Last Friday, 24 March, President Higgins performed the official opening of the Fishery Watchtower Museum at Wolfe Tone bridge in the city centre. Inland Fisheries Ireland was delighted to be able to work in partnership with Duchas na Gaillimhe/Galway Civic Trus in refurbishing the Fishery Watchtower. Also, as the owners of the Tower, IFI was acutely aware of its responsibility to preserve the Tower, a protected structure, and to ensure that safe access to the structure was provided.
The Watchtower was acquired when the Galway Fishery was purchased by the State in 1978. At that time the tower had a very practical purpose and in addition to monitoring salmon movements was also used to ensure that no untoward activity (poaching) occurred on the adjacent section of the Corrib as well as acting as a base for a salmon draft net station. Of course following the purchase by the State netting of salmon ceased.
From 1997 the Tower was operated by the Trust as a tourist attraction/fisheries museum under a licence agreement with the WRFB which was subsequently subsumed into IFI and proved popular with tourists and locals alike up until the Tower became inaccessible in 2007 due to deterioration in the access bridge.
With safe access to the tower no longer available, pressure came on for the bridge to be replaced and the work of Delo Collier of the Trust, in never giving up on the project and keeping it to the forefront throughout was instrumental in bringing about the provision of the new bridge and refurbishment works. The work of Caroline McNeill, particularly in relation to the management of the internal refurbishment was evident today when we visited the tower. The role of IFI's own staff, in particular, the Fishery Manager, Seamus Hartigan was also key to bringing the tower back to life.
IFI acknowledges the support of Galway City Council throughout, in particular, that provided by Kevin Swift who worked with IFI and the Trust when funding was being sought through Failte Ireland over a number of years to replace the bridge. However, when Failte Ireland eventually advised in early 2012 that it could not support the project, IFI decided to proceed and fund the new bridge with some support from Galway City Council.
The old collapsed bridge which had stood for 160 years since the Tower’s construction in the mid-1800s was removed by IFI personnel in June 2012. The personnel who undertook this job are to be congratulated as it was not an easy undertaking given its location and dangerous condition.
The new replacement bridge was designed by local architects Simon J Kelly & Co. and blends in seamlessly with the pedestrian walkway on the upstream side of Wolfetone Bridge which it abuts. The new bridge was installed by Ward & Burke Construction Ltd in March 2013 and engineering and advisory services were provided by ARUP.
Following the installation of the new bridge, the Trust and IFI again had easy access to the tower and work began in partnership to refurbish the building which had deteriorated over the previous number of years. IFI is sure anyone who has the opportunity to visit the tower will be impressed with the work done, the museum exhibits and of course the unobstructed panoramic views of Galway Bay and the lower Corrib.
Since its “unofficial opening” in late summer 2014 almost 4,000 have visited the Tower and the comments in the visitors book have been very complimentary. IFI has no doubt that the Tower will continue to be a key attraction in the Trust’s portfolio and that, in addition to tourists, local Galwegians will avail of the opportunity to visit the tower.