Thursday, 8 October 2020

Discovering the charms of
Annacotty by the banks
of the River Mulkear

Annacotty, Co Limerick, developed around the mills and weir on the River Mulkear (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2020)

Patrick Comerford

The new lock-down is taking its toll on everyone in recent days, and it has put paid to plans for a visit to Dingle, Co Kerry, early next week.

I may be limited to travelling within Co Limerick for at least the next three weeks, if not more. But, as I found out during a visit to Annacotty last weekend, there are many more interesting and beautiful places for me to visit and explore in this county.

From the bus, I have often seen Annacotty, with its beautiful weir and former mills 7 km from Limerick city centre, and had been promising myself a visit for some time.

A mural below the N7 bridge celebrating life on the River Milkear in Annacotty (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2020)

Today, Annacotty (Áth an Choite, ‘the ford of the angling cots’) is a suburban town on the outskirts of Limerick. It is just off the old N7 Limerick-Dublin road, where it crosses the Mulkear River, 1 km upstream of where it flows into the River Shannon.

The village originally grew up around the grain mills built to take advantage of the water power of the River Mulkear. In the past, the mills were associated with nearby Clonkeen Church, established as a monastic site ca 600. One mill was beside the bridge itself and has now been restored as bar and restaurant, and the second mill was 1 km upstream at Ballyclough.

A railway station opened in Annacotty in 1858, bringing the promise of economic development. The village developed a strong co-operative movement with the setting up of the Annacotty Co-Operative Society in the 1890s, and the creamery became a major centre for the manufacture of butter and cheese.

Ballyclough Co-operative Creamery was founded in Annacotty in 1910 in opposition to the Cleeves Creamery that previously operated in the Mill at the turn of the century.

Annacotty railway station finally closed in 1963. But butter continued to be a major produce in Annacotty until the 1960s, when the creamery was taken over by Black Abbey Co-operative, based in Adare.

The AKZO Group opened the Ferenka factory in Annacotty in March 1972 to manufacture steelcord. However, it gained notoriety when its Dutch managing director, Tiede Herrema, was kidnapped by Eddie Gallagher and Marion Coyle of the IRA in October 1975. He was freed four weeks later after a protracted siege in Monasterevin, Co Kildare.

After continuing losses and experiencing industrial disputes from the day it opened, the Ferenka factory closed in December 1977, with the loss of over 1,400 full-time jobs.

The original bridge over the River Mulkear at Annacotty (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2020)

The N7 originally ran through the Main Street, but it by-passed Annacotty in 1980 when a new bridge was built over the River Mulkear 100 metres downstream. That, in turn, was superseded by the building of the Limerick Southern Ring Road, crossing the river 1 km upstream at Ballyclough.

Annacotty Industrial Estate was later built on the site of the former Ferenka factory. Meanwhile, with the expansion of Limerick from 1990 on, Annacotty was absorbed into the rapidly growing suburb of Castletroy.

After a succession of mergers, the co-op in Annacotty became part of the Dairygold Co-op was established in 1993 with the amalgamation of Mitchelstown and Ballyclough co-ops. The former creamery became a hardware store, but this too closed in 2009. The building is now the Irish-owned store Mr Price.

A sculpture in Annacotty of Jackie Power, the ‘Prince of Hurlers’ (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2020)

As Limerick city and suburban Castletroy expanded, Annacotty became a popular area for housing and industry , with its good infrastructure and transport links, and its easy access to the University of Limerick and the national technological park. Nearby facilities include the Castletroy neighbourhood park, Castletroy Golf Club, fishing on the Mulkear River, and the University of Limerick’s multi-purpose sports arena.

Annacotty became part of Limerick City at the local government elections in May 2014, when local councillors were elected as part of the Limerick City Metropolitan District.

Annacotty has a good variety of pubs and restaurants, including the Black Swan, a colourful pub on the Main Street. It was established over 100 years ago and has been owned and run by the Nicholas family for over 60 years.

The Black Swan is a colourful pub in Annacotty (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2020)

The Black Swan is unique, personal and traditional, a rare find like the sign outside that celebrates a rare bird – Rara Avis – the unique black swan. The Black Swan was refurbished in recent years and is known as a proud supporter of local teams, and for live music.

We had a late lunch at the Mill House, a beautifully restored building, and watched the climax to the Munster v Scarlets match, with a thrilling 30-27 win for Munster.

It seemed appropriate, as Annacotty has a strong sporting tradition as home to UL Bohemians, the local rugby club located on Mulkear Drive, and Aisling Annacotty, the local GAA club.

The former Irish rugby international Peter Clohessy is from Annacotty. The village is also the birthplace of the Limerick county hurler Jackie Power (1916-1994), the ‘Prince of Hurlers.’ A life-size bronze statue of Jackie Power was erected on the Main Street in Annacotty in 1996.

The Annacotty Sundial by the riverbank dates from 2019.

The Annacotty Sundial by the riverbank dates from 2019 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2020)

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