Please give your support to the community that has had to endure 5+ severe flooding events since 1990 – It’s threatening our farming community, our schools, our heritage and our national parks (The Killing of Coole)
Please give your support to the community that has had to endure 5+ severe flooding events since 1990 – It’s threatening our farming community, our schools, our heritage and our national parks (The Killing of Coole)
Coole Park is a nature reserve and one of the most beautiful areas in Ireland with a rich mix of natural beauty, a vibrant heritage history and a special area of unique environmental importance. We see however that with extreme weather events – all of these aspects of Coole Park are being very badly threatened. We need to ensure that Coole Park is well protected by the emerging South Galway Flood Relief scheme.
In 1768 Robert Gregory, Chairman of the East India Company, bought 600 acres from Oliver Martyn of Tulira and this became the foundation of Coole Park as we know it today. In 1770 he built Coole house and also started the construction of a Walled Garden in 1775. In 1776, it is reported in ‘A Tour of Ireland’ that many miles of walls are being constructed and also that “Mr Gregory has a very noble nursery, from which he is making plantations, which will soon be of great ornament to the country”. As part of the Walled Garden, beech trees and a line of Yew trees are planted. Richard Gregory continued the work and also had a bust of Maecenas transported from Italy.
Coole Park is famous for its Autograph Tree and Lady Gregory (Wife of Robert Gregory’s great grandson) also had a fondness for the Yew and in ‘Gods and Fighting Man’, called it ‘the most beautiful of the wood’. There are very frequent reference to the line of Yew trees in visitor reports to Coole House.
“That afternoon I found the garden….. I went slowly along, crushing rosemary between my fingers, and wondering at the dark groups of stately Irish yews.” Signe Toksvig, 1921
And until recently this is what the Walled Garden looked with the line of yew trees in the centre and the Autograph tree on the left.
These yew trees (Taxus baccata) have become a distinct feature of Coole Park and can reach 400 to 600 years of age and beyond.
In 1983, Coole Park, GarryLand was designated a Nature Reserve which “includes woodland and lake ecosystems which are of scientific interest and that the said ecosystems are likely to benefit if measures are taken for their protection”
Coole-Park/Garryland is therefore one of the most specially protected areas in Ireland with significant ecological benefit. It is operated by the Irish National Parks & Wildlife Service (NPWS) who are part of the Department of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, currently under Minister Josepha Madigan T.D. It is their responsibility to ensure that Coole Park (and other Turlough areas) are protected.
Coole Park is now under significant threat from several flooding events and we need to ensure that those that are responsible for its protection are made aware of their responsibilities and do their jobs.
Several times in the past 30 years Coole Park has experienced severe flooding – in fact some of the worst flooding in several hundred years. While local people experienced the worst flooding seen in the area in their lifetime – Coole park was subject to an even starker picture – that of experiencing the worst flooding in centuries – many of the famous Yew trees that have been around for and estimated 220 years were destroyed by the flooding in Winter 2016 and water was very close to the autograph tree.
In the past 30 years, we have had a large set of hydrology changes in the South Galway / Kinvara Catchment. The Slieve Aughty mountains now have significant developments around forestry and windfarms (with their corresponding roads and drains). Uplands farming improvements have resulted in land being drained more than in times past. In the Slieve Aughty lowlands there have been rivers streamlined, new culverts installed and inadvertently, some swallow-holes damaged and overflow channels obstructed through land reclamation.
Whatever the reason for hydrology changes the consequence is that Coole Park has become the defacto dumping ground and holding site for enormous amounts of contaminated flood water in South Galway. This flood water includes pollutants and contaminents from septic tanks, farmyard slurry tanks and farmyard pollutants as well as farmland run-off and significant amounts of silting. This not only has severe consequences for the environment and human health but it also drastically affects the overall community as the water levels threaten homes, businesses, churches and severely restricts access around several communities in South Galway.
As Coole lake has unfortunately become the dumping ground for run-off water from the Slieve Aughty mountains – there are many significant consequences.
In 1995, 2009 and 2014 and 2015, the famous Walled Garden in Coole Park was inundated with flooding – 2015 being the highest levels. It covered the picnic benches, flooded the shelters and saturated may of the yew trees and shrubs. 4 of the main yew trees did not fully recover and have since died
These Yew trees had survived over 220 years and it shows that the levels of recent flooding allowed in Coole Park are record levels. Also, it wasn’t just these Yew trees. A large Yew tree at the Walled Garden car park was damaged, and an copse of Yew trees in Garryland was also severely damaged as well as several Yew tree near Newtown. Coole Park is a Special Area of conservation (SAC) and Yew Tree (Taxus Baccus) woodlands are called out specifically in this. We are therefore failing in adequate protection of this SAC.
Another impact on woodland is that flooding causes leaves the forest more vulnerable to storms. In 2014, there was significant damage to the forest into which Coole Lake had flooded. The waterlogged ground made trees more susceptible to falling in windy conditions. This is what happened the Yew tree a the Walled Garden Car Park in Winter 2015
Water levels rose close to the base of the famous Autograph tree which would have made it more vulnerable to falling
Coole lake received waters from many other flooded areas and subsequently caused flooding in areas closer to Coole (Kiltartan, Raheen, Glenbrack, Tierneevin, etc) . This involved a lot of farmyard flooding: (Photos : Courtesy of Sean Brady, Aerial Photography)
A very familiar site all around Coole Lake – black plastic silage bags caught high-up in the trees. (Newtown Turlough- Coole-Garryland SAC
Several farm yards around the area are 13m above sea level. In 2015, Coole Lake rose to 14.78m, and it overflowed into many farmyards, homes and businesses. Common farmyard pollutants can include chemical fertiliser, engine oil, grease, fuel, silage wrap, weed killer, pesticides, veterinary medicine etc. Also at this stage the contents of over 40 septic tanks were being washed into Coole lake.
