remarkable recovery over the last sixty years. Environmental Biologist Kevin Corcoran of the West Cork Ecology Centre has been monitoring and studying the Gearagh for the last 35 years. The main focus of my research has been to insure this priceless European gem is preserved for posterity. Up to now the best way to achieving that aim has been through the intentional process of keeping it below radar, away from a public glare that could so quickly wipe it out through mass intrusion. This has been incredibly difficult, almost like trying to hide the Cliffs of Moher, but somehow the Centre has managed to pull that off. Now however, the time is right to bring it out into the open. Stringent EU Laws are there to protect it and there is a better educated public out there that will hopefully take it to their heart.


Following the success of the documentary River Runner by the esteemed film maker and artist Declan O Mahony, which show cases the unique world of the River Lee and the Gearagh, the story is now out in the public domain and so it is time to act. The principal owner of the Gearagh is the ESB and although their brief is to make affordable electricity for the Irish consumer they have always made an effort to allow the public access to the safer parts of the Gearagh, with car parks, safety railings, a bird hide and access paths being generously provided. Now however increasing pressures have been impacted on the rejuvenating forest, whereby wind farms, blanket afforeastation and agricultural reclamation projects in the pristine uplands are causing the hydrology of the Upper River Lee to be so modified that it has having very negative down stream effect on the Gearagh. In effect it is being washed away.


Thankfully, as a result of our legal commitments under the EU Habitats Directive, the Gearagh must be fully protected from injury and so, the purpose of the 16th. May meeting. Hopefully a realistic and sustainable management plan is being thrashed out that allows the ESB to perform its job as well as boosting the economy of the entire Lee Valley through the eco-tourism benefits that will follow the restoration of the Gearagh. In fact everything is on its side right now. The land essentially belongs to the state and so to the citizens, and there are very substantial EU funds available to support such a project.


According to Mr. Corcoran this is the third such meeting to-date but unfortunately the public have not yet been allowed engage. We have the support of the very capable MEP Liadh Ni Riadha however who has pulled out all the stops to assist the initiative. We are very fortunate to have her on board. If I was allowed to participate in the discussions however, I would certainly push for an over-all Sustainable Lee Basin Management Plan that would not only restore the Gearagh but transform the region.


Lee Basin

Sustainable Management Plan


To further that aim The Lee Basin Sustainable Management Plan, is an initiative by the West Cork Ecology Centre to develop the future economy of the River Basin in tandem with ‘best environmental practices’. Under its flagship a restored Gearagh would create the spring board for a whole new sustainable, eco-tourism initiative, not just for Cork and the Lee Valley but the whole southwest rural region.

As a working case example the Centre cites the model used in the development of the primeval Bialowieza Forest in eastern Poland, a conservation and eco-tourism initiative that has brought huge economic benefits to the region. A similar project here in the Gearagh would put the area on the International Map. A must see for all tourists visiting the Lee Valley.


Such a development would transform the southwest region and also encourage other compatible initiatives, be it fishing, walking/cycling routes, rural tourism projects (food; languages; crafts; life style programmes .. ). Furthermore by encouraging the regions major economic stakeholders to grow with the support of advanced environmental technologies they can further assist the wider community through self employment opportunities and modern sustainable lifestyles.


Positive indicator parameters would act as the green lights to indicate that such a development is taking place. These can include specific river organisms like salmon, kingfishers and otters, or healthy ecosystems that occur throughout its length, be it the Gearagh alluvial forest, clean lakes and tributaries and intact uplands at source.


Management Plan Initiatives:

Step 1: Restoration of the Gearagh with the support of the ESB. Set up a realistic management plan. Develop an on-site interpretative centre and hands on educational centre.


Step 2: Maintain and continue to improve the entire river environment to allow the Salmon to come back. The river is still reasonably healthy thus vital to insure there is no further degradation. Continue to promote our country as a source of clean, healthy food, produced in a sustainable, environmentally sound way.


Step 3: Encourage other stake holders to support the initiative. Forestry outfits to adopt modern, sustainable targets; Farming to support sustainable food production programmes within a stable bio-diverse environment. Encourage all other industries to also work towards a modern sustainable label.


Step 4: Promote sustainable community initiatives that develop local industries and life style opportunities. A walking route from source to sea. Retreat Centres. Educational and outdoor pursuits. Third level institutes working with communities through educational programmes that develop sustainable practices and skills as well as encouraging research and development that adds to the sustainable ideology.



Kevin Corcoran, West Cork Ecology Centre, Macroom, Co. Cork.


Liadh Ni Riadha; contact



Participants in the meetings include the following:


Niall Cussen, Principal Advisor, Planning Section, Dept of the Environment.

Mobile086 8154760


Michael Quinlan, Property and Finance Manager. ESB.


