The History of Shannon Fishermen and Reed Cutters Captured on Film

The stories of families in Limerick who earned their living from fishing, mainly salmon, along the banks of the River Shannon, from the city to the estuary have been captured in a new film.

Fishermen on The River Shannon

The traditional skill of reed cutting which was also practiced along the estuary by some of the fishermen has also been included in the film, which captures the very tough and often dangerous job these men encountered on a daily basis.

The film which has been funded as part of the Creative Ireland programme grew out of another project by Limerick City and County Council in conjunction with Mary Immaculate College which captured the oral histories of the Shannon Fishermen and Reed Cutters.

The documentary features fishermen from along the Shannon who recount their experiences of fishing for a living along the Estuary. They belonged to one of four distinct groupings, which shared the river for the most part fairly amicably.

Limerick has a long fishing tradition and a unique relationship with the River Shannon from Doonass down to Scattery Island.

Abbey Fishermen

The Abbey Fishermen traditionally fished between Doonass and the lax weir in Corbally. They lived mainly in the Abbey area of Limerick city, Sheep Street, Gaol Lane and Meat Market Lane.

Strand Fishermen

They lived near Clancy Strand (formerly North Strand) fished form the city to the Estuary before the development of the Ardnacrusha power station in the 1920’s. After that they joined the Coonagh and Newtown fishermen fishing from Barrington’s pier near the former Cleeves) to Scattery Island. The Strand Fishermen worked seasonally for the salmon season (mainly from July to September) and worked other jobs in the off season while still fishing for pollock and eels.

Newtown Fishermen

They were predominantly from Newtown, Clarina and also fished seasonally but during the winter a large proportion of them were reed cutters. They could only cut reeds after the first frost in October. Coonagh Fishermen on the Clare side of the Shannon did the same. They fished from Bunrattty and went down river.

Askeaton Fishermen

The Askeaton Fishermen didn’t cut reeds but fished further into the estuary and often fished herring and cultivated seaweed.

Ardnacrusha disrupted this way of life when the hydro-electric scheme altered the flow of the river. The tail race reduced the volume of water in the original course and when the turbines released flood water vast quantities were allowed to flow through the original channel. This meant the water was moving faster and it also changed the way the fish behaved.

In 2006 the EU conservation policy saw major changes as the government bought the licences form the majority of the fishermen and it became illegal to use a net on the river.

Mayor of the City and County of Limerick, Cllr Stephen Keary: “The traditional Shannon fishermen and reed cutters are dying away but this film will allow their stories to remain with us.  Those who worked along the River Shannon have a story to tell that is unique to Limerick and this film will allow future historians and sociologists to get a glimpse, first had, of what it was like to fish the Shannon.”

Official launch of the documentary film at Istabraq Hall in Limerick City and County Council’s Corporate Headquarters on 6 April 2018 by Minister for Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht Josepha Madigan.

Sheila Deegan, Culture and Arts Officer with Limerick City and County Council: Film is such a great way of capturing the meaningful stories that tell us about who we are. The commissioned short documentary film as part of the Limerick Culture and Creativity Plan for Creative Ireland, has captured with empathy the history and heritage of the Shannon Fishermen and their families.”

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