In many places, there were black plastic silage wrap spread through trees and shrubs all over the park. With extremely high-level allowed in Coole, this pollution will also be spread into the lower-lying turloughs and SACs.
Pollution has a devastating on many animals and habitats. In a report from the UK on flooding it states – “Most natural sites are able to take occasional flooding, but any water polluted by overflowing drains, septic tanks or pesticides from farms and parks is likely to have exacted a toll on many animals.” In addition to these devastating effects of pollution, during the floods of Winter 2015 some habitats were completely flooded and hibernating animals sought refuge from flood waters
Another key impact on an SAC is the Kiltartan Cave SAC (Probably the smallest SAC in Ireland!)
This is an 800m long cave and is a habitat for a colony of bats and the SAC is to protect this habitat. This is the key reason the now famous ‘bat-bridge’ was built (at substantial cost) across the M18 Motorway. According to Tony Collins, project engineer for the M18 motorway, it allows lesser horseshoe bats to safely cross the motorway to feeding grounds at Coole Park from their roosting site at Kiltartan Cave which were separated by the motorway. 
With extreme levels of flooding in Coole, this habitat is lost and the bat population displaced – something which grates against the EU habitats directive.
As the water leves of Coole Lake rose, the rivers feeding it lost pressure and this resulted in significant amount of silt deposits. This has a big impact on the natural ecosystem, marine life as well as impacting hydrology of the system.
TThe main damage to Coole Park amenities was around the walled Garden and picnic area. Also the little hut beside the river had its roof lifed too and damaged. The Coole Park Interpretative centre was became flooded. In 2015, there was as estimated €20,000 of damage done around Coole Park amenities – There is also a potential knock-on impact to tourism.
Coole Lake provides a significant amount of attenuation for South Galway, however when it is allowed to reach the levels it did in 2015 is has a huge impact across multiple communities.
On a normal Summer, Kiltartan Church is 2 KM away from Coole Park and the lake levels can be just 5m above sea level (AOD) . The door step at Kiltartan Church is 14.52m Above sea level (AOD) .
In Winter 2015, Coole Lake rose to 14.78m therefore Coole lake essentially backed into Kiltartan Church to a height of 26cm. (OPW Levels)
Similarly Tierneevin is 2km from Coole lake in the summer and Coole lake backed up into this area as well. this flooding homes, septic tanks, farmyards, this is what happens if the maximum level of Coole Lake is not maintained.
Coole Lake also flooded homes and businesses in Raheen, Crannagh, Glenbrack and Tierneevin.
According to McCormick/Naughton (GSI/Trinity) , the levels of water in the groundwater system can influenced flow rates in a Karst system. and highlights examples where the backwater effect of flooding at the downstream sink reduces the hydraulic gradient and increases upstream river levels.  High Coole lake levels mean a drop in pressure upstream causing more water to gather. Swallow holes almost completely stop working in Kiltartan, Roo and Tierneevin as Coole Lake level back into them and some of the other flows are impacted – even as far back as Ballylee and Blackrock.
As Coole lake flooded it blocked many roads all around its periphery. The following list details the amount of time roads were closed in the area around Coole, Garryland, Ballynastaigue
It also flooded the M18 motorway construction for several weeks.
There is a significant threat to human health from this flooding scenario. The mental stress and anguish of having your home or livelihood threatened is enormous. Also many people were affected the severe isolation – not being able to leave your home conveniently. The threat to physical health by contaminated water and health schemes is significant and private wells can continue to be contaminated long after flood water recedes.
As Coole Lake rose, it covered a large amount of farmland and stayed on the land . Many farms in the area had to be reseeded at a significant cost to the farmer. As with wildlife, another significant threat is that to farm animals and threat to their health from contaminated flood water.
Coole Park is a very attractive destination in the west of Ireland. Trip Advisor shows it as the #1 attraction with 4.5/5 star reviews.
An article in the New York times explores this area and indicated that “The grounds are now a national park and preserve of manicured gardens and paths beneath majestic yews.”
The Irish Examiner highlights that “Continuing eastward around the park’s periphery, we entered the Walled Garden through a bright red gate. The scene within was one of classic beauty, manicured lawns, gazebos, picnic tables, a line of yews and the Autography Tree, a copper beech inscribed with the names of the Irish and Anglo-Irish literary greats of the last century.”
Allowing Coole Park to flood increases the risk of damage to the park, the infrastructure, the trees and the wildlife and therefore also to the Tourist potential of the area.
The following infographic gives a summary of the situation. Info is compiled from OPW recorded levels and GPS aided levels.
Here are a number of facts.
Solving the flooding in Coole Park is a not a choice – it’s mandatory. Coole Park is one of the most protected areas in Ireland and allowing severe flooding is devastating to the nature reserve, several communities and in fact against EU law. The organisation accountable for Coole Park nature reserve and owns the responsibility for ensuring this is adequately protected against threats (including flooding ) is the National Parks and Wildlife service – NPWS.
We have the best possible chance at getting a right solution here as the South Galway/Gort Lowlands Flood Relief Scheme gets underway. Galway County council is running the project, we now have design consultants, environmental consultants working toward getting a solution.
