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

NicknameBornAddress 1938Compensation
Patrick ClancyNetter18672 Sheep Street749 6 0
Martin ClancyYoung Martin1867Athlunkard Street692 0 0
Michael ClancyNucks18697 Nicholas Street894 9 0
John ClancyGages187710 Nolan’s Cottages875 4 8
John ClancySugans1879Fish Lane885 0 4
James ClancyDick18883 Brown’s lane, Edward St761 14 4
John ClancyCauly189143 Upper Clare Street472 0 0
Joseph ClancyBuckets1907Athlunkard Street388 0 0
John ClancyDiddles19071 Glue Yard Lane798 9 4
Gerard ClancyRiley1907Ivy Cottages, King’s Island700 9 4
Michael Clancy JnrMickey Pick19111 Glue Yard Lane162 0 0
Patrick J ClancyPoppy191459 Mungret Street585 3 4
Thomas ClancyTawdy19141 Robert Street637 3 4
James ClancyBud or The Yank19153 Brown’s lane, Edward St507 19 0
John Clancy19163 Brown’s lane, Edward St482 14 8
Thomas HayesHackney18684 River Lane797 2 0
Robert HayesNapoleon1872Campbell’s Bow, Broad St935 13 4
Martin HayesRab1874Athlunkard Street1000 9 0
John Hayes SnrBone18806 New Road Pennywell347 16 0
Patrick HayesSunlight188724 Broad Street626 14 4
Michael HayesLully18915 Francis Abbey769 12 8
Patrick HayesRandy1894Island Field769 12 8
Thomas HayesBantrum1903Island Field724 2 4
Christy HayesSusi or Sonny19072 Watergate635 9 4
Christy HayesRialto19072 Cornmarket Row667 9 4
Michael HayesStarry191221 Mungret Street546 12 0
John Hayes JnrO.K.19126 New Road Pennywell529 12 0
Patrick McNamaraTodsie18743 Sheep Street1000 9 0
Peter McNamaraSmuts or Iron man1878Meat Market Lane974 0 2
Patrick J McNamaraTons of Money1892Sir Harry’s Mall769 1 3
Patrick McNamaraBalla19082 Glue Yard Lane513 19 7
Peter McNamaraBoar19013 Fish Lane878 10 1
Robert McNamaraDutch19012 Creagh Lane817 10 1
Aug. McNamaraRabbit19023 Meat Market Lane787 6 7
James McNamaraElbows19033 Sheep Street976 2 3
John McNamaraMunchin1905O’Halloran Lane, Thomondgate737 17 11
Joseph McNamaraBeaver19089 Fish Lane448 4 11
Aug. McNamaraThe Music Man19123 Sheep Street648 11 11
Peter McNamaraPeerie19132 Meat Market Lane488 7 7
Joseph McNamaraBaa19143 Sheep Street173 0 0
Michael ShannyOld Mike1865Lower Park738 10 7
Patrick ShannyVinegar1873Island Field819 13 3
John (Sean) ShannyBig Sean1883Lower Park1040 7 3
Patrick ShannyDer1885Lower Park1058 2 11
John ShannyBrass Band1884Lower Park988 2 11
Michael ShannyYoung Buckshoes1888Lower Park873 14 3
James ShannyForty1893Lower Park718 0 0
Patrick F ShannyFeeney1896Lower Park788 8 3
Patrick ShannyPat the Thatcher1897Lower Park823 3 11
James ShannyJones1903Lower Park787 2 3
John ShannyTucker1907Lower Park733 9 3
Michael ShannyYoung Mike1911Lower Park569 16 3
Michael ShannySkirter1912Lower Park512 11 11
Patrick ShannyWoods1914Lower Park498 3 3
Joseph ShannyYoung Joe1914Lower Park498 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