The following report comes from the Saturday Herald, 1 June 1901:

Mr Dennis Madden, of Broad Street, Limerick, sends us some particulars of a very ingenious contrivance which he has invented and constructed and which soon may be seen in full working order on the Shannon. It is, as the picture shows, a bicycle boat, capable of going at a rate of eight miles an hour. It is 24 feet long, three feet wide on top, and two feet six inches on the bottom, covered in like a four-oared gig, and weighing about eight stone.

bicycle boat

Since the earlier trials, Mr Madden has made several improvements in his novel craft, including the provision of a second set of bearings. Mr Madden is a labouring man, and the fact that without any special training he has been able to construct so remarkable a vessel is a proof of his great natural talent.

He superintended the entire work himself. Mr Bethel, of Watergate, made the paddles and affixed the screws on each end of the axle, and Mr Harrison Lee made the bearings and the turning axle. Mr Madden will shortly be navigating his novel craft from Limerick to Kilrush by the Shannon, which will be a good long spin.

He is also about to construct a similar bot for two men. It will be about 33 feet long, with two propellers, one on the stem and the other on the stern. It will be clinker-built, like a four-oarded gig, and is intended for developing a high rate of speed. It will be covered fore and aft like the outriggers, and will be geared to 90 or 88. It will be built of ½ inch timber of first quality, and stained and varnished, carrying two centre boards, one foot and a half long by half a foot deep, and a good keel, so as to keep the boat steady.

It will be fitted with the best bearings and waterproof appliances and will be finished in a couple of months’ time.

These inventions are attracting much local attention. It may be mentioned that Mr Madden, who is an enthusiastic oarsman, is going to row for St Michael’s Society in the sculls and the gigs at the Limerick Regatta next July.

This was not the first pedal powered boat, as one was photographed in Finland four years earlier, but it was certainly the first in Limerick.

The Bethell family were blacksmiths in the Jones Lane, Watergate. Harrison Lee were the largest Iron founders in the city and their name can still be seen on ironwork throughout the city.

About the Inventor

Denis Madden, the twenty-year-old son of lock keeper Thomas Madden and his wife Kate Fitzgibbon of Park, Limerick. (1901 Census). As the son of a lock keeper he grew up with boats literally on his doorstep.

Among his other inventions were a special plait of shoes that he invented in 1906 to allow him to walk across the Shannon and a device for lifting submarines from the seabed that was used by the British navy.

He married Elizabeth Desmond in St John’s Cathedral on 31 January 1906 at the time he was working as a van driver. He went on to train as an engineer with Krupps, in Germany, before moving to Dublin before 1911. In Dublin, he owned a transport company and lent buses to an orphanage each Sunday to bring the children to the seaside in summer. (information via Caron Tierney)

Denis Madden passed away in 1973, aged ninety-eight years old. He was driving up to three months before his death. At the time of his death, he held 48 lifesaving medals, the highest number given to any one individual up to that point.

You can read more about the Madden family of Park Lock in the Old Limerick Journal 2011.