The NPWS will also play a key role here according to Dr Enda Mooney, regional Manager, the NPWS is committed to “working constructively with the design team for the South Galway flood relief scheme and Galway Co. Council to help steer the proposed scheme through the legal requirements under national and European legislation.”
The South Galway Flood Relief Committee has had several meetings over the past 2 years with Dr Mooney to try and demystify the situation that will enable flood relief solutions to progress seamless so that the South Galway Community gets its flood relief solution and that also keep to the letter of EU legislation. We’ve made some great progress on certain aspects and there some very good collaboration here and overall I feel that the NPWS has stepped up the plate. However, there are still some areas of concern that need to be smoothed out and these will be outlined in the next article which will go into a bit more detail on these issues.
Coole Park was developed by the Gregory’s for hundreds of years and has become a magnificant nature park, with strong cultural and heritage ties. It was left in the care of the Government in 1927 and taken over by the Forest Service and since 1987 it is now in the care of the NPWS. They now have a key reponsibility here to be part of the solution and help and advise the consultants to get a full flood relief solution that will help the South Galway Community and halt the killing of Coole.
In the meantime if you feel strongly about helping to save Coole Park from future serious flooding and in addition to helping the many people affected by flooding in South Galway – please share this with as many people as you can. Please comment and leave feedback because it’s our collective voice that can have an impact here.
David Murray, Chair South Galway Flood Relief Committee
As outlined in a 2018 update, the first stage of the South Galway Flood Relief Scheme is a feasibility study and flood risk assessment. As part of these works the design Consultant Ryan Hanley will be commencing threshold surveys starting during next week of properties in or adjacent to flood zones in the study area. These surveys are mainly focused on getting information on flood threats and flood extent and not on flooding damage -This nformation can be gathered during later public consultations sessions.
A team from Ryan Hanley will be calling to properties and will have identification and a letter from the OPW. The key information that will be collected from property owners during the survey will include:
This is vital infomation to gather to understand flooding levels and threats and in conjunction with addtional feedback during public consultation (Proposed for sometime in May)
Please support – Let your neighbours know and please share this if you can.
Chair, South Galway Flood Relief Committee.
PS:Please don’t underestimate the impact you have by simply liking,commenting on or sharing this.
The following post describes the flooding situation around Ballylee, Rinrush and Newtown that happened in the winters of 2009 and 2015. It introduced they catchment and hydrology, the flooding dynamic and impacts on the communities of Ballylee, Rinrush, Deerpark and Newtown.
The Boleyneendorrish river is sourced in north-west of the Slieve Aughty mountains between the peaks of Sonnagh Old and the mountain peak of Cashlandrumlahan (now the site of the Derrybrien windfarm)
The rivers starts at an elevation of 350m flows through upland townlands of Funshandaun, Bohaboy, Toormacnevin and Kilbeg.
The river runs through Kilbeg and under several bridges
It then flows into Boleyneendorrish and Gortadragaun and is joined by small streams flowing north from townlands such as Knockoura, Keelderry and Hollymount as well as streams flowing south from Derryvokeel and Scalp. The following is a profile of the flow from Cashlaundrumlahan
The river flows past Drumminacoosaun and under a beautiful stone bridge towards Ballynahowna and again under another bridge at Farnaun and at this stage is the river is 100m above sea level.
It flows swiftly downstream and becomes the Ballycahalan river which now spits into two rivers, a few hundred metres behind (east) of Gillane’s Service Station. One river flows south as the Annagh and Turra river and lows back into Cloon and the other passes on the Gort side or Gillane’s Service Station and over a waterfall into Cloon. This is the waterfall in flood.
These two rivers join another small drain flow from Circular Road, Gort, to become the Streamstown river which is the river that flows by Thoor Ballylee Castle.
The river has a weir and outlet that had been used to power a mill in W.B Yeats’ time and it flows past this old millhouse and millers cottage.
After a few hundred metres downstream from the mill the river turns abruptly west and flows into a swallow hole called Pollanoween (also known and the Hammer Sinks) through crevices between boulders.
Note – as the river veers west, another branch veers east and sinks in a swallow hole called Pollaleen. Depending on the time of the year, this river can flow in both directions. In a low-water table Pollaleen acts as a sink and water can drain out from Ballylee. In wet winters, if Lough Coy and Blackrock Turloughs rise significantly, then the sink can become a risk and flow towards Pollanoween.
At Pollanoween, the river goes underground in a north-west direction and re-emerges behind the Church in Kiltartan in a hole called Poulacapple.
From here, the Kiltartan river runs for about 1 mile and then sinks and re-emerges and flows into Coole Lake, where it then sinks underground and comes out at Kinvara. Another interesting point is the rise in Kiltartan (Polldeelin) is the meeting point of another underground river coming from the Gort River.
The linkage between Kiltartan and Ballylee can be seen here in a concept drawing. It’s roughly 3km in length and can go as deep as 82m (Well below sea level)
There is roughly a 3-4m level drop between Ballylee and Kiltartan. According to  Artur Kozlowski he dived 1.5 km from Poulacapple toward Pollanoween and he hit a depth of 71 m. Also he dived an unknown hole in Newtown that he named Pollindre  which brought him to a depth of 82m.
The swallow at Pollanoween is in fact linked to many different underground channels. Not only does it come into Kiltartan at Poulacapple, it also links up with the rise of the Coole river. It also has links as far a away as Pollaloughaboo and Pollbeahgy in Carrowkilleen over 11km to the North-West.