Ciaran O’ Keeffe, Director, National Parks and Wildlife Service.


Paul Murphy, Senior Planner, Cork County Council.


Inland Fisheries Ireland, Macroom, Co. Cork.

Our Last remaining ancient River Forest …An Ghaoiradh

In this age of high speed web technology, films, recordings, photographs, poems have an ever decreasing shelf life. That may or may not benefit the consumer. I guess it depends on ones age and how deep rooted ones aesthetic values are? Despite the ease of communication today, it is my opinion that high speed communication through an electronic device has hampered and distorted the appreciation of serious artworks. Art , especially serious art has always taken time to create. History gives us numerous examples of the amount of “time” it took for the consumer to “see” not alone fully appreciate certain artists works. But the time factor is critical and although the internet appears to enable time efficiency it has disabled our time clocks which were once ticking at a natural pace. Creating the INSTANT MOMENT does not exactly enhance ones understanding it alters our critical perception. INSTANT ART like INSTANT COFFEE is unpalatable. Memory as we traditionally understood it is radically changing. How much can one fully evaluate without proper memory. Transfer human memory to an electronic “stik” and what have we left to compare and contrast. How does one assimilate and appreciate if our info banks are external drives sitting silently on a desktop or invisibly floating in a cloud?


Ask any independent music promoter, singer, film-maker or visual artist about the reality of the time slot one has to promote an album, a film, an exhibition of paintings or a book of poems. The answer currently is “a number of weeks” and if you don’t hit the GREAT GONG of instant recognition first time around your two/three year creative input will sicker swiftly into the sands of time or blend seamlessly into the ever expanding ether.



What brought me to these thoughts were the reactions from so many people who have gone to see RIVER RUNNER and have been particularly touched by the sadness of the story. Although this series of tragedies happened back in the mid 1950’s before I was born, the tale lives on. Human memory is not that easily eradicated. Despite an enormous human endeavor over a period of three years (1953-56) which must have been horrendously sad for the 39 families who inhabited the Gearagh, the hacked tree stumps of the age old oaks protrude like tombstones of that bygone era. Once the winter rains cease, the flood waters of the Gearagh recede and allow the mutilated stumps of yew and oak silouhette their watery grave-scape. A continual deathly reminder for all those who travel the Tooms Valley roads and understand the history of these flooded fields. Our screenings in the Briery Gap theatre last February brought hundreds of people from the locality who had not been to a cinema, as one elderly gentleman described it to me humourously …

“in donkey’s ears” ! A colloquialism meaning “a very long time”.


Recently a river ecology expert from the UK who came on a specific visit to examine the Gearagh claimed, that of the final four inland alluvial forest deltas left on planet earth the Gearagh is the only one that remains in tact. I have to pose a question to our local authorities and those responsible for our rivers at this point. Should this unique part of the river Lee valley, this utterly unique part of planet earth not be a glorified and fully preserved gem of Nature, a global centre of attraction? It is simply crying out for attention and INTELLIGENT PRESERVATION.


I would like to finish this post with the very personal creative words of the daughter of a former Gearagh resident who’s cottage was destroyed and its remains submerged by the flood waters in 1957.




Gearagh Roots


The Gearagh, a river woodland,

the home place of my father,

that haven that he had to leave,

didn't leave him, ever.

Annahala was a special place

a village like no other,

it was there he spent his childhood

by a woodland full of wonder.

The cottages, the village shop

the water pump, the lime quarry,

helpful neighbours all around,

characters and stories.


In the fifties, The Lee Scheme

had the community uprooted,

families had to leave their homes

all along the river valley.

Tears fell as they watched that day

their beloved land flooded.

A community and forest gone

only Gearagh roots remain.


He reminisced about life there

when we passed there in my childhood,

the fishing spots by the Lee,

pearls found in river mussels,

the rich fertile soil where he grew

prizewinning vegetables,

but nothing could compare

to the taste of wild watercress.


I went with daddy in later years

to walk the quarry road,

he pointed out the heaps of stones

where once stood happy homes.

He showed me the bowling road

where crowds went after mass,

willows and alders grew

all around the quarry cross.

Pink roses bloomed around the ruins,

he left with wistful thoughts,

by the old bog road where we passed by

there grew Forget-me-nots.


Sincere thanks to Margaret O’Driscoll for her very personal poetic words. April 2015.


