The Owenwee River

Owenwee is the anglicized version of Abhainn Bhui (Yellow River). It is thought that the tumbling falls and gravels which characterise the rugged upper reaches were a rich source of gold for Bronze Age peoples, hence the given name.

Nowadays the Owenwee is more renowned for its runs of salmon and sea trout, and for the large population of the endangered freshwater mussel, Margetifera margetifera. While the population of these unique shellfish appears relatively healthy, it is disturbing to learn there are very few, if any young juvenile specimens present. It is a good job these are long-lived animals (some are more than a hundred years old) and that they can, if conditions are right, produce huge numbers of offspring. Perhaps some will be left when we find out why they presently fail to reproduce successfully.

The Owenwee drains a large area of blanket bog. There are two small lakes at its source – Moher Lough, which operates as a stocked brown trout fishery, and Lough Nacorra, as wild and windswept place as any found in this part of west Mayo.

On the bog grow our three varieties of sundew, round-leaved, oblong-leaved and long-leaved. These low-growing, insect-eating plants have blobs of gluelike mucus on their leaves, with which they trap small insects attracted by what appears to be shining nectar. Once they land these find themselves trapped. Digestive enzymes get to work, and the plant is provided with nutrients in this most hostile of Irish environments.

A rare still day on the bog will bring the midges out. The female midge needs a feed of blood if her eggs in order for her eggs to be viable, and yours will do nicely, thank you very much! If you doubt the ferocity of the Irish midge, by all means put her to the test. Just don’t say you weren’t warned. Insect repellents can be effective, and some find antihistamines helpful following an attack.

With its high and rocky banks, parts of which are clothed with lush specimens of royal fern (Osmunda regallis), and the cool mists produced by tumbling water, the Owenwee makes a perfect summer picnic spot, especially during periods of low water. The river sings on its way to the sea. You are never far from one of the many small waterfalls, where you will meet dipper, grey wagtail and kingfisher. Otters are frequently seen, the banks are filled with wild flowers, and if you aren’t careful the charming nature of this special stream will steal your entire day, or what remains of it, and your walk to Murrisk will have to be completed in late evening light.