It was with shock and great sadness that we learned of the death of Sean Fitzsimons on the 16th July. Warm tributes were paid to Sean from a variety of organisations with which he was associated, Athlone Vintners Association; Athlone Boat Club; Athlone Sub Aqua Club; RNLI; Aware; and in particular The Inland Waterways Association of Ireland. Sean had a deep and abiding love for the River Shannon, and indeed for all of the waterways of Ireland.
He supported and attended cruises & rallies on most of them over many years, and despite being quite ill in recent years he always made an effort to travel to various events, and to attend branch meetings – always with a “to do” list. Sean, born & reared in Dublin, fell in love with the Shannon in 1961 when he and some friends hired the barge St. Mary to take part in the first Shannon Boat Rally. The following year he and a friend Johnny Connon bought the St Mary and renamed it Ye Iron Lung. Sean attended all subsequent Shannon Boat Rallies with the “Lung” until he sold it to his nephew Andrew in 2001. Sean then acquired a smaller more manageable cruiser, An Spalpin Eile, and continued cruising and rallying up to recently.
In 2010 when President Mary McAleese officially opened the 50th Shannon Boat Rally in Carrick on Shannon, Sean was feted as the only person to have attended all 50 rallies. The “Lung” was always the “party boat” wherever it went, always music & craic, and inevitably the strains of Carrickfergus, as only Sean could sing it, could be heard into the wee small hours. In his early years he worked as a church furniture & fittings salesman with Gills of O’Connell St. Dublin. He bought Sean’s Bar in Athlone in the late 1960’s, retired from the church supplies business and became a fulltime publican, running Sean’s Bar with his friend Dermot O’Brien.
In addition to running the pub, they both found the time to attend rallies all over the country, north & south. Sean was a member of Athlone Branch IWAI and we were fortunate to have him as Treasurer for over 30 years. He had the knack of persuading people to join the IWAI, and up to the present time, Athlone branch have members all over Ireland; in the UK; USA; Germany; Holland; and West Indies, all of whom were tourists, recruited by Sean in the pub. He was largely responsible for building and maintaining our membership numbers, and a healthy bank balance, which contributed to branch activities over many years such as providing mooring buoys & jetties at Athlone town, Ballykeeran, Portrunny, and Lecarrow.
He organised the reprint, sale and distribution of Harry Rice’s book “Thanks for the Memory” in 1974 which built a healthy Development fund for the various branch projects and also for the benefit of various other organisations such as Athlone Sub-Aqua Club, Athlone Boat Club, RCAG, etc. He also organised the more recent reprint, sale and distribution of ”Thanks for the Memory” in 2002, which benefited the Dunrovin Trust redevelopment fund. He also has organised and sold reprints of old charts (1808) of Lough Ree & Lough Derg which were found in Dunrovin, which also benefited the Dunrovin Trust fund. Sean also organised the reprint of LTC Rolt’s book “Green and Silver” which raised over £10000 for the Royal Canal Amenity Group restoration projects
He was the Chairman of the Athlone RNLI fund raising branch and organised flag days & other fundraisers every year. He acted as “Auctioneer” at the Shannon Boat Rally RNLI Auction which raised sums ranging from €5,000 to €10,000 each year for the lifeboats. He was instrumental in having the original plans for the development of the west side quay at Athlone drawn up by architect Noel Murphy and also the original plans for the Athlone Town Marina, also by Noel Murphy, and for promoting these developments with Athlone UDC. Truly a remarkable contribution to the common good that anyone would be proud of, but Sean took it all in his stride, his mind never stopped thinking of ways to raise funds; to get things done; to improve the facilities.
Alas, in his 81st year, the handsome boatman has come to ferry him over and to lay him down. Members of Athlone Branch IWAI and Athlone Boat Club formed a guard of Honour at Sean’s removal to the Church of Saints Peter & Paul in Athlone, where he arrived to the moving strains of Carrickfergus, courtesy of the Henshaw family. We extend our deepest sympathy to Anne, his nephews, nieces, relatives and a wide circle of friends. May he rest in peace.