The Abbey Fishermen were so called as almost all of the fisher families lived in the St. Francis Abbey area of Limerick city. This area was once inhabited by Franciscan monks and relics of their abbey can still be seen. In the days of the Abbey Fishermen the area was full of houses and people but many of their houses have been demolished. For hundreds of years their livelihoods depended on the fish in the Shannon River – Salmon and eels. They fished these waters in season, off season the fishermen engaged in market gardening and working in the local bacon factories to supplement their earnings; twelve teams of “brochauns” (specialised boats, an old map of the city dated 1590 show a number of these vessels) with two men in each, a net-man and a paddle-man.

The names of these fisher folk; Clancy, MacNamara, Hayes, Abbey families and Shanny, a Park family. These families can be traced as far back as 1719 in connection with Snap Fishing; although I have no doubt that this tradition goes back for hundreds of years before records began. As documentary evidence shows that the Lax Weir (lax is a Scandinavian word for salmon) was in existence in the year 1200. The system of dividing the river into inures and the rules of fishing, together with the laws of succession practised by the fishermen must surely be a unique survival of the principles of Brehons. The Clancy family laid claim that they are the descendants of the hereditary Brehons (law makers) to the powerful O’ Brien family. This claim was substantiated by them with the fact that they held a Roman Catholic plot in St. Mary’s Cathedral even after the Cathedral was converted to Church of Ireland, and practising of the Roman Catholic religion was virtually outlawed in Limerick.

Four Abbey Fisherman Families

The Abbey fishermen consisted primarily of four families, Clancy, McNamara, Shanny and Hayes. Three of these four families lived in the Abbey area of Limerick city, the fourth the Shanny’s live in an area just outside the city called Park. All the men would frequent “Shanny’s Pub” a pub on the Shannon River near to the Blackbridge run by three Shanny sisters. This pub opened onto the river so the men could enter straight from the river.

As these men were Roman Catholics the predominately names were Patricks, Johns, Thomas’ and Michaels, as this would cause much confusion the men also went by nicknames.

Other names that have been associated with the Abbey Fishermen were, Cherry, O’Dwyer, Lyddy, Hartigan, O’Connor and Carroll. But these families were not to stand the test of time on the fisheries.

The Battle of the Tail Race 1932 a protest held be the Abbey Fishermen against the Ardnacrusha scheme.


Members of the Limerick Guild of Fishermen’as published in the Freeman’s Journal on October 21 1840

~ Patrick Bourke ~ Michael Cahill ~ Thomas Clanchy (Red) ~ John Clanchy ~ Thomas Clanchy ~ Patrick Clanchy ~ Patrick Coughlan ~ Thomas Dwyer Jun. ~ Thomas Dwyer Sen. ~ Michael Hartigan ~ James Hayes ~ James Herrott ~ Peter Keogh ~ John Keogh ~ John Lyddy ~ James Lyddy Jun. ~ James Lyddy Sen. ~ John O’Connor ~ Charles O’Connor ~ Owen O’Connor ~ Patrick O’Connor ~ James O’Connor ~ Patrick O’Connor ~ John O’Dea ~ Christopher O’Farrell ~ Anne Ryan ~ Mary Ryan ~ John Ryan ~ John Shanny ~ William Shanny ~ James Shanny ~ Conor Shanny ~ Edmond Shanny ~ Patrick Shanny ~ Patrick Silver ~ Michael Tuohy

Additional text from article:

Messrs. John Ryan and Patrick Shanny to be admitted members.


 

The Snap Net

The Abbey fishermen captured fish using a snap net. The snap net for catching salmon was approximately thirty-nine feet long by twenty-seven feet wide. The mesh in the net varied between four and six inches. The net was mounted on two ropes at the top and bottom of the net. On the bottom corners of the net there was a stiff rope which the stone net sinkers would be attached.

Two men on two boats would work the net. The net would be spread between the boats, the men holding both the top and bottom ropes. When they would feel a salmon hitting the net they would shout “E” and pull the bottom rope upwards trapping the salmon.

Net Sinker made of limestone usually about two pounds in weight, the grove to prevent the attached rope from dragging on the river bed.


The Brecaun

The brecaun was the traditional fishing boat of the Abbey Fishermen, it was about twenty-four foot long and two and a half foot wide. It was operated and used by two men, one at the fore and the other at aft. It was steered over shallow water with the use of a pole and a paddle was used on other occasions.

The image linked above shows a brecaun moored on the Abbey River at Sir Harry’s Mall, with Clare Street in the back ground and St. John’s Cathedral in the distance.


Trade Directories

Most of the Abbey fishermen have never been recorded in the Limerick trade directories as their trade was not highly valued in the commercial market to which the trade directories would have been aimed. Although saying that for a brief period some of the Abbey Fishermen were named the following are the men recorded in the listed directories and years:

  • Martin Clancy, Fisherman, Athlunkard Street – Bassetts 1877, 1880 & 1884.
  • John Clancy, Fisherman, The Abbey – Bassetts 1879.
  • Michael Clancy, Fisherman, The Abbey – Bassetts 1879.
  • Edward Hayes, Fisherman, Athlunkard Street – Bassetts 1879.
  • Robert Hayes, Fisherman, Sand Mall – Bassetts 1877 & 1880.

