The Historic River Nore

The author recollects the river Nore at John’s Quay, Kilkenny, over fifty years ago – the fishing for
eel (now a conserved species), and brown trout, the brickeens brought home in bucketfuls,
tadpoles in April, working artists by the waterside, pleasure boats in summer, the occasional otter,
quayside houses flooded as winter rains blew in.
The writings of others, allow us to look back to a Nore teeming with salmon in the mid 1700s. Fifty
years afterwards, however, salmon numbers were in steady decline. Angling for the tasty and
nutritious salmon was well practised and well understood. Trout fishing too was popular. Artificial
flies used in trout fishing were easily made. The fisherman generally employed a large yellow-
bodied fly with brownish-red wings, made on a No. 3 hook.
By 1800, new fishing techniques and scientific methods had developed several aspects of fishing
and fishery. The industry was making progress when Rev. Henry Major, Rector of Kilbarron,
county Donegal undertook a number of experiments. He ear-marked the tiny salmon by threading
the dorsal fin or cutting it away altogether. He believed that the fry which left the river for the sea,
weighing just one ounce, could return a mere three months later, weighing anything up to ten
pounds each. It was too good to be true. Nowadays it is understood that all salmon spend at least
a year at sea, changing, feeding and developing. The following quotation on salmon fishing as it
concerns the river Nore comes from William Tighe’s Statistical observations relative to the county
Kilkenny (Dublin Society 1802):
“Above the tide-water they [the salmon] are taken in different ways, of which cross fishing
is the most destructive. The quantity of salmon has, particularly in the Nore, very much
decreased within the last forty years, probably from various causes; one of the principal
is, the number of mills into whose dams the young fry pass, and are there destroyed; they
have, it is said, been taken up in these pools in such quantities [so] as to be given to pigs;
a great abuse of the indulgence millers enjoy of being permitted to convert the public
stream to their private use.”
The technique known as cross fishing was used to fish for trout, jack, pike and salmon. It involved
two people co-operating to work both sides of a river bank at the same time. It was about fishing
for profit not for pleasure. It is here described in a trout angler’s guide book that sold out of
several editions in the early 1800s.
“Two persons must be engaged in cross-fishing, each having a winch and line fixed to
their rods, the end of the running line of each person must be fastened together, this then
forms the cross-line, to the middle of which tie about a yard of fine gut, on this gut the
hook is tied, and baited either with a natural or artificial May-fly as judgment directs. One
angler must be on this side the stream, the other opposite, each having their rod in hand,
and letting out as much line as will reach across the water, by this means every part can
be fished and the fly drop immediately where a Trout is seen to rise, when a fish is
hooked that angler must give or shorten line as the fish makes to or from his side; this
mode of fishing, when practised by good anglers, will soon thin a Trout stream, and kill
the best fish […]”
Variations included substituting stronger tackle, putting a cork afloat on the line hanging from the
cross-line and baiting with live fish.
Finlay John. A Treatise on the Laws of Game and Inland Fisheries in Ireland (John Cumming,
Dublin 1827) 137-140
Salter Thomas Frederick. The Angler’s Guide: Being a Complete Practical Treatise on Angling 4th
ed.(Carpenter & Son, London 1816), pp. 129, 131, 195
Referenced in John Finlay’s book above are two other works:
Daniel, Rev. William B. Rural Sports (Longman, Hurst, Rees, Orme and Brown, London 1812). 3
vols; John Scott [engraver]. New edn. 4 to, four volumes includes the three volume set plus
Tighe William. Statistical observations relative to the county of Kilkenny published for the Dublin
Society in 1802