It’s a developing concept, an event in the making that has the potential to promote to the wider world the special pleasures of rowing Limerick’s many hidden waterways.
Thirty boats gathered on O’Callaghan Strand slip. They were all wonderful vernacular craft of the best traditional types, imbued with their owners’ characters, and manned with equally characterful crews who had travelled with their beloved boats from Cork, West Clare, Limerick and the adjacent boat-beds of Clarina, Coonagh, Ringmoylan and Askeaton, to make up a generous inaugural King’s Island Race fleet. The best of October weather came out in support as the rowers pulled east towards Thomond Bridge, to begin a wonderful inaugural King’s Island Race in warm sunshine.
"Visiting rowers to the city were more than surprised with the splendour of the city’s river environment, and particularly with how being in a small boat can so quickly put it in a fresh context” said Gary MacMahon, director of the Ilen School which hosted the event. “In fact” he added, "they were a bit disappointed we had not shared this metropolitan rowing pearl with them earlier…….At any rate, the secret has now escaped the city, as we at the Ilen.ie School plan to develop this King’s Island Race as a quality international annual river event for Limerick.” he confirmed.
From time immemorial, the waterways of metropolitan Limerick have been noted for their turbulent character, a dynamic confluence of strong Atlantic tides and flooding land-waters. This can make making it an implacable waterway, indifferent to the locomotion of local boats and their pilots. Accordingly, the sagacious Limerick boater will always go with the favourable tides and floods, the great elemental currents that in synchronised use will sweep a boat and her crew 'like the clappers' around King’s Island.
For the few who take pleasure in Limerick City’s local boats, their construction, maintenance and handling, a row around the city's King’s Island is an eagerly awaited seasonal outing which they now wish to share with others. For the energetic boater, it is a magnificent 45 minute dash over fast water, along ever changing river topography. And for the leisurely rower, which seems the greater number of city boaters, it is an inimitable row to another world - one that lies where the built city surrenders to the wild river banks, near the meeting of the Shannon and the Abbey Rivers.
The Ilen School and Network for Wooden Boat Building in Limerick City has for many years taught the craft of building local boats, and it also diffuses the skills of boat handling, particularly as they map on to waters that flow uniquely through the city. The Ilen.ie school also serves as a network for local river folk, a sort of assembly for new ideas and conversations around all things to do with local boats, and which from time to time has entertained the idea of an around Kings Island boat race.
For many of the crews taking part, it was more of a reasonably briskly-paced row-in-company than an out and-out-race. But some were undoubtedly very competitive, none more so than the winners, Michael Grimes and his crew of currach men who hail from Coonagh, a secret little “boat bed” on the north bank of the Shannon Estuary just a mile west of Limerick City. None could match the Coonagh crew.