Skeaghs are a series of woven sections of hazel rods. They were used as traditional weirs for silver eel fishing on the Lower River Bann until 1997. Archaeological evidence like the discovery of a wooden line of stakes joined by wickerwork found beneath diatomite in the Toome/Newferry area, indicate that similar style structures have been used for fishing in the area since 1000 B.C. or earlier!
Modern weirs are made of steel mesh panels, which like the traditional weirs divert the path of the migrating eel into a net. There is a ‘Queen’s Gap’ at each weir, a section without nets, which allows a proportion of eels to escape down the Lower River Bann and out to the Atlantic Ocean. The silver eels use the earth’s magnetic fields to navigate to their spawning grounds in the Sargasso Sea some 3,000 miles (almost 5,000 km) from Lough Neagh.
Lough Neagh Fishermen’s Co-op HQ & Eel Weir, showing the ‘Queen’s Gap’ on the RHS
The hazel coppicing project started on a bright January morning at Killynether Country Park Forest. The National Trust Rangers from the Ards Peninsula and their skilled volunteers met with our staff, to coppice a section of hazel from an area managed by the National Trust. Coppicing is a woodland management technique which you can read more about on the link below.
With help and expertise from the National Trust Rangers we coppiced approximately 350 hazel rods, which were brought back to our site for the production of the skeaghs. Using the traditional manner, 3 sections of skeaghs were constructed with help from local experts. These structures form an integral part of the visitor interpretation, which is funded by Lough Neagh Landscape Partnership (LNLP) Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) and designed in conjunction with Image Zoo and Totalis Solutions Ltd.
We gratefully acknowledge the assistance of The National Trust Rangers from the Ards Peninsula, their volunteers and the staff and volunteers at LNFCS for helping to keep alive the traditions of hazel coppicing and skeagh making.
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