There aren’t too many independently run Cinemas left in County Cork. But Stephen Keohane and Margie Kelly run a fabulous show in Bantry towns CINEMAX. Thanks to Tom Kelly for his professionalism and to Barry and Lea for their support on opening night. The Q+A after the show was lively and intense and once again garnered energetic commentaries to undertake change in the laws that affect our precious resources, namely our rivers and the wild Atlantic salmon. Our gratitude to Mark Boyden and Fred De Haye from Streamscapes who are doing exceptional work which is simply nowhere near getting the publicity it deserves. These guys have contributed, from the wilds of the Borlin river valley in West Cork, to the restocking of Wild Atlantic Salmon in the River Rhine, in Germany, several years ago and the project was a complete success. Mark and his team understand that education is the key to success. Our meeting in Bantry on World Water Day made the whole experience worth every inch of the effort. Please check out and support


Going Mainstream ? Feb 27th -March 6th 2015

Only weeks after the films premiere and setting a precedent in the Cork Film scene RIVER RUNNER along with the short film VIRTUS were offered a week long main stream cinematic screening at the luxurious Omniplex , Mahon Point , Cork. Thanks to all the management team especially Stephen, Mark , Magda & Therese who worked so professionally and made the experience so pleasant and a great success. Some comments from audience members :


VIRTUS was an education and RIVER RUNNER was a very clear approach to a complex Lee River Catchment life history.

Margaret Aherne



"The film RIVER RUNNER is a wonderful and powerful film that really demonstrates the wonders of the Lee River in West Cork."

Eoin Ryan Editor RTE Nationwide



"Congratulations on a truly wonderful film. I loved it. I think everyone there did... it left us with lots to think about.... brilliantly put together, concise, emphatic and totally engrossing ...Good title too."


"thanks and thanks again. I am in awe of your insight and enchanted by your vision...totally impressed with the way in which you have made that vision really stick and resonate in the film VIRTUS."

Colette Olney. Journalist .THE OPINION.



The film RIVER RUNNER was fantastic, incredibly powerful, sad, yet hopeful.

Justin Green. Proprietor. Ballyvollane House, Co Cork


Briery Gap Cinema Screenings

Once again our sincere thanks to all who braved the elements last Monday night in Macroom to attend the second screening of RIVER RUNNER at the Briery Gap Cinema !

The audience reaction to this untold story has been magnificent. We are simply overwhelmed with the response. We are also thrilled to announce that in a few weeks time we have a full week of screenings in the OMNIPLEX, Mahon Point, Cork. This will be an mp2films double bill.

Our short film VIRTUS which won Best Irish Short at the Dublin International Short Film & Music Festival, November 2013, will open the programme. Eight highly talented people from Cork City participate in this artistic portrayal. Their talents and stories are filmed against a backdrop of an age old city-scape that somewhat contradicts their individual brilliance. Finally VIRTUS takes to the silver screen for its premiere screening in its hometown by the Lee. Details and times will be posted on our website and all of our platforms.

River Runner Premiere at the Cork Film Festival has a Full House!

Well our premiere has come and gone with overwhelming success. A complete SELL OUT well in advance of the screening date, meant of course several disappointments on screening day! As promised we are workingpresently to arrange further screenings. For those people living in the upper Lee valley we have provisionally set a date for mid January 2015 at the Briery Gap Theatre, main street Macroom.

Unfortunately a second screening at the Gate cinema in the near future is not possible, however Triskel Cinema in Tobin Street (off South main street) and Cork Cine Club in St Johns College (off South Terrace) are strong contenders for the next screening. We are also doing our utmost to produce a special edition dvd with booklet. Hopefully this will be on sale at our next screening.

The full team at mp2films would sincerely like to thank all of you who attended and lent support to RIVER RUNNER. The public reaction to the film couldn't have been more positive. SINCERE THANKS to one and all.


FRESH WATER PEARL MUSSEL Margaritifera margaritifera

What an exotic fascinating creature that we once again have discovered and exploited across the globe to the brink of extinction. Similar to the surprise I got upon hearing from Kevin Corcoran, biologist & author, about the wonders of the Gearagh (last weeks blogpost), this story really captured my attention!

Clean, well oxygenated water is of paramount importance for the survival of our oceans and rivers inhabitants. River pollution has caused havoc in our rivers over the past 50 years. Slowly the awareness of what we flush down the river is changing. In the case of the fresh water pearl mussel another ancient inhabitant on the river Lee it is critical.

This bivalve mollusc has a life span of 100 -125 years! It is dependent on migratory fish like the Wild Atlantic Salmon and the fresh water trout for propagation. This master stroke of mother Nature really grabs me. At that time of the year when the salmon and trout are making their up way to their natal streams to spawn, Margaritifera releases tiny little eggs that attach themselves to the gills of the fish. This causes no harm whatsoever, it simply allows the tiny mollusc larvae a safe haven for it to grow in its formative weeks. The mature salmon and trout have several months now in the shallow streams to reproduce before they begin their return journey to sea. These few incubating months allow the baby pearl mussel to grow. Once the fishes have spawned and begin to filter back down stream, the tiny mussel detaches itself from the gills and with its minuscule tentacles, it positions itself on the river bed. There it can remain for up to 125 years!