The Ballylee area is very similar to the dynamics described in a previous article Flooding in Grannagh, Blackrock and Skehanna This is where upper catchment drainage flows directly into an underground system and therefore in heavy rainfall these areas are susceptible to rising waters as the underground system is not capable of sinking all of the water. As with Blackrock, the Ballylee areas have Turloughs (Carrowbaun, Newhall/Newtown and Ballylee Turloughs). In normal winters, these will rise and store water but in severe winters the water will find an overland course and cause a lot of impacts for the local communities of Rinrush, Deerpark, Cloonanearla, Newtown.
This level of flooding can be normal during the a wet winter. However, if there is excessive rain then the whole area is severely impacted.
Once the rainfall goes above a certain level there are several situations that conspire that have a dramatic flooding impact in this area. The underground systems and Turloughs must handle….
The sum of these effects results is a rapid rise in the Turlough levels and this can result in an overflow through Deerpark/Rinrush area
The water overflows through Deerpark and flows across roads and railway track into Castletown where it competes with Gort river to flow underground into Kiltartan. Here is a snapshot of the overflow through Michael Cahill’s farm in Deerpark.
Again, if we look at this during 2015/2016 flooding levels  we see that Ballylee flood levels rises to 19.38m above sea level and Kiltartan rose to 15.01 m (Coole lake level was 14.78m) which would have put significant pressure on Kiltartan.
What happens eventually is that the Gort River (at Castletown) and overflow from Ballylee eventually fill up Castletown and Ballyloughaun and this is what starts to flow across the N18 at Kiltartan leading to that iconic ‘Niagara Falls type of situation’
Interestingly, the flooding in Winter 2015 did not have the same levels because a blocked stone culvert had been replaced with a new one. This is described in the blog Why hasn’t Gort town flooded?
Basically the new culvert kept the levels of Castletown and Ballyloughaun down (by about 1m) – Here it is in action in Winter 2015 and the levels of Castletown were not as severe as 2009 – but yet still enough to isolate the communities of Rinrush/Deerpark.
There are some very serious impacts to this flooding situation including:
One of the worst situations here was that the community around Rinrush, Deerpark and Newtown was completely isolated for a total of 56 days during the Winter 2015 flooding. This meant that 10 families had absolutely no access to the outside world. The only way that anybody could leave this area was to walk through fields for around 2km. There was a boat that some people used but this was quite risky as it involved crossing moving water and it is simply not acceptable that some of our vulnerable community members have to take these risks.
Over the course of the 56 days, several of these people had critical hospital appointments and had to do this with the risky boat trip. People here had to try and make it to work every day and some even had to move to alternate accommodation to facilitate this. The simple task of heading to Gillanes or Gort to get milk, mass or medicines became a significant undertaking.
Not only was this community isolated but it was invisible also. Very few people could get into them. There were never any television reports on their plight because they were simply but significantly inaccessible. Thanks to our recent mobile technology we were only able to get a realistic snapshot when we got to see this through social media.
Thankfully there were no homes flooded in Rinrush, however out of 12 homes – 1 was threatened and ended up losing their septic tank also.
There were two farmyards flooded and as we could see from the previous video this flooding caused great stress and anxiety to people, like Michael Cahill, who had to contend with a river overflowing through his farmyard.
This meant that cattle had to be moved out to the land, fodder as inaccessible and damaged. This caused significant disruption. It wasn’t possible to get calf-nuts or other farm supplies as the roads were not passable; it fact it took drops from the Air Corps to get animal feed supplements supplied. Nobody should have to live with this impact every few years – the previous generation had no memories of flooding but this has happened 3-4 times in the past 30 years.
There were over 40 farms flooded, some up to several months. 2 farms had over 50 acres flooded and 10 farms had 25-50 acres flooded. Also, many farms were inaccessible during the flooding period.
I remember 3 years ago visiting TripAdvisor and seeing Thoor Ballylee get 1-Star and it labelled as ‘a national disgrace’ . This was because it had been closed for 6 years due to flooding in 2009. There was a significant effort by the local community to restore the Castle after flooding and in 2015 there was an official opening of the Castle and it continues to be a major attraction in South Galway. This was short-lived as the flooding 3 months later filled the castle over 2m of water.
The Impacts of flooding mean that this wonderful place cannot open to the public without requiring continuous investment and community work.
A significant environmental impact is caused with the washing out of farmyard slurry tanks and septic tanks into the water. Many people in South Galway have water schemes or private wells that are badly threatened by this level of contamination with animal and human waste as well as farm yard chemicals. South Galway is also peppered with Special Areas of Conservation (SACs) which need to be protected from this level of pollution and solutions need to be put in place.
There are several types of solutions that need to be considered to help combat flooding in this area. For example:
The main catchment area for Boleyneendorrish river is 63Km2. This land now has vast tracts of forestry and there are concerns on the impact of forest drains and roads on the hydrology. It has been proven that deforestation can cause an increase of 15% of rapid run-off and there are also research studies carried out that show negative long-term impacts of forestry on the hydrology of peatland. Forestry planning needs to consider impacts to downstream catchment, reduce drainage and provide attenuation solutions in the Catchment. The South Galway Flood Relief Committee has also shown how a forest road diverted flow from a different catchment into the Boleyneendorrish catchment, adding 10s of acres of additional land to the catchment. Stakeholders such as Coillte have been progressive with proposals for reducing the amount of mound drains and providing areas for attenuation and we will see how this progress in the coming years.
In addition to better catchment management, there needs to be a provision of an emergency access route for the local community so that they will never be isolated in a severe flooding event. There could be several options for this and it may involve raised roads and properly sized culverts to cross the flood waters or alternate access proposals.
