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Ballyward and the Upper River Liffey by Edward James

Leaving the suburbs of Dublin, I’m travelling to the boundaries of Co. Wicklow and the beautiful river Liffey at Ballyward where it meanders towards Poulaphouca Reservoir. Here the river nestles under the shadow of the Dublin and Wicklow hills.  A sunny mid-April day finds me on the N81 travelling past Tallaght and Brittas towards Blessington, the wood-line above Crooksling and Slade Valley on my right nods to welcome me back. I have neglected this beautiful area throughout the winter months. Brittas village brings me in sight of the Lisheen /Brittas river, now left onto the R759, and my destination Ballyward bridge one-mile past Manor Kilbride. This part of the river Liffey brings peace to my soul. I’m at ease here and for some reason reminded of Glencar and Yeats.

                     “Where the wandering water gushes

                      from the hills above GlenCar,                         

                       in pools among the rushes

                       that scarce could bathe a star

                       we seek for slumbering trout

                       and whispering in their ears

                       give them unquiet dreams:

                       leaning softly out

                       from ferns that drop their tears

                       over the young streams.

                       come away, O human child!

                       to the waters and the wild.

                       with a faery, hand, in hand,

                       For the world’s more full of weeping

                       than you can understand”.


I don the wellingtons and warm coat. Sun shining but rather cold, I’m eager for my favourite pool sheltered from the wind by Holly/ Hawthorn and Willow while warmed by the early Spring sun on my face, my idea of real comfort. Travelling light I carry rod and line and a little box of favoured flies. Six or eight olive imitations, a few dries and nymphs. Large dark olives (Baetis rhodani) should be hatching and trout active, at least that’s the hope. Fear and trepidation set in as I recall other visits here when the water levels were high at flood level but good fortune smiles on me today. Leaving the roadside and crossing the field to the riverside I’m struck by the beauty of my surroundings.

Spring is showing in the hedgerows and meadows. Dandelion and daisy are in bloom close to the gate and in the shade of a bank cowslips (Bainne Bo Bleacht) take shelter. I’m on the river bank now and the water levels are indeed high, at least a little higher than I would like. All is not lost because the levels are dropping, in an hour or so and fishing can begin. Olives are on the wing and chased by the chaffinches. I hear the clip of their beaks as they snip the wings off the fly and snack on their bodies. Watching the birds do this while in full flight is a sight to behold. A wagtail runs and dips on the sand margins for lunch, no need to show off like the finches. I note the water levels lapping over a large stone and a little further downstream a hanging willow branch dances to the tune of the river, soon it will gain its freedom as water levels drop and I should be able to cast a line. For now, it provides a good marker to watch the water levels. I sit sheltered from the wind and make use of the sunshine to rod up. A two-fly cast will do nicely a gold ribbed hares’ ear on the point and a Greenwell’s Glory as dropper. I’m at ease watching and waiting, on the bank opposite a clump of buttercups basking in the sunshine getting ready to show all their splendour in the coming days and weeks, just now it offers a little of its beautiful yellow flowers. Further along and near a swampy area the yellow flag / Iris is rising from the mud it will add to the beauty of the river from May to Autumn. There is a bounty of beauty along this bank, nettle patch, briar, and higher on the bank in between the trees is a sprinkling of Primroses. The noise and rhythm of the river lulls me to a near trance state when I am startled by the angry scream of a Heron. She was about to land when on seeing me was forced to make an awkward and hasty retreat. There is not a lot of grace in a startled Heron’s flight. The hour passes while Blackbird and Wren sing, large bumble bees buzz in the vegetation.

The willow is freed from its tormentor and the water has dropped noticeably. A glance at the big rock shows it drying itself in the fading heat. Moving to the edge I decide that a cast across and downstream is best suited to my position. The line sweeps round and bang, I’m hit by my first trout this season.

So sudden and so forceful was the tug that I was taken completely by surprise. During the next hour good sport was had in that pool. Several trout came to my hares’ ear, it covered the lions’ share of the catch. I employed iron blue /olive nymph /and Greenwell’s which all caught fish but none compared to the GRH.

As the sun was getting lower and the air becoming colder thoughts of home entered my mind.  A fellow angler fishing a little further upstream came to exchange pleasantries and information. While chatting he looked towards the hills above Cloughlea and explained that rain was on the wind.

Time to leave this place of peace and beauty to the slumbering trout and frightened heron. We stroll towards home and as the hum of the river fades in the background plans are hatched for other adventures and the replenishing of the human spirit.

                                                                           Edward James.


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