The form is ovular. Incredibly similar in size and shape to the stones on the riverbed. Perfect adaptation. If undisturbed it will grow to be about human palm size. The colour is practically identical with that of the gravel bed. Mother Nature simply a master colourist. A tiny slit allows its interior mussel to extrude and manoeuvre its way along the river bed. I quote Kevin Corcoran again: “when the fish had free passage on the entire river Lee system there used to be hundreds of thousands of these mussels. You could find them in ‘mother clusters’. Sadly that day is long gone!”

The major shift from a free flowing natural river to a slow moving, reservoir-waterscape has wiped out this ancient exotic mussel. Those few that have been found and identified by specialists like Kevin Corcoran and biologists that work for Ecofact are 60 years plus in age. Sadly there are no young fresh water pearl mussels in the upper Lee catchment presently. Pollution and the absence of host fish have clearly wiped them out.

I will finish with a quotation from a rather exotic jewelry website I came across who predominantly sell farmed pearls as the natural ones are practically extinct :

Pearls have long been associated by many cultures with mystery, elegance, beauty, and the power of nature.  Pearls are also associated with the moon and it's believed they offer protection to those that wear them.

Well the contradiction is as plain as daylight! We are it seems by nature creatures of destruction!

For further detailed information on the fresh water pearl mussel please visit : (



As a child I held a fearful fascination for the Amazon River Jungle. Growing up in the 1970’s in a comfortable town house in Cork City with electricity, central heating, music-stereo, washing machine etc. Life in a forest setting was a million miles away. inconceivable! Little did I know that just a few miles along the river Lee heading west from the City, lay the largest inland forrest delta in Europe. A carbon copy of the Amazon in Cork. No way? My only knowledge of it until the research on this film was its anglicised place name ‘The Gearagh’ which meant nothing and the visual glimpses from the car of hundreds of hacked tree stumps jutting out of a vast expanse of water west of the Lee valley bridge! A bizarre landscape I often thought, but never got further.

The invaluable information that I have since acquired was given to me by quite an extraordinary character whose family down through the generations were inhabitants of the Gearagh. Kevin Corcoran is a biologist, a painter, an environmental campaigner, and an author. He must be the most knowledgeable person you will meet on this magical part of planet earth. The beautiful Irish name for this place he explained to me is ‘An Ghaoraidh’ meaning “wooded river”. Beginning at Dromcarra bridge extending south west as far as the Lee bridge, it encompasses thousands of acres of ancient Irish Oak, Yew, Ash and Alder, sprouting from hundreds of little islands. This mystical part of the river Lee has a tragic history! Kevin Corcoran tells us the GOOD NEWS. His powerful message on the Gearagh will be brought to light in the film. Some of the interesting details that support his message in the film follow here.

The vast majority of these trees, many which were several hundred years old, were taken down by hand over a period of three years. (The jungle like terrain hindered all access for machinery). This was to allow for the back fill of water from the Lee Hydro Electric Scheme installed by the Electricity Supply Board in the mid to late 1950’s to bring electricity to the citizens of Cork. Tragically, there existed within this myriad of wooded islands and streams a closely knit community of farming folk. Irish-speaking up to the 1950’s, these folk were true forest dwellers and totally self sufficient. Fish were in abundance. These gentle meandering streams have graded gravel beds formed over thousands of years. Perfect spawning grounds for wild Atlantic salmon and the almost extinct fresh water pearl mussel. If you look down into the river during the summer months weaving and waving gently with the current you will see long dark green hair like grasses. This is known as ‘crows foot’. A native river plant that tells us the river is clean and intact. Once again, a perfect camouflaged protection for juvenile salmon, trout and eel.

Great credit is due to people like Kevin Corcoran and Ted Cook who have brought this part of the river Lee to the attention of the local and national authorities. Their long, weary struggle has established the Gearagh as an Internationally recognised Biogenetic Reserve and Wildfowl Sanctuary. More importantly the site is now protected under the international Ramsar Wetland Protection Act. This provides the framework for national action and international co-operation for the conservation and WISE USE of wetlands and their resources. Here on the lovely Lee we have an absolute wonder of the world. There are only FOUR inland alluvial forest deltas in the world, and the Gearagh is the most intact. Biology experts from all over the world are fascinated by this incredible and unique natural resource. But strangely its importance and its value here in Ireland is privy to just a few.

Kevin Corcoran’s next publication is on the ancient forests of Ireland. There is a dedicated chapter in this book on the Gearagh. Aside from the fact that it is extremely dangerous territory to navigate by water, any form of public access would lead to destruction of what was once upon a time an intact ancient forest delta and is now slowly clawing its way back.