This is mandatory.
In addition to the previous solutions, the Swallow holes in Ballylee need to be maintained where any blockages can be cleared.
When the water was up to the windows in Kiltartan Church in Winter 2015, it was 15.01m above sea level. The level of Coole Lake was at that time was 14.78, only 23 cm below this. This level was already an extra 3-4m of water over the normal summer level of Kiltartan/Polldeelin. This level has to have an impact of the water flow capacity from Ballylee.
If the maximum level of Coole Lake was kept down e.g. by 1-2m, then there would be a larger flow from Ballylee to Kiltartan. The GSI team that is current working on the flooding analysis of South Galway will be able to calibrate the impact scientifically – it is too complex to guess the additional flow rate of doing something like this.
In addition to the previous solutions, the farmers that have been affected by having their farmyards flooded need to be given proper support for either protection (bunding) or relocation.
In Nov 2017, Joe Healy, president of the IFA said that there must be a national strategy to deal with the significant damage that has occurred on lands and property. This must include relocation as an option in some instances and farmyards must qualify where farmers have had recurring flooding problems.
This needs to be accelerated so that the farming community worst affected in South Galway are given the choice to remove the constant yearly threat to their livelihood.
Rinrush, Deerpark and Newtown are extremely isolated in times of flooding and there is a devastating impact on these communities. Flooding overflow from Blackrock powers through Skehanna and then through Rinrush washing out farmyards and having impacts on health, heritage, farming and the environment. Solutions should look at upper catchment management and ensure that if flooding scenarios happen that this community is not cut-off. Farmers who’s farm buildings are in the overflow path should have strong support for relocation. The lower-catchment water levels of Coole and Caherglassaun should be managed to give Blackrock and Ballylee areas the best chance to drain off excessive water.
We cannot and should not tolerate vulnerable communities be left with no choice but to live with flooding. Solutions should be sought from all angles and they should be delivered quickly.
I’ve had many people ask the same question over the XMAS break – What’s happening with the floods in South Galway? So I’ve given an outline below on what’s happening. A quick recap to date :
The goal of the South Galway -Gort Lowlands project is to deliver a flood relief solution for South Galway – from Slieve Aughty Mountains to the sea.
The project will go through 5 stages as outlined below?
|Stage 1||Feasibility Study and Preparation of a local Flood Risk Management Plan and General Scheme Development|
|Stage 2||Public Exhibition/Consultation|
|Stage 3||Detailed Design & Confirmation|
|Stage 4||Construction Stage|
|Stage 5||Handover of Works and Closeout|
As of 13th December 2017, the engineering design consultants (RyanHanley) signed the contract and the project design has officially commenced. The following diagram shows where we are in the process and the main stakeholders. (The grey boxes show what has been completed to date)
The project brief indicates contractual timelines from time of project commencement . There are approx:
The correct answer is ‘We won’t know until the solutions are assessed’ – We hear figures of €48 million (from last analysis ) and €10 million recently in Connaught Tribune However- If we are to believe the process – These numbers are pie-in-the-sky until we understand the real cost and frequency of flooding and proposals for solutions to this – until then – there should be no numbers considered. The focus should remain on getting the right solution and then we can argue about the cost-benefit! What we don’t want is a provisional financial constraint that starts to immediately impact our solution.
2018 is really all about Stage #1 — Deep dive analysis with some high-level solutions in the form of a flood risk management plan :
Here are the key deliverables and their expected timeframes:
So 2018 is really just the starting of the design process – getting all the data in place and some high-level solution options and overall flood risk management plan
At least from the contract signing there is now a fixed timeline in place and we and other stakeholders are very keen to ensure that we monitor progress against these plans
Galway County Council are currently preparing a ‘South Galway Flood Emergency Response Plan’ – a draft was issued in Nov 2017. The main goal of the plan is that if South Galway does see itself in the middle of a flooding crisis, our community should expect a co-ordinated and well managed response – rather than the chaos of the past.
Essentially, it takes lessons learned from last flood experience, clarifies emergency criteria and will provide guidelines for flood risk managagement of each key area affected. This will be due for completion by the end of Januray. The plan should identify the areas and homes at risk, mitigation measures for home protection and access and be able to provide resources – from sandbags to pumps to portaloos.
South Galway Flood Relief Committee met with Galway County Council and Cllr Joe Byrne for an inital review of this proposal and we were happy that there was good progress being made here and will await final plan in the coming weeks.
This article covers some of the flooding scenarios within the Ownshree catchments where the communities of Roxborough, Castleboy, Grannagh, Blackrock and Skehanna are vulnerable to flooding.
This area that we are focusing on is mainly the area west and south west of Loughrea, along the main Loughrea to Gort Road. The main river flowing through this area is called the Owenshree river which makes it’s grand appearance flowing under the Seven-Eye Bridge close to Kilchreest.
The Owenshree river is part of 3 main rivers in the Galway Bay South East Catchment and this area in particular is called the Kilchreest Catchment which is sourced from the North Western region of the Slieve Aughty mountains. It can flow as close to 1km from Loughrea lake but will eventually end up in Kinvara bay (Note : Loughrea and easterly Slieve Aughties drain into the Shannon)
The following diagram shows the profile of the river flow from Slieve Aughties to Kinvara and you can se that Blackrock is at the end of a land-locked basin but has underground connectivity.
Some of the main areas within the downstream catchment are Kilchreest, Castleboy, Grannagh, Blackrock and Skehanna. The main upstream sources are Sonnagh, Gortnamannagh, Killeenadeema and lower Glenaclara
The area of the main sources of the Owenshree river is Sonnagh and one of the highest sources is Lough Belsrah which has a Windfarm (Sonnagh) located next to it.
