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)
Catchment and Hydrology
The river 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 mill-house 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 a wet winter. However, if there is excessive rain then the whole area is severely impacted.
Severe Winter Flooding
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….
- Storm surge from the Boleyneendorrish catchment
- Increased water pressure from Lough Coy and Blackrock Turloughs. As these Turlough levels rise then the northern swallow hole Pollaleen changes direction and water flows into the Newhall, Ballylee area from the Kilchreest catchment
- If there is significant rainfall then there can be overground flows from the Kilchreest catchment which can flow through Skehanna and into Carrowbaun, increasing the water flow into the area
- If the levels of Coole Lake or Kiltartan are significantly high then this will impact the level of Kiltartan which will also have an impact on the capacity of underground flows from Ballylee
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:
- Isolated Community
- Farmyard flooding
- Farmland flooding
- Heritage Impacts – Thoor Ballylee
- Environmental Impacts
An Isolated Community
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.
Heritage/Tourism Impacts – Thoor Ballylee
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:
- Management of rapid-runoff/Attenuation of the Boleyneendorrish catchment
- Emergency Access Route for the community
- Swallow Hole Clearing
- Keep it flowing!
- Farm Building Relocation
Management of Rapid Runoff
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.
Emergency Access Route for the community.
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.
Swallow Hole Clearing
In addition to the previous solutions, the Swallow holes in Ballylee need to be maintained where any blockages can be cleared.
Keep it flowing
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.
Farm Building relocation
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.
- Baptism of Fire : Underwater Exploration beneath the Gort Lowlands: Artur Kozlowski and Jim Warny, 2009, Irish Speleology 18 : 37-42
- Groundwater flood risk mapping and management: examples
from a lowland karst catchment in Ireland, O. Naughton, P.M. Johnston, T. McCormack and L.W. Gill. Department of Civil, Structural and Environmental Engineering, Trinity College Dublin, Dublin, Ireland
- OPW Water levels : https://southgalwayfloods.files.wordpress.com/2016/01/south-galway-flood-levels-winter-2015-2016.xls