A PRIMARY school teacher who dedicates his spare time to the rescue and rehabilitation of injured birds and animals has called for action on the pollution he believes is devastating the the River Shannon
Ruairí Ó Leochain is a beekeeper, wildlife volunteer and anti-pollution activist in Athlone, Co. Westmeath.
Located on the River Shannon, the town is made up of “river people” according to Mr Ó Leochain, and those people are growing increasingly concerned about the state of the waterway.
In August 2019 a major oil spill had a devastating impact on the river – the longest in Ireland - killing birds and fish and leaving those that survived in need of thorough cleaning.
Mr Ó Leochain played an important role in the rescue operation that got underway following the spillage.
He managed to remove 108 animals and birds from the oil in the river.
“We are passionate about nature and our wildlife here in Athlone,” Mr Ó Leochain told The Irish Post
“We love the river and are essentially river people, happy people, people full of culture, passion and life.”
He adds: “The people of Athlone also have integrity. For a long time, our river has been mismanaged and we now sit on heavily polluted lands.
“In the town alone, there are 20 pipes of raw sewage pouring into the river.”
Mr Ó Leochain, who trained under Wildlife Rehabilitation Ireland, claims he “owes everything” to his mentor and manager Dan Donoher of the Kildare Animal Foundation Wildlife Unit.
Regarding the impact of the 2019 oil spill, he claims the clean-up was “botched”.
“I took 108 animals and birds from the oil,” he explains, “still we have no damage assessment done.”
“The frogs are gone; insects and worm numbers are devastated. Migrating birds fly on.
“Our Special Area of Conservation is dead, habitat restoration - a myth.”
Mr Ó Leochain has been lobbying Westmeath County Council for an Oil Response Plan for Westmeath since August 2019 but claims this has yet to materialise.
He is determined to continue that campaign for as long as it takes.
“Last year’s spill took a lot from me,” he admits.
“I ended up in hospital after refusing to listen to family and friends.
“I left over one and a half stone and a part of myself out there on the oil slick,” he adds.
“It just can’t be allowed happen again. I made a promise to some swans.”
Mr Ó Leochain has also offered his support for a competition designed to highlight the mythical deity Sinann, the goddess of the River Shannon.
The art competition, launched by Coventry University’s Fluid and Complex Systems Research Centre last month, asks members of the public to create a piece of art inspired by the River Shannon goddess.
“When I’m asked about the true meaning of Sionann/Sininn, it can be found in the people and the passion of this beautiful town, the culture and the history,” he explains.
“With every rescue in Athlone I see this compassion, resilience and love in the people.”
He added: “For anyone needing inspiration, look to the people, the integrity and the love of our River who has helped form who we are.”
Ruairí Ó Leochain runs the Facebook page Athlone’s Wildlife Apiaries.