WITH all the furore over water usage and wastage in recent years it is timely to look back on how we harvested water in the late 1950s and ‘60s, writes Tom Gillespie.
Here in the county town, while the majority of homes had running water, many still relied on the ice cool, clear water that came from a half dozen or so water pumps and wells that were dotted around Castlebar.
Sadly, none survive in working condition today but the one remaining pump that has survived modernisation is located on the footpath outside Marsh House (pictured).
I lived in Marian Row and the nearest well was in front of the house owned by John O’Donnell, former county secretary, and just after Seanie O’Kelly’s house on the Newport Road.
Steps led down to it and the well was meticulously maintained by the late Pop Deane, who lived opposite the Hat Factory. Pop was a favourite with the kids in the area and he regularly whitewashed the stonework surrounding the well.
He was father of the late Willie Deane, St. Bridget’s Crescent, and grandfather of the late Gerry Deane, Knights Park.
Pop wore a peaked cap and smoked a pipe with a tin lid over the bowl.
During the summer months we would go swimming at the diving board at Lough Lannagh.
A little boreen led down from Newport Road, on the Hat Factory side, by the side of the site that was to become St. Gerald’s College, to the town river.
A stream flowed from Lough Rusheen, through Baynes’s field, along Marian Row, Newport Road and parallel to the boreen at the end of which you took a left to get to the bridge, at the end of Brett’s Lane, to cross the town river.
After a few hours of swimming activity, on our return we would gladly refresh ourselves from Pop’s well.
I recall the water being the coolest and clearest I can remember.
When you came down the steps you were level with the stream and we could walk into it and continue under the bridge and come out on the Hat Factory side.
On one occasion, with neighbour Michael McHale, we walked in the stream all the way down to the town river. En route we encountered a splashing and discovered a fish struggling in the shallow water.
Being used to fishing, I cupped both hands under the fish and tossed it up on to the bank. I was used to catching trout, salmon, pike and perch and this species was unknown to me.
Once we dispatched it we made our way to visit Tom Coucil, a wildlife expert, in The Humbert Inn pub on Main Street.
He immediately identified our catch as a tench, which weighed in at over three pounds. He suggested the fish had made its way from Lough Rusheen.
We made our way to The Connaught Telegraph on Cavendish Lane where we had our photograph taken with the tench.
The photographer on that occasion was Frank Durcan.
On other occasions we caught fresh water crayfish in the stream and quickly let them go as we were wary of their biting claws.
There was another spring well in Flannery’s Field at the end of Davitt’s Terrace and opposite the Sacred Heart Hospital, and sparkling, clear water flowed continually from a pipe attached to in.
Locals could be seen queuing up to take buckets of water home. We used to cycle there with two cans, which we would fill and transport home, one on each of the handlebars of our bikes, taking great care to avoid spillage.
My grandparents, Willie and Sarah Fahy, lived in Newantrim Street and when I visited the chore I was often given was to get a bucket of water from the pump at the top of the street on the corner beside O’Malley’s and Sloyan’s pubs.
You had to pump the handle to get the water running, which would exit through the mouth of a lion’s face. Later the handles were replaced with a conventional tap.
Close by at the top of Linenhall Street, outside Breege O’Connor’s, another pump was located and as well as providing a welcoming drink it also acted as a resting place for weary travellers who could sit on the top of it and view the happenings up Main Street.
Another pump was located at the bottom of Gallows Hill - Tom Twigg’s corner - and was popular with households in Newline and Chapel Street.
Yet another was on Castle Street, but I have little memory of that one.
Another was on Staball, above Kilcoyne’s Funeral Home.
Part of our heritage
The remaining, now inactive, pump at Marsh House was ‘switched off’ over 20 years ago when the water-table became contaminated.
I’m sure there were other water pumps and wells around the town, but these are the ones I remember.
The pump at Marsh House is part of our heritage and must be retained as a symbol of times past.
Most of us in this part of the county depend on the vast expanse of the 20,000 acres of the limestone Lough Mask for our water, which is pumped from Tourmakeady to our homes.
Youngsters today could not even imagine the cutting cold and crisp freshness of the water from the pumps or wells we grew up with.
Instead, they opt for supermarket bottled water when our tap water is equally as good, if not better.
*Read Tom Gillespie's column every Tuesday in the print edition of The Connaught Telegraph