The Erne Fishery Case 1927

The Erne Fishery case concerned six Ballyshannon fishermen who were prosecuted for allegedly fishing in the tidal water of the River Erne. The part of the river involved was owned by the Erne Fishery Company, and previously many prosecutions had been issued to fishermen for trespassing. A local solicitor, Francis Gallagher, decided to to put the fishery company's title to the test.

On June 3rd, 1925, having notified the gardai and the fishery company of their intentions, a volunteer crew deliberately entered the estuary to fish. The bailiffs, however, rammed the small fishing craft with their patrol boat and sank it. The case went to the Supreme Court, where a long legal battle ensued. During the case the court questioned the legality of the title transferred in 1869 from local landowner Thomas "Speaker" Connolly to the Erne Fishery Company.

This is the deed of conveyance for the permanent tenancy of lands near Ballyshannon belonging to Thomas Connolly. The terms of the conveyance mention the fishery rights on the river Erne: "subject to the rights reserved to Samuel Maxwell, Alexander R L Moore and others …by a certain Deed Poll under the Hand and Seal of one of the judges of the Landed Estates Court in Ireland dated the eleventh day of March [1869] by which the several fishery from the Bar of Ballyshannon in and through the entire extent of the River Erne for salmon eels and all other kind of fish, and in and through the River commonly called the Abbey River and all other rivers and waters having communication with the River Erne….. The right of making and erecting new weirs…for taking salmon and eels with the rights, members privileges and appurtenances to the said several fishery belonging or appertaining were granted in fee-simple to the said Samuel Maxwell, Alexander R L Moore and others…and their respective Heirs and Assigns, their Water Bailiffs". This deed of conveyance dated 1897 reinforced the terms of the 1869 deed poll relating to fishery rights.

Documents dating back to the C17 plantation were examined; even the Brehon Laws and Magna Carta were invoked. The case was decided in favour of the fishermen. The Erne Fishery Company appealed to the English Privy Council. A special Act was introduced in the Dail overnight, ending the right of appeal from the Supreme Court to the Privy Council. The case also created an international legal incident in that it caused the Privy Council to set up a judicial committee to consider if the Irish government had the power to deny it the right of appeal. The committee held that under a statute of Westminster 1931 it had indeed such power, and so the case ended in victory for the local fishermen.

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