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The parish of Carrigallen is at the hub of three provinces, Ulster, Leinster and Connacht. The village is not renowned for its financial centre, its shopping mall or as a place specialising in French cuisine, but rather as the centre of a vibrant community whose people appreciate the important things in life such as its heritage, its culture and its Christian values, which have made it a peaceful and harmonious place to live in. Its lakes and rivers are the envy of many and to quote George Burrows, angling correspondent of the Irish Times, it is the sort of place that men from crowded cities love. There are no fewer than 14 first-class fishing waters within a radius of three miles, three of them within easy walking distance of the town.

Fishing is a sporting activity which people have participated in for as long as the area has been inhabited. However, angling tourism has its origins in more recent times. As quite often happens, it took an outsider to identify the natural resource which is our waterways.

Bernard O'Reilly, born in Manchester, whose parents originated from Cornafean, came to Gowna in the mid forties and purchased what was then called Breffni House, now known as the Lodge. He and his wife quickly developed a flourishing family-orientated tourist accommodation business. His clientele at the time came to enjoy the peace, the harmony, and the tranquillity of this rural idyll. At this time angling tourists were not part of the local scene. He recalled from his time in Manchester the exodus of city based anglers to the country-side at weekends. Inspired by these memories and despite the fact that the tourist board gave little encouragement, he established contact with angling clubs in the Manchester area.

In 1948 the first anglers arrived. Such was the response to what appeared to many a hare-brained idea, that he was not capable of accommodating the number of anglers. It was not long until he had encouraged local householders to enhance their family income by keeping anglers. By 1955 saturation point was reached in the Gowna area; consequently the surplus spilled over into the available accommodation around Arva. It was fortuitous that Mrs Fitzpatrick (formerly Sheridan) from Calloughs, then running a guest-house in Arva, prevailed on her sister, Mrs Ben Harte, who with her husband purchased the Ulster Bank premises in Main Street, Carrigallen, with the intention of starting a guest-house/hotel, to keep her excess anglers. This was the spring/summer of 1955 and was the origin of angling tourism in Carrigallen.

A meeting was held in the national school in the spring of 1956 with a view to forming an angling club for the purpose of providing angling tourism in the area. No formal committee was formed, but Ben Harte, who had recently retired from the garda, was appointed chairman. Many of the local anglers were involved in this organisation at its formation. Teachers, gardai, clergy, the local business people and the farming community were represented. Present at that inaugural meeting were George Stewart, Jim Brewster, Fr McNiff, Frank McGlynn, Mick Hackett, JJ Dolan, Ben Harte, Barney Doonan and Vincent Hoban.

While many meetings were held and matters of local interest discussed, no real progress was made. However, they sought help from the Inland Fisheries Trust. That help came in the person of Toby Sinclaire, a development officer with the trust. He proved to be of invaluable assistance. He was an avid angler, and, as an Englishman, was familiar with the English fishing scene, which was then the market they were targeting. He suggested making contact with key individuals in English angling clubs and, being from Manchester, he initially approached clubs in that area. Four men from the Mosside Angling Club agreed to come on a fact-finding mission. In 1958 these men arrived and were supplied with full board in JJ Dolan's and Harte's.

During their visit they were lavish in their praise of local hospitality and, most importantly, in the quality of the angling which they experienced. A short time later they wrote a glowing report of their experience. They indicated that there was a great deal of interest from their fellow anglers in visiting Carrigallen. This proved to be the case as later, in 1958, 39 anglers from the Mosside Club arrived in Carrigallen. In a village with a population of less than 300, this must have appeared like a virtual invasion, but benevolent invaders they were. The local club made the necessary arrangements regarding accommodation which was provided by Harte's Hotel, Mrs Johnny Connell, Mrs Tom Lockhart, Mrs Nancy McManus and Mrs Barney Doonan.

It was not the practice at the time for anglers to bring or hire self-drive cars. So, by arrangement with the local club or landlady, Maloney's hackney service in Cavan town would collect anglers at the port of entry and convey them to their accommodation. Larry McDermott started his own hackney business in later years and provided this service: breakfast, packed lunch, an evening meal and return trip was £10 per week. This figure remained unchanged for quite a number of years. Obviously inflation was not rampant at the time!

