The Abbey Fishermen


A Short History

In 1964 William Lysaght published a book "The Abbey Fishermen - A Short History" The author tells the history of the snap net fishermen of the Abbey area of Limerick who found themselves deprived of a livelihood with the installation of the hydro-electric scheme at Ardnacrusha in the late 1920's. The book first published in 1964 by the Treaty Press 6/9 Georges Quay, Limerick. Second Printing 1999 by Shamrock Stamps, Gerald Griffin St., Limerick.

 In a bungalow at the end of the Mill Road, Corbally, directly across from St. Thomas's Island, there William (Nay) Lysaght (1918-1992) lived the greater part of his life. Being familiar with many of the old Abbey fishermen, who liked to visit the scenes of their former labours, he often went boating with them in the brocaun. Besides, his uncle, Arthur Lysaght who used to have a hut nearby was a veritable encyclopedia on the Abbey fishermen, and Nay listened attentitively to him, thus he became an expert on these fishermen, and what is more, all this information which he gathered over the years, he wrote down.

He also made a very realistic and accurate model of the fishermen as they fished with their net "down". In its glass surround it is worth seeing as it illustrates in a way no description can, their method of catching the elusive salmon. It is on display in a Museum room attached to St. Mary's Roman Catholic Church, Athlunkard Street.

A Nostalgic Look Back

Two Abbey brocauns approaching a draught (or draw) at Corbally, March 1932. Background: (left to right) Paddy Hayes, J. Clancy (Sugans). Foreground (left to right): Bud Clancy, Father Clancy.

It is 10 a.m. on a cold morning in March in the 1840's. The crews of two brocauns have just finished fishing at Tarnacreeba near the Metal Bridge. The men are cold and hungry, but what matter, it's only a short run home to the Abbey and 7 or 8 beamy salmon lie on the bottom of one of the brocauns. Home now for a few hours sleep and net repairs.

It's evening, they must face once more the long journey back to Doonass the topmost inure. The river is in spate, so it's poles out at Amor for the hard push through the Queen's Gap at Corbally and on to Braur and Smithaun up by Poulahera to Cragrack by paddle, then the poles are out again for the long haul through Drominbeg, Tannyvour, the Dam, Bunabha, Lurriga, Geentass, Barnaluinge and now they must start to work downstream again.

Abbey Fishermen in their brocauns. Photo taken at Doonalaun near St. Thomas's Island.

This photograph according to William Lysaght's knowledge is the only extant photograph of a pair of brocauns with the net spread in the act of fishing. Notice that the two paddlemen are facing and paddling downstream, thus dragging the net after the brocauns which are proceeding downstream, stern first. The netmen in the bows of the brocauns have their backs to the paddlemen, these were the positions for fishing. When going upstream with the nets in the brocauns the men faced around.

Tools of the Abbey Fishermen's Trade


The Abbey fishermen used several different types of snap nets varying in length and depth. A typical net would be 39 feet in length and 56 meshes deep, meshes measuring 4 to 6 inches. The net was mounted on 2 ropes, the top rope was called the SUNA and the bottom one the CLOSHUINE.

On the bottom corners of the net there was a short length of rope called the BUNA, the netstones were attached to this. The stones had grooves in them to save undue wear on the ropes, as they were dragged over the bottom of the river.


THE NET STONES were made of limestone and had grooves cut in them to save the ropes from undue wear as they were dragged over the bottom of the river. The net stones varied in weight for use in different river conditions, but an average weight was 2 pounds.

The brocaun, a flat bottom boat, a type of cot peculiar to the Abbey fishermen. It was a slimmer, shorter and lighter version of the angling cot.

This miniature model of an angling cot was made in 1951 by Patrick (Randy) Hayes, an ex Abbey fisherman and boat builder. The angling cot was modelled on the lines of the brocaun. 


This drawing is a rough idea of how the net would have looked under water as it is being dragged behind the brocauns.

THE ASH POLE was 10 to 11 feet long and about 2.5 inches in diameter, it had an iron furrule at the end.

THE PADDLE had an Oak blade and Ash handle.

THE SOPS were hay ropes or sugans. The fishermen wrapped them around their legs to keep out water.

THE CRIOSTOIR was used for killing fish. It could be any piece of heavy wood with a thong attached.

 In 2006 Sharon Clancy published an excellent book "The Abbey Fishermen"  History and Culture of a Fishing Community. Sharon dedicated her book to the Abbey men who for centuries made their living from fishing on the Shannon river.

Here is a link to a nice article posted by Sharon Slater on the Abbey Fishermen plaque on the Abbey Bridge. fishermen plaque/

Clancy sisters nostalgic trip on the river Shannon at Corbally. Daughters of Jackie Clancy, Abbey Fisherman and author of "My Life on the River". Front: Margaret Downey, Delia Cowles and Marie O'Flaherty. Back: Ann Matson (cousin) and Teresa Cierans.

