Speech by Minister Madigan at the Launch of Shannon Fisherman Archive Project
CHECK AGAINST DELIVERY
Mayor, distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen, I am delighted to be here today for the launch of the documentary film on the history of the Shannon Fisherman.
I want to thank and congratulate those involved in this project – in particular Sheila Deegan, Limerick Arts and Culture Officer, and Jacqui Hayes, Limerick Archivist, who have put an enormous amount of time and energy into this project.
I believe that investment in projects such as this which explore different elements of our heritage and culture yield a very positive return for us as a society – not just in financial terms, but more importantly in terms of helping us understand our sense of identify and place.
Our heritage is not simply our great buildings, our archaeological monuments, or our iconic landscapes. It is the everyday things that surround us, sustain us and define us as a nation.
Tá ár n-oidhreacht mar bhonn agus thaca ag ár gcultúr; saibhríonn sé ár saol, agus cruthaíonn sé ceangal eadrainn ar fad.
This film on the Shannon Fisherman, which is being supported under the Creative Ireland Programme, interweaves various aspects of Limerick’s rich heritage – natural, cultural, the landscape, traditional skills, and a rich folklore. It reveals an ever-changing, evolving environment and a community, whose pattern of life was dictated by the seasons, by the flowing tides, and by outside factors sometimes beyond their control.
To quote a line from Heraclitus that is used in the film,
“No man ever steps in the same river twice for it’s not the same river and he’s not the same man.”
The Shannon estuary is a well-documented area with a natural rich biodiversity that has provided a transport corridor for humans for thousands of years and provides enormous resources in terms of employment, recreation and tourism.
This film reveals a Limerick with a long fishing tradition and a unique relationship with the River Shannon from Doonass upriver, all the way down to Scattery Island in the Shannon Estuary. Fishing took place between these two junctions, with different stretches of the river fished by different communities who depended on its bounty to survive.
I was interested to learn that the stretch of the river from Doonass to the great lax weir in Corbally was fished by the Abbey Fishermen who lived mainly in the Abbey area of Limerick.
City such as Sheep Street, Gaol Lane and Meat Market Lane – part of the fabric of the city from medieval times until quite recently.
The Strand fishermen who lived near Clancy Strand fished that stretch of the river from the city to the Estuary before the development of the Ardnacrusha power station in the 1920’s. As the film shows, the Strand Fishermen worked seasonally – especially during the salmon season from July to September – and worked other jobs during the off-season while still fishing for pollock and eels.
The Coonagh and Newtown fishermen fished the remaining stretch of the river all the way out to Scattery Island. As the film depicts, many of them were also reed cutters, cutting the reeds after the first frost in October. Reeds of course were a mainstay of rural life in the past, being used in thatching.
The Askeaton fishermen didn’t cut reeds but fished further into the estuary and often fished herring and cultivated seaweed, another important by-product of the river, being used as fertiliser.
The film was my first encounter with the Limerick Gandalow boat, specially developed to be used on the mudflats.
I was amused to see that the various groups apparently shared the river for the most part fairly amicably – and that if the fishermen of Coonagh were singing, then there were no fish and no point in the upper river fisherman trying to poach their territory!
Of course things that seem immutable inevitably do change, and Ireland in the twentieth century changed out of all recognition. The construction of Ardnacrusha in the 1920s disrupted this way of life when the Scheme altered the flow of the river. The water flowed faster and it changed the way the fish behaved. Old salmon patterns were disrupted as salmon chose the fastest path upstream and got caught in the turbines meaning they could not reach their spawning beds.
Izaak Walton once wrote,
“As no man is born an artist, so no man is born an angler.”
Fishing the Shannon was a tradition that was passed down the generations – it sustained families through tough times and good times. This film captures a moment in time, a record for posterity, a reflection on our unique history.
It shines a light on our shared heritage inspired by our various traditions, our different memories and different perspectives. It is important for Limerick and for the people who live along the Shannon estuary to record and remember this intricate tapestry of community and the landscape.
Furthermore, advances in digital technology and social media mean that this unique and fascinating story can now be shared around the world.
This unique project – epitomised by local commitment and collaboration – brings home to me the important role that local organisations, local communities and local authorities can and do play when they come together, something I am particularly anxious to promote through the Creative Ireland Programme.
To paraphrase an old Irish quote – Éist le fuaim na habhann agus gheobhfaidh tú breac – you have to listen to the sound of a river to understand it
I would now like to take this opportunity to formally launch this short film and hope you all enjoy it and are inspired to find out more about this fascinating part of our cultural heritage.