7 June 2002

ULSTERINSIGHTINTOFISHREGENERATION

EUNICE Holland, contact leader for the Northern Ireland group has lived around Cookstown all her life. She is no stranger to what is going on in the area and the Ballinderry Fish School and Hatchery at Orritor was an obvious choice to interest members from all over Ulster.

We were shown around this project by Alan Keys who gave up livestock farming after 25 years to concentrate full-time on his hobby. He had gained hands-on experience in fish husbandry and working within the river habitat as a voluntary co-ordinator but for the past 10 years has managed the hatchery. He and the fellow founders of Ballinderry River Enhancement Association pledged to restore the river to its former glory and Alan was awarded an MBE for his efforts.

The Dollaghan, which is the game fish found in Lough Neagh, is just one of the 135 important species of game fish found in Ireland and they are bred in large stainless steel cheese vats.

The FWC members were privileged to be one of the first groups to go into the room that will be used for school visits. With the help of the School of Biology and Biochemistry at Queens University, Belfast an educational display has been set up where visitors can learn everything they need to know about rivers.

Outside, water rushes down the hillside and we looked up to the walkway that has been constructed through the glen, which is a botanists dream with at least one specimen of every plant found in Ulster growing there.

Having achieved so much to replace the game fish, the association is now concentrating on fresh mussels which have been threatened with extinction from pollution. They have bred the first one in captivity and we were fascinated to learn that their first year of life is spent latched on to the back of a trout. They live to a ripe old age but only one in a 100 has a pearl inside.

In the afternoon the members visited the Wellbrook Beetling Mill. It was here, in years gone by, that flax was turned from flower to finery. An informative demonstration of the process by Jean Paul showed how the home-grown plants eventually replicated flaxen hair ready for spinning.

The water mill is in full working order and with the noise of the machinery and the rushing water we were pleased to be living in this quieter age.

Northern Ireland members Renee McMullen and Eunice Holland.