A wonderful book My Life on the River - An Abbey Fisherman's Stories by Jackie Clancy, edited and published in 2010 by Delia Cowles. 

The Clancy family at the launch of their fathers book "My Life on the River" at St. Mary's Cathedral, Limerick. From left: Teresa Cierans, Marie O'Flaherty, Jimmy Clancy, Margaret Downey and Delia Cowles.

By Maureen Sparling

Ah! The old Abbey Regatta is well nigh gone,
Where oft poled many a father and son,
The greasy pole where several slipped,
And the gandlow race where more were pipped.
Where sported the Duhigs, Clancys, Hayes and Macks,
For a variety of characters it never lacks,
Our Seamus was there in the midst of things,
And what a wealth of knowledge his presence brings!
The tug-o'-war over in Healy's field,
Where virile men strong muscles yield.
Then 'Hada' from the Abbey was deemed the 'King',
And 'Ireland, Mother Ireland' he'd oft sing,
The 'Groody Gondoliers' once ripped a plank,
But, with swift aid from Bobby Duhig (Snr,) they never sank,
There were bashful maidens and high-dive competition,
All were happy with not a hint of sedition,
Then, as eve drew in the 'Alabama Minstrels' sang,
From our clear waters mellow voices rang,
But, past and gone is that treasured time,
We now must step to a less cultured clime,
Where speed and efficiency is the thing,
No time to list' to the sweet bird sing,
What a buzz of activity those Sundays gave,
Tall, slim brown bodies the waters brave,
To bring honour to 'Parish' and family,
As they poled on so craftily,
They dared the elements, regardless of weather,
Their skin as hard as the toughest leather,
Some veterans too did also partake,
Though some years on, they were wide awake,
Where all enjoyed the sport, fun and song,
And many still for those day now long,
But our needs must answer a different beat,
A much swifter drum we now must greet,
An innate culture our lives has left,
And for characters rich we're now bereft.

VETERANS POLING RACE - Abbey Regatta 1977. In front boat: Thomas (Tawdy) Clancy for whom Maureen Sparling respectfully dedicated her poem The Old Abbey Regatta to his memory. Tawdy collapsed and passed away in 1979 while doing what he loved, competing in a poling race in a regatta.

In the yellow boat is Tawdys brother Jackie Clancy, author of My Life on the River - An Abbey Fisherman's Stories.

In the green boat is William Lysaght author of The Abbey Fishermen - A Short History.

AUTHOR AND POET MAUREEN SPARLING. Maureens published works include: Echoes of Old Limerick (Poetry), Happy Moments (Poetry), Reflections of Life (Poetry), Tales from King's Island Cottage (3 Novellas), Ripples in the Sand (Poetry), The Gold Nugget (Short Stories), A Gem in the Wasteland (Poetry and CD), Revenge of the Innocent (Novel), A Dubious Destiny (Novel).

THE ABBEY BRIDGE    By Maureen Sparling 1999.

A "ghost council" from Limerick was drafted to Heaven,

An extraordinary meeting convening at seven,

To sort out the name of that Bridge was their aim,

For, all on this earth, in mind were not the same.

The Abbey Fisherman's Guild sat proud

Bud Clancy arrived and his trumpet blew loud,

Alerting all present, excited the crowd.

The Liddy's and O'Connors, who hailed from Old Watergate,

Hayes', Clancy's and Shanny's, right next to them sate,

There was Sugans and Gakes and from Sheep Street came Nipper,

With none of them downcast, as all seemed quite chipper.

There was Tawdy and Poppy and beside them sat Diddles,

All of them lucid as none spoke in riddles,

There was Buckets and Hackney and Napoleon too,

Who longed for a taste of that old backbone stew,

There was Starry, Realto, Sunlight and Susay,

With Randy and Lully, Bantram and OK,

We saw Gussy, the music-man, Fr Tom with long beard

Peri, Todsie and Smutts, the Iron man to be feared.

Tons of Money, and Cockrum, Boree and Dutch,

We saw Elbows and Beaver, Who still kept in touch,

Tom Bull, Young Buck Shoes, Der and Vinegar too,

Brass Bands, Pat the Thatcher, Jones and Tucker we knew.

There was Woods and Young Mike,  who was known as the Rock,

Then Young Joe and Forty 'round the table did flock,

Said Jim then to Jan, "I think you look worn,"

And I'm guessin' 'tween me and the people you're torn.

Do you think that in this case you're somewhat adrift,

And is it foolhardy to create such a rift?

When you look at those brave men who fought the great fight,

You'll observe things I'm sure in a far different light.

The 'ghost-council' returned on the following day,

Much chastened in mind, they had little to say,

Their mission accomplished, a foregone conclusion,

Apologies abounding for all the confusion.