Lough Behsrah is an unusual lake located in a valley with steep sides and supposed to be quite deep. Its about 500m Long and average of 50m across.
Lough Belsrah and small channels from the windfarm flow downstream and are joined from small channels from Gortnamannagh and flow toward the ‘Soldiers bridge’
The Sonnagh, Gortnamnnagh areas represent a significant portion of the uplands catchment and these flow to the Soldiers bridge in Gortnamannagh.
There are also areas of Killeenadeema and lower-lying Glenaclara that flow into the Owenshree river and this flows north-west under the Seven-Eye bridge at Kilchreest.
From there the river changes direction from north-west to south-west and heads parallel to the Loughrea-Gort road toward Castledaly and Peterswell. It first flows through Roxborough (Lady Gregory’s birthplace) ruins and past the old stewards house. From here the river flows into Isterkelly and Castleboy where it disappears into swallow holes in the streambed in Ballybackage. There is connectivity between these swallow holes and to the Coole Demense river rising.
In a normal summer the river fully disappears into the swallow holes and in fact in a normal winter this can be also be the case. When there are heavy winter rains, these football type of swallow holes overflow downstream into Blackrock Turlough which rises and flows through a number of small swallow holes.
Blackrock Turlough is located on the left side of the N66 between Gort and Loughrea close to Peterswell.
In heavy winter rain, it can rise significantly.
Blackrock can contain a significant amount of water in wintertime e.g. 4.1 million cubic metres (2006), 4.0 million cubic metres (2007) and 2.47 million cubic metres (2008) and can rise to depths of over 12 metres in some places .
One thing about Blackrock is that it’s regarded as a flashy Turlough as it is one of the closest to the Slieve Aughty Mountains – After heavy rains, in over 36 hours, Blackrock Turlough can rise over 10 metres and extend over 2km.
Blackrock Turlough swallow holes have a significant connectivity into the underground river system. The connect to neighbouring Lough Coy and Ballylee and can connect to Kinvara east (close to Dunguaire) and Kinvara Central springs (Pier).
Blackrock connects underground to its close neighbour Lough Coy which then connects to the Ballylee (Ballycahalan river) and in severe cases, the depth difference and pressure between Blackrock and Ballylee is great (>10m heights) that one of the Ballylee swallow holes starts to reverse and become a rise (Also known as an estevelle) . The following diagram shows a conceptual model  and the type of connectivity from mountain to sea.
As we have seen on many previous blogs, in normal summers and normal winters, these underground systems work perfectly. Here is a snapshot of the height over 3 years. 
Another way to look at Blackrock is to look at average inflows and outflows and in the above period in ‘filling phase’ is we can see an average inflow to Blackrock is 10m3/S while at the same time it’s outflow is just on average 2m3/s . Therefore, if the 10m3/sec inflow is sustained over a prolonged period, the Turlough fills and starts to become a flood risk.
When you get severe winter rains in the Slieve Aughty mountains, the small swallow holes that can normally sink 2m3/s cannot handle this and like a basin the Turlough levels start to rise, leading to significant flooding. While the maximum volume of Blackrock Turlough in Sept-2006-Sept 2009 as 4.1 Million cubic metres of water, in 2009 the volume reached of 15.9 Million cubic meters at its peak and covered an area in excess of 3 km2.
This Turlough rose to close to 29 m and this caused significant flooding impacts. Here is a profile of Blackrock Turlough during the 2009 winter flooding. 
The level of Blackrock peaks around 29m because it then finds an over ground route which will be discussed below. Similarly with Lough Coy, once it reaches 17m, it will also overflow over ground.
There are 4 main flooding dynamics when the Owenshree catchment has high levels of rainfall.
These are as follows:
These will be dealt with separately.
The first casualty of flooding happens around Roxborough. The Owenshee river powers under the 7-Eye bridge and turns South-West and into Roxborough.
The river goes through a narrow bridge and then the river itself narrows and causes a restriction in very high water flows. With rapid run-off the Slieve Aughty’s these restrictions lead to a water backup and this floods Paddy McGlynns home and farm buildings. Note : This house is a protected building constructed around 1820. (Details here) and unfortunately floods to about 2ft of water
As this is close to the Slieve Aughty mountains, the flooding is flashy. The flood can come within a few hours and be gone 20 hours later. This type of flooding has happened several times over the past 20 years only.
When there is a large water volume coming down the Owenshree catchment (from Sonnagh, Gortnamannagh and Killeennadeema) then Blackrock Turlough can’t sink all of this water (coming on average at and starts to rise. If the volume of water is too great then the entire area from Blackrock back to Grannagh starts to fill up. This causes flooding in Castleboy, Grannagh and around Blackrock
Eventually, if the water runnoff the mountain is voluminous enough, the Blackrock Turlough level reaches a limit (29m above see level) and overflows into Skehanna.
Once the level of Blackrock approaches 29 metres (above sea level) – then it finds a outlet close to Limepark house, beside Rahealy. Some of Turlough is over 16m deep at this stage.
It overflows across the Skehanna to Blackrock road and flows through Colm Burke’s farmyard and in through the village of Skehanna causing severe flooding to the community. It then makes its way to the Lough Coy overflow.
