The Dawn of a New Era
November 1970 saw the installation of a public slipway at O’Callaghan Strand that had been in the offing since 1964. The slipway was to see a boost in numbers in terms of boats on the Shannon at low tide, as well as a renewed popularity for rowing on the waterways.
The election of Noel Clancy as captain in March 1972 saw much change at the club, along with the vice presidents John Harrold and Felix O’Neill, who tried to develop a newly introduced sailing section so that the newcomers would eventually graduate to rowing. Mr. Clancy stated that “The club owes a great debt to rowing; there is a strong movement behind the sport here, and we are hoping that it will come into its rightful place.” Cumiskey, Harrold and Clancy were three of the main individuals that saw a resurgence within the club.
According to former Shannon Rowing Club president, Tony Wallace, there was a spike in popularity during the 1970s, and it was at the end of that decade that Mr. Wallace himself joined the club. Wallace made his own boat, due to the rising costs of buying a ready-made craft. This was an issue that would have faced many of the rowers at that time, but it did not deter people from taking part. A mason by trade- like his father- Wallace made the boat from fibreglass, which was a step up from the older wooden-layered clinker boat that was often found sailing up and down the Shannon.
The 1970s and 1980s saw the Shannon Rowing Club develop into a more modernized club, as many of the presidents and their committees at that time realized the need to invest in order to not only survive as a club, but also to compete at a higher level. Both Mr. Finan and Mr. Wallace were in agreement that it was Ian Cumiskey Snr, president during this period, that initially started the rejuvenation. Cumiskey saw that in order to compete, investment in the highest quality boats would be the key to increasing the club’s stature as well as membership figures.
Money was spent on a number of boats, and soon, the Shannon Rowing Club was back in popularity. On 25 March 1980, there was a discussion held on the funding for equipment. Ian Cumiskey suggested that a percentage of the annual subscription could be put aside for the purchase of equipment. Felix O’Neill then added that part of the annual subscription could be put into a separate account designated solely for a new boat house. At the next meeting, 1 April, it was decided that money from the subscriptions would be used on the boats, and to repair the damaged ones. On 1 October 1981, the club bought a new boat which was reported to be “a delightful and fast boat.” By 4 May 1982, another new boat was purchased, marking the second purchase in just over 6 months.
Within a decade, by 1989, the club had seen a number of victories in a number of categories, but one of the highlights was the Junior Eights Championship of Ireland victory in 1989. According to a report in the Limerick Leader, there was a large homecoming for the victorious crew, their families and their members. It should be highlighted that the mayor of Limerick at that time, Gus Driscoll, remarked that “some twenty five years ago, Shannon Rowing Club was not going well, and had gone out of rowing altogether. Many members, including politicians and ex-mayors, had no interest in the rowing. I am glad to see that that has all changed, and that once again, Shannon is at the forefront of Irish Rowing.”
The Evolution of a Modern Rowing Club
The mid-late 1980s, 1990s and 2000s were the most successful decades of the club’s history. The Women’s Novice Coxed Four was won in 1988 with a crew of Joan McGowan, Bridget McGowan, Michelle McElligott, Ann McCarthy and coxed by D. Daly. This win was in addition to the Men’s Junior Eightwhich was won by the Shannon Rowing Club as well, the crew was made up of B.Collins, B. McInerney, A. Kelly, P. Collins, M. Hayes, M. Quinn, N. O’Callaghan, P. O’Toole,A. Murnane (cox) and coached by Ian Cumiskey.
The club president, Frank Thompson, later remarked after the crew’s retention of that title in 1989 that “they were all heroes that day, and I never saw such excitement among the Shannon members. The victorious 1989 Crew was largely the same as the previous year with E.McCarthy, C. Malone and Eddie Crean being added. 1989 also saw the winning our second Ladies Irish Championship when Maxine Murphy won the Elite Coxless Pair in a composite with Workmen’s Rowing Club. ”
The following year, in 1990, Shannon Rowing Club’s Brian Collins won the men’s junior championship, even after a recurring knee injury that seemingly hampered his preparation. Despite trailing for the majority of the race, he won the title by half a length. It was not just the on-water achievements of the club that made news during that year, as it was announced that the clubhouse would be restored at the cost of £140,000. On 27 April 1992, the club secured its first victory in Dublin with a win at the Neptune Regatta’s Elite Fours competition. The club, in July 1992, went on to make history at Blessington, as they became the first Limerick club to win the intermediate coxed fours Championship of Ireland with a crew of Fergal O’Callaghan, Brian Collins, JJ Gleeson, Mark Quinn and Gareth Byrne (Cox) In 1993, Collins and Fergal O’Callaghan made up the Coxless Pair that won the Irish Senior Championship at Iniscarra, continuing their unbeaten streak from the start of the season. The two also saw success in 1996 as they won three Irish Senior Championship in the CoxlessPair, Coxed and Coxless Fours.
