Dublin: The River Camac tells a story
Mary-Liz Walshe from Dublin City Council and Sinead Hurson from the LA Waters Programme tell us the story of the River Camac, how it has changed as the city has grown around it, and how local people have gotten involved in sharing stories about the river and its locality, while learning about its cultural, natural and built heritage.
The Camac River has a rich industrial heritage, one that influenced and facilitated the growth of the city to the west. Over 100 years ago sawmills, papermills, woollen mills, grain mills, gun powder mills and several other industries lined the riverbanks.
Many depended on the Camac as a power source, resulting in numerous modifications to it to harness the energy of the fastflowing water. A wealth of built heritage is also a feature of the river: it passes Heuston Station, the Royal Hospital Kilmainham, Kilmainham Gaol and Courthouse, the lesser known Drimnagh Castle with its flooded moat, and the Round Tower in Clondalkin.
The river’s past importance seems in stark contrast with its current condition, with much of its course now dominated by concrete channels and lengthy culverts where the river is covered over. Environmentally, the Camac is complex and for it to achieve Good Status under the Water Framework Directive, an informed and nuanced approach will be required. To untangle the many influences acting on the river, an appreciation of the river’s story seemed an important step.
Dublin City Council (DCC) in conjunction with the Local Authorities Water Programme launched an exciting Camac River Culture and Heritage Programme in 2018, with the intention of sharing insights about the river, both cultural and environmental, and raising awareness of and appreciation for the river’s rich history and future potential.
To start, a series of reminiscence evenings took place last May and June. Local people, historians, nature lovers, business and property owners, and community groups were invited to share their memories of the river and any old photos they might have. These gatherings took place in informal library settings in Inchicore and Drimnagh.
A parallel school outreach programme was developed by DCC incorporating four local primary schools within the Camac Catchment; Our Lady of Lourdes, Goldenbridge, Inchicore National School, Assumption Senior Girls Primary School Walkinstown and Drimnagh Castle Primary School. The programme included a series of river walks, poetry workshops and classroom-based talks. The pupils first studied historical maps of their area and learned about the role of rivers in society, past and present from Engineer/Planner for DCC, Mary-Liz Walshe.
Along the banks of their local river, they learned about its natural and built heritage from local historian Pat Liddy, nature enthusiast Eanna Ni Lamhna, leading bird expert Eric Dempsey, and Community Water Officer Sinead Hurson. The pupils then participated in a Camac River Poetry Competition. A second poetry competition was subsequently held for river enthusiasts of all ages to carry on the tradition of poetry in the Camac catchment, in the manner of former Inchicore resident poets, Michael Hartnett and Thomas Kinsella. Hartnett famously featured the Camac River in one of his Inchicore Haiku.
DCC Historian-in-Residence, Cathy Scuffil, has also been interviewing local people to collect their Camac stories. Some local historians are working to chronicle their own memories and interpretations of the role of the river in old Dublin. A book will be published later this year with a selection of these accounts, the verses from the school children and adults, and the new and old gathered images. As part of Heritage Week, a Camac River event was hosted in August 2018 by DCC and the LA Waters Programme. It celebrated the River Camac through song, poetry and stories, featuring the river’s past, present and future. Local and well-known experts were joined by over 100 attendees in the historic Richmond Barracks. Music was played by members of Kila. A guided walk and talk along the Camac was held in September for Culture Night as a concluding part in the Camac Culture and Heritage Programme 2018.
The success of the Camac Cultural and Heritage Programme in 2018 provided further evidence that an opportunity for rivercentred tourism exists here and this can only grow in the future as the river benefits from improved water quality, and can offer even more in relation to amenity and recreation.
The Camac is currently classified as being of Moderate Status in the upper reaches and Poor Status in the lower reaches. Significant interventions will be required to achieve Good Status and address the many pressures on this waterbody that exist because of human activities.
The informal telling of stories has evolved into a more formal sharing of information between the local residents and the Council. The next date in the diary for the Camac River Project is an event to facilitate more discussions, between interested locals, environmentalists, technical experts and the Camac Water Framework Directive Team, to set an agenda together for this mighty little river.
Mary-Liz Walshe, Dublin City Council Water Framework Directive Office & Sinead Hurson, LA Waters Programme
To get involved you can mail CamacHeritage@dublincity.ie
You can read a paper by Mary-Liz Walshe and Gerry O’Connell Rehabilitation of the Camac River under the water framework directive: New opportunities to engage local communities and to manage flood risk which was published in Proceedings of National Hydrology Conference November in 2018: www.bit.ly/ camacrehabilitation