 In April 1925, the crew of the Shanny family caught the biggest fish ever caught in Irish Waters. It weighed 62 1\2 lbs. The poem featured above is taken from a collection of poems entitled, " A Gem in the Wasteland" published in 2002. 

A lovely selection of Poetry Books by Maureen Sparling - Ripples in the Sand, The Golden Nugget, Echoes of Old Limerick, Happy Moments, Reflections of Life, A Gem in the Wasteland.

elaine 25.05.2022 17:02

any one know where i can get the abbey fishermen dolls

Ann 22.03.2021 19:47

Pauline, check out the 1901 and 1911 Census of Ireland, you will find some Grimes fishermen there.

Pauline Ellison nee Grimes 20.03.2021 18:24

My great grandfather Patrick Grimes fished on the shannon. He was a big man. Died about 1940 His son Patrick was my grandad. I am trying to find out more info.

Stephen Mc Elligott 24.09.2020 08:59

Anyone know where I can buy these books? I checked all bookshops in Limerick and nobody is selling them.

Ann 24.09.2020 18:40

Perhaps Stephen you could contact Maureen Sparling herself, she may be able to help. I will send you her e-mail address.

mary 20.06.2020 05:39

john thomas hayes is on my grandfater census form

mary 18.06.2020 21:40

ger i know where connected in some way on the hayes side i contacted you before were cousins in some way

mary 19.06.2020 18:44

my late father would have being your mams cousins in some way

Ger hayes 19.06.2020 12:20

My grandfather was first cousan to Jackie (Diddles)Clancy. on his mother's. side and first cousan to Denny Hayes.

Ger hayes 19.06.2020 12:12

Hi Mary we will have to investigate that connection more,my grandfather was John. (Jack) Hayes (Bone) and my uncle was John Ok Hayes.

Ger Hayes 13.06.2020 11:41

Great page keep it up.

Elaine 26.05.2022 15:58

Hi ger love this website did you find out any more

Ann 14.06.2020 16:39

Thank you Ger.

Catherine Keogh 03.03.2019 00:13

Seán Keogh was a born fisherman from Meatmarket lane and very much involved and one of the first committee member's in the Band room he was an abbey fisherman

mary 19.06.2020 05:31

hi catherine my grandfather was stephen hayes known as gullyman hayes from flaglane all his brothers were also mikey hayes was with the band

mary 18.06.2020 21:24

hi sean mary here my grandfather was stephen hayes and his brothers also

Ger Hayes 16.06.2020 12:48

Hi Catherine I was very interested in hearing that Sean Keogh was a Abbeyfisherman and was one of the first committee members would love to hear more.

Ann 03.03.2019 20:56

So interesting Catherine.I knew Mr.& Mrs.Keogh from their many years as Caretakers of Corbally Pool,lovely people,they were alway so nice and polite to everyone

Sharon 27.03.2017 17:21

Hi Ann,
I've a piece on the plaque that we put up after the gathering event. Their legacy is set in stone

elaine 28.03.2017 19:42

bring back old abbey regetta gathering

Ann 28.03.2017 16:28

I've read it Sharon, very interesting, as are all your posts on your website

George Lee 09.01.2017 10:37

Ann Wonderful Page, this might be a nice addition . It is John "The Man" Frawley reading the Abbey Eulogy

Ann 09.01.2017 21:57

Thank you George, good idea, so added it in.

Gerard Real 30.10.2016 00:55

Hi Ann, this is fantastic. I have a copy of the original "The Abbey Fisherman" by your dad, which I treasure. I remember being in The Treaty Press as a child.

Ann Liston 30.10.2016 18:11

Treaty Press Ger was my work place, first in 22 Thomas St.then my dad bought the old buildings 6,7,8 & 9 Georges Quay and built the new Treaty Press (now Azure)

paul o halloran 14.05.2016 18:21

hi Ann, my mum used to tell me a lot of stories of what went on during the time.

paul o halloran 12.05.2016 21:56

fantastic web page, loved reading it, my grandfather Paddy Hayes (sunlight) in photograph.

elaine 26.06.2016 20:57

hi anne i am the late mick hayes grand daughter I love your website keep it up

Ann Liston 13.05.2016 14:47

Thanks Paul, glad you liked it, the Abbey Fishermen were a great group of men.

Ann Liston 04.09.2015 00:25

Thank you Michael for your nice comment, glad you enjoyed it.

Michael Kearney 01.09.2015 13:13

Thank you so much for this .... Really enjoyed reading it and looking forward to looking out for and buying the book in town. Wonderful memories of great people

Latest comments

09.11 | 21:42

Yes just like the main history before the 2000s and the owners and things like that.

09.11 | 21:34

Hi Alesha, is there anything in particular you would like know?

08.11 | 19:05


08.11 | 19:05

Hi Ann, would you have information on the Corbally nursing home fo...