One of the highlights of Northern Ireland’s tourist offering, the Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge is one of the best ways to glimpse the spectacular Causeway Coast. The site is now a bucket-list favourite, but it was once a vital asset to the local fishing community. The waters around Carrick-a-Rede are home to Atlantic salmon, the largest breed of salmon in the world. They lay their eggs in freshwater rivers and, when old enough, travel hundreds of miles to reach cool saltwater. The name Carrick-a-Rede or Carraig-a-Rade, is Scots Gaelic for ‘The Rock in the Road’. This is likely in reference to the aquatic highway used by migrating salmon as they make their way back to their spawning grounds. Alternatively, it may derive from the Irish; Carraig Dhroichid, meaning ‘the Rock of the Bridge’, or even Carraig an Raid ‘the Rock of the Throwing’.
Since 1620, Atlantic salmon have been fished at Carrick-a-Rede, but it wasn’t until 1755 that the fishing community began using rope bridges instead of boats. The early bridges were basic in their construction – even more hair-raising than today’s crossing! With just one handrail and huge gaps between the slats, these early bridges provided an essential pathway high above the Atlantic waves. In the 19th century more than 100 fishers and 10 fish carriers were working in the parish of Ballintoy, the townland which encompasses Carrick-a-Rede. Unfortunately due to fishing pressure at sea and river pollution, the salmon population began to decline, curbing their usual yield of hundreds of fish each day. A local fisherman recalled how they would regularly catch up to 300 fish in one trip, but in the final season before closing, they caught only 250 fish in the entire period from Spring to Autumn.
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