I’ll finish with Kevin’s words on our age old trees ”You can cut them down but you cannot kill them”.


The research for this documentary began after a chance meeting in the mid harbour in November 2012. Initially it was going to be a follow up to mp2films previous 19 minute long documentary VIRTUS. A half hour intimate overview of the river Lee was the plan. How innocent that thought was! By the end of summer 2013 we had already 5 hours of footage on a whole range of river related topics and several interviews to choose from. A year and half has passed and we are now fine tuning the RIVER RUNNER as a feature length documentary. Having a dedicated website and weekly blog is a superb platform to package those ideas and moments that would most certainly be written up in a book but will not make it into the film.

The sources of the facts and figures in this post are taken from reputable oceanographers, dedicated environmentalists, professional biologists.

The core issue is an astounding CONTRADICTION. It is a sad but common fact that the numbers of wild Atlantic salmon are at an all time low. The reasons are multifarious and complex. Humans are dessimating wild stocks of fish across the globe and simultaneously supplying 47% of our global seafood demand with Farmed Fish. In just 60 years 90% of our oceans large fish population have been brought to the brink of extinction. The three main types that are in serious danger are Tuna, Swordfish and Shark ! No wonder when you get your head around what one commercial trawler can take on board : sit back and digest this one. You could fit four full size football fields into one of those nets? Alternatively imagine 13 Jumbo Jets fitting into the same size net. That translates for the landlubber into 500 tonnes of fish in one swoop.

I have yet to establish how many of these metal monsters are hoovering up the ocean floor which is another uncomfortable aspect to this practice…the low trawling nets devastate the richly encrusted age old seabed when they trawl the bottom to get at the deep sea dwelling fish. The scientists are sending out the warning signals .This week on national daytime radio it was announced how important those deep sea dwellers are for CO2 exchange. Hold steady for the punch-line from a specialist who has dedicated her whole life to preserving our oceans for future generations. “If we continue this current practice of OVERFISHING by the year 2061 we will dessimate ALL OF OUR OCEANS FISH STOCKS. (Dr. Sylvia Earle)

Jellyfish soup will be on the menu from then on. Have you heard of Jellyfish Blooms? These creatures are simply on the increase globally as the balance between their population and that of the larger fish is now out of kilter. They both feed on the same small marine organisms. Take away the giant tuna, shark and swordfish! Enter the Jellyfish brigade! The experts compare them to cockroaches. They grow fast, will eat anything, can survive in poor quality water and reproduce faster than rabbits. I have been wondering why in the past number of years there seems to be more and more of these little jelly critters floating in on our local beaches. The Common, Barrel, Compass, Blue, Lions Mane, Mauve Stinger will all give you a nasty sting. If you come across a Portugese Man O War…BEWARE….because those boys can be FATAL.

Ever heard of long line fishing boats’ ? Every year 1.4 billion hooks are baited with freshly caught wild small fish to catch the remainder of the large fish population that somehow are managing to survive our extermination programme. Mind you our TUNA friends of late can only manage to weigh in at half their normal size due to one solitary fact: OVERFISHING.

365 days of the year we can purchase at a very affordable price a farmed salmon. The vast majority of us no longer have the pleasure of eating the wild salmon. Similar to the delicious wild sea bass, they are simply no longer on the menu. Farmed salmon come vacuum-packed, are pinkish in colour, have a slight fishy aroma and are ready for the pan.

The list of disadvantages or gray zone areas relating to salmon farming is enormous and way beyond the scope of a short blog. But I will briefly mention the titles of some of the contentious issues relating to farmed fish and wish you all BON APPETIT : Sea Lice ; Anti-biotics ; Colour dyes ; Genetically Modified Feed; Byproduct feed i.e. poultry feathers necks and intestines!

Enough already? As Mr. Sam Beckett famously once stated “I can’t go on, I must go on, I’ll go on.” The good news is that if we give the wild atlantic salmon and their extended relations half a chance they have an amazing capacity to replenish. We have the capacity to assist them or let them disappear.

For more detail on what you ingest when you eat a farmed salmon read and watch what these folks have uncovered on our behalf :

Twyla Roscovich, Canadian Film Maker & Environmentalist

John Volpe PhD., University of Victoria Environmental Studies

Alex Morton, Biologist British Colombia

Dr.Sylvia Earle, Legendary Ocean Researcher

Finally to ring out on a positive artistic note, we really love this guys graphic design work! The message speaks for itself, post it, tweet it, get it out there through the NET !!



