13 January 2018

An old boat club is on the site
of the Viking port of Limerick

The slipway at Curraghgour Boat Club … the site of the Viking port in Limerick (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

Patrick Comerford

As I was wandering around the back of the Courthouse and the Potato Market on Merchant’s Quay on the banks of the Shannon in Limerick earlier this week, I came across the Curraghgour Boat Club and a site by the river’s edge that is said to date back to the very beginnings of the city in the Viking age.

The boat club was founded almost a century and half ago in 1877, and the signs on the railings and at the boathouse spell the name Curraghgour, although there is a number of local variants, including Curragour, Curragower and Curraghgower.

This is the place where the Nordic Vikings landed their warships off the River Shannon to invade Limerick City.

The gate at the boat club appeared locked, but there were a few boats on the slipway, and as I began to photograph the area the door opened, and I was invited it.

I found I was standing on the very site of the ancient port of Limerick, known as Luimneach na Loinge or ‘Limerick of the Ships.’

The Curragour or Curraghgower Falls derive their name from a derivative of Corach Dhobhair, meaning the moving, eddying or whirling water, Cora Dhobhair, the water weir, or Carraig Dhobhair, the rock of the water.

Inside the boathouse at Curraghgour Boat Club (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

The mediaeval harbour was the economic heart of the city, accommodating ships weighing up to 200 tons. This harbour was defended by two great stone towers, linked by a great iron chain that was vital to the defence of the city during the many sieges over the centuries.

Two mills called the King’s Mills, stood side by side between the weir and the rock, on the falls in the middle of the river, and were there in 1615.

The south tower was also a gunpowder store, and violently exploded in 1693. Over 240 people were killed in the huge explosion, and many were killed over a mile away by the falling stones and debris.

The mill was acquired by James Fisher, who went into partnership with Larry Quinlivan, and they set up a company known as Fisher and Quinlivan. The mill was destroyed by a fire in 1850, and the site fell into a ruin and was abandoned.

Meanwhile, the Potato Market was built nearby in 1843 on the site of the Long Dock, but in time it failed become a general market area.

Later in the 19th century, the site of the South Tower became the home of the Curraghour Boat Club when it was established in 1877.

The club members represent generations of boatmen and their families who claim to trace their ancestry back to the times of the sieges of Limerick. They cherish the history and the heritage of the river, carrying on the ancient traditions of boat making and fishing.

The slipway still marks the site of the ancient Viking port of Limerick.

The Curraghgour Boat Club has been on the site of the Viking port of Limerick since 1877 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

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