Remembering Shannon Harbour’s First Annual Canal Boat Rally

The Canal Boat Rally has been up and running, at Shannon Harbour, since 1971.

Linda McGee, in her article ’Remembering the First Annual Canal Boat Rally at Shannon Harbour’ , quoted the original chairperson Mr. Gerry Brady, who recalled how “the idea of the rally originated about 1969-1970 among regular visitors who moored boats at Shannon Harbour from time to time, in conjunction with the residents of the village.”

According to Mr. Brady, the event hoped to “…recapture the halcyon days of the Grand Canal in the early 19th century before the coming of the railway”. He went on to recall how “the village was ‘en-fete’…the occasion was a great success and a rally has been held every year since.”

According to Ms. McGee, the very first rally was formally opened by Mr. John Scott, the last chairperson of the Grand Canal Company on Friday, June 18th 1971.

In the article, Mr. Brady recalled ‘…how the Shannon Harbour National School Band played on the steps of Mr. Eugene Byrne’s house for the occasion. In his address, Mr. Scott also spoke of the history of Shannon Harbour and its connection with the Grand Canal down through the years.

According to Mr. Brady: “He mentioned the enormous number of people who had travelled through Shannon Harbour in the fly boats before the advent of the railways, especially during the famine years of the 1840’s when the village was full of boarding houses because the hotel was unable to cope with the number of travellers.”

Remembering the role of the hotel in the village, Mr. Brady spoke of how in the early days part of the hotel was used as a police barracks, with the basement serving as a cell for prisoners. At this time the Shannon Steamers, ‘The Lady Landsdown’ and ‘The Lady Burgoyne’ carried passengers to Limerick and to Athlone. At the height of the canal’s importance ‘The Apostle of Temperance’,
Fr. Theobald Matthew administered the pledge to great crowds standing on the steps of the hotel in 1842.

Since its original event in 1971, the Canal Boat Rally has attracted huge numbers of people to the village of Shannon Harbour each year, with interest increasing with the passing of time, new elements being added each year. Joining Mr. Brady on the organising committee on the first year of the event were: Mr. Peter Denham, Vice Chairperson; Mr. Eugene Byrne and Mr. Peter Dobbs, Joint Honorary Secretaries; Mr. Dan Moore and Mr. Jim Thomas, Joint Honorary Treasurers; Mr. Jack Kelly Rogers and Mr. Duncan Bain, Joint Rally Marshals and Berthing Masters.

Mr. Brady explained that the first year of the event was an action packed festival, with large crowds in attendance. Some of the events included: a barge teams tug-o-war competition, a radio controlled model boat display, a dinghy racing, campfire sing songs, a fancy dress competition, and a novel buoy rolling competition. Helicopter trips, subsidised by W&R Odlum Limited, at only £1 each were also on offer, ‘enabling people to get a view of the village from 2000 feet’.

Mr. Brady spoke of the CIE vessel St. Brendan served as a floating bar and snackery to augment the three Shannon Harbour public houses, Gleeson’s, Guinan’s and Temple’s. To link in with the festivities of the Grand Canal Boat Rally a Grand Canal Historical Exhibition was held in the school house, consisting mostly of of items from Robertstown Canal Hotel Exhibition courtesy of Robertstown Muintir na Tíre and Fr. Patrick Murphy, recalled Mr. Brady.

Many of the barges that took part in this first rally and subsequent ones were renovated barges that had previously been owned by CIE. “After CIE ceased to operate commercially on the Shannon in the early 1960’s several of their barges were purchased for conversion to recreational use,” said Mr. Brady. Most of these barges were approximately 60 feet in length and were powered by 15HP Bolinder engines, manufactured in Sweden Mr. Brady explained that they “turned over at 420 revs per minute’ saying that ‘they were started by swinging a large fly wheel manually after heating up the engine hearth for 15 minutes with a blow lamp.”

in its first year, attendance at the rally included several of these barges including the 39M, manufactured at Liffey Dockyard in 1927, recalled Mr. Brady, who said that this particular vessel was purchased by Mr. Peter Todd and then renovated, with the cargo area being adopted to accommodate five double cabins, a galley and toilets. According to Mr. Brady, an 82 year old vessel was also in attendance at the event. This particular barge was the second iron barge to go into service on the Shannon. “It was retrieved from the bed of the river at Killaloe, where it had lain for 36 years, by Mr. Seán Bayly of Dublin who converted it into a floating bungalow with TV lounge and sleeping accommodation for nine,” said Mr. Brady.’

In the article, Ms. McGee notes how one particular barge, the 79M, held ‘…particular significance for Mr. Brady as he himself acquired it in 1966 with Mr. Joe Deasy. In renovating it, Mr. Brady explained that they replaced the Bolinder with a modern 14 HP Leyland diesel engine. Other features of the restoration were; the provision of three double cabins, a large lounge, a galley with gas cooking, a fridge, a toilet, a shower, a wheelhouse and a 12 volt electric system. The vessel won the ‘Best Barge award’ at the inaugural rally.’

The article concludes by observing that, as the first rally was such a great success, it was decided that it should become an annual event to be held in the latter part of June each year so that, during school and college holidays, younger members of the community could partake in the festivities.