It’s the year 2000. I had just returned to Ireland after a fifteen year entrenchment in the multi cultural art metropolis of Berlin and was relieved to have that Atlantic within easy driving distance once again. On a hazy summer afternoon we headed to Lismore, Co. Waterford, to walk the cliff side pathway. The place was so deserted it reminded me of a saying my father often used that “there wasn’t a sinner in sight”. The ocean appeared like a giant lake of pearlescent silver. Despite the tranquility, I could still hear the screeching of steel on steel as the Berliner U-Bahn, ground its way through the dark caverns underneath the four million inhabitants of a sprawling city. The memory of hectic loud urban living was still so vivid. However this wide open stretch of calm ocean, its emptiness and sheer beauty was a tonic for the soul. After twenty minutes or so of perfect silence I spotted an elderly gentleman up ahead seated and solitary, gazing at the ocean.
Eighty-three years of age , born and bred in the village, never travelled much on the roads of Ireland but spent his entire life fishing the waters off the Waterford - Cork coastline. He reminded me so much of my grandfather who was a passionate salmon angler back in the 1940’s & 50’s on the river Lee. How’s the fishing these days, I innocently asked “Tis wiped out I’m afraid !” and he continued… ” there’s nobody to blame only ourselves…we couldn’t get enough of em into the boats …pure greed…the few boats that go out now come back practically empty !” Well my tranquil afternoon on the cliff walk was suddenly jarred back into a rather negative reality. This fisherman was clearly not at peace because of his participation in what he went on to describe as a “crime”. It seems Mother Nature is so perfect until MAN enters the equasion!

Several months on still trying hard to readjust to an Irish society that was extremely unfamiliar I found myself in the company of a medical professional who told me of his two great passions in life : ART & SALMON FISHING. The conversation bounded along from one contemporary Irish painter to the next. I was all ears and all eyes. For years this man and his wife were compulsive buyers of Irish artworks. Delightedly for me this was an intimate, broad insight into what my contemporaries in Ireland were creating parallel to my own artistic endeavours during my fifteen years in Berlin. Several paintings were seascape related works and before long the conversation swung to salmon fishing!

Once again I mentioned my only connection at that stage to salmon was through my grandfather and his keen interest and reputation as a fly fisherman back in the 40’s & 50’s. To my surprise the conversation took on a whole new character.” “There’s NO pleasure fishing the local rivers here anymore!” he explained in a strong acidic manner. I was somewhat shocked. Remembered immediately my conversation in Lismore months earlier with the elderly sea fisherman. “Your grandfather experienced the Lee in its hey day!” “Working a full time busy job and then getting out once a week on the Lee during the salmon seasons prime months, May through August, to land the odd small fish became too frustrating !” I had to enquire further to understand why this once most abundant salmon, trout and eel river was now in such a critical state. There are a multitude of factors that contribute to this. The human awareness factors I will mention here. Other very important factors will be dealth with in next weeks post.

Since the 1957 Lee Electric Scheme, the river Lee is no longer a free flowing natural entity. Similar to the Liffey , the Shannon and the Erne, the natural flow of these rivers has been broken by concrete barriers to create the business of selling electricity to the Irish public ! In 1957 the ESB catapulted us out of the dark ages of the candle and the oil lantern into a new brightly lit era. Naturally it came with a price tag.

For generations further down river where the Lee divides into the north and south channels both the public at large and the city design engineers of Cork ignored their river as it was ignorantly perceived as a simple solution to carry human waste out to sea. To this very day shopping trollies, bikes, tyres, parking cones, anything that makes a splash really, are being chucked in for the fun of it !

Salmon & trout depend for their existence on fresh, clean, well oxygenated water. For many years the Lee was a contaminated soup that flowed pungent green through the city. Thankfully the City Council (2002) installed a sophisticated purification system which has had a hugely positive impact. A wide range of people I’ve interviewed claim with certainty that farmers dumped large quantities of slurry into the river Lee and its multiple tributaries, wreaking havoc with the crystal clear waters flowing for centuries through the Lee valley from the Shehy mountains. Inland fisheries have confirmed that there has been a major shift in the the thinking on this among the younger generation of farmers. Despite a number of extremely positive initiatives the story for the fish remains critical. I discovered after further research that serious salmon anglers prefer to save and spend thousands of Euros to fly to Canada , Norway, Russia, South America just to get a brief really expensive taste of fishing in a river that has a natural healthy stock of wild creatures.

Some facts to round off the gripe : One wild Atlantic salmon is worth 500 Euros to the Irish economy. One 10-15lb female salmon can produce 10-15 thousand eggs. The river Lee prior to 1957 was known as the Silver Lee due to the sheer abundance of fish that swam in shoals through our magnificent harbour all the way to its source at Gougannebarra. We inhabit an island surrounded by the Atlantic Ocean. We have hundreds of rivers and streams. Are we simply unaware of one of our greatest assets? I would say YES ! The vast majority of us simply DO NOT KNOW THE FACTS. We continue to consume fish by the truck load and yet our ocean and river stocks are in a serious and steady decline. Ask any Irish commercial fishing trawler skipper how far they have to motor to catch your piece of cod for your fish supper and chips?

