The Lee (Irish: An Laoi) is a river in Ireland. It rises in the Shehy Mountains on the western border of County Cork and flows eastwards through Cork City, where it splits in two for a short distance, creating an island on which Cork's city centre is built, and empties into the Celtic Sea at Cork Harbour on the south coast, one of the largest natural harbours in the world.
A hydro-electric scheme was built on the river, upstream from Cork City, and this part of the river now contains the Carrigadrohid and Inniscarra reservoirs. The river is crossed by 42 bridges, 29 of which are in Cork City, and one tunnel. The river also provides an 8 kilometres (5.0 mi) stretch of salmon fishing.
The River Lee has its source in the Shehy Mountains near Gougane Barra, where there is a forest park, chapel, hotel, and shop
The Lee flows from the lake of Gougane Barra as a fast paced torrent, but by the town of Ballingeary it eases and flows into Lough Allua. Departing the lough, east, it again becomes rapid before flowing into the Inniscarra reservoir created by Inniscarra Dam. Moving on, it flows out of Inniscarra dam, a gentle river until it comes to Ballincollig weir located in Ballincollig park. Here, it is dangerous to swimmers when in high water. It then flows into the city under Inniscarra bridge and flows parallel to the Carrigrohane road. Along this section gauges monitor the water levels from the Inniscara Dam. It flows over the Lee weir and then is split into the north and south channel by a sluice. This area is popular for recreation, kayaking and fishing. The two channels join again at the Cork docks and enter the sea at Cobh.
Many recreation activites take place on the Lee. There is a sailing club based on the Inniscarra lake, where many people also swim. There is a kayak club based on the Lee Road. Water skiing also takes place on Inniscarra lake and two rowing clubs are based on the Lee: the Lee Boat Club and Shandon boat club. Many fishermen gather at the banks of the Lee Fields.
The main tributaries of the Lee are the Sullane, Laney, Dripsey and Bride rivers.
In 2009, water was released in huge quantities from the Inniscarra Dam to prevent further flooding, but causing large amounts of damage to Cork City.
In November to December 2009 the river flooded, inflicting the worst damage on the City of Cork for over 800 years. The Lee Water Station was forced to shut down after being submerged under six metres of water, and resulted in 40% of Cork City (50,000 people) being without running water for over one week.
University College Cork was also flooded badly, resulting in lectures being canceled throughout the week. There was severe damage to their newly built IT building, the Western Gateway Building, situated next to the river. The building's basement was completely flooded, damaging the plant room and servers, and a 300 seat auditorium was flooded to near ceiling height.
To prevent further flooding, the ESB made a controversial decision to release water from the Inniscarra hydro-electric dam. This released 535 tonnes of water per second into the already flooded river, raising the flood to 1.5 metres in parts of the city centre. The ESB insisted this was an essential move, and if water had not been released, the flooding would have been much worse.