The success of the Mosside anglers' visit was a great boost both to the local economy and to the angling club. Consequently, a formal committee was formed with Vincent Hoban as the local contact. His function was to answer enquiries from prospective anglers. Vincent retained this position until 1962, when Joe McHugh senior assumed this responsibility.

Toby Sinclaire continued to play a key role in the affairs of the club. He acted as a consultant and was a source of inspiration. It was he who established that the water quality of Carrigallen and Clooncorrick lakes was suitable for stocking with tench. This was carried out in 1960 and he was vindicated when, in 1963, a tench caught in Clooncorrick lake created a new Irish record. This was a significant event and for the first time the angling press took note of the club's activities and this created a very positive impact. This publicity, coupled with the club's advertising efforts, firmly established Carrigallen as an angling centre.

The club held its first angling competition in 1961. This was a low-key affair in comparison to future competitions. The experience gained encouraged them to apply to the Coarse Fishing Federation for permission to host the All-Ireland coarse fishing championship. Their first application was unsuccessful but they persisted and, in 1965, they hosted the championship. This required huge local effort and the community were not found wanting. A great many people played a part but special tribute must be paid to the officers and committee members. Among them were: Fr Charles Cartwright, JJ Dolan, Mick Hackett, Barney Doonan, Fr Patsy Young, Michael Duignan, Jack O'Neill, Ben Harte, Frank McGlynn and Joe McHugh senior.

This was truly an international event, as more then 350 anglers took part. They came from England, Scotland, Wales, and from all parts of Ireland. The competition was described in the Anglo-Celt in 1965 as the most successful to date. There were many categories but the premier award for the heaviest catch was the Ballinamore Perpetual Challenge Cup plus £100, which was won by David A Grundy, Manchester. The presentations were made in the parochial hall later that evening by the Minister for Justice, Brian Lenehan. He was lavish in his praise for the manner in which the committee organised the event.

Fr John A Young, then CC Ballinamore, who was the president of the All-Ireland Fishing Council at the time, was instrumental in getting this prestigious competition for Carrigallen. The success of the All-Ireland Championship was reflected in the thinking of the club and resulted in a broadening of its agenda. From records relating to the time, the meetings were now discussing such things as street lighting, approach roads and improved signposting. It is obvious the club was fully aware of the product it had and its tourist potential. Members were determined to leave no stone unturned in realising that potential and increasing the number of anglers coming to the area. Despite the enthusiasm engendered, no major strides were made. However among the tasks undertaken was the sign-posting of lakes and the stocking with bream of Gangin, Mosey and the Town Lake. Promotional tours, production and distribution of brochures, and Angling Times advertising was also a normal part of the club's efforts. This resulted in a big increase in visiting anglers.

Fr Malachy Byrne PP was now an enthusiastic member of the club. Among his many contributions was a proposal to stock Cullies lake with trout. He was keenly supported by Mick Hackett and Barney Doonan. To indicate the achievements of the Angling and Tourist Development Association, from its formation with no visiting anglers in 1956 through 1958 with 39 anglers, in 1969 450 anglers came to the area, generating revenue locally of £10,000. The year 1969 saw a serious escalation in the Northern Ireland troubles and this was reflected in a decrease in the number of visitors to the area. This downturn continued unabated for a number of years and was a matter of grave concern. This was reflected in a lengthy discussion that took place at an AGM in the early seventies, where the question of the desirability or otherwise to keep the club in existence was raised.