There was a string of victories during the 2000s, starting in 2003, as the national Intermediate Mens Pair was won by Michael O’Callaghan and Stephen Ryan. The 2006 Mens Senior Quad was won by the crew of F. O’Callaghan, B. Collins, K. McDonald, and M. O’Callaghan, coached once again by Ian Cumiskey. The following year, in 2007, the Irish Senior Eights was won by Shannon Rowing Club’s F. O Callaghan, B. Collins, M. O’Callaghan, and K. McDonald in composite with St. Michael’s Rowing Club.
History was made in December 2008, as Carole O’Toole accepted the nomination to become first female President of Shannon Rowing Club. She had already set a precedent when she became the club’s first female honorary member, but became one of the first women nationwide to hold a presidential position at a Rowing Club.
That year, both the Senior Coxed and Coxless Fours was won by a Shannon/Galway composite crew that the club’s ownKenny McDonald was part of. The 2010 Mens Novice Four was won by N. Taylor, D. Stundon, S. O’Sullivan, and B. O’Carroll, withC.McGowanas cox. The 2013 Mens Junior 1X was won by Conor Carmody. In 2015 the Club’s twentieth Irish Championship was won when Helen Ryan and Michelle Lonergan won the Women’s Intermediate Coxless Pair.
In 2002 the future of rowing in the Club was under serious threat when a weir was constructed adjacent to our property on Sarsfield Bridge. The increase in flow meant that our slipway was far too dangerous to launch from most of the time. The next six years were the most challenging for the rowing members whereby they would load the trailer at weekends and carry the boats to O’Brien’s Bridge to train. It was difficult to retain both oars people and coaches owing to this hardship, let alone attract new members.
From 2008, the club was rowing in Annacotty on lands initially rented, then acquired from what was Shannon Development. This brought a new competitive, professional edge to the Shannon Rowing Club, as it allowed them to train and row in an area that was non-tidal and sheltered, providing the ideal location for rowers to practise and at set times. This stretch of water was seen by many as being “ideal” for the club, and was lauded in the Limerick Post “for bringing a greater safety aspect to rowing. The construction of a new boathouse there was completed in 2018.”
A Second Family
The search for the records of the Shannon Rowing Club came to some success in 1972, as the president, vice president and others located most of the minute books and other records of the club in a locked drawer that had not been opened “in living memory.” Today, after a century and a half in existence, they are conserved and archived with the Limerick Archives. Here, future historians, scholars and enthusiastic rowers can find out more about Limerick’s first rowing club.
Yet the Shannon Rowing Club should be recognized as more than Limerick’s first rowing club. As one looks through the records, and the stories that are scattered throughout the minutes, a sense of familiarity begins to appear. As many of the past captains and past presidents state in their farewell addresses after reaching the end of their term, there is much more to the Shannon Rowing Club than the rowing itself. Former president of the club, Noel Clancy, stated that the club was “a club for the faithful,” where those that believed in the sport, and believed in the crewmates around them, got everything that they wanted from the club.
Tony Wallace described the club as “an external family.” Indeed, there is certainly a sense of kinship and friendship that pervades the club’s records. Even today, the same familial sense and commitment to the sport can be found within the walls of the welcoming clubhouse, upon the shimmering waters of the Shannon, and inside the bustling boathouse. These 150 years has seen many successes and victories as well as some defeats and losses, but the club- as its longevity proves- is much more than just the sum of its parts. The club became a second family for many of its members. A home from home. It can almost be guaranteed that in another century and a half, that that spirit and love will still live on in the hearts of its members.