My Friend The Shannon

The River Shannon has been described as majestic and mighty, which it is, but to me it is an
old friend. I find the water healing and consoling. I talk to it every day and I tell it things I
wouldn’t tell another soul. I love to watch, as birds swoop and call to each other and the
swans are a constant calming presence. It’s lovely to see the children feeding the ducks.
They are quite tame and keep the children entertained for ages. In the evening gulls line up in
formation on rooftops, like Olympic swimmers, and when the line is complete, they all fly
home together.
Because we lived so near the Shannon we were steeped in its history. Looking south, down
the river past Carrickobrien, you can almost see the monastic site of Clonmacnoise. In such
peaceful surroundings, it is easy to imagine the monks in the Scriptorium, poring over their
manuscripts many centuries ago.
Our summers were filled with childish escapades, as we played in fields of daisies, fishing for
leebeens and double daring each other to jump huge drains. We led dripping wet children,
who had fallen into the river home to their mothers, hoping for a dramatic reaction and were
disappointed when she said, ‘Come in love it’s alright’. We pretended to push each other, as
we walked across the dry weir wall in summer and screamed in mock terror.
Back in the nineteen fifties one branch of our family came from Dublin to Athlone for a
reunion. Why Athlone? Well, over sixty years earlier the first two had gone to Dublin and
they had ten children. One hundred and eighty of them, three generations, piled on to a
special train from Dublin. The only person not a relative was the train driver, even though
there were four more train drivers aboard. Grandma Mary was the oldest person in the
group, seventy eight years of age, wife of the late Thomas, and father of the family. They
took a three hour cruise on the Shannon and finished the day with a lively party in Hodson
Bay hotel. What a day that was.
One of my aunts was a great storyteller and she could spin them out to frightening lengths as
we all held our breath. One of our favourites was about four English soldiers, who were
drowned from a boat on the Shannon in the nineteen twenties. She claimed that at a certain
time each night the same boat came down the river and under the bridge. She described how
she had heard the splash of oars and saw the buttons on their uniforms shining as she smoked
a cigarette.
Winters by the Shannon can be long and unpredictable. The wind has a bit of ice and plenty
of rain in it and the water turns black and angry. It sits like a grumbling appendix of worry
that has become so familiar. When the appendix bursts and the water comes a little too close
to the door, we have to put on our wellingtons and learn to live with sandbags, soldiers and
great community spirit.
Of course it’s easy to forget all that on a fine May day, when there are lilac and hawthorn
trees blossoming. The fishing boats are on the river and when the sun catches the Shannon at
the right angle it looks like smashed diamonds.