Obviously the club and tourist promotional activity did continue. In order to boost club finances, dances were held, as well as an auction, which became an annual event. For this latter venture Peter Donohoe (auctioneer) made his services available to the club. The 13th All-Ireland Championship was once again entrusted to the club in June 1972. Due to a downturn in tourism in the country generally and the realisation that the English market was partially lost, at least for the time being, the advertising was aimed at attracting Irish anglers. While the 206 entries received was well down on the entries for the championship of 1965, the event was deemed to be successful, considering the difficult circumstances of the time. The event comprised the usual nine categories. The main award for the heaviest catch, which once again was the Ballinamore Perpetual Challenge Cup plus £100, was won by Bernard Brewer, Tullamore. All the categories were won by Irish competitors, which was indicative of the smaller number of English participants. Once again this was an all-out community effort, which was co-ordinated by Michael Duignan, who had been appointed field officer. At a subsequent meeting, compliments were paid to the Fisheries Board and their staff for their advice and assistance rendered.

The summer of 1973 saw a slight improvement in the number of English anglers. Next year the number remained static. So for the first time the club attempted to break into the German market by advertising in fishing magazines such as Fisch und Fang. It was the summer of 1976 before this bore fruit, when anglers from Belgium and Germany arrived in the area. On Whit weekend of that year a fishing competition took place at Gulladoo in which 30 continental and 20 English anglers took part.

The recovery of angling tourism continued steadily and in 1978 a record number of anglers came to the area from Britain, Germany, France and Belgium. Harte's Hotel had been extended and refurbished, Joe Morrow and his wife Carmel had developed an extensive chalet layout, and there was already guest-house accommodation available. Despite this the number of beds available in the locality was far short of demand. This problem was not addressed at the time and we can only assume that much business was lost to the area. This problem continued in 1979 and attempts were made to encourage more householders to provide B&B. The problem was worsened by the fact that some of the established B&Bs decided to cease operating, among them Mrs Johnny Connell, Mrs Tom Lockhart, Mrs Barney Doonan, Mrs Michael Reilly and Mrs Robbie Reilly. Coupled to this was the untimely death of Joe Morrow in 1982. On the plus side, however, from about 1982 on new B&Bs began to come on stream. Starting with Mrs Bernadette Heslin, the following have since come into the business: Mrs Lottie McGerty, Mrs Anne Murray, Bill and Bobbie Hawthorne, Mrs Rita O'Rourke, Mrs Anne McGovern and Mrs Anne Lomasney.While coarse fishing in the area was of prime interest and was the reason for the formation of the angling club in1956. Mick Hackett had suggested in 1958 the stocking of Calloughs Lake with trout. This proposal came to nought for reasons unknown to us. Again, in the late sixties Canon Byrne, who was an avid fly-fisherman, proposed the stocking of Cullies with trout. We do not know the problems at the time in this regard, but both proposals were never more than an aspiration, one which could well have totally evaporated after the death of Mick Hackett in 1976. However, inspired by the conversations he had with his father, Michael Hackett (Mick's son) approached the Central Fisheries Board in 1983 with the proposal that Calloughs Lake should be developed as a trout fishery. Cullies Lake was not considered suitable because of its seasonal flooding: in winter Cullies Lake and Ballygad River merge at high water level which would result in the trout escaping. Also proper control of the pike and roach population would not be possible, which is a necessary management requirement for any trout fishery. Calloughs Lake however seemed suitable in all regards. The Fishery Board was enthusiastic about the proposal but they had to confirm the suitability of the lake. This entailed having a survey done, which was not concluded until late in 1984.

The outcome of the survey was positive: Calloughs Lake was indeed suitable. The proposal to the fisheries board was not just that this lake should be stocked, but that they would manage it for fly-fishing only. Due to financial constraints they could not undertake this development for the foreseeable future. This of course was a serious setback to the plans of Michael Hackett, but he did not let the matter rest. Mindful of what had happened to previous proposals, he continued to harass the fisheries board until they agreed to supply 500 trout free of charge. With the support and financial assistance of the Angling and Town Development Association, an iron grid was made and put in place on the outlet stream. The McCartin brothers, Newtowngore, sponsored the predator control measures. A club was then formed whose first officers were: chairman-Michael Hackett, vice-chairman-Larry Williams, secretary and treasurer-Gretta O'Neill. While it was the initial intention to have fly-fishing only, it was unanimously agreed at the first meeting, when the rules of the club were being drawn up, to allow all legal fishing methods. Arrangements were made to take delivery of the first 500 trout, which were supplied by a Mullingar fish-farm. A dream had come true for a small group of local enthusiasts, not least Canon Byrne, who had been a source of inspiration from the outset of this project.