Fishermen of 1938 and their Compensation

Nickname Born Address 1938 Compensation
Patrick Clancy Netter 1867 2 Sheep Street 749 6 0
Martin Clancy Young Martin 1867 Athlunkard Street 692 0 0
Michael Clancy Nucks 1869 7 Nicholas Street 894 9 0
John Clancy Gages 1877 10 Nolan’s Cottages 875 4 8
John Clancy Sugans 1879 Fish Lane 885 0 4
James Clancy Dick 1888 3 Brown’s lane, Edward St 761 14 4
John Clancy Cauly 1891 43 Upper Clare Street 472 0 0
Joseph Clancy Buckets 1907 Athlunkard Street 388 0 0
John Clancy Diddles 1907 1 Glue Yard Lane 798 9 4
Gerard Clancy Riley 1907 Ivy Cottages, King’s Island 700 9 4
Michael Clancy Jnr Mickey Pick 1911 1 Glue Yard Lane 162 0 0
Patrick J Clancy Poppy 1914 59 Mungret Street 585 3 4
Thomas Clancy Tawdy 1914 1 Robert Street 637 3 4
James Clancy Bud or The Yank 1915 3 Brown’s lane, Edward St 507 19 0
John Clancy 1916 3 Brown’s lane, Edward St 482 14 8
Thomas Hayes Hackney 1868 4 River Lane 797 2 0
Robert Hayes Napoleon 1872 Campbell’s Bow, Broad St 935 13 4
Martin Hayes Rab 1874 Athlunkard Street 1000 9 0
John Hayes Snr Bone 1880 6 New Road Pennywell 347 16 0
Patrick Hayes Sunlight 1887 24 Broad Street 626 14 4
Michael Hayes Lully 1891 5 Francis Abbey 769 12 8
Patrick Hayes Randy 1894 Island Field 769 12 8
Thomas Hayes Bantrum 1903 Island Field 724 2 4
Christy Hayes Susi or Sonny 1907 2 Watergate 635 9 4
Christy Hayes Rialto 1907 2 Cornmarket Row 667 9 4
Michael Hayes Starry 1912 21 Mungret Street 546 12 0
John Hayes Jnr O.K. 1912 6 New Road Pennywell 529 12 0
Patrick McNamara Todsie 1874 3 Sheep Street 1000 9 0
Peter McNamara Smuts or Iron man 1878 Meat Market Lane 974 0 2
Patrick J McNamara Tons of Money 1892 Sir Harry’s Mall 769 1 3
Patrick McNamara Balla 1908 2 Glue Yard Lane 513 19 7
Peter McNamara Boar 1901 3 Fish Lane 878 10 1
Robert McNamara Dutch 1901 2 Creagh Lane 817 10 1
Aug. McNamara Rabbit 1902 3 Meat Market Lane 787 6 7
James McNamara Elbows 1903 3 Sheep Street 976 2 3
John McNamara Munchin 1905 O’Halloran Lane, Thomondgate 737 17 11
Joseph McNamara Beaver 1908 9 Fish Lane 448 4 11
Aug. McNamara The Music Man 1912 3 Sheep Street 648 11 11
Peter McNamara Peerie 1913 2 Meat Market Lane 488 7 7
Joseph McNamara Baa 1914 3 Sheep Street 173 0 0
Michael Shanny Old Mike 1865 Lower Park 738 10 7
Patrick Shanny Vinegar 1873 Island Field 819 13 3
John (Sean) Shanny Big Sean 1883 Lower Park 1040 7 3
Patrick Shanny Der 1885 Lower Park 1058 2 11
John Shanny Brass Band 1884 Lower Park 988 2 11
Michael Shanny Young Buckshoes 1888 Lower Park 873 14 3
James Shanny Forty 1893 Lower Park 718 0 0
Patrick F Shanny Feeney 1896 Lower Park 788 8 3
Patrick Shanny Pat the Thatcher 1897 Lower Park 823 3 11
James Shanny Jones 1903 Lower Park 787 2 3
John Shanny Tucker 1907 Lower Park 733 9 3
Michael Shanny Young Mike 1911 Lower Park 569 16 3
Michael Shanny Skirter 1912 Lower Park 512 11 11
Patrick Shanny Woods 1914 Lower Park 498 3 3
Joseph Shanny Young Joe 1914 Lower Park 498 3 3

Folklore

Being a small community the Abbey fishermen were steeped in folklore and tradition. One of with was concerning McAdam the Traitor.

Another folklore story tells of a fisherman who was worried for his family who were ill as he left to fish one evening. He was thinking about returning home when his hat lifted from his head. The hat began to float back in the air towards the Abbey, he followed it too his door where it stopped. He then knew there was no need for him to worry about his family as his ancestors would look after them when he was gone.


Abbey Memorial Bridge

The newest bridge on the Abbey river is dedicated to the Abbey Fishermen, initial plans were for the bridge to be named the Jim Kemmy Bridge after the former mayor and local historian. But after uproar and protests from local residents it was decided that the Abbey Bridge would be more apt.

A plaque was erected to the memory of the Abbey Fishermen on the Abbey Bridge in 2014


Anthropological view of the fishermen

Mark Maguire’s anthropological study of the fishermen which was recorded in the Limina journal in this study Mark focus mainly on the culture of the Abbey fishermen, and the displacement of them with in a wider community.


St Mary’s Prize Band

St. Mary’s Prize Band was established in 1885, it was made up primarily of Abbey Fishermen, who used music as a form of relaxation after a hard days work.In 1922, with funds sent over by families in America a dedicated hall was established on Mary Street, this Hall still stands today. For many years it was known as Todsie’s, although much to Todsie’s dismay the name was never officially changed. Gerard “Riley” Clancy was a member of the band for 73 years.

William Makepeace Thackeray, 1843
A Letter From Belfast, 1938