As Blackrock gathers a head of volume of water 16m deep in some places, it can put a significant pressure (underground) on the downstream system in Lough Coy and Ballylee. It causes swallow holes to become springs. It causes Ballylee swallow hole north (Pollaleen) to reverse direction and rather than being a swallow hole – it becomes a rise and water flows out of it (this is called an estevelle). Blackrock overflow and underflows now pouring into Ballylee, through Skehanna and Lough Coy join with the the swelling Ballycahalan river and starts to flood the Ballylee, Deerpark and Rinerush areas.
There were several houses flooded in Roxborough, Castleboy, Grannagh, Blackrock and the Skehanna area in the 2009 and 2015/16 floods.
In Roxborough, 1 house and farmyard was flooded. In Grannagh 3 homes, were flooded and 4 were badly threathened and 11 were inacessible and many septic tanks were flooded. In Skehana/Blackrock – 2 homes were flooded badly, 2 flooded but were protected (sandbags/pumps) and 3 were badly threathened.
Over 38 farms were affected in Grannagh, Blackrock and Skehanna and over 800 acres of farmland was flooded, many of these farms were flooded for several months. Over 10 farms were in accessible and 8-9 farmyard slurry tanks were washed out into the area.
In Castleboy, acces was limited from Castledaly. In Skehanna and Blackrock 16 families were isolated and required a pedestrian bridge to get out. The following roads were closed:
Overall, the flooding dealt a very serious blow to the communities of Roxoborough, Grannagh, Castleboy, Blackrock and Skehanna.
This area is one of the high-risk areas as it is so close to the Slieve Aughty Mountains and is very sensitive to changes in land practice. There are real concerns that mountain land management, farming, forestry and windfarms have increased the mountain run-off over the past few decades. There are several potential mitigation measures including.
For slowing the flow, attenuation would attempt to hold water on the mountains. There may also be methods to ensure mountain land management doesn’t overly accelerate water off the mountain e.g.. land drains, forestry drains, forestry roads, windfarm drains and roads. There is a potential to use natural flood management techniques to slow the flow – remember a dynamic of blackrock is that normally it can only drain at 2m3/s to anything to slow the peak flows into is are useful.
One of the interesting things about the Owenshree river (which can rise 1M in 4 hours), is that soon after the Seven-Eye Bridge close to Kilchreest where the river swings left (west) it is only a few hundred metres from the source of the Aggard. Here it is in the red circle below:
This means that there is a potential solution to be able to divert some of the Ownshree into the Aggard. This solution has been details in an OPW report Termon Mannin Kilchreest Final Report 231210. This solution is feasible, but only on the back of delivering an improved drainage scheme on the Dunkellin river which is currently being developed. Temporarily alleviating some of the flow from the Owenshree river would lessen the build up of water on Castledaly, Grannagh and Blackrock and be an overall benefit on the whole South Galway flooding.
Once the water is travelling unders the 7 Eye bridge – It’s almost at full flow and there is no stopping it on its way to Roxborough toward Blackrock. An obstruction (Bridge and river narrowing) holds water back but floods McGlynns as the river is very close his house. Could the house, farmyard be bunded? Could the bridge be increased? Will it have an impact downstream? It will have to be analyzed by our hydrologists but it seems very reasonable to try to protect a house that is threatened by water for a several hours, after which things are back to normal again and that extra water is already in the Blackrock Turlough.
Blackrock Turlough is the farthest from the sea and it becomes more challenging to drain off additional water through the current system, particularly where there are 2 other rivers into South Galway system that have flooding dynamics. From talking to locals in the area, I’ve heard rumors that there were some river diversions on the Owenshree river many years ago, something to do with Limepark house. If you check out the 1836 OS map here and move the OVERLAY Slider and you can see the overlay of then (1936) and now and you will see a river appear and disappear
These (and other) swallow holes may be covered but it may be possible to clear some out so they can sink their maximum flow.
Another dynamic that could be investigated is the results of keeping water flowing downstream. For instance if Coole Lake has a more streamlined outlet to the sea that stops it reaching 15m (over sea level) then in theory Kiltartan and Ballylee will flow better and this would have an impact on the underground flow from Blackrock. It’s hard to say how much this would be but it would probably not be major. Hydrology experts are currently studing these effects and will be able to give a scientific answer.
Overall the flooding mitigation of these communities is a high prioritiy for the South Galway- Gort Lowlands floods scheme and the design consultants will be tasked with coming up with solutions designs within the next 18 months.
A huge credit goes to Own Naughten, Lawerence Gill and professor Johnston who have done a lot of studies around the South Galway Area. The Turlough data and some concept images were taken from the following paper
Also big credit to Sean Brady, from Sean Brady Aerial Photography as his flooding images captured from his drown have really helped us tell the story of South Galway Flooding
Thank to Tommy Fahy for details on Grannagh
Thanks to Pauric Collins and Colm Burke for providing details on Skehanna and Blackrock.
Ballyboy, Ballyglass is an area of South Galway close to Ardrahan and can be reached by taking a right turn at Ardrahan coming from Gort and continuing through the first crossroads. It is not part of the main water route from Slieve Aughty to the sea but there is some probable linkage to Slieve Aughty and because of poor drainage, it ends up flooding and causing crisis for many families in the area.
The Ballyboy drains from an area over 30m above sea level and for the most part the drainage consists of man-made drains that bring water from the Ballyboy, Ballyglass and Monksfield area into the Aggard which connects to the Dunkellin River and flows into Kilcolgan area to the sea. These drains work their way across farmland and be seen on the map below.
