Members of Oranmore Heritage made the first of their planned heritage walks on May 17th 2009. This walk covered a section of the foreshore in Renville West that is known to be of significant heritage interest.
It should be pointed out at the outset that the sea and the shore had a much greater impact on the lives of people in the past and up until about 1950. Many people would be on the shore cutting seaweed and getting shellfish. That was very important to their way of life.
The walk began near Feeneys Quay, so named because the land in the immediate vicinity belonged to a Feeney family. It passed through a number of owners and is now a deer farm. It was a small quay and anything unloaded on it had to be moved quickly – because even a relatively low tide would cover it over.
We walked next towards the mouth of Loughnaroan (Lough of the Seal). There was an old quay here too in time past and tidal access to the lough through which a shoal of mullet passed with every high tide. Tommy Walshe R.I.P from Parknaginny (??!!)- from a family with a long fishing tradition that continues to this day – on one occasion stretched a net across the mouth of the Lough just as the tide turned and caught about four dozen fish on their way back to sea. Although mullet was edible, it was not popular then, as it had a reputation for being a ‘dirty’ fish. The access to the lough is now blocked by a causeway built in the sixties to accomodate the new modern farm machinery. So now there are no seals and no mullet.
Walking on the main foreshore, the bay from Oran Point to Sailín Gate became visible. Just east of Oran Point is Cloughan na Mallacht –“The Cursed Stones”. This is a rocky channel where the Atlantic reaches Oran Island and where Bealach na Bradan flows into the sea. Anyone who has taken a boat in here would agree that Cloughan na Mallacht has been well named. The current and the rocks make it treacherous. Just to the east of this is the Rusheen, another very rocky but sheltered area that produced excellent seaweed. Closer to us was Rinnaturn (?) Point thought to be “The Point of the Fire” but that may still be open to interpretation.
To understand this bay it is essential to understand the tides. Spring tides can be up to five metres high and reap tides would be very low. Tides are primarily influenced by the phases of the moon but wind and weather play a role too. The group had picked a time when the tide was low and were fortunate to get a sunny day as well.
We started to walk south as one of our objectives was to find “Acre Stones”. To understand the purpose of Acre Stones, it should be pointed out that the local landlord Ronald Athy owned the seaweed rights on the shore. Each year he rented each acre to a local farmer for a fee- anything from 7/6 to £1depending on how productive the acre was, and each Acre was designated by a numbered stone set in the ground on the foreshore. These were known as “acre stones”.
John Finn of Oranhill collected the rents and paid them to Athy’s agant, a (?) Kirwan in Tuam. In payment he got the Rusheens free to cut his own seaweed.
The Finn family had a lot ground under crops. They also cut seaweed on the Black Islands. To transport the seaweed they made a “clemeen”, a kind of huge bale made on a network of ropes and floated it to Feeney’s Quay on the incoming tide. There it was loaded on horsecarts and taken to the fields. Seaweed was very important as a fertiliser in the days before artificial fertiliser became available. Farmers came from as far away as Turloughmore and Ballygluinin to cut seaweed around Oranmore.
Farmers in Ballinacourty cut seaweed and sold it by the cartload at the market in Athenry, sometimes in exchange for a load of turf.