I’m walking along Rutland Street. It’s a cold evening in the city so I brace myself from the harsh winds and stay bundled as close to the passing buildings as I can. My walk takes me past the fading remnants of Limerick’s failed Limerick 2020 bid proclaiming that ‘Culture is where we are from’. It reminds me of where I am headed and I quicken my pace.
Today is International Women’s Day in the city. There are public meetings being held, evening dinners enjoyed, readings and songs being sung throughout Limerick to celebrate our cities women . My International Women’s Day is ending with a walk along a moonlit Merchants Quay as I approach the Curraghgour Boat Club. Inside awaits a room full of boatmen, with me a lone female, ready to address them all.
12 months ago this space would have held no meaning or interest to me. Indeed, like many Limerick people I have walked by this small, white bungalow perched on the edge of The Shannon numerous times with a mere curiosity. This intrigue increased when a ‘No Bridge Here’ banner was unfurled along their shoreline proclaiming their existence to our city. Yet a year goes by and here I am, standing in the club house shadow about to address its committee. I reminisce of when I first walked into the club on a basking hot, sunny day in June last year with nothing but an idea of swimming in The Shannon. Me and my swimming togs easily could have been turned away, politely declined for spontaneously evading their Summer’s afternoon. Instead I was met with a cup of tea and a two hour tour of every nook and cranny of what I now believe to be as Limerick’s best kept secret.
The irony of a matriarchal address today of all days does not escape these men as I am greeted with smiles and felicitations. Spending the twilight of my International Women’s Day with these Limerick men does not faze me. These men are witty and bright. They come from all walks of life, all parts of the city, united by their passion and love for the River Shannon. These are men with the true knowledge of our cities beating heart. They are the men that make Limerick a place you want to live in.
A few days ago I asked one of their members, Conor Sheehan, to pen a brief history of the club. The finished piece is a wonderful synopsis of how important this boat club is to our city and to the river. Please read it and realise the truly historic city we live in whose heritage, history and culture we must do everything to protect. Culture may be where we are going but the Curraghgour is where we are from…..
If you stand at the Curraghgour Boatclub site in Limerick , you’ll be sharing that place with the ghost of Thormador Helgasson and a great many other famous men of history. T Helgasson , a Norwegian Viking chief led an ” immense fleet ” of invading longships up the Shannon and founded the first large settlement here in 922ad . The fleet , prevented from further progress by the rocky reef of the Curraghgour Falls made the present site of the boatclub into the Viking port .
There are many other invisible presences who also stood at that very spot . Brian Boru whose brother MacMahon who finally broke the power of the Vikings in a bloody battle at Singland Heights and took back the city and all the Viking treasures .That Viking port became the Port of Limerick from then until the 18th century . Prince John of England , ( later , King John .) ordered the building of King John’s Castle and the port was fortified with two large towers armed with cannons to deter enemy ships from entering. The port was vital to the city’s defences . The arrival of Oliver Cromwell’s forces in 1650 placed the city under a brutal siege and not many years later the forces of William of Orange plunged Limerick into another two years of being besieged .
Since 1877 this very historic site has been occupied by proud members of the Curraghgour boatclub who act as guardians of the old port’s history . Many of the members can trace their family names all the way back to those turbulent times .It’s a very peaceful place now and one of outstanding beauty. This very historic site no longer echoes to the roar of cannons but to the sounds of traditional Shannon river craft being built and maintained and also to the sounds of members and visitors enjoying the beautiful River Shannon