Belfast Telegraph

TV View: Daryl makes waves with his history of the Lagan

By Joe Nawaz

It's not all doom and gloom at the coal-face of local broadcasting, y'know. Stuffy Reithian values may not be in vogue in the age of Twitter, five-second attention spans and golfing 'banter', but there's always room in the schedules for informative entertainment, right?

For every achingly awful second of tanned millionaires in polo shirts being lightly braised in oil of Watson (it's like Olay, only for blokes), there's a true North, heck even a Lesser Spotted Ulster.

So it is with Riverland, Daryl Grimason's enjoyable new series in which he makes informative and entertaining forays into the watery by-ways of the North.

And where better to start than the River Lagan? I may be biased, but if there was ever a 'river-off', the pulsing artery that courses through Belfast (oo-er) would win hands down. It's just more ... rivery, innit? Setting aside the fact it's the reason Belfast exists where it does and in the shape it does, it's also been the backdrop for many a real-life drama – for example, the time I trod on a rotting dead dog while paddling at Shaw's Bridge.

The Lagan has been a silent sentinel to all manner of human idiocy and innovation. And occasionally it has demonstrated its dark power to overwhelm. Just ask the residents sleeping with one eye open by its banks on Lower Ormeau.

A jovial Grimason took us to the river's source – a dribbling shuck up Slieve Croob in County Down – and then dissected the ecological, sociological and historical anatomy of the river's wend down to Belfast Lough.

There was also the revelation that if it were not for a bit of basalt jutting out from Belfast's hills and causing the river to dog-leg into the city, the Lagan would run into the Bann and Belfast would be merely a troubling dream in the drunken town planner's subconscious.

As the son of a geologist, I was reared on an awareness of the impervious nature of basaltic strata (hell, who wasn't?) but I didn't realise, until now, how it complemented a city best known for intransigence. I'm proposing it as the new flag emblem for City Hall.

Lagan, we discovered, means "low lying area", another indirect slight on the city it helped spawn if you chose to add a comma after the first word.

Grimason's journey took in a rather loveable assortment of experts, volunteers and locals, such as biologist Dr Robert Rosell, who kept a photo in his wallet of the first wild-bred salmon to be found in the Lagan following their reintroduction some 200 years after they were driven by pollution. It is a remarkable, if depressing, fact that until the 70s wen it was cleaned up, no life existed in the Lagan.

But before it was an area of conservation, the Lagan was a vital industrial artery of the North, a waterway for commerce and a powerhouse that drove the mills that drove the linen industry.

It was hugely heartening to see so many local folk volunteering their time and giving a damn. The always-affable Grimason incorporated them all into his 40-mile odyssey, or televised dander, to Stranmillis weir. Because that, fellow Belfastards, is where the River Lagan ends and the Lagan Estuary begins.

It's something to do with sea water, but we of course know better. It's still the Lagan until you can see those big yellow cranes, Samsung and Delilah.

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