Fish trap may be Mesolithic find


A COMPLEX series of weirs and dams to trap rare fish on Connemara’s Errislannan peninsula may date back to the Mesolithic period, according to the archaeologist who made the discovery.

Significantly, one local resident is still making and using traps for the weir and dam system, modelled on pre-Christian design, archaeologist Michael Gibbons said. John Folan said he was unaware of the historical importance of the equipment, the coastal system, or the fish species, until contacted by Mr Gibbons. The National Museum of Ireland has now commissioned him to construct one of his traps for its folklife collection.

Mr Gibbons was walking on the north side of Errislannan, outside Clifden, when he came across the stone ponds, channels and dams linking Mannin Bay to several inner lagoons. He learned that the system was designed to enclose and trap a fish called “marin” or “mearachán”, which is similar to a smelt, and may be related to shad, which frequent the river Barrow.

Marine biologist Dr Cillian Roden said the fish type was “fascinating”, but its identity was uncertain. “It could be that these smelt do live in lagoons, and it would make the lagoons very important in environmental terms,” he said.

Mr Folan said he had learned from his father and grandfather how to make traps, known as “cochill”, which are placed in the upper end of the dam and weir system. He uses fencing or chicken wire and wood for a design that resembles an ice-cream cone. Formerly the traps were made of sally rods.

“It is going back generations,” he said. “People depended on the fish and you’d get hundreds of them sometimes, but only during early spring. You could boil them, fry them, cook them any way, and we’d often bring them into Clifden.” The arrival of Arctic terns close to the lagoons below Mr Folan’s house heralded the presence of the fish around St Patrick’s Day, at a time when food resources were low after winter.

Mr Gibbons said the system, dating back to Mesolithic times, had been adapted for contemporary use over centuries. “This is a very important part of the maritime history and archaeology, and shows how rich our coastline is in historical terms,” he said.