Can we utilise our natural water better?

Water pump in Granatuatha townland
Michael Madigan
Knockerra Lake
Pat McMahon
Powers Well Knockerra. This is a stone lined well.
Michael Madigan
Village Hand Pump near Kilrush
Michael Madigan
A water sluice on the Wood River near Kilrush. This photo shows how the river water was utilized by Glynns to power their mills for almost a century. A modern day example is the Falls Hotel Ennistymon using the adjacent waterfall to power their hotel.
Michael Madigan

Michael Madigan

One of the most important elements that maintains life on earth is water and it is imperative that we keep it in pristine condition. Some would say that we are adding too many additives to what God intended to be just extracted from the ground. Our forefathers placed huge importance on having a ready supply within walking distance of any new house. It was so important that wells were recorded on the Ordnance Survey maps.

The vast majority of water used in houses and farmland today comes from various water schemes. The local well has been abandoned for the convenience of water on tap. We must remember that there is a very big energy requirement to facilitate this. Think of the amount of electricity it takes to pump water to every home and five million animals in Ireland every day.

Knockerra Lake

One way of reducing the energy required would be to use the water from our many local lakes and rivers for the animals. Every area has a lake or river that could be used to gravity flow water to the farms, if grants were made available to communities to undertake new schemes. It would be a win-win situation using free water energy. For instance, Knockerra Lake supplied the town of Kilrush for many years by gravity flow and it’s the highest point in the area so it would make a great subject for a pilot scheme. If we are serious about climate change, we will have to think outside the box. In the sixties each area had its own water scheme which was grant aided by the EEC and central government. It’s an ideal time now to get these schemes up and running again.

You’ll never miss the water until the well runs dry

Nowadays when we hear of wells we immediately think of oil. But in the not too distant past water wells were equally as important. One of the main requirements for a good house site was the availability of a good spring well within walking distance. Locating these wells was a very specialized skill carried out by a man with the gift of locating water with a y-shaped branch of any fruit tree which was called a “Gallóg”. Such a person was called a water diviner. After the spring was located, a hole was dug around it and depending on the amount of water required the depth was calculated and it was lined with stone and covered with a flagstone with just enough room to insert a bucket to retrieve the water. This well could be visited numerous times daily to retrieve water for household and farmyard use. No need for gyms in those times.

Pollution of our waterways

There are a number of ways our water sources become polluted. The ones that are usually blamed are industry, agriculture and domestic effluent. Industrial residue that seeps into rivers and water sources causes untold damage that takes years to restore. The overuse of artificial manure and effluent discharge are the main agricultural pollutants. The discharge of untreated sewerage into our waterways is one the great scandals of our time and any solution to this problem seems to be a long way off. One of the great wonders of nature is that if the source of the pollution is found and remedial action is taken, water very quickly becomes pure again.

Village pump

In the past most towns and villages had a number of hand pumps in various locations for people to draw fresh water. It used to be a place where people met and chatted about the topics of the day hence came the slogan of ‘parish pump politics’. I am sure all these springs are still available and it would be a great attraction to the present generation and also to tourists if they were restored to their former glory.

We in Ireland are in a very unique position in that we have an abundance of water. The distribution of it to our homes and farms using the minimum amount of energy will become more important as we deal with climate change.


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