The fish were released into the lake in mid-May and the first trout was caught in Calloughs lake on the opening day which was the first Sunday in June 1986. Since then stocking has taken place annually at the end of March. The first Sunday in May is now established among the important dates in the sportsperson's calendar as the annual opening of the trout fishing season at Calloughs.

In 1986 the club had a membership of 42, which gradually increased over the years. On June 1st 1996 it stood at 124. As membership increased the stocking requirement increased, and 2,700 brown and rainbow trout were put into the lake in 1996. Membership is mainly from the three surrounding counties but members came from as far afield as Dublin, Tipperary and Kildare, as well as British and continental anglers. This club has been an outstanding success and, while it is invidious to mention names, special tribute must be paid to Gretta and Jack O'Neill who issue the permits, Larry Williams, Seán Heslin, Hughie Reilly, Seamus McManus, who was chairman in 1996, and Brian Doyle who was chairman in 1995. In a separate development, Kilneman Lake was stocked with trout in 1994, and again in 1995 and 1996. It is fished by about 30 members.

An honour for the club in 1993 was the nomination by the fishery board of Gretta O'Neill to the management committee of the Northern Fisheries Development Society and her subsequent appointment by the Minister for the Marine, Dr Michael Woods, TD. Gretta was elected chairman that year and has held the position of treasurer in subsequent years. At present, club membership fees are £20 for adults and £10 for juniors. This fee is not looked upon as a charge for fishing but merely to generate revenue for the annual stocking. Despite the uncertainty of making a prediction, I feel that the future of the club is assured.

"I have visited Carrigallen two or three times per year for many years. I find the hospitality excellent. Carrigallen is a haven for me". While the efforts of the Town Development Association continued unabated from its inception until 1993, the association could not engage in outdoor events because of the litigiously orientated society in which we now live and the fear of compensation claims in the event of accident. Consequently it was deemed necessary to change its name and form a limited company, which it is now know as the Carrigallen Development Company. While the objectives and aims of the new company are the same as that of the previous organisation, the playing-field and rules of engagement have changed. The business has now become cut-throat and every new visitor must be competed for vigorously with the surrounding towns and villages. Holiday promoters from every part of Ireland, Britain and the continent are now competing and any part of Europe could well become the destination of coarse fishermen, as well as Ireland.

The profile of the typical British angler is that of a working class man, and unfortunately this sector of British society has taken a hammering in recent times, with the closure of the coal mines and the privatisation and rationalisation of the industrial base etc. One of the downsides to Ireland's economic boom at present is the strength of the punt, which militates against sterling in terms of its conversion rate.

It is now the experience of the local organisation, when promoting angling tourism, which was once unique to this area, to find themselves competing at a promotion centre in Britain with hundreds of competitors from all parts of Ireland. Also the British angler has now become a well-informed and discerning consumer who wants value for money. At this stage we feel that tribute must be paid to the founding fathers and those people who made a worthy contribution down through the years. They are: Ben Harte, Barney Doonan, John Joe Dolan, Michael Duignan, Dr Matt Cusack, Mick Hackett, Vincent Hoban, Joe McHugh, George Stewart, Frank McGlynn, Fr Pat McNiff, Fr Eddie Lynch, Fr Charles Cartwright, Fr Patsy Young, Fr Malachy Byrne, Rev Mr Scott, Monsignor John AYoung, Matt Cusack, Joe Doonan, Alfie Harte, Jack O'Neill, Joe Morrow, Bernadette Heslin, Elizabeth McGlynn, Philomena Donohoe and Gretta O'Neill.

The affairs of angling tourism are now in the very capable hands of John O'Malley, chairman, Paddy O'Rourke, secretary and Pat Masterson, treasurer. We are confident that this company, assisted by the experience and inspiration of their predecessors, will surmount any present or future difficulties that may arise.

Michael Hackett
Last Updated: March 27, 2012
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