We are surely these creatures greatest enemy and this in my viewfinder is a delicious irony and one hell of a grandiose contradiction.

Next weeks post is entitled : FARMED FISH FOREVER.


The river Lee flows ceaselessly day and night into Cork harbour, where on a six hourly cycle, it rises and falls by as much as 4.5 meters (13 feet). The river is now under the influence of tidal currents, rising and falling. This is where the fresh water from the Lee meets the salt water from the Atlantic ocean. In order to highlight this continuous rise and fall of the tide, Barry McCarthy proposed that I shoot a time-lapse sequence of a water-marker in an interesting location. “Nothing like an old challenge my friend!” No better place than mid-harbour with the iconic Blackrock Castle in view.

I could not locate a metre water-maker so I improvised and attached a handmade one to an old greenwood stay mid stream! This was nailed on at high tide at 6am again at mid-tide at  9am, and once again at low-tide at 12noon. The improvised toilet roll principle worked a treat. Once the marker was set in position my good friend John Neville who is an engineer with the Port of Cork, assisted on several occasions to set up the shoot on a dis-used jetty. Sincere thanks to John & the Port of Cork Authority for permission! The six marker question however is, will this sequence make the final cut?


We will hear from Alan Nolan in the film how this tidal action of the Lee plays a very important role for the returning wild Atlantic salmon. This is their reviére, their element, their rhythm. These fish torpedo their way from Greenland, approximately a 2,000 kilometre stretch of ocean to Cork harbour every year. Possibly since the ice melted 10,000 years ago in the Lee Valley basin. It has been 12 months and in some cases two years since they passed through this vast open water harbour as smolts heading to sea . A smolt is a juvenile salmon approximately 20 cms (8-9 inches) in length. It is at this stage that they leave the shallow waters of their natal river and negotiate the ancient route from the river Lee to Greenland.

Occasionally while silently paddling in the semi darkness, with the river as black as oil, a sudden churning of the water surface will occur just in front of the bough of the kayak. When all you can hear is the paddle stroking the water, your own breathing and all of a sudden a sizeable disturbance occurs just a few feet away, your heart can skip a beat or two. It is large enough to be a seal or a shoal of fish but you cannot determine or see exactly what you have disturbed. It comes as a startle, causes a serious adrenalin rush and is an uncanny feeling as you paddle ahead and leave the churning water behind you. I fantasised when it happened first that I had come upon the giant salmo salar that the anglers upstream dream of. “I doubt that very much” explained Alan “but the beauty about Atlantic salmon is that from one day to the next you simply never know what can happen. They are unpredictable wild creatures of nature!”



Corkonians consider Cork the true capital of Ireland and are well known for their heightened sense of pride in their City by the river Lee. Two years ago when I set about researching this film, I discovered to my amazement that there were a whole series of really intriguing facts about the river Lee that the vast majority of people I interviewed were clearly unaware of.

I walk and cycle along various parts of the river every week. I have swam, fished, and paddled many different sections of the river since early childhood. I have sailed around its magnificent harbour, the second largest natural harbour in the world. I have crossed its 29 inner city bridges a million times or more. But I never considered the bird’s eye view from source to sea.

The photo above is taken in the summer of 2013 at Cork airport. Seán Murphy, our flight captain is preparing the Skyhawk to fly the mp2film team, all two of us, the entire length of the river.

Barry McCarthy was on camera duty and I was assisting from very tight quarters directly behind his co-pilot’s seat. The wind chill factor and noise level at 500 feet and 120 mph takes a little getting used to. But the view as this little metal plane rattled through the sky and wound and turned along the meandering Lee on what was a crystal clear Summer’s evening was simply breathtaking.

This close range magical overview gives one the true sense of how gracious a natural river flows. This giant snake has carried billions upon billions of tons of water through the Lee valley since the ice melted some 10,000 years ago.

From the massive expanse of the harbour, shimmering silver in the evening sun, the city spreads in all directions, engulfs the river that divides into two channels and cuts it with its straight limestone walls. Once we fly past the city, mature sweeping bends appear with an almost erotic elegance as it carves its way through the lush green pastures. This is the lovely Lee. This is exhilarating.



Further out the valley the pilot asks if he should delay to get more footage, pushing up the saucy price even further. “NO” I respond through the ripping noise of the wind for obvious reasons. Two minutes later the unique inland forest delta known as the Gearagh approaches in its sprawling splendour. ”Come in Sean…eh..can you circle again please…over” This hurt the pocket but it wassimply worth the sting as it gave us the full sense of this meandering sprawling myriad ofliquid veins that we thought we knew so well.

