Fermoy’s Ellie O’Reilly and Gill McGirr made rowing history two weeks ago, becoming the first Irish girls’ pair to win gold at Belgium’s prestigious Coup de la Jeunesse regatta. Political indifference and bureaucratic bloody-mindedness may mean the death of their club.

Stepping onto Fermoy Weir from the Triangle Field on the Blackwater’s north-western bank, the first thing you notice is how dry the weir is this summer. There, at its highest point a foot above the water upstream, most of the top of the weir is bone-dry and dirty-brown, covered in dead moss and small white feathers. This is where Fermoy’s well-fed ducks sunbathe.

The weir is the picture postcard of Fermoy, built over 200 years ago by the town’s founder, the Scottish entrepreneur John Anderson. Anderson shaped the Blackwater, sculpting its flow and channelling its power down to Mill Island, the industrial base for his fledgling town.

The weir sweeps at a gentle angle to the south and east, directing the river toward the former sluice gates by O’Neill Crowley Quay, where – across from the Garda station – it spills over in a powerful cascade.

Walking out the weir, past the huge tree-trunk wedged by the elver pass – a small concrete ramp built to attract eels up the weir – you come to the salmon pass, about halfway across the river, where the weir bends left and east to the bridge.

The salmon pass is an impressive piece of Regency Era engineering, a tiered series of rectangular limestone pools designed to create at its base a turmoil in the water, one which will attract salmon and draw them up its steps and on further along their journey home to spawn.

Almost sixty years ago, the Burke family repaired the salmon pass by hand, holding back the Blackwater with nothing more than sandbags.

Much of the salmon pass is badly damaged now, with a long section of cap-stones washed away, and water flows freely to one side. Some years ago, a temporary patch-job was carried out. That has now fallen apart.

The weir is neglected and undermined, eroded and broken. All along the western section, water pours through holes of varying size, eroding ever away at its foundation. At least one mink, black and sleek, lives in those holes and enjoys the weir’s all-you-can-eat buffet.

Below the weir, you can stand in shimmering light under the magnificent Kent Bridge, and look upstream toward the rowing club. All around lie scattered the stones which once made up the weir.

Downstream and east, an eighteen-foot section of the weir has been ruptured by a fallen tree, and water is gushing through the hole. This can only be a contributory factor to the record low water levels upstream. Through the white foam, there is a sudden flash of silver as a salmon leaps in the air.

Crumbling away as it is, Fermoy’s weir is also under an even more serious existential threat. For years now, Inland Fisheries Ireland (IFI) has pursued aggressively an agenda to have the weir removed. A decade ago, a complaint was made to the EU that migrating salmon were unable to traverse the weir. IFI has campaigned to remove the weir, as it is redundant in the role for which it was first built.

In 2007, it was proposed by the Department of Communications, Energy and Natural Resources that the weir be replaced with a rock ramp pass. Members of Fermoy Rowing Club objected, saying this new structure would result in the river upstream dropping by up to a metre.

Those in favour of removing, or lowering Fermoy Weir, say it creates an artificial millpond upstream. That is unarguable, but after two centuries, an entire ecology has grown up around the weir. To dismiss the river west of the weir as a millpond is to deny the beauty and vitality of the Blackwater all along Barnane and Castlehyde. Taking out the weir would cause the river upstream to shrink, not just downward, but inward too.

If you’ve ever walked the fields by the Blackwater on a summer’s day, try to imagine it a sluggish, swampy stream trickling through weeds and rushes. Because – logically – that’s what you’re left with if you take out the weir.

That kills not just Fermoy Rowing Club, but Fermoy’s beloved Barnane Walk too.

In the interests of full disclosure, I should tell you I am a former secretary of Fermoy Rowing Club. We spent years fighting to try and force Fermoy Town Council to save the weir, then the property of the Town Council and now that of Cork County Council. We took to the streets and the people of Fermoy rallied to our cause.

I was there when civil servants repeatedly did the Pontius Pilate routine and claimed this was all coming from Europe, and the EU would fine Ireland “hundreds of thousands of euro a day” if the weir wasn’t removed.

I was part of the delegation that travelled to the EU parliament and was told by the man who would be issuing such fines – by chance a man from Mitchelstown – that the EU had made no such threat. Not only that, but he told us that the EU would be satisfied if the salmon pass was repaired.

I was there in Government Buildings when we persuaded the Irish Government – in the person of then Minister of State Conor Lenihan – that its own civil service had, at the very least, misled it.

I was there, on the motor-launch, when we brought Lenihan for a spin to see Castlehyde. Lenihan ignored our warnings and decided he needed to clear his head by going for a swim. I was there as the boats gave chase when he was washed away.

I was there in 2009 when Lenihan gave Fermoy Town Council a year to repair the salmon pass but told them they would have to fund the job. A year later, nothing had been done and it had taken the Town Council a full nine months to even acknowledge Lenihan’s letter. It was then that politics and my own stubbornness forced me out of the club I loved.

Seven years on, the weir is broken, breached and falling away. Another temporary patch-job is about to begin. The key problem – apart from the potentially-ruinous cost of completely rebuilding the weir – is that expert advice says a repaired salmon pass is not the optimal solution to getting salmon upstream in Fermoy. Thus, the Government will not fund the repair of Anderson’s weir. The best solution would, we are told, be the rock ramp pass so roundly rejected by the people of Fermoy. A compromise of a channel cutting up through the Triangle Field is on the table too.

The rock ramp might indeed be the best solution, but only if the sole concern is for salmon. Dropping the height of the river will finish a rowing club which has given Ireland generations of athletes like the Rice brothers, Gearoid Towey, Ellie O’Reilly and Gill McGirr. It will also destroy the defining look of Fermoy and the Blackwater and ruin a river beloved by swimmers, anglers, canoeists, triathletes and walkers.

Restoring the weir to its original glory would cost millions and even then would not be satisfactory to Inland Fisheries Ireland. It’s hard to avoid the impression that politicians and bureaucrats alike have decided the easiest thing to do is nothing, and quietly let the weir wash away.

Members of Fermoy Rowing Club currently despair that there is no political will to save Fermoy Weir.

Maybe it’s time for those who care about our river – and our town – to start making noise again.