22 February 2020

How one man managed
to cross the Shannon
Estuary on a bicycle

Tom Mangan cycled across the Shannon Estuary from the pier at Glin, Co Limerick, in July 1902 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

The rains that have been brought in by the latest storms seem unremitting in the past few days. At times, they have turned to hail and sleet, and sometimes it even takes careful planning and timing to know when to venture down to the local supermarket to buy the daily newspapers.

Standing by the banks of the Shannon Estuary, watching the swells on the water, feeling the strong winds and watching the grey clouds mass overhead, it is hard to imagine how anyone could take out onto the river in a small vessel.

So, I was surprised earlier this week to hear the story of one man who not only tried to, but also succeeded in peddling across the Shannon Estuary from Glin in Co Limerick to Labasheeda in Co Clare, and cycled back again the same day.

Tom Mangan was a resourceful man who was born in Cahera in 1871 and who lived in Glin all his life. At a time of hardship in Ireland, he had the good fortune to work as a clerk with the Shannon Steamship Company which collected and distributed goods all along the Shannon Estuary from Limerick to Kilrush, serving the ports along the way, including Glin.

During the course of his work, Tom Mangan saved a man from drowning at Glin Pier after he had fallen between a boat and the pier.

Tom set out to build a pedal boat. He put his cycle, whose frame he had built himself, on two flat boards like a raft, one under each wheel.

A crack in the boards formed a crevice that allowed the wheels to touch the water.

After a trial run, he set off on a warm sunny Sunday afternoon in July 1902, watched by a crowd on Glin Pier. People lit bonfires to alert the village of Labasheeda of his expected arrival.

Despite the bonfires and the warnings, Tom Mangan caused a huge stir and furore in Labasheeda and the local RIC sergeant sent to Killaloe for reinforcements, before people realised this was not some demon or monster coming over the water but a man.

When he staggered ashore, a crowd of people cheered and a bottle of brandy was pressed to his lips.

The local sergeant thought of arresting him for public disorder, but he cycled back to Glin again later that day.

The day was recalled 70 years later by John B Keane, a regular visitor to Glin, in his column in the Limerick Leader on 14 August 1971.

Inspired by John B Keane, a local man, Kevin Reidy, designed yet another specially adapted bicycle-boat and the late Bill Culhane volunteered to cycle it an re-enact Tom Mangan’s feat.

Local people in Glin used Kevin Reidy’s replica in a charity fundraiser in the 1980s, pushing it from Dublin for display at Shannon Airport.

In this weather, I think I’d prefer to cross the Shannon on the ferry between Tarbert and Killimer. It beats paddling your own canoe, or peddling your own bicycle.

It is safer and wiser to cross the Shannon on the ferry between Tarbert and Killimer (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

John Jackson, bookseller,
author and the host at
Zozimus Books in Gorey

John Jackson … the genial and erudite proprietor of Zosimus Books in Gorey, Co Wexford, since 2011

Patrick Comerford

Like many of my friends, I was saddened this week to learn of the sudden death of John Wyse Jackson.

After he moved back to Ireland, John set up Zozimus Books on the Main Street in Gorey, Co Wexford, in 2011. Zozimus Book was an integral part of the Book Café and played an important role in raising the cultural expectations of a north Wexford town that is too easily dismissed these days as a satellite or dormitory town of Dublin.

John’s passion for literature and books was known by all and there was no title he had not heard of, nor was there a book he could not source for a customer. Customers were always welcomed warmly by this friendly and courteous man of letters and author.

He recently told an interview with the Irish Examiner that he had been in business for about 10 years and had 40,000 titles in his Zozimus bookshop, both second-hand and antiquarian books.

John Robert Wyse Jackson was born in Kilkenny on 31 May 1953, when his father, Robert Wyse Jackson (1908-1976), was Dean of Cashel. His mother, Lois, was a daughter of John Phair, Bishop of Ossory.

Dean Jackson, who was also a barrister and a published historian, was elected Bishop of Limerick, Ardfert and Aghadoe at the end of 1960, when John was seven, and the family moved to Limerick in early 1961, and when they were still children he and his brother started a little public library for their friends in their national school in Limerick.

After a degree in English Literature at Trinity College Dublin, John worked as a bookseller in London. There, he became a director of John Sandoe (Books) Ltd, an independent bookshop off the King’s Road in Chelsea, wrote and edited several books, lectured and broadcast on a wide range of topics, and contributed to many journals and newspapers, including the Sunday Times, Hibernia, the Journal of Beachcomber Associatesand the Spectator, and to many collections of poetry.

He had a wide-ranging specialist knowledge of the works of Oscar Wilde, James Joyce and Myles na gCopaleen or Flann O’Brien. He was also one of the founders of the Chelsea Press, whose bestsellers included a facsimile edition of the Freeman’s Journal for the first Bloomsday, 16 June 1904.

I could have been lost for days in the Zozimus Bookshop in Gorey (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

John came back to Ireland with his wife and children in 2003. He soon found himself helping out on a bookstall in Arklow, and was soon running it. The opportunity then came to run a bookshop in Gorey. He founded Zozimus Bookshop in 2011, naming his bookshop in honour of Michael Moran (aka Zozimus), the early 19th century Dublin street balladeer and poet.

He tried to have only one copy of a book at any one time, bought books individually and did not go to auctions. But with 40,000 titles it was difficult to find space.

It was a Labyrinth or Aladdin’s Cave of books, packed from floor to ceiling with the most eclectic collection of books from biography to travel.

Coincidentally, one of the first books I put my fingers on in the shop was 84 Charing Cross Road, Helen Hanff’s 1970 book, later turned into a stage play, television play, and film, about her 24-year correspondence with Frank Doel of Marks & Co, the antiquarian bookshop located at 84 Charing Cross Road in London.

Helen Hanff was searching for obscure books she could not find in New York. She and Doel developed a long-distance friendship and their letters discussed topics as diverse as the sermons of John Donne, how to make Yorkshire Pudding, the Brooklyn Dodgers, and the coronation of Elizabeth II.

Visiting Zozimus was as delightful as visiting David’s in Cambridge or the lamentably now-gone Staffs Bookshop in Lichfield – although, of course, Marks is long gone too, and 84 Charing Cross Road is now the site of yet another McDonald’s burger shop.

He had written a dozen or so books, including one about James Joyce’s father with Peter Costello, and a life of John Lennon.

I missed the launches in 2018 of Life in the Church of Ireland 1600-1800, a new edition of a book by his father, Robert Wyse Jackson, and which had been edited by John, who invited me to write the introduction to the book.

This enticing 250-page book, published by Ballinakella Press, Whitegate, Co Clare, was the result of painstaking research into the turbulent life of clergy and laity of the Church of Ireland during political upheavals, the influences of plantation and of ecclesiastical establishment.

John Jackson of Bolaney House, Bolaney, Gorey, and Zozimus Book Shop, died peacefully but suddenly at home on 19 February 2020. He is survived by his wife Ruth, his sons Eoghan, Daniel, Conor and Adam, and his sister, brothers, and a wider family circle. His funeral takes place on Tuesday (25 February) at 3 pm in Christ Church, Gorey, Co Wexford.

He will be missed by his family, friends and customers.