Three miles from Macroom on the Road to Inchigeelagh, there is an area of former alluvial forest which was formed in the basin of the Lee at the end of the Ice age. This is called the Gearagh, an old (anglisised) Irish name for a wooded river system, frequently forking and rejoining. This site is located on the River Lee in County Cork, extending westwards and southwards from the Lee Bridge, which is about 1.5km south of Macroom. It extends for about 7km of river, to Dromcarra Bridge; At one time in reached west up to Ballingeary whose Irish name means "ford at the mouth of the Gearagh", and probably beyond. The Gearagh occupies a wide, flat valley of the River Lee, on a bed of limestone overlain with sand and gravel. The adjacent valley walls are of Old Red Sandstone.
This unusual area has formed where the River Lee breaks into a complex network of channels (2 to 6m wide) weaving through a series of wooded islands. It is the only extensive remains of Alluvial Forest found in western Europe. It was described by a 17th historian as " an immense plain covered with trees and divided by the River Lee into 1,000 islands". It is a unique place of streams, narrow channels and small islands.
The River Lee Hydro-electric Scheme
The River Lee hydro-electric scheme was built during the period 1952 to 1957. Inishcarra Dam is located approximately 13km west of Cork City with Carrigadrohid Dam a further 14km upstream. The dam at Inishcarra is 250 meters long and 45 meters high while Carrigadrohid Dam is 22 meters in height and 130 meters long. Between them, the dams generate almost 80 million units of electricity a year. The construction of the dams created two lakes which stretch from Inishcarra upstream to the Gearagh. The lakes cover an area of approximately 14 square kilometres and have a storage capacity of 45 million cubic meters.
This project destroyed around 60% of the Gearagh.
The locally infamous Robin Hood character, "Sean-Rua-na-Goire", who robbed local gentry and gave to the poor, could never be caught from his impenetrable hide within the Gearagh. Like Robin Hood he was a skilled bowman and could disrupt the baron's feasts by shooting out his candles.
Long claimed as the home of the poitín makers, the local constabulary could watch the smoke rise from the stills within the forest, but never catch the miscreants due to Meascán Maraíocht (being 'all at sea' or disorientated upon entering the forest).
In 1987 the area was declared a statutory nature reserve under the Wildlife Act, 1976, with the acrive co-operation of E.S.B., who own the land. Local interest in the site paralleled that of the Wildlife Service, with local students, studying in the area and winning the Aer Lingus
Young Scientist of the Year Competition. Thus it was brought to national attention as a site of major interest.
Despite the fact that about half the original area has been destroyed, the Gearagh still represents the only extensive alluvial woodland in Ireland or Britain, or indeed west of the Rhine in Europe.
For this reason it is a unique site and has been designated also as a Statutory Nature Reserve.
The international importance of the site is recognised by its designation both as a Ramsar site and as a Biogenetic Reserve. The reservoir is also a Wildfowl Sanctuary being a major overwintering area.