Thanks to AOD for alerting me to an article by Morgan McCloskey “O’Maras of Limerick and their overseas business” [PDF] from the Old Limerick Journal summer 2001. O’Maras were bacon and ham curers: according to Frank Prendergast “The Decline of Traditional Limerick Industries” in David Lee & Debbie Jacobs, eds Made in Limerick: History of industries, trade and commerce Volume 1 [Limerick Civic Trust, Limerick 2003]
James O’Mara of Toomevara in County Tipperary had established the business in a small house on Mungret Street in 1839. He started bacon curing in the basement but it became so successful that he had to move shortly afterwards to the premises in Roches Street, which they occupied until its closure in 1987.
The waterways interest arises from McCloskey’s having drawn on Patricia Lavelle James O’Mara: a staunch Sinn Féiner Dublin 1961, republished in 2011 under a slightly different title. Lavelle’s O’Mara, her father, was also covered here and was the grandson of the original James who set up the business in 1839. We are concerned with neither of the Jameses: Stephen, son of the first and father of the second, is the man of the moment. McCloskey says that Lavelle says that Stephen preferred to go to Dublin by boat rather than by rail and that she gives this description of one such trip:
Then the boat went through the heart of Ireland; and the country, with its hills and green fields, was spread before him in all its changing beauty for the best part of a couple of days. The steamer left Limerick and made its way up the Shannon, avoiding the rapids by various canals and locks.
After Killaloe it reached the wide waters of Lough Derg. The passengers had the run of the boat and could get a snack meal if they wished. Once, when grandfather was travelling this way, terrible squalls sprang up and the lake was very rough, but usually they could stop for a moment at Holy Island and see the ancient ruins there, and pass on by the wooded heights of the Tipperary shore, past Dromineer to Portumna, crossing and re-crossing the lake until they found anchorage in Shannon Harbour, as far north as Offaly.
There was a big hotel there owned by the Grand Canal Company, where they all stayed for the night and got to know one another; and feasted on chicken and bacon and cabbage followed by apple pie, and then sat round huge turf fires swopping stories or playing cards.
Next morning the canal boat awaited them, gay with its overhead canopy to protect passengers from the heat of the sun or from inclement weather. The passengers sat in two long rows, back to back, and gazed out across the fields as the paddle lazily churned up the turbid waters and the boat made leisurely progress along the canal. The monotony was broken once in a while by the excitement of passing through a lock.
The problem with this romantic account is that, as presented, it’s rubbish.
Stephen O’Mara was born in 1844 and began work in the family business in 1860. The passenger boat service between Limerick and Killaloe ceased in 1848, when the railway reached Limerick (though there were occasional special excursions after that).
The service was by horse-drawn boat, not by steamer; though there had been some attempts at running steamers, the Limerick boats did not go beyond Killaloe, whence larger steamers ran to Portumna or, later, to Shannon Harbour and places further north.
Scheduled passenger services did not “stop for a moment” at Holy Island, which was off the main route to Portumna.
The canal hotel at Shannon Harbour effectively ceased operating as such in 1847, according to Ruth Delany The Grand Canal of Ireland David and Charles, Newton Abbot 1973.
The canal passage boats did not have canopies, the passengers sat facing each other rather than back to back and the boats were horse-drawn rather than paddle-driven. Furthermore, the service ceased in 1852.
I cannot explain the extent of the inaccuracies, but perhaps Lavelle’s account should have been attributed to the elder James rather than to his son Stephen. I would be glad to hear from anyone who can cast light on this; please leave a Comment below.