These drains are not recent and if we go back to 1846 OS map we can see the drains and also the direction of the flow is marked as can be seen from the map below (Check out the OSI Map. )
There is one peculiar aspect of the drainage is that it flows in 2 directions. The OS maps of 1846 show that the drains flow from the ruins of Cloghbroak Castle towards Ballyboy. It also shows water flowing into Cloghbroak Castle from Monksfield but also water flowing in the opposite direction – so that water kind of appears out of nowhere. Here is a summary of what this map tells us.
In general, the land is very flat the flows we are talking about are not substantial. These are not rivers but drains and some of the culverts are only 12 inch pipes. There is a very small flow that sinks in a swallow hole close to Ballyboy that can be seen on the diagram below.
The other drainage aspect is that there are flows beyond the castle that join with the Monksfield river flow and flow into the Aggard stream.
It’s hard to really understand exactly what happens in when we get rainfall like we did in 2009 and 2015 but it has a big impact on Ballyboy and Ballyglass. The area around Ballyboy becomes badly flooded as can be shown in the photograph below.
The following diagram shows the flooding on a map. (Compiled from Sean Brady’s photos and flood maps – Copernicus project)
It’s hard to pinpoint the source of the flooding but the Ballyboy area has many wells and springs. It may have a similar dynamic to Cockstown where a spring starts to overflow (from pressure in Grannagh) and flow into Tulira. It may be that when Blackrock Turlough rises to 30m above sea level, this starts to put pressure on underground channels from Grannagh and Blackrock towards springs in Ballyboy. In fact it wouldn’t surprise me if the small swallowhole in Ballyboy changed direction and became a source and started outputting water into Ballyboy. (This is called an ‘estavelle‘ and also happens in Ballylee, and other places) . The levels seem to build until it reaches Cloghroak Castle which then flows (Slowly) towards the Aggard.
The main impacts of the flooding are
As the levels in Ballyboy rise they start impinging on several houses in Lackan and they needed protection. A bund (dam) was built in the past to protect these houses but in winter 2016 sandbags had to be added to the top of this bund to keep the water away from these houses. Also in Ballyglass, close to Cloghroak castle a house was threathened and required protection (Sandbags etc.)
A major impact for the area was access. The road from Ballyboy to Ballyglass was under water and impassable from 11th of December to the 25 of Feb (76 days). This meant that access to the school of Ballyglass was severely restricted during this time for pupils form the Ardrahan/Labane sid (made worse by flooding of the Cockstown road. The impact of school access cannot be underestimated and could up to several 100s of km a week extra, doing runs and drop-offs. A repeated occurrence of this type of flooding and horrendous access impacts would have dramatic impacts for the future of Ballyglass school. No parent wants to add an additional 500km to their school run every week for 7-8 weeks.
Also this had a big impact for farms both in terms of restricted access to farms due to roads flooding or the land being flooded. A major impact is that the flood water stayed on the land up until May 2016 almost 5 months after the floods came.
The flows don’t look substantial and the flood levels are not very deep e.g. an average 2ft-3ft deep compared to 25ft-30ft in a Blackrock/Caherglassaun flood. It wouldn’t take much to flood the area. A flow of about 1m3/sec would flood this type of area to a 1m level in 5 days.
From an initial look at this the solution to flooding in this area should not be complex. These are not big flows but they are allowed to rise and stagnate – blocking roads and access and threatening houses. While the water still sits in Ballyboy in April, the Aggard River is very low and due to poor drainage.
There seems to be several local concerns about the impact of rising of the Ballyboy roads (from Labane to Forde’s house) but this would appear to have very little impact on the overall flooding. The foundation is essentially porous (made from small rock) and will not hold water back. As the Ballyboy levels rise and expand, the water simply seeps under the road into the fields on Forde’s /Fahy’s side. The levels will be the same both sides of road. It’s when a road threatens to block a flow that is usually the cause of main concern.
Also the bund close to Harris’s house will not have a major impact on flooding by holding water back. The bund probably protects less than an acre of ground (with 2 houses and road access) and there is probably over 140 acres flooded in Ballyboy so even if the bund held back an an average of 3ft deep of water displaced by the bund, this would amount to a rise of 6.5mm across the 140 acres.
It’s all about the levels and having a good look at these should help shed some light on the flooding dynamics. However there are some things to consider.
The man obvious solution is to improve the drainage to the Aggard River. These drains have been there for 100s of years but need proper maintenance. Remember we are probably not talking about a major flow here. When the Dunkellin scheme finishes there should be additional capacity in the Aggard and a reasonable solution would seem to be to profile the Ballyboy and Monksfield drainage.
A conservative solution could be to improve the drainage but put a sluice gate in to control the levels. Local farmers have indicated that in March the Aggard stream was very low but there was still a large body of water in Ballyboy – imagine if you could use that spare capacity over a few days with a result of ensure a fully accessible school.
Without having any detailed data but speculating from the 1846 maps, the area around Cloghroak castle seems to be the critical point. The maps show water flowing downhill into Ballyboy so this indicates that Ballyboy is in a basin (with it’s own swallow hole) but if that swallow-hole stops working (or, even worse reverses) then Ballyboy will have to rise until it finds the outlet on the Monksfield side of Castle.
On the positive front, the Dunkellin Scheme is progressing, the engineers involved will know what type of additional capacity the Aggard can take. This area has man-made drainage for 100s of years and this drainage needs to be improved to help eliminate the threat of flooding to peoples homes, keep Ballyglass school accessible and reduce the time that land is flooded for. This should be possible without threatening neighbouring communities.
At several of our public meetings our local representatives have stated that once Dunkellin scheme is complete -Ballyboy improvements should be considered in a supplementary works.
(If you have any additional information then please let me know)