A summer heat haze smothered Gougannebarra, the source of the river Lee, and created an impassable Monet-like shimmer over the Sheedy Mountains. Sean Murphy calmly flew us back to base, with our memory cards full and my ears frozen off the side of my head!

Regardless, that was the fastest hour of my life and once we got to view the footage back at base it proved to be really worth the effort.

Stay tuned for next week’s blog post entitled, ‘Proper Preparation Prevents Poor Performance’.





Early one morning, roughly two years ago I set out to meet with the experienced salmon angler Alan Nolan to get some test shots on the river. Without casting a thought I arrived wearing a bright red rain jacket and a black waterproof pants.

“You’re not going to see any salmon today I’m afraid.” was the greeting I got as the boot of his car opened and Alan’s ‘forty shades of green’ fishing regalia appeared!  “That jacket is for going to an outdoor music Festival ! When you go riverside you’ve gotta go green!”

“The wild Atlantic salmon can be a hyper sensitive creature,” I was duly informed. Any movement , noiseor flash of colour can be picked up by their super sensory systems and the hunt maybe over before it even begins.

There was a very quick change of plan. My glaring red jacket was inappropriate for a genuine introduction to salmon huntingso Alan decided instead to show me a ‘man-made’ fish pass on the very river where he began fishing for trout as a young teenager.

This part of the river used to be a deathtrap for migrating salmon and seatrout in the past. A concrete weir spanning the Glashaboy river coupled with low water conditions often made it impossible for the returningsalmon and seatrout to migrate upstream. Migratory species will continually try to overcome an obstacle as they are genetically programmed to return to their place of birth to spawn. Eventually a percentage of them may die of exhaustion.

In the late 1980’s the local angling club of which Alan was a founder member campaigned hard to have improvements made to the weir. Fortunately, in this case all agencies involved including the Fishery Board and local county council worked together, resulting in a far better system for the migratory fish to get upstream. Downstream passage (atlantic salmon return to sea after spawning) is a different story but that issue is for another day.

Part of this box weir fish pass can be seen in thecenter of the photograph above.

As we arrived at the fish pass the light was so good that we managed to get some great footagein the leafy shades of green. This lovely sequence which will hopefully make the final cut came with a price! Someone had to film from the bank(moi)!! Someone had to get into the river (Alan). It is practically impossible for a tall strong man to withstand the flow of water through this relatively small fish pass.  Yet “Salmo Salar” can swim through with ease. My inquisitive nature was well and truly awakened. Alan would continually remark that wild salmon are amazing creatures and slowly I was beginning to understand why!

These were the first underwater film tests in very fast flowing water. That was my first and last day riverside wearing RED.  And the moral of the story not only does it have to be GREEN butit definitely has to be waterproof!


In November 2012 while out paddling the mid harbour I happened to meet a man with a very special connection to the river Lee. Alan Nolan is a salmon angler who has incredible bond with the river. His relationship with the Lee spans over thirty years. ”Fishing the rivers for salmon has made me the person I am “. Taking up angling for trout during his early teens and salmon from his mid teens, has given Alan an ongoing fascination with this magnificent creature.

The wild Atlantic salmon is considered the KING of fish! Salmo Salar is unpredictable, migrates from the farthest reaches of the north Atlantic to the gentlest fresh water mountain streams in southern Ireland. Alan continually reminds us that the salmon is an INDICATOR species. He sees these fascinating creatures as messengers ! This wild fish was once in such abundance that the Lee was referred to as the Silver Lee, however, multiple factors over time have caused a serious decline in their numbers and may well lead to eventual extinction.

This is the first in-depth documentary film profile on the river Lee and it’s silent magical inhabitants: the wild Atlantic salmon. The Celts respect for nature especially trees and rivers is the ancient core of our identity and spirituality. Down through the centuries as man progressed, nature in many ways regressed. The old saying that what is “out of sight is out of mind” could not describe better our current lack of understanding for these magnificent creatures salmo salar (latin for leaping salmon)and the difficulties we have ignorantly imposed on these creatures during their relatively short perilous existence on our blue planet.

Archaeological remnants of Corkonian ancestors have been found in the lower harbour dating back some seven thousand years. So for this incredible time span the Atlantic ocean on a six hourly basis has  ebbed and flowed through the  north and south channels of the Lee, nine kilometeres upstream to the Lee weir. Here the river becomes one and the salt water is diluted by the endless freshwater flow.

This film THE RIVER RUNNER explores the perilous journey of  SALMO SALAR, the complexities we have created and the role we are obliged to play into the future. This news blog will be updated